Council bans election lamp-post posters

Written by Scott Campbell.
Published at 18:22 on 10 December 2014.
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A BAN on election posters throughout North Lanarkshire has been described as “undemocratic”, after the Policy and Resources committee of North Lanarkshire Council backed council recommendations to ban electoral materials on “street furniture”

At a meeting of the authority’s Policy and Resources committee, elected members were asked to “re−consider its policy”, and “…determine that it's street furniture is not to be used for the display of campaign posters, flags and other election material”.

At the meeting, on December 4, SNP members opposed the measure, while the council’s Labour group moved the motion that will now see posters on lamp-posts in the run-up to elections banned. 

The action has been described as “undemocratic”, while some have suggested it is retribution for the council area voting ‘Yes’ to Scottish independence, in the September 2014 referendum.

Cumbernauld South SNP councillor, William Goldie confirmed the motion had been passed, on his Facebook page. The post has since been shared nearly 400 times by supporters.

In his post, the SNP councillor explained: “Today at a Policy and Resources Committee meeting, the Labour Group at North Lanarkshire Council moved to ban posters and election communications from lamp posts and "street furniture" in the run up to elections.

“The SNP Group opposed this but we were defeated, with the Labour Councillors voting "en-mass" to force this through.”

Councillor Goldie added: “It just shows that the number of Yes posters on display during the referendum compared to those of the No campaign must have really terrified them. It seems that the only way that the Labour party thinks that it can compete with us is to ban visual displays at elections. Once again it appears to be an attempt to stifle the democratic process by a party who no longer have sufficient activists to mount an election campaign.”

According to a report from council Chief Executive, Gavin Whitefield, to the Policy and Resources committee, “the Council allows the fixing of election posters to items of street furniture, such as lighting columns, on local roads not subject to the national speed limit”. 

The criteria for affixing posters meant that election agents' names and addresses had to be sent to the Executive Director of Regeneration and Environmental Services prior to the display of election material; while posters should be backed by some form of card or plastic material or adequate stiffness, tied with string or plastic ties – not with glue, while ensuring that they do not obscure traffic signs, or be no lower than seven feet from the footpath.

Additional requirements meant that only one poster per candidate was allowed on each lamp-post, while the materials should not have been attached to any traffic signal post or control box, or to street furniture in central reservations and pedestrian refuge islands. Election agents also had to remove the materials within 48 hours of polling day, or foot the bill for the council removing them.

In the run-up to the Scottish independence referendum, Cumbernauld and Kilsyth became known for its ‘blue mile’ of ‘Yes’ posters leading up the A8011 Central Way. Mr Whitefield, however, cites these posters as part of the reason why they should be banned.

“Notwithstanding the foregoing, the Committee should note, that during the campaign for the recent Referendum on Scottish Independence a number of complaints were received from various groups that the Councils requirements were not being adhered to. Regrettably it was the case that a number of unauthorised posters or flags were attached to street furniture and requests were received to have these removed, either during the campaign or after, and at some significant cost to the Council,” he explained in his report to the committee.

He adds: “In the circumstances, the Committee may wish to re−consider its policy in this regard and, as is the case for a number of other Scottish local authorities, determine that it's street furniture is not to be used for the display of campaign posters, flags and other election material.”

The measure was approved by Labour members of the committee, which comes into effect immediately. However, its implementation has been lampooned by opposition parties, who have described it as “undemocratic”.

Cumbernauld and Kilsyth Scottish Socialist Party branch member Craig Skinner said the measure was aimed at “shutting off one form of democratic expression”.

Mr Skinner said: “less than two months after a flowering of democracy in Scotland during our referendum it is unfortunate, to say the least, that North Lanarkshire’s Labour Councillors have decided to shut off one form of democratic expression by banning the use of lamp post posters during elections.  Surely we should be striving to maintain the democratic engagement seen in the referendum and surely anything that maintains the visibility of those campaigning in elections has to be a good thing. The previous rules were clear and were largely respected so questions have to be asked about the motives for this decision.”

The party believes that the decision reflects the fear of the Labour Party about their declining influence, even in their heartland areas.

Mr Skinner added: “Is it an accident that this decision is made soon after the majority of voters in North Lanarkshire rejected the Labour Party’s advice by voting Yes in the referendum? Is it somehow coincidental that it was commented on by many that the Yes campaign was much more high profile and visible in this area, including in the number of lamp post posters seen across North Lanarkshire? It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that it is a move that aims to do no more than close down democratic expression and make politics less about street campaigning and more about media influence and money. The Council should think again and rescind this regressive decision.”
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