Sunday, December 3, 2023

The nearest of near misses in the Membership Support Convener election - but remember there's still time to vote James Kelly #1 for the Alba NEC to push for radical democratisation of the party

Congratulations to Daniel Jack on being elected Membership Support Convener of the Alba Party, and I wish him every success in his year in office.  My goodness, though, the result brought a little tear to my eye (in a good way), because I led narrowly on the first round and very nearly won on the second round.  Thank you so much to everyone who voted for me - you've helped lay down some sort of marker that there is large support for radical democratisation of the party (meaning an NEC and other national committees directly elected by the whole membership), and of course you can make that marker even stronger by voting for me with your first preference vote in the ongoing election for the ordinary NEC members, which will close later today.  There are eighteen candidates on the male ballot, with only four slots available, so I really will need every vote I can possibly get to have a chance.  I'm really keen to get back on the NEC, and I think I could make a big difference if I was there.  My focus would be solely on winning independence - I have literally zero interest in being part of the bizarre cliquishness or factionalism that led to the original elections being scrapped.  All of that stuff is incomprensible and irrelevant to most party members and certainly to the wider public, and we need to simply bury it and focus exclusively on the real goal.

Alba Party Membership Support Convener election result:

Stage 1:

James Kelly - 42%
Daniel Jack - 41%
Scott Fallon - 17% 

Stage 2:

Daniel Jack - 50.5%
James Kelly - 49.5% 

Is this the point where I have a Damascene conversion to first-past-the-post?  Er, nope.

You can watch the two parts of our unofficial hustings for the NEC elections below - 


Saturday, December 2, 2023

Vote James Kelly #1 for the Alba NEC

So I believe today may be the day (or at the latest tomorrow) - if you were registered as a delegate for the Alba conference, you'll have an online vote in the election of ordinary NEC members, and I'll be one of the candidates unless I've been elected as Membership Support Convener.  If you'd like to see the party fully democratised, with the entire NEC elected by the whole membership, and likewise for all the other national committees, and if you've seen my views and my commitment to independence over the last fifteen years, please consider voting for me with your first preference vote.

Friday, December 1, 2023

EXCLUSIVE: Alba NEC hustings - Watch Part 1 Now!

The delayed elections for ordinary members of of the Alba NEC will take place over the weekend, and I believe anyone who registered as a conference delegate will be able to vote.  (One of my reasons for standing as a candidate is that I want to make the case that the system should change - all members should have a vote whether they registered for conference or not.)  There's been a lot of frustration that members haven't been provided with a full list of candidates in advance of the elections, and also that no hustings have taken place.  I decided to try to remedy that by organising some online hustings myself as episodes of the Scot Goes Popcast.  You can watch Part 1 of the hustings below, in which two NEC candidates - myself (James Kelly) and Trish McPherson - answer some excellent and thoughtful questions from Alba members.  Please note that I was using a family member's Zoom account, so it's definitely James Kelly who is standing as a candidate, not Ann Kelly!

All NEC candidates and Alba members are welcome to take part in Part 2 of the hustings, which will be recorded over Zoom at 9pm tonight.  If you don't already have the link, just contact me on Twitter or at:

URGENT: You have just half an hour left to vote James Kelly #1 as Alba Membership Support Convener

There was a small family emergency last night, and as a result I thought I'd forgotten to put out a reminder that today was the last chance to vote for me as Alba's Membership Support Convener.  However, I've just checked and it looks like the vote doesn't close until 3, so you have thirty minutes left!

* The online voting link should have arrived in your inbox on Friday 17th November. 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 30, 2023

See the pandas, get a Severin Carrell for free

This is just a public service announcement (although I'm sure you'll have seen this on the news) that if you want to see the giant pandas before they return to China, you literally only have a couple of hours left.  I went along yesterday, because I wrongly got the impression that was the last day.  Weirdly, as I was watching the pandas, it suddenly dawned on me that I was standing right next to Severin Carrell of the Guardian, who was conducting a very earnest ten or fifteen minute interview with a panda enthusiast he had randomly waylaid.  In fact I accidentally recorded about half of it as I was videoing the main attraction.

As a poll had just come out, it reminded me that the angriest I've ever seen Severin on social media was when he was complaining about the truthful reporting of an independence poll, which he regarded as deliberately misleading because it stripped out the Don't Knows.  Of course he wasn't worried about the No vote being inflated, just about the Yes vote, because he wanted to imply that the No vote and the Don't Knows combined amounted to the real opposition to independence - a trick also beloved of Michael White.  We seem to be heading back to those bad old days - it's becoming harder and harder to locate independence polling numbers that exclude Don't Knows, even though that's the only metric by which a direct comparison with the indyref can be made.

