Sunday, November 19, 2023

VIDEO: Vote James Kelly #1 for Alba's Membership Support Convener - at this moment of maximum opportunity for Alba, let's nip factionalism and cliquishness in the bud

* Voting in the re-run of the Membership Support Convener election is now open and all Alba Party members can vote.  The online voting link should have arrived in your email inbox on Friday.  The previous running of the election a few weeks ago was voided, so you need to vote again if you want your vote to count.

* I have nothing to do with the factionalism and cliquishness and secret plotting that led to the original election being voided.  I think you all know that if I want to say something, I say it openly and publicly, and I don't skulk around in cowardly fashion plotting on secret Whatsapp groups.  So voting for me is a good way to quickly move away from this nonsense at a moment of maximum opportunity for the Alba Party.

* If I win, I will use my long experience as one of Scotland's leading pro-independence bloggers to engage with members creatively and re-engage with inactive members to make it less likely that they will drift away and leave the party.

* I will also try to help ease some of the communication problems that have bedevilled the party.

* I support the democratic empowerment of *all* Alba members.  Roughly half of the NEC are currently only elected by conference attendees - those voting rights should be extended to all members.  All other national committees should also be elected by the whole membership, which is not the case at present.  And all members should be able to vote on conference resolutions, regardless of whether they are in the hall or not - this is perfectly achievable by online vote.

* A fully democratised party will have a far better chance of attracting new members, who will know that they're not just joining a fan club or a chat show.

* Only full democratic empowerment of Alba members can protect against a "Sturgeon / Starmer scenario" in which a future new leader comes in and bypasses the members to take the party in a new direction, for example by putting independence on the backburner.  Once that happens it's too late to put the genie back in the bottle - the only protection is to get the structures right *before* it happens.

Thursday, November 16, 2023

Take 2! Vote James Kelly for Alba's Membership Support Convener for radical democratisation of the party

In just a few hours' time, the vote will open again for Membership Support Convener and all Alba members will be eligible to vote (or all who joined before a very recent cut-off date).  Please note this is a complete re-run of the election, so if you voted for me or any other candidate a few weeks ago, that vote no longer counts and you'll need to vote again to make sure your voice is heard.

I haven't been entirely sure what I am and am not allowed to say about the decision to nullify and re-run the Alba internal elections, because presumably the explanation was made in closed session for a reason.  However, the email that went out today contained more detail than has previously been publicly available, and it's also now possible for members and the wider public to read an account - and I make no comment on its accuracy - from an anonymous source quoted in The National.  As one of the claims is that various NEC candidates were engaged in "vicious attacks" on each other on private group chats, I want to make abundantly clear that I was not involved in that in any way.  I haven't been on any Alba-related Whatsapp groups since I left the NEC chat just over a year ago after I failed in my bid to be re-elected, and I certainly didn't have any proxies fighting my corner on any chats (chance would be a fine thing!).  I can honestly say that every single point I made during the campaign, whether you agreed with my pitch or not, was made entirely openly and transparently via this blog, my Twitter account, and one short YouTube video.

I was particularly shocked and saddened to hear a few days ago that Jacqueline Bijster, the incumbent in the election I'm running in (Membership Support Convener) has decided to withdraw as a candidate in the interests of her mental health.  I can only imagine how grim things must have been to trigger a decision like that, and it's a dilemma she should never have had to face.  Whoever is now elected, whether it's me or one of the other two remaining candidates, will have an important part to play in ensuring members have somewhere to turn if they fall victim to bullying, regardless of whether it's low-level stuff or something much worse.

One specific example of alleged bitchiness cited by The National piece is the suggestion that one of the NEC candidates would "prop up the SNP".  That reminded me of the reaction of an Alba member (I can't remember who it was) to my election to the NEC in 2021 - she said something like "I was gutted when I saw he'd been elected, I don't trust him at all".  Normally personal attacks are water off a duck's back, but that one did sting a bit, because she clearly meant it - and yet I know I can be trusted.  There are lots of things I probably wouldn't trust myself to do, but I know for certain I can be trusted to always act in the way that I think will maximise the chances of independence.  If I occasionally get it wrong, it'll be through honest miscalculation rather than malice.  The same is undoubtedly true of other candidates in the internal elections who may be the objects of suspicion and scorn for not being "ultra" enough.

