SPURTLE HUSTINGS CONTROVERSY

Controversy has attended the Edinburgh North & Leith General Election hustings run by the Spurtle on 28 November. That event is reported HERE

Spurtle has kept a low profile on Twitter since, hoping the Twitter storm might blow over. It has not.

So, here is a statement to contextualise decisions made by the Editor before and after the event.

HUSTINGS

On 18 November, the Liberal Democrat candidate Bruce Wilson was invited by Spurtle by email to attend. Mr Wilson replied by email on the same day, confirming that he would come.

At 3.17pm on 27 November, the day before the event, Mr Wilson was contacted by direct message on Twitter with a brief on how the meeting would proceed.

About half-an-hour later, Mr Wilson responded by DM explaining that his wife had just had twin girls and he would not be able to attend the hustings. He said he would ensure that someone else attended in his place.

Regrettably, that DM reply was not spotted at the time. In fact, it wasn’t spotted until 5.24pm on 29 November (the day after the hustings event). It was not ‘ignored’, as Mr Wilson complained in a statement later, but simply not registered.

It therefore came as a surprise to Spurtle team members when, around 10 minutes before the hustings was due to begin, and with Mr Wilson not present, a smartly dressed stranger introduced himself – first to the independent Chair and then to the Editor – as Mr Wilson’s proxy.

WHO HE? HOW SO?

The smartly dressed persons identity is still unclear. In retrospect, we think he may have been a Lib-Dem candidate from Aberdeenshire, but this was by no means obvious at the time. Whoever he was, he suggested his involvement had been agreed. That was not the case.

With the clock now ticking down before the event was due to begin, the Editor had a complicated calculation to make.

Two issues were at stake: (1) The Editor had no proof of the smartly dressed stranger’s identity; (2) Earlier in the week, two other candidates (Heather Astbury for Renew and Robert Speirs for The Brexit Party) had been refused permission to send proxies. This hustings was intended for candidates only. Admitting a third under unclear circumstances seemed unfair and potentially problematic.

Roughly 5 minutes later, with the meeting about to begin, the smartly dressed stranger handed the Editor a mobile and said Mr Wilson was at the other end. A polite, if tense, conversation followed. The individual at the other end explained that his wife had just given birth, that he had sent a message earlier to this effect, and that he was not at all pleased by the prospect of being ‘empty-chaired’ at the hustings.

At such short notice, the Editor had no way of confirming whom he was talking to. He explained that the hustings was for candidates only. He did not threaten or insist upon anything. He merely clarified firmly that, under the circumstances, a proxy was not acceptable.

The person at the other end then confirmed the start-time for the event, said he would arrive late, after which the mobile was returned to the smartly dressed stranger.

Around 10 or 15 minutes later, Mr Wilson – whom the Editor immediately recognised from election publicity – arrived at the hustings and took his place on the podium. He had a brief, private conversation with the independent Chair, and then participated usefully in the event having missed only one question.

Mr Wilson later left the hall before the end, missing the final question of the evening.

REPORTAGE

Following the hustings, Mr Wilson issued a statement.

That statement included a short extract from Spurtle’s coverage of the event. It is a short extract.

Spurtle’s wider coverage is factual whilst acknowledging that its summary of candidates’ contributions is limited by acoustics and typing speed. Spurtle provided hyperlinks to Manifestos precisely to compensate for any such shortcomings.

JAUNDICED

After Spurtle’s report, there follows a series of subjective evaluations of each candidate’s performance on the night by ‘Jaundiced of Claremont’.

JoC is not a real person, but the combination of various people’s opinions under one name. JoC is a long-established Spurtle convention, who has been rude about candidates of all parties for as long as anyone can remember.

JoC sits in a noble Scottish tradition of acerbic flyting that aims to deliver awkward truths where they hurt. On this occasion, far from being ‘unkind’, JoC was comparatively pleasant. Or at least, fairly horrid.

However, JoC’s assessment of Wilson's performance initially contained a clumsy ambiguity which could have been interpreted as saying Mr Wilson was not delighted by the arrival of twin daughters. This was a mistake.

Spurtle thoroughly regrets it. That was never the intended message. As soon as the ambiguity was recognised, it was corrected. The time and nature of the correction were added to the website immediately, and Mr Wilson has subsequently thanked Spurtle for making the change.

SOCIAL MEDIA

Later, Spurtle blundered into an online opinion. Basically: that the enormously stressful experience of having children and the enormously stressful experience of standing for Parliament might be enormously difficult if experienced simultaneously.

This seemed common sense to the Editor at the time, but seemingly isn’t. He deleted the tweet. If anyone is offended by such a suggestion, the Editor apologises.

AFTERWORDS

Contrary to some opinions expressed within the Twitter Echo-Chamber-of-Outrage, Spurtle is not steeped in the social values of the 19th century.

Various team members are fully versed in the challenges of 21st-century parenthood.

As soon as problems around handling and coverage of the hustings appeared, the Editor contacted Mr Wilson behind the scenes. They have enjoyed cordial contacts since.

WHAT NEXT?

Did we get everything right? Clearly not. How could we have managed things better? Not sure – we’re thinking it over. 

Spurtle’s Board will hold its next monthly meeting on 16 December. All options and any appropriate censures will be considered then.

UPDATE, 2 December, 4.30pm

As Editor, I have now apologised to Mr Wilson for my ill-considered and badly expressed tweet. It was never my intention to call for his personal removal as a candidate, and I regret it if any poor wording by me gave that impression. I have also apologised to Mr Wilson for missing his crucial DM about not attending. This was an honest oversight during a busy time, for which I take full responsibility.

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