I noticed yesterday that Alba Dundee's Twitter account had been suspended, which seemed a strange coincidence given the controversy that was swirling over Alba Dundee's go-it-alone decision to back a spoilt ballot campaign at the general election. The allegation today is that Alba HQ reported the Alba Dundee account as an "impostor" and got it suspended and replaced with an HQ-run account. Allan Petrie, who was an elected member of the Alba NEC until a few short weeks ago, has reacted in fury and left the party. This follows several other high-profile departures due to the fall-out from the internal elections in October and December.
Now, to be clear, I think Alba Dundee's spoilt ballot campaign decision was extremely unwise, because it would have harmed the cause of independence, and it was probably also unsustainable, because it wasn't really reconcilable with Alba's national strategy of standing candidates in at least twelve constituencies. But that meant a mature conversation needed to be had between the national party and the Dundee LACU. And yes, the national party's position had to take precedence if agreement couldn't be reached, but draconian action should have been a last resort. It sounds as if it was more like a first resort.
There's been a bit of a trend of high-handedness recently, most obviously in the reaction to some of the questions that were raised about the voiding of the national office bearer elections and the cancellation of the NEC elections in October, and the subsequent decision to keep the results of the rescheduled NEC elections secret in December (other than the names of those elected). Specifically, a question was asked about an alleged discrepancy between the number of people registered for conference in October and the number who were actually able to vote in December. The General Secretary responded on the Alba website, as was entirely proper, but he ended his response by attacking those who had raised concerns and accusing them of being out to harm Alba. That was more than a little unfair given that some of those people were very senior party members and even former NEC members. But subsequently there seemed to be a concerted effort on social media to get them shouted down as enemies of the party.
This is all a bit silly, because the reality is that it is highly unusual to suddenly void elections when everyone is sitting in the conference hall waiting to hear the results. It's highly unusual to suddenly cancel an election that everyone is sitting there waiting to vote in. And it's highly unusual to keep an election result secret. In such genuinely strange circumstances, you can quite rightly expect to be asked questions about what the hell is going on, and the best thing to do is just chill out and answer those questions as transparently as you can, rather than getting all passive-aggressive about being challenged.
There are all sorts of claims and counter-claims flying around about the conduct of the elections, and it's very difficult to know who to believe. But there are two points in particular that still trouble me. Firstly, did anyone know what the results of the original office bearer elections were before they were voided? If so, there's a theoretical danger that the decision to void may have been influenced by the identities of the winners. (I have no personal axe to grind there, because I would guess I almost certainly did better in the re-run version of the Membership Support Convener election in December than I did in the original in October.) And secondly, if it's true that the NEC results had to be kept secret for data protection reasons, why was the same not the case in the previous two years, when the results were published without any difficulty? There may well be perfectly simple and reasonable answers to these questions, but to the best of my knowledge we haven't heard any yet.
To avoid continuing alienating members in the way that's been happening, Alba need a bit less authoritarianism and a bit more transparency. To be fair, the same could be said for most political parties, but it's been very much Alba's turn to struggle with these issues in recent months. As regular readers will know, I was recently elected to a working group that is reviewing the Alba constitution. For confidentiality reasons I can't give a running commentary on the progress of that, but let's hope that in a year or two we have a reformed party which is more comfortable in its own skin, and where everyone feels their voice is heard and valued. We should expect nothing less from an exciting new party which ought to be blazing a trail for internal democracy and transparency, rather than slipping straight back into the bad habits of the much older party its members broke away from three years ago.