Friday, March 25, 2022
Lisa Keogh, candidate for the Alba Party in the Arbroath West, Letham & Friockheim ward, is today's guest on the Scot Goes Popcast
Wednesday, March 23, 2022
Tuesday, March 22, 2022
Alba absolutely *can* help to achieve independence - but not in monastic isolation from other pro-indy parties
I've been receiving a barrage of queries in recent days, on two slightly contradictory fronts. Firstly, there's the national treasure and my number one fan Peter A Bell, who claims not to understand what role Alba can possibly play in bringing about independence, and secondly there's a small smattering of Alba supporters who say they don't understand why giving second, third and fourth preference votes to other independence-supporting parties (or even first preference votes in wards where Alba isn't standing) is so important in the council elections in May. I was going to split my responses into two posts, but as we're dealing with essentially two sides of the same coin, it might make more sense to cover both issues in a single post.
Let's start with our old friend Peter. "Alba will never be in government!" he bellows. "Only the SNP can be the vehicle for independence! Alba will never replace the SNP! What role do they even think they have to play? What possible value can there be in voting for Alba, rather than voting for the SNP and trying to influence Nicola Sturgeon?" The answer to those questions is, of course, elementary and extremely obvious, and if I didn't know Peter better I'd assume he was just pretending not to understand - but, given the nature of the man, I must at least concede the possibility that he's so locked into black-and-white thinking that he genuinely can't see the wood for the trees.
There are, let's be honest, a few utopianists among the Alba membership who believe that, with a lot of hard work, it may be possible to replace the SNP as the leading pro-independence party within a very short time-frame, just as Sinn Féin very suddenly replaced the more gradualist Irish Parliamentary Party at the 1918 general election, precipitating Irish independence. That, however, is very much a minority belief within the party. It's unlikely to happen because the prevailing circumstances just aren't conducive to it. But that's fine, because Alba doesn't need to become the largest party or even get anywhere close to that. All it has to do is gain a significant enough percentage of support - which could be as little as 4% or 5% of the vote - to force the SNP to start looking over its shoulder and consider what it needs to do to get those votes back, or to prevent any further slippage. Almost inevitably, any action taken would have to involve greater radicalism and urgency on independence. And as soon as we have a Scottish Government that is coaxed into serious action to bring independence about, Alba's primary objective is achieved.
There is nothing remotely novel about the concept of a smaller party achieving its objectives indirectly by applying pressure to a larger party. Here are a few examples -
* In the mid-1970s, the Labour government performed a U-turn on its opposition to devolution as a result of the panic caused by relatively modest seat losses to the SNP. It then spent a large chunk of the 1974-79 parliament making a serious (albeit ultimately failed) attempt to legislate for a Scottish Assembly.
* In the 1980s, Labour moved rapidly to the right as a result of losing a significant chunk of its more moderate traditional vote to the breakaway Social Democratic Party (SDP).
* Bizarrely, the process that eventually led to Britain leaving the European Union was set in train by rather minor concerns among the Tory leadership that UKIP might pose a threat in the odd by-election. They imagined they could hold a referendum without any real danger of a Leave victory, and thus neutralise the UKIP problem in a risk-free way. UKIP was thus able to completely achieve its founding objective without ever holding more than two seats in the House of Commons.
Peter has been around long enough to have witnessed all of those examples. Why he has been unable or unwilling to process the lesson of them is something only he can explain.
Now let's turn to the importance of Alba supporters giving second, third and fourth preference votes to candidates from other pro-independence parties. The objections I've heard to that are rather scattergun, which suggests that what's really going on is that a small number of people don't want to give SNP candidates a preference for emotional reasons, and are working backwards to try to come up with any justification for that, even though they must know deep down that it would be deeply harmful to the independence cause. The claim that "local elections have got hee-haw to do with independence" rings particularly hollow, although if anyone genuinely believes that, they are being astoundingly naive.
