I was very honoured to be one of the people elected to the Alba Party's National Executive Committee at last year's inaugural annual conference. I've been attending NEC meetings once a month ever since (plus a bonus emergency meeting the day before Boris Johnson resigned!). The 2022 Alba conference takes place over this weekend in Stirling, and once again I'll be a candidate in the ballot for the election of NEC members - and I'm extremely grateful to the dozens of Alba members who emailed me a few weeks ago to offer to nominate me for the ballot.
Just a reminder of how it all works: the vote itself will take place online, so as long as you've registered for the conference you should be able to cast a vote. There are separate ballots for male and female candidates, with the top four in each ballot being elected to the NEC, where they will join the various office bearers who are also NEC members. It's a preferential voting system, so you'll be ranking the candidates in order of preference using numbers - 1 for your first choice, 2 for your second preference, 3 for your third preference, and so on.
If you have a minute or two, let me ever-so-'umbly present my own pitch. If I'm re-elected, my guiding principles will be as follows...
Independence first: That sounds like a 'motherhood and apple pie' principle but it means something very concrete to me. Having been a long-standing member of the SNP, I moved across to Alba last year for one straightforward reason - I was at my absolute wit's end with an SNP leadership that was treating independence as a theoretical "ideal" rather than something that can and must be achieved in the real world. I would always want any party I'm a member of to be a vehicle for achieving independence, rather than the independence cause being a vehicle for the party. I promised last year that if there was ever any conflict between party interest and the interests of the wider cause of independence, I would always choose the latter, and I repeat that promise now. I think Alba is a very special party, because if you gave Alba members the choice between independence and five years of Alba government, we would all choose independence like a shot. There can't be all that many political parties which are less motivated by power for its own sake than we are.
Independence by the quickest realistic route: Now, let's be clear - in the worst case scenario where the SNP leadership do absolutely nothing to bring about independence and they fail to respond to internal and external pressure, it may prove necessary to embark on a long-term process to replace the SNP, brick by brick as it were, as the leading pro-independence force in Scotland. And if that is indeed necessary, I will be fully signed up for that project without reservations. But that cannot be our first choice, simply because of the length of time it would take - it could be a 10 year, 15 year, 20 year process with no 100% guarantee that we'd ever succeed. If an opportunity arises to bring about independence more quickly than that, we owe it to ourselves and to future generations to grab it with both hands. Frankly, if we're an independent country by 2025 or 2026, I will not care less who gets the credit for it. Even if Alba's role is written out of the history books, that won't matter because we'll still know privately that we played a very important part and did the right thing at the crucial moments.
Outflanking the SNP with authenticity: What I mean by that is we're outflanking the SNP to the left more and more, but we're not just doing it for tactical reasons, we're being true to our authentic beliefs. Opposition to NATO membership and the monarchy probably is the centre of gravity within the independence movement, and this is where Alba can come into its own. We're giving Yes supporters a means to campaign for independence while still being true to themselves on other issues, and it's only in that way that their enthusiasm can be maintained. Another example is the way we're giving a voice to the concerns of working class communities who are to some extent neglected by an SNP that is more preoccupied with middle class and identity politics issues. How on earth will a Yes majority ever be constructed without the passion of working class voters and working class campaigners? They were the very backbone of "the 45" eight years ago.
Take full advantage of Alba's Unique Selling Point: I argued the case on the NEC for Alba to use a description on the ballot paper for the local elections that succinctly encapsulates Alba's USP, which is not just independence but independence in the here and now. That's what actually differentiates us from the SNP and the Greens. I was happy enough with the "Alba for Independence" description we ended up using, because at least that tells people what we're basically all about, and clearly differentiates us from the unionist parties. But my real concern would be if we moved in future to a generic and vaguer description that doesn't mention independence at all. I think the "Alba Stands For Scotland" slogan is very good in certain contexts, but on a ballot paper what you want is a "Ronseal" description that's going to grab an undecided voter who is just about to make a snap, last second decision on how to vote. You want that person to know in very precise terms why they should vote for Alba and not for the SNP, or for Labour, or for the Lib Dems. Pretty much any party - including the Conservative party - can and does claim to "stand for Scotland", even though they mean something very different by it. So don't leave voters in a polling booth to grapple with the interpretations of ambiguous slogans - just bang them over the head with a message that amounts to "if you want independence fast, put your vote in this square here". That's what I'll continue to make the case for if I'm re-elected.
