As veteran readers will know, there’s little this site enjoys more than investigating the Comical Ali-style claims made by the No campaign about the attendance figures at its events, which it typically likes to exaggerate by between 100% and 150%.
Disturbingly, though, the contagion which robs victims of basic counting powers seems to be infectious, and taking hold even beyond the bounds of “Better Together”.
In what’s actually a rather good piece overall, Tom Gordon writes in today’s Sunday Herald of Alistair Darling’s tumultuously-received speech to a fringe event at the Scottish Conservatives conference on Saturday. (The former Labour Chancellor went down far better than the Tories’ own leader Ruth Davidson.) But the second paragraph of the article made us pause:
“Speaking as the leader of the Better Together campaign, Darling was cheered and thanked profusely by around 200 delegates after defending the Union at a packed meeting on the fringe of the Tory conference in Stirling.”
Given that a leader elsewhere in the same paper gave attendance at the entire conference at only 200 or so, and considerably fewer had turned up to see Davidson shortly earlier, it struck us as a bit unlikely that a fringe event in a side room would have a capacity equal to that of the main hall. So we did a little digging.
The official “Better Together” Twitter feed has perhaps finally learned that it might not necessarily be the smartest move to make outlandish assertions and then provide the evidence disproving them in the same tweet, so it kept pretty quiet. The Scottish Conservatives’ account, however, was more helpful.
Both the images in this article were tweeted by the @ScotTories account (here and here). From the position of the lighting rig (at the far right of the second shot and centre left in the first), you can see that between them they cover the entire room.
The pics appear to show around 12 people to a row in eight or nine rows of seats, for a total of 96 or 108, with maybe another 15 or 16 standing against the back wall. That’s a maximum of 124, which is stretching the definition of “almost 200”, we would suggest, some way beyond any reasonable breaking point.
In fact, thanks to an alert reader and a bit more sleuthing we managed to establish that the fringe meeting was held at the Highland Hotel in Stirling, as confirmed by Associated Press here. Our pictures show that “Better Together” used the MacLaren Suite, which the hotel’s brochure says has a maximum capacity of 120.
Wings Over Scotland readers will of course already be used to treating any figures reported in the Scottish media with a degree of, let’s say, healthy scepticism. And we suspect that the motivation for what appears to be a considerable exaggeration by Tom Gordon wasn’t an anti-independence one. (It could quite plausibly, for example, have been chiefly intended to embarrass either Alistair Darling or Ruth Davidson.)
But what we’re more curious about is why, if the Herald’s report that “more than 400 protesters clamoured noisily outside against Tory welfare cuts yesterday, behind the security line less than half that number of delegates rattled around a hall that exposed their low numbers” is true, nobody’s bothered to publish any pictures of those.