Think back to why we actually needed an Alba Party in the first place. It goes back to the SNP leadership's catastrophic loss of nerve in the first half of 2017, when they announced an independence referendum would be held and then totally backtracked within a matter of months. Everyone remembers the role played in that process by the 2017 general election (in which, let's not forget, the SNP actually won a majority), but it didn't start there. A few weeks before the general election, the SNP underperformed expectations badly in the local elections. At the start of the count, Professor John Curtice speculated that they might end up with around 40% of the vote, and suggested that would be mildly disappointing for them. In the end, to everyone's surprise, they took just 32% of the vote, which represented no progress at all since the pre-indyref elections in 2012. That was eagerly interpreted by the media as a public rejection of Nicola Sturgeon's desire for a second referendum, and thus set a destructive narrative which fed into the general election campaign and ultimately led to the referendum being ditched.
That, my friends, is what is so spectacularly wrong-headed about the notion that it's "safe" for we as Alba supporters to want the SNP to do badly at the local elections as a kind of "punishment" so they will be "sent a message" about the error of their ways. In fact, the message they'd receive would be the total opposite of the one you intended to send. If you want to nudge the SNP towards greater radicalism or to reverse course on women's rights, there is one thing you can do - you can rank Alba first in your ward (if there's an Alba candidate) and the SNP second. That message will be heard and understood loud and clear. But if you don't rank the SNP at all, what you are doing in 99% of cases is abstaining on whether you want SNP councillors or unionist councillors. That means you will effectively be helping Labour, Tory and Lib Dem candidates to be elected, which will be interpreted by the SNP leadership in one way, and in one way only. Scotland doesn't want independence. Scotland doesn't want an independence referendum. Let's kick it even deeper into the long grass.
If the local elections really weren't about independence, Alba probably wouldn't even be standing in them. Nor would the SNP, for that matter. We'd all be voting for the North Lanarkshire Collect Rubbish More Efficiently Party or the Clackmannanshire Keep Our Libraries Open Party. Everyone can understand that emotions are running high and that there are lots of resentments between the SNP and Alba, but if the objective is to actually achieve independence rather than to settle old scores, we have to engage our heads as well as our hearts, which leads inescapably to the conclusion that we should give our top rankings to all of the pro-independence candidates in each ward.
There's another hard-headed consideration too. To the best of my knowledge, the Scot Goes Pop / Panelbase poll from last autumn is still the only poll to ask specifically for local council voting intentions. It found that Alba were in the same ball-park as other smaller parties on the first preference vote - they were on 2%, compared to 4% for the Greens and 6% for the Liberal Democrats. But when respondents were asked which parties they would give any kind of ranking to at all, Alba only crept up to 6%, while the Lib Dems and Greens both leaped into the low 20s. That means Alba actually needs to encourage vote transfers more than any other party does. If Alba were to hopelessly try to achieve independence in splendid monastic isolation (thankfully it won't), that would set an example that SNP supporters might follow - but Alba would be harmed by that far, far more than the SNP would. We need to encourage committed SNP supporters to give a second, third or fourth preference vote to Alba at every available opportunity. We would be absolutely idiotic to send completely the opposite message by saying that Alba voters should only rank Alba, which by logical extension would be heard as "SNP voters should only rank the SNP".
Another objection I've heard is that, on moral grounds, we shouldn't give a ranking to a party which tried to put its former leader in jail. But that strategic question was settled last year, when Alba urged voters to try to bring about a pro-independence supermajority by voting SNP on the constituency ballot and Alba on the list. "Monastic isolation as revenge for the Alex Salmond trial" was rightly rejected as an approach last year, so it would be a bit odd to suddenly adopt it this year.
The reality is that it looks like Alba will only be standing in just under one-third of wards across Scotland. Even where they are standing, they will only have one candidate in multi-member wards that will elect three or four councillors. Alba can contribute to strong pro-independence representation in our local councils after May - but contribute is the operative word. Whatever our policy and strategic differences, we need to rank the SNP and Greens too.
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Sunday, March 20, 2022
I paid one of my occasional visits to Peter A Bell's blog yesterday and discovered that there was another post dedicated to yours truly. And this one is an absolute BELTER. Behold...
"I shall start with a couple of confessions. This article isn’t really all about James Kelly. Filling an entire blog post with stuff about him would be a challenge even for someone as famously verbose as myself. I don’t like the guy. That’s my second confession. I’m not prone to instant dislikes. As far as I am aware, I’ve never met the laddie. My dislike for him is, I admit, somewhat irrational...I can’t explain it. Something about the guy just makes my skin crawl. And sometimes you just have to go with your instincts. How’s that for full disclosure?"