Because Alba is the most radical party of significant size on the question of independence, it's perhaps inevitable that it's attracted a few trenchant folk who sincerely believe there is only one true path to independence, and who thus try to hold other party members to purity tests.  Essentially what we're all supposed to believe is that the SNP must be totally destroyed and replaced.  Well, that's a point of view, but there is an alternative view which can be held in good faith by those who are just as passionate and sincere about independence.

Basically the problem is that replacing the SNP would take a long time, and Scotland needs independence quicker than that.  There are two very clear methods by which electoral success for Alba could lead directly to independence within a few years without the SNP having to be completely overhauled.  Firstly, if Alba win a good few list seats at the 2026 Holyrood election (say between five and eight) and as a result hold the balance of power, the SNP could be forced into a formal or informal deal (probably the latter, for reasons we all understand) involving a more realistic and much more urgent strategy for independence.  Think the SNP wouldn't deal with Alba in those circumstances, even informally?  Think again.  The fury of SNP members if their leadership went down the alternative route of an accommodation with Labour, kicking independence even deeper into the long grass, is not hard to predict.

Alternatively, if the SNP realise they are shedding votes to Alba, they might voluntarily radicalise on independence to get those votes back.  And even if they succeed in doing so, that would be a win for us, because the objective is independence and it doesn't really matter how we get there.  Nothing that actually works, and especially that works quickly, can or should be regarded as a sell-out, and I'd just ask people to bear that in mind.  The reality is, though, that the method will take care of itself.  We just campaign for as many Alba votes as we can possibly get and see where it takes us.  If we replace the SNP as the leading party, great.  If we don't replace the SNP but do secure enough leverage with them to put independence firmly back on the agenda, also great.

These are exciting times for Alba - we now have credibility as never before due to our new presence at Holyrood via Ash Regan, plus representation at all three tiers of government for the first time.  So it seems strange to say we need a fresh start at a moment like this, and yet in some ways we plainly do.  When internal elections are scrapped, apparently due to vicious factional infighting and plots and counter-plots, it's a statement of the obvious that not everything in the garden is rosy.  I'd respectfully suggest that part of the remedy is to elect someone who has had nothing to do with the factionalism and who has no time for it whatsoever.  Let's put our house in order speedily to take full advantage of this moment of maximum opportunity.  

And I don't think we should lose sight of the fact that the best way to entice SNP members to follow Ash Regan's example is with the promise that the party they join will be one that they as members are in full control of.  That means that every member of the NEC, and indeed every member of other national committees, should be directly elected by the whole Alba membership.  At present only National Office Bearers are elected by one-member-one-vote, while ordinary NEC members are elected only by conference delegates, and members of other committees are elected only by National Council delegates.  An additional reason for putting myself forward for Membership Support Convener is to give members an opportunity, if they wish, to express support for the view that we should move to one-member-one-vote across the board in future.

Incidentally, I was heartened earlier today to see someone challenging other NEC candidates to match what I'm saying on party democratisation, and getting a positive response from at least one candidate.  It just goes to show that sometimes simply standing in an election is sufficient to move the conversation forwards.  (But I do also want to win, guys!)

Thursday, November 2, 2023

Polling respectability for Alba after the Ash Regan defection

Someone made a sarcastic comment on my previous post about the new opinion polls, along the lines of "Alba cooking with gas, James?"  No idea what that was all about, because the numbers are actually perfectly decent for Alba in the wake of Ash Regan's defection - 

Scottish Parliament constituency ballot (Redfield & Wilton) :

SNP 34% (-1)
Labour 30% (+1)
Conservatives 22% (+2)
Liberal Democrats 8% (-2)
Alba 2% (+2)
Reform UK 2% (+1)
Greens 2% (-1)

Scottish Parliament regional list ballot:

SNP 28% (+2)
Labour 27% (+2)
Conservatives 21% (-4)
Greens 9% (-3)
Liberal Democrats 8% (-4)
Reform UK 4% (+2)
Alba 3% (-)

Of course this underscores what I was saying a couple of weeks ago that there is no evidence that Alba are currently on course to win list seats, but with two-and-a-half years still to go until the Holyrood election it's plainly not an impossible task - doubling their list vote from 3% to 6% should get them a fair number of seats, while one or two seats might conceivably be won even if they were on only 4%.

