A colleague at work asked me today, “Where can I get the contact details of the local candidates for the Scottish Parliamentary Election 2011?”

That’s easy, I thought.

After a couple of hours digging tonight I have worked out that no such list exists. Neither for the  whole Scottish election, as I’d expected, nor even at a constituency level.

I’d checked our own website straight off and there, right at the top of the homepage was a nice link off to the elections info page. This is going to be easy…… but, no.

While the information is all there, carefully following the proscribed legal style, what we have is four PDFs: one for each constituency, and one for the regional list. But all they contain is the candidates’ names, sorted by surname ascending and a column labelled “description of candidate”. Actually it doesn’t tell you if they are bald, have acne, are vegetarian  or have very large feet – but it does indicate if they are in a political party or are independent.

Other than that there is no means of finding them or asking them a question.

Similarly, each list of candidates is accompanied by a separate PDF called “notice of election agents names.” In each file, there is an introduction in which the returning officer states that she

hereby give[s] notice that the following names and addresses of election agents of candidates at this election and the addresses of the offices or places of such election agents to which all claims, notices, legal process, and other documents addressed to them may be sent, have respectively been declared in writing to me as follows….

While this mentions the candidates names, it appears that each election agent has two addresses, which is explained as  “Name and address of Agent” and “Offices of Election Agent to which claims etc may be sent”.

So in all of these documents there is nowhere that an elector can put their finger on an email address, website or postal address for each candidate.

So if an elector wants to ask them all the same question, and judge their responses, as my colleague did, how the heck can he do it?

More digging on potential websites (Scottish Government, My Society, They Work For YouOpen Election, Write To Them etc) drew a blank. I even foxed Google!

Some parties have sites, and if you rake around long enough you might get somewhere, I guess. But there are lots of parties, great and small and many independents with, it appears, no websites.

Write to Them is a great site if you want to contact someone after they are elected – but what if you want to suss out their opinions before you put a cross in the box? Writing to then once you’ve elected them might be too late!

Intriguingly the only site who had made a stab at a contact list (PDF alert) was CAMRA!  But, the list of candidates is incomplete and not all have contact details.

So, as far as I can see, the only way this will happen is if we crowd-source the scraping of the data.

Who wants to join me?

Update 03 April 2011 : On Friday  I started a list for Aberdeen and North East Scotland. I’ve now added the Regional List candidates for NE Scotland.

We now have four volunteers adding data for their area. But we need more. If you’re interested in helping then please leave a comment below. If you know someone else who would assist please let them know about this project.

 

Scraping the Scottish Election 2011

15 thoughts on “Scraping the Scottish Election 2011

  • 31 March 2011 at 10:30 PM
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    I’m astonished this info was so difficult to find. I’ll have a stab at the kilmarnock area. I wonder if the candidates themselves would offer info if asked? If we could contact them that is!

    Reply
    • 31 March 2011 at 10:35 PM
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      Thanks Roy.

      I’ll open up my Google Docs Spreadsheet for you to edit if you like?

      Reply
  • 31 March 2011 at 10:47 PM
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    Heh, I just filled in the council’s questionnaire that I couldn’t find the info above. Once that closed I spotted the pdf links you scraped for your spreadsheet! mwaahaha. Ah well, they already think I’m an idiot…

    Can’t this be done with a freedom of information request to scotgov?

    Reply
    • 31 March 2011 at 10:53 PM
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      Billy – I don’t believe so. There is a strict process for all elections. The councils returning officers gather the legal info and publish it in a defined form. That’s what Aberdeen and other councils have done (correctly). Once some is elected they go to Scottish Govt and we could contact them then.

      The problem is that before they are elected there is no open means of contacting the candidates. It is up to each candidate to do what they like to publicise themselves – and that means if you want to ask them all a question you basically can’t – or not at all easily.

      Reply
    • 1 April 2011 at 9:31 AM
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      Alex

      Thanks for that.

      I’ve had a look through SPICE (http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/) and unless I am being particularly dim, I can’t see a list of all prospective MSPs for my area with their contact details (email / website preferred – it is 2011 after all).

      The electoral commission site looked very good – particularly if you are a candidate or agent, keeping you on the straight and narrow – but again, no list of candidates / contact details that I could see.

      Ian

      Reply
        • 1 April 2011 at 4:47 PM
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          Thanks, Lesley.

          That’s my point exactly: 100s or 1000s of folk looking one by one for the same information, time and again, and having to piece it together for themselves – rather than one place with the email and website addresses there.

          So, if 32 folk each volunteered to do one council area we’d need to do each only once.

          Ian

          Ian

          Reply
          • 1 April 2011 at 6:51 PM
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            Ah…that would be that ‘cloudsourcing’ that I keep hearing about 😉

            I can have a crack at Fife if that helps?

  • 1 April 2011 at 10:29 AM
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    I think the difficulty here is that currently the Parliamentary election process is a reserved issue: so the data belongs neither to the Scottish Govt nor to the Scottish Parliament, but to a UK body – although I don’t know which…

    My understanding is that the current legislation before Westminster will change that situation, and Scotland will have responsibility for its own election data – next time.

    Reply
  • 1 April 2011 at 3:36 PM
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    Ian,

    I initially thought you were suggesting that we not bother with the election this year…

    Reply
    • 1 April 2011 at 3:42 PM
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      Ha!

      My speeling is badd, I no.

      But not that bad!

      Ian

      Reply
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  • 20 April 2011 at 2:01 PM
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    Hello all. Many thanks for raising this issue.
    Good to see that I’m not the only one who’s finding it difficult & time consuming to gather the info I need on 2011 election candidates.

    I’ve been TRYING to compile a list of all candidates (constituency & regional list ) for a huge mailing to all members & supporters of Scottish WILPF, plus my own friends & contacts, focussed mainly on candidates’ views on Trident renewal & new Nuclear power stations (if known)

    The SCOTLANDS FOR PEACE WEBSITE has been invaluable, as it lists all candidates. I’d recommend it to everyone, even if you’re not looking for info on peace & nuclear issues!
    HOWEVER, I have encountered 2 major probems:
    1. the Regional List candidates have changed a few times while I’ve been doing this! So, I have to check the websites of each party to ensure I have the correct candidate’s names, & then cross check their views (if known) on Scotland’s for Peace website. It has proved to be a massive task, because of the number of parties & candidates involved, and this is only for a few of the regions!

    2. I have not been able to copy & post candidates’ email addresses from the S4P website to my list.
    Contact info is available for each candidate on several other websites, eg party websites. However very few have simple lists & wading through masses of other info to get the e-address is proving EXTREMELY extremely onerous.

    In all elections, A GREAT MANY VOTERS & ORGANISATIONS SEEK TO ENSURE THAT ALL CANDIDATES ADDRESS CERTAIN ISSUES.

    Given that the Scottish election system has been in place for years – I don’t understand why the Electoral Commission or some organisation has not been made responsible for listing all candidates ALONG WITH THEIR CONTACT DETAILS!

    yours in EXASPERATION!
    Jillian

    Reply

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