Scottish Tories spent more than £100,000 on Boris Johnson and David Cameron's election strategists during Holyrood election

The Scottish Conservatives spent more than £100,000 during the 2021 Holyrood election campaign enlisting the help of Boris Johnson and David Cameron’s election strategists, while Anas Sarwar’s battle buses cost £57,000, spending returns have shown.

Douglas Ross’s party also hired the services of an American lobbying firm as part of their election campaign, which saw them return 31 MSPs to Holyrood and consolidate second place.

It comes as figures show spending on Facebook reached almost £500,000, with technology giants receiving more than £550,000 from the main four parties, around 13 per cent of the total election spend.

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Scottish Conservative party leader Douglas Ross during the Holyrood election campaign last year.
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The SNP topped the list of the highest spenders for the 2021 election, spending almost £1.5m during the campaign.

Among the expert groups hired by the Scottish Tories included the digital campaign experts Edmonds Elder, who describe themselves as key parts of the 2015 UK general election campaign that saw the first major focus on digital political campaigning.

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It is understood the firm was hired by the party to help with social media and party election broadcasts, with the contract costing just under £63,000.

Another major political firm Fleetwood Strategy, which is run by Australian strategist Isaac Levido, the mastermind behind Boris Johnson's 2019 general election victory and considered the protégé of Lynton Crosby, was hired for polling and research at a cost of more than £47,000.

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Mr Ross’s debate preparations also saw expert involvement, with the American lobbying firm O’Donnell & Associates hired at a cost of £7,000 to help prepare the MP for the televised leadership debates.

Scottish Labour also hired foreign political experts during their campaign, spending more than £16,000 with Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research, a firm that was instrumental in helping Tony Blair win successive elections in 1997 and 2001.

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Mr Sarwar’s party spent the most with big tech, paying £225,523 to Facebook for advertising and a further £58,965 to Google for “market research/canvassing”, equivalent to a quarter of the party’s total election spend.

This spend did not result in more votes, with the Scottish Tories spending a comparatively small amount of £142,670 on Facebook advertising, while the SNP spent just £71,854 with the Liberal Democrats spending £58,765.

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The Scottish Greens, who saw the biggest increase in seats at the election, spent £41,357.

Labour’s other major spend was on their two ‘battle buses’, which a Scottish Tory spokesperson labelled the “third place express”.

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The cost of the two buses cost a total of £57,760, with the first bus for the entire 42-day campaign costing £32,400 and a second bus, hired for eight days, costing £6,400.

There was a further spend of more than £18,000 fitting and removing graphics on both buses.

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A spokesperson for the Scottish Conservatives labelled Mr Sarwar’s party a “shadow of its former self”.

They said: “All of Labour's lofty talk about the environment is pure hypocrisy. They spent more than £50,000 on gas guzzling buses, only to break down well before polling day.

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"They're more show than substance, and that's why the once-great Labour Party is a shadow of its former self. As far as voters are concerned, they're stuck on the road to nowhere.

"Anas Sarwar rode the third place express all the way to Labour's worst-ever Holyrood result. Their problem isn't the mode of transport, it's the fact they keep sitting in the middle of the road on Scotland's future."

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The spokesperson added: “By campaigning all over Scotland by every means possible, the Scottish Conservatives won 100,000 more votes than ever before and were the only pro-UK party to go forward in last year’s election.”

Labour said their spending showed it was “serious about winning”.

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A spokesperson said: “Scottish Labour is serious about winning and have worked hard to modernise our campaign strategies.

“We use engaging and relatable social media content to speak to voters about our alternative vision for Scotland. We have a set of policies that we are proud to promote to the electorate.

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“All political parties use polling companies and we have engaged with a variety of organisations to help us plan electoral strategy.”

The breakdown of spending comes as the Electoral Commission released the details of spending from last year’s election for parties which spent more than £250,000, with almost £4.5m paid out by political parties.

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The SNP topped the list with an expenditure of £1,468,343, equivalent to 62p per vote when both constituency and regional list votes are taken into account.

A party spokesperson said: “Our mass membership and support mean our online campaigning is people powered.

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"SNP content is shared organically amongst friends, family and online followers. We don't have to pay Facebook vast amounts of cash to do that job for us.”

Second place was secured by the Scottish Tories during the election at a cost of £1,359,435 or £1.10 per vote, with Scottish Labour spending the same per vote, but ending the election with nine fewer seats at a cost of £1,176,410.

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The Liberal Democrats also spent more per vote than any other major party, spending £1.34 per vote at a total cost of £434,354.

Scottish Greens, whose figures were released earlier last year, spent £231,902 during the election campaign at a cost of £1.10 per vote.

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More than half of the total election spend across all parties was on election leaflets sent to voters, with £2.7m being spent on such material.

Almost £950,000 was spent on advertising, with more than £250,000 spent on market research and canvassing.

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In total, just over £5.06m was spent during the Holyrood election last May, an increase of almost £1.7m compared to the 2016 election when £3.3m was spent by political parties.

Both Labour and the Conservatives drove the majority of this increase, having spent around £330k and £950k respectively in 2016.

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Want to hear more from The Scotsman's politics team? Check out the latest episode of our political podcast, The Steamie.

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