There's also a point worth making here about the repeated taunt that defectors to Alba are refusing to trigger by-elections because they think they would lose.  Even leaving aside the fact that very, very few defectors in history have resigned their seats (Dick Douglas MP certainly didn't resign when he defected from Labour to the SNP in 1990), there's also the fact that Ash Regan would be fighting a first-past-the-post by-election if she resigned her seat, whereas if she waits until 2026 the most likely route for her re-election is via the list, which is many orders of magnitude less difficult.  Similarly, if Chris Cullen resigned his council seat, he'd effectively have to win his ward outright in the subsequent by-election, which is far more difficult than the task he'll face in a multi-member election in 2027.  People are being a bit mischievous and not comparing like with like.

A couple of other points of note from the Redfield & Wilton poll - firstly, although Keir Starmer has a significant lead over Humza Yousaf on net approval ratings, his lead over Rishi Sunak on the "who would make the best Prime Minister?" question is weirdly low at just 40% to 30%.  This is Scotland we're talking about, where Tory leaders are loathed at the best of times, and this is not the best of times for the Tories.  Starmer, it's safe to say, is not setting the heather alight.

Secondly, one of our resident trolls claimed earlier that the poll showed Yes on 45% of the vote on the indyref question, ie. no improvement since 2014.  'Fraid not, chum.

Should Scotland be an independent country?

Yes 47% (-2)
No 53% (+2)

Wednesday, November 1, 2023

Two more post-Rutherglen polls: one has the SNP six points behind, the other has them level

The evidence is now beginning to suggest that the SNP did not get away with their Rutherglen defeat, and at least in the short-term it was never particularly likely that they would.  In terms of seats, at least, they are clearly heading for defeat next year, and it seems likely that only drastic action will avert that outcome.  Perversely, though, the SNP leadership are in steady as she goes mode.

Scottish voting intentions for the next UK general election (YouGov / Scottish Election Study, 20th-25th October 2023):

Labour 38%
SNP 32%
Conservatives 16%
Liberal Democrats 5%
Greens 4%

Scottish voting intentions for the next UK general election (Redfield & Wilton, 29th-30th October 2023):

SNP 32% (-2)
Labour 32% (-)
Conservatives 23% (+2)
Liberal Democrats 8% (-1)
Greens 2% (-)

I haven't included percentage changes for the YouGov poll, because on past form the Scottish Election Study's involvement will probably be claimed as meaning that it doesn't technically count as an official YouGov poll.

Someone attempted to post a comment on this blog the other day claiming that Humza Yousaf is now "the most popular politician in Britain".  I didn't publish it because I assumed it was disinformation, albeit of the wishful thinking variety - it must be tempting for Yousaf's supporters to assume that their admiration of his handling of the situation in Gaza is bound to be shared by the wider public and must have transformed his image entirely.  The truth seems to be somewhere in the middle - Redfield & Wilton show his net personal ratings improving to their highest level so far, but he's still in negative territory at -4.  That puts him fifteen points behind Keir Starmer.  So, no, I'm afraid he's nothing like the most popular politician in Britain, even if Starmer plainly does not deserve to be ahead of him.

That said, it's obviously harder to make the case that Yousaf is the SNP's biggest problem (even though ultimately he is) when he's had something of a bounce.  It's a nightmare combination, really - the polling simultaneously shows why the SNP can't just carry on as they are while giving them a ready-made excuse to do just that.

Monday, October 30, 2023

Alba are starting to cook with gas

I've made this point before, I think, but the Wikipedia article on the Alba Party is an abomination, obviously written by people who are extremely hostile. The first paragraph concludes with the words "No Alba Party candidate has been elected at any election", which is a reasonable point to make, but not with such pejorative wording and with such gratuitously prominent placement.  There's a section about criticism of the party, which again is totally reasonably and normal, but the length of it and the proportion of the article that it takes up is absurd - it's an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach.  There's also a potentially catty reference to Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh being a right-of-centre politician, which I'm not sure is an accurate characterisation, notwithstanding the different political allegiance she had in her youth.

