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Friday, 18 May, 2001, 13:36 GMT
Farm disease factor for parties
Foot-and-mouth graphic
The foot-and-mouth outbreak has affected every aspect of rural life over recent months - and the election campaign has been no exception.

The major parties have been taking steps to ensure that their activities do not create any risk of spreading the disease on Scotland's farms.

The outbreak has hit Dumfries and Galloway the hardest, with the Borders the only other part of Scotland to experience cases of the virus.

Foot-and-mouth pyre
The outbreak has affected campaigning
However, a Scottish National Party spokesman said political activity could still go ahead if sensible advice was taken on board.

He said that the need to disinfect vehicles and footwear was being seen as the key for party workers involved in the campaign.

Those in areas affected by foot-and-mouth were being asked to abide by the advice issued by the government.

Activists were being told not to go to places likely to be closed to livestock, and urged to disinfect their vehicles and footwear.

Supporters working on farms with livestock were also being advised not to become involved.

Phone canvassing

The SNP said activists had not been barred from visiting farms in affected areas, but were being advised not to do so.

The spokesman told BBC News Online Scotland: "It has been recognised that phone canvassing of farms where there is livestock would be preferable to a visit.

"To a large extent that tends to be the case anyway because it is easier."

He did not think there would be any practical problems when it came to polling day itself.

However, a spokeswoman for the Scottish Tories predicted there would be a low turn-out in affected areas.

Farm gate with sign
Parties are shying away from visiting farms
"We want to encourage as many people as possible, where they can, to be able to go out and vote on the day," she said.

"But I think that the government's handling of foot-and-mouth will see a low voter turn-out."

She said activists had been advised to stay away from no-go areas in some parts of the country, while elsewhere they were being told to take sensible precautions.

These included using disinfectant and not going near farm land.

"We have made it very clear that there is to be no campaigning whatsoever in any farm areas throughout Scotland that are quarantined.

"Otherwise, they are being encouraged to take the necessary precautions - even in areas that are not affected," she said.

"We have got to treat all farm land with kid gloves."

Meeting farmers

A spokesman for the Liberal Democrats said the party had not issued any nationwide advice.

"We have left it up to the local parties to decide how they are going to run it," he said.

"They know the area better and they know how it has been affected."

Among the steps which have been taken are a decision not to put any boards in fields in certain areas.

In Orkney and Shetland, that party's candidate has arranged for the area's farmers to meet him, rather than the other way round.

And there has also been an increase in telephone canvassing in some rural areas where activists would normally have made a personal visit.

A spokeswoman for the Labour Party said: "Labour has been campaigning carefully and responsibly using local knowledge and the advice that has been received from the rural affairs department.

"There are also other campaigning techniques being used including direct mail and telephone canvassing."