written by guest blogger CATHERINE SCOTT – freelance journalist

Like waiting for Christmas, the UK general election has been coming, and coming, for what seems like an eternity. But at midnight on July 3 the chattering political media will fall silent like guns at an armistice for nearly 24 hours until the polls close and they all resume hostilities once results start to come in.

As well as media and presentation training, the two principals behind Scottish Media Training are working comms professionals. Devin Scobie is one of Scotland’s most highly regarded public affairs specialists and apart from getting zero sleep overnight on 4 July, he, too will be following the media’s verdict on Rishi Sunak’s lacklustre tenure as outgoing UK PM.

Devin has been following UK elections since Mrs Thatcher’s first win in 1979, although he recalls his policeman father ‘dragging’ him back to his closed primary school – twice – in 1974 as he voted.

Back then, of course, the written press was King. The daily papers had a small army of writers, researchers and – crucially – runners in key seats who would dive to the pay-phones with excited updates. ‘Liberals might make a surprise gain in Widget South … former Tory Minister in trouble in Widget North’ etc.

The broadcast media was dominated by the TV giants like Brian Walden, Sir Robin Day and anyone with the surname Dimbleby. But they, too, relied on runners out in the counties.

All that started to shift in the 1980s when mobile phones arrived. Devin recalls hiring one at various counts in Edinburgh prior to 1992 when he finally had his own one. Call costs were high, battery life precarious, and as for getting a signal inside a drafty sports hall, well, forget it!

In theory, of course, it’s illegal to give any hint of how counts are going prior to the declaration – but in practice, unless the margin is within 1000 or so, all the parties know the result hours before the declaration. That’s why “we’re hearing rumours the Lib Dems are confident in by-election X” is a commonly heard observation among today’s media watchers.

But enough history. Part 2 will return us to 2024 and how today’s media manage things a little differently.


Catherine Scott is a freelance journalist specialising in UK public and governmental affairs.