But in one particular way the article has just improved tremendously, because the graphic box at the top now displays the fact that Alba for the first time have representation at all three tiers of government - local councils, Holyrood and Westminster.  Three days ago, it was only one.  People who were looking forward to Alba's demise will now have to start to accept that it isn't going to happen any time soon.  Of course they'll continue making the point that none of Alba's representatives were elected under Alba colours, and that's a hurdle the party will have to get over sooner or later, but what all of this has done is buy Alba some time.  Ash Regan will be in office until at least 2026, and Chris Cullen will be there until 2027.

*  *  *

What puzzles me about Lorna Slater's now-notorious comment about independence not being a red line for any deal between the Greens and Labour is the vehemence with which she said "absolutely not".  Why not "never say never" or "who knows what might happen"?  It's like she thinks it's still pre-indyref days when Green supporters used to actively reward their leaders for blasting the presumptuousness of anyone who thought the SNP should be regarded as the only game in town due to independence.  I remember James Mackenzie back in the early 2010s openly preaching the gospel of equidistance between the SNP and Labour, and not running into any trouble for it.  But the world has moved on - many, many Green supporters see their party as every bit as much an independence party, every bit as much a vehicle-for-delivering-independence, as the SNP itself.  To hear such enthusiastic talk about parking independence for five years to install a Labour government is going to make some supporters wonder if their perception of what the Greens are quite matches the reality.

Sunday, October 29, 2023

Greater Alba: Angus MacNeil squares the circle of being aligned while remaining independent

In his warm-up for Alex Salmond's speech yesterday, Kenny MacAskill said that it was taking place early because there were more highlights than usual to come later on in the conference.  Within 30 or 40 minutes it became clear that one of those highlights was the dramatic announcement of Ash Regan's defection, but I did wonder if his use of the plural meant there might be more of the same to come on Day 2.  And in a sense there was - although Angus MacNeil didn't join Alba, it was announced that he and Alba would be cooperating under a joint banner.

One of my concerns about Mr MacNeil's departure from the SNP was that even if he held his seat at the next election, it would be an ephemeral achievement without any wider national legacy because of his decision to run as an independent and not join Alba.  This new arrangement may be a neat way of squaring the circle because he'll still have the local advantages of independent status, while any win will now be seen as a victory for a "Greater Alba" electoral alliance and may contribute to a snowball effect in Alba's favour.  It also helpfully creates a bigger tent that other SNP parliamentarians might consider joining even if they have reservations about defecting direct to Alba.

The media reporting of this development was strangely vague, and I couldn't work out whether Alba and Mr MacNeil were setting up a formal joint parliamentary group at Westminster, or whether the arrangement is looser than that.  On the face of it a joint group would make perfect sense, because I seem to vaguely recall three MPs is the minimum threshold to form an official group in the Commons.

Saturday, October 28, 2023

Update on the Alba internal elections

Ash Regan's defection was in fact the second big surprise of the day for me in the Alba conference hall, because I had been waiting to hear my own result in the Membership Support Convener election, and also for the start of the Ordinary Member ballot for the NEC.  Neither of those things happened in the end - all of the Office Bearer elections have been nullified and will be re-run in the coming weeks, with the NEC election taking place during National Council (although I presume that will still be an online vote for anyone who registered for conference).

There was a lengthy explanation given for this totally unexpected decision, but it was given during private session (before the livestream commenced), so I'd better not repeat what it was.  But the bottom line is that I'm afraid you'll have to put up with yet more shameless self-promotion from me in the next few weeks!  From a personal point of view, I have mixed feelings about this development - no matter whether I'd had a good result or a bad result today, any votes I received would have been hard-won and honestly-won, and it's frustrating they haven't even been recorded.  But on the other hand, there's now an opportunity to do better on the second bite of the cherry.  When I arrived in the hall this morning, every single seat had a huge pile of glossy, professional-looking leaflets from various NEC candidates, and I suddenly thought "how was I ever supposed to compete against this?"  I now have a bit of time to try to come up with an answer to that question.