Realism about what it will take to get Alba MSPs elected in 2026: If the worst comes to the worst and we reach the 2026 election without an independence mandate having been achieved, I truly believe it's possible for us to get Alba list MSPs elected, but the biggest obstacle to that could be our own complacency. That may seem a strange thing to say given that as of yet nobody has been elected to public office under the Alba banner, which you'd think would mean that any vestigial trace of complacency would have been totally eradicated by now. But I've heard it being said that if you look at the local election results "under the bonnet", there was some sort of big advance for Alba in May, and that if a Holyrood election had been held on the same day, we would have won list seats. To a large extent that rests on the assumption that people who gave Alba their third preference votes behind two SNP candidates in May would somehow have been bound to vote Alba on the list in a Holyrood election. I cannot stress enough that there is simply no valid basis for making that assumption. We got 2% of the first preference vote where we stood candidates in May, and the likelihood is that we would have taken approximately 2% of the list vote in a Holyrood election on the same day. What we have to do is figure out how to grow our coalition of support over the next four years so that it reaches the 6-7% level at which we would take a decent number of list seats. If we kid ourselves by thinking that coalition of support is already there, there's a danger that we won't take the necessary steps to reach out to new categories of voters, and as a result we'll fall short again. I reckon there's something to be said for having that mildly annoying person on the NEC who will say "actually these numbers don't quite make sense because..."
Tolerance of dissent: One of the reasons Alba came into existence was because of the way the SNP's disciplinary processes were being misused to allow one faction to impose its dominance over others. I never want Alba to become a reverse mirror image of that. All of us will sooner or later find ourselves in disagreement with some party policy or other, and the contract must be: as long as we accept the legitimacy of the majority decision made by the party, we have the freedom to dissent from that decision and to argue for change.
Other issues: I support women's sex-based rights, and you may remember I commissioned a landmark opinion poll last year on GRA reform that established there was widespread public opposition to legally-recognised gender self-ID. I'm passionate about Gaelic and the Scots language, and I would hope it would always be unthinkable for a party called Alba to take any other view! And for me, total removal of nuclear weapons from an independent Scotland will always be a red line. If ever proof was needed that unilateralism isn't an outdated policy of the Cold War era, the events of recent months have provided it.
And a bit about me for those who don't know: I've been writing Scot Goes Pop since 2008, and by 2013 it had become one of Scotland's most popular pro-independence blogs. In 2012 I became a columnist for the International Business Times, and in the run-up to the independence referendum many of my columns were syndicated on Yahoo, reaching a huge audience - meaning that I may well have been, almost by accident, the most-read pro-indy blogger during the indyref period. Later on, I was for a time a columnist on the TalkRadio website, and since 2017 I've been a regular columnist for iScot magazine. I've also provided occasional election and poll analysis for The National since early 2015.
I've made numerous appearances on TV and radio, including BBC Breakfast, BBC Radio Five Live, the Bauer radio network, Al Jazeera, and most recently the Alex Salmond Show last year. I've also taken part in a huge number of New Media podcasts, films and live-streams. Perhaps most significantly, I've commissioned no fewer than six full-scale Scottish opinion polls - something that is usually the preserve of the mainstream media. Some of the polls have been genuine landmarks - for example, the poll in June 2020 that marked the start of the long unbroken series of Yes-majority polls was a Scot Goes Pop / Panelbase poll.
I'm not a political insider, though, and when I was elected to the Alba NEC last year, it was the first time I had ever held any sort of internal party position. It's hopefully helped me bring a fresh perspective to the committee, although of course there was also a learning process as I found my feet. The NEC works mainly on a consensus basis, with formal votes taking place relatively infrequently. That's probably the only practical way in which it can work, although as time has gone on I've felt that possibly there are just a very small number of additional occasions when we should be drawing breath and having a vote on an important matter, just to ensure a decision doesn't go through on the nod without us fully appreciating the issues at stake. There was one occasion over the last year when I did request a vote, and I can literally think of just one other occasion (a few months earlier) when I wish I had done.
I'd suggest a possible advantage of electing me is that there aren't going to be any surprises about my political views. Over the years, I must have blogged about practically every political topic under the sun, so my opinions are all out there. Most of you know me well and you know exactly what you'd be getting. I'm also easy to reach - I'm very active on social media. (That mostly means Twitter rather than Facebook, for the avoidance of doubt - it's not unusual for me not to check my Facebook account for weeks, which has led now and again to sheepish apologies to people who have messaged me in the interim.)
If any or all of this strikes a chord, and if you're eligible to vote, please do consider giving your first preference vote to James Kelly (that's me!) on the male ballot for ordinary members of the Alba Party NEC.
The vote to elect members of the National Executive Committee will take place during Alba's annual conference, to be held in Stirling on 15th-16th October. If you're an Alba member, I believe it's still possible to purchase a conference pass HERE, and if you're not yet an Alba member, you can join the party HERE.
VIDEO: Vote James Kelly #1 for re-election to the Alba Party's NEC - https://t.co/XIobBquvbW— James Kelly (@JamesKelly) October 15, 2022