Rhoda Grant, Labour MSP for the Highlands and Islands, looks back at her experience on the American election trail
Rhoda Grant, right, with her friends and Josh Shapiro who is standing for election as Attorney General in Pennsylvania
Myself and some of my female friends in the Labour Party to go away a weekend every year, we save up. Sometimes it is political and all of the time it is fun. We were talking about this earlier in the year and decided it would be nice to go to America and campaign for Hillary Clinton as part of our holiday.
We discussed swing states and came down between Florida and Pennsylvania. Just because of ease of travel, most Florida flights were part of package holidays, we decided on Philadelphia. This was a good decision given that Hurricane Matthew reached Florida on the day we flew out. We took a couple of days to get ourselves settled and then found the local campaign office, they were very pleased to see us. It appears to me that much of the campaigning is in the media up until very close to the election. In Pennsylvania they also put a lot more emphasis on getting voters registered because people who have not voted for four years fall off the register – that was our first job.
Doing this we were acting as civil servants rather than as campaigners as it is against the law to canvass support when registering a voter. We went on the Underground, carriage to carriage, signing up people who were not registered. Some saw us and immediately came and asked to fill in the forms, others were less enthusiastic but we signed up quite a few. They included the train driver who saw us in the carriage and got me through to sign him up at stations as we hurtled through the Underground – it was an experience I don’t think I will ever repeat but one I’ll dine out on for a while.
We tried phone canvassing which was about recruiting volunteers from supporters but given our accents that maybe didn’t work so well so we went door-to-door. That was great fun. It is the part of campaigning I enjoy most, speaking to people, hearing their views. The area we were it was very obviously deprived. A few local people told us to be careful and look out for ourselves and to be sure to leave before it got dark. That said, we experienced nothing but kindness, offers of coffee and a warm welcome. A group of young men sitting at a street corner, who looked a bit intimidating, were totally intrigued as to why we should come from somewhere as exotic as Scotland to America, and then choose Philadelphia and even better South Philadelphia. I think they thought us a little strange.
What wasn’t so nice about the trip was the wall-to-wall news coverage on the election, nearly all of it on the presidential race. It was vicious, really nasty, the language and campaigning were something I hope never to see at home. We watched two of the big debates and the commentary went on for hours before and after.
There is obviously a lot at stake but I could see how people would be turned off by it and really fear if that happens, then the outcome could be a disaster not just for the Americans but for the whole world.