The game-changer: Alba goes to Holyrood

When I was a student, I remember reading a book about the (short) history of the SDP.  It intriguingly stated that the only Tory MP to defect to the party had crossed the floor "literally", which I took to mean that he had reached the end of a speech, announced he was defecting, and theatrically walked across to the opposite side of the Commons chamber and sat down with his new colleagues.  I'm not sure whether that actually happened, and even if it did it's effectively lost to posterity, because there were no TV cameras allowed in those days.  So it was quite a privilege to actually be in the hall today for something equally theatrical - Alex Salmond announcing at the end of his leader's speech that Ash Regan had just joined Alba, and Ms Regan then immediately appearing on the platform to rapturous applause.  If the BBC and STV weren't there to film such a moment of high drama, they have no-one but themselves to blame - although I'm sure Alba will be happy to share their own footage.

So what effect will this have?  Above all else, credibility.  Alba are now in the Scottish Parliament, which has become a six-party chamber.  That will be reflected at least to some extent in media reporting from Holyrood, with Alba's voice being heard occasionally.  Arguably this represents the same degree of credibility boost, albeit of a different type, that Alba spurned by not putting up a big name candidate in the Rutherglen by-election and seeking an electoral breakthrough.  Some may even suggest that the whole reason for the Rutherglen decision was that the leadership privately knew Ms Regan's defection was coming and that they didn't want to take any risks with its potential impact - although ultimately defections can only take you so far, and true credibility will only flow from success at the ballot box.

Alba have also just bought themselves some time.  Although they'll obviously do their best to hold Neale Hanvey's and Kenny MacAskill's seats, those are really difficult constituencies to defend - that would have been true for the SNP as much as it's true for Alba.  There was a big danger that Alba would cease to have any elected representation at all after next year's general election, but that will no longer be the case, because Ash Regan is in place until 2026.

There will be opportunities going forward for the new Alba MSP to harry the First Minister on lack of progress towards independence, and on independence strategy, at FMQs.  (She won't have automatic leader's questions due to Alba only having one seat, so she'll have to wait her turn, but the chances will come up occasionally.)  That would have been one of the big prizes if Alba had won seats in 2021, so it's good that it's happening belatedly.

Paul Hutcheon affected weariness a few hours ago and suggested the SNP wouldn't be that bothered about losing Ash Regan.  If he really believes that, he's a fool.  This is a potential 'genie out of the bottle' moment - there was a good reason why the SNP were so euphoric about shutting Alba out completely in 2021.  Now that Alba have their foot in the door of Holyrood, it becomes much easier to imagine them staying there.

The big question now is how many of the thousands of SNP members who voted for Ash Regan in the leadership election in March will follow her across to Alba.  I must admit I'm a bit conflicted about that, because it was only with the second preferences of those people that Kate Forbes came so close to stopping Yousaf.  If the SNP are ever to be reclaimed from the ruling clique, the votes of the more radical members will probably be needed.  But I suppose every member will just have to make an individual decision about whether the SNP can be saved and is worth saving, or whether the greater impact can be made by joining Alba.

Vote James Kelly #1 in the Alba NEC elections - for radical democratisation of the party

They say a politician should never hypothecate on failure, but then I'm not really a politician, and as UNIMAGINABLE as it may seem that I won't be elected the Alba Party's Membership Support Convener when the result is announced shortly, I'd better be ready for that eventuality because if I'm not elected I'll then immediately be going forward to the general NEC ballot, which I presume will once again be split into two separate votes for male and female candidates.  This time you'll only be eligible to vote if you've registered for conference - although that's one of the rules I'll be arguing to change if I'm elected to the NEC.

If you'd like to see radical democratisation of the party, with the entire NEC and other national committees being elected by the whole membership, and perhaps with all members being able to participate in conference votes remotely, feel free to give me your first preference vote and I'll do my utmost to take that case forward.

As in previous years, I also pledge to keep a laserlike focus on the goal of obtaining independence.  Any other preoccupations that could get in the way of that (and there are plenty) must fall by the wayside - it's as simple as that.

Thursday, October 26, 2023

There are various ways in which independence may be won - but it's not going to be won with a big petition

I've just been having a belated look at Robin McAlpine / Common Weal's plan for winning independence, although to be clear I've only read parts of the long document and I'm relying on the summaries in The National to fill in the gaps.  This plan is something that has intrigued me for a good few months, because Robin said just after Humza Yousaf was elected SNP leader that he could see a way of winning independence in the near future but wasn't sure whether to say what it was publicly.  Although I've often disagreed with him and could easily imagine not agreeing that his plan was workable, my interest was certainly piqued!

To start with what I do agree with, Robin is undoubtedly right to point out that trying to win international recognition for an independent Scotland "over the heads" of the UK Government is a complete non-starter.  I've been saying that all along, and if you want proof of it you need look no further than what happened when Catalonia declared independence unilaterally.  Not a single state recognised Catalonia's sovereignty - not even one of the 'rogue states' who might be thought to have nothing to lose by stirring the pot.  Not even Venezuela did it.  Scotland will get all the international recognition it requires on the day the UK Government grants recognition, and there is no way of circumventing that hurdle.  So Robin is also right to say that the main task before us is to drag the UK Government to the negotiating table.

He may well also be right that peer-to-peer campaigning and a National Commission to answer detailed questions on independence have a part to play.  But where I disagree with him is on the idea that we can and should forget about "process" because the type of campaigning he advocates can get us to 60% for Yes in the absence of a major democratic event such as a de facto referendum, and that once we do get to 60%, the game will be up for the UK.  I'd be more inclined to turn all of that on its head and say that 60% probably isn't even attainable and that therefore what is required of us is to find a mechanism for allowing a mandate that falls short of that (probably well short) to be democratically recorded, and then to use that mandate as leverage to pressurise the UK Government.

I really struggle to understand the hostility to just getting on with using scheduled (or unscheduled) elections to seek an independence mandate.  They would provide the focus for the type of campaigning Robin advocates, and they are a renewable resource - if you fail in one election, you can try again in the next.  The psychological impact of winning 53% on an outright manifesto commitment to independence will not somehow be blunted by the fact that you only won, say, 36% at the previous outing - indeed if anything the reverse is true.  And I have absolutely no doubt that an electoral mandate has far greater chance of forcing the UK Government's hand than Robin's idea of a petition.  If London isn't impressed by Ipsos polls (which have fairly consistently shown a pro-independence majority), there's no chance of wowing the people that matter with what will inevitably be dismissed as an amateurish " effort".

I also think it's a tad odd that Robin prays in aid the supposed success of the Scottish Covenant Association in getting two million people to sign a petition in favour of Home Rule in the 1950s, because there could scarcely be a better example of how easy it is for Westminster to totally ignore petitions.  I'd have thought it's beyond argument in retrospect that John MacCormick went down a blind alley with that wheeze and that he'd have been far better off sticking with party politics to achieve his aim, ideally in the SNP.  Robin seems to imply (and apologies if I'm misreading this) that the value of the petition is that it led to the Kilbrandon Commission.  That's well before my time, but I'm pretty sure it's historically bogus - Kilbrandon came about (tellingly) due to election results rather than petitions, namely Plaid Cymru's win in the 1966 Carmarthen by-election and the SNP's win in the 1967 Hamilton by-election. Its main recommendations were never implemented, of course, and devolution didn't happen until three decades later.

I also object as a matter of principle to the idea that we need a "supermajority settled will" before taking any action, because no supermajority is needed in a democracy, and because the only way of measuring it in the absence of electoral events is via opinion polls, which may well not be accurate.  It's understandable that Alister Jack wants to put YouGov at the heart of the Scottish constitution, but why we'd want to follow him down that road is beyond me.  Robin says the unionists have a stronger mandate than we do, but what does he mean by that unless he's taking dubious opinion poll results as gospel?  For as long as Ipsos UK, widely regarded as the gold standard pollster, contradicts other firms by showing a Yes lead, we'd be very foolish indeed to just take it as read that there's a No majority, or even that there isn't a stable Yes majority already there.

But my biggest gripe with Robin is identical to the one I have with the SNP "delay" faction - it's not much use having a plan predicated on what you'll do when you get to 60% if you're not going to get to 60%, which you aren't.  What you're actually doing is arguing for remaining in the UK indefinitely.  Perhaps the only difference between Robin and the SNP "delay" faction is that we know Robin is sincere and therefore genuinely hasn't recognised this fatal flaw in his prospectus.

*  *  *

If you're a member of the Alba Party, you now have only a few hours left to vote for me as Membership Support Convener.  Go on, you know you want to!  The link to vote should be in your inbox from a couple of weeks ago, and you can find my pitch for the election HERE.