Thank you to the Edinburgh Zoo employee who took the first of these pictures, although the reflection on the glass does its best to obscure the panda!  The visibility was far better in reality.

Scot Goes Popcast Episode 19: Calton Jock, blogger and Alba founder member, discusses the Alba internal elections with me

First things first - I have an analysis piece on The National's website about the two new Scottish polls (one from Ipsos and one from Redfield & Wilton) - you can read it HERE.

I've heard quite a bit of frustration about the upcoming Alba NEC elections, in which I will be a candidate (depending on whether or not I'm elected as Membership Support Convener).  In particular, I've heard dismay that there isn't a publicly available and exhaustive list of who is actually standing.  To the best of my knowledge, there has also been precious little engagement between the candidates - the whole thing is a bit atomised.    I've been hoping to make a small contribution to changing that by arranging a small series of podcasts/videocasts in which I informally debate and discuss with other candidates - not necessarily just the ones I'll be standing against, but just anyone standing in any of the internal elections.  Time is now getting very short if that's going to happen, which is my own fault because I was too tentative about reaching out to too many candidates in case too many said "yes" and I became snowed under.  I now realise the danger was firmly in the opposite direction!  So I'll now blitz the candidates that I know of and see if I can get two or three to agree - it would have to be over the next couple of days, but we'll see what pans out.

I did have a guest tentatively arranged for tonight, but through no fault of that person it didn't work out - that's the danger of me trying to sort things out too hurriedly.  So having already set up the Zoom link, I decided to try something a bit different.  I posted the link publicly on Twitter and just invited anyone to join me.  It took quite a bit of persistence, but after a while I'm delighted to say I was joined by the renowned blogger and Alba founder member Calton Jock.  As you'll see, we didn't recognise each other at first but after the introductions it all became clear.  For the first thirty minutes or so, Calton Jock holds forth on a matter he's blogged about extensively and I just allowed him to speak more or less uninterrupted.  From thirty minutes on, we started discussing the Alba internal elections, and so that's the point to scroll to if you want to hear more about my pitch - in particular my proposal for the entire NEC to be directly elected by the whole membership, and what I think Alba's general election strategy should be.

It was a magical mystery tour tonight but it worked!  It probably wouldn't work a second time, though, so I'll see if I can make some firm arrangements with other candidates.  

Wednesday, November 29, 2023

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.

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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.

Saturday, October 21, 2023

Thoughts on election strategy for the Alba Party

For very technical reasons to do with Alba's internal election rules, I was given an unexpected opportunity today to submit a few lines about my thoughts on the party's general election strategy.  Having done that, I thought I might as well share what I've written with Scot Goes Pop readers, because it will hopefully be of interest to anyone voting in the Membership Support Convener election, and the general NEC ballot that will follow at conference.

"My view on general election strategy is simple: whatever resources Alba commit to the election should be totally concentrated in the two constituencies we are defending, and perhaps also in support of Angus MacNeil in the Western Isles, to the extent he feels that would be helpful.  Success in those three constituencies, whether in the form of outright wins or substantial vote shares, constitutes by far the best opportunity to build Alba's profile and credibility, and to propel us towards a Holyrood breakthrough in 2026.  Putting up Westminster candidates in other constituencies would be a lose/lose, because it would deflect resources (especially human resources) away from the priority seats, and would risk creating a mythology among independence supporters that Alba were responsible for needless Labour and Tory victories due to a widespread split in the pro-indy vote."

I think we all know from the mood music that the above advice is unlikely to be heeded in full, but nevertheless it's my honest view and I believe the reasoning is fairly inescapable.  Alex Salmond has said that Alba's main strategic focus must be on Holyrood 2026 - that's entirely right, and with that in mind I really do struggle to see the logic of spreading our resources too thin with risky interventions in too great a number of seats in Westminster 2024, which of course is a first-past-the-post election.  However, the SNP have made any number of far bigger strategic missteps in recent years, so if Alba make a collective decision I'm dubious about, I'm sure I'll come to terms with it.

It would perhaps be easy to caricature my views as cautious and always veering towards the least belligerent strategy, but the reality is that if I had been on the NEC a few weeks ago I would have been strongly arguing for Alba to stand in the Rutherglen by-election, as long as there had been a big name candidate. And I'm not being Captain Hindsight in saying that, because I repeatedly said so at the time on this blog.  It was a missed opportunity to build Alba's profile and transform Alba's credibility, and again, I don't really understand the thinking behind the decision.

One thing I would add is that if I'm elected to the NEC, I would strive in the same way as I did in 2021-22 to be a voice of realism about where Alba truly stands in respect of public opinion, and the challenge it faces in reaching the level of support required to win a decent number of list seats in 2026.  As long-term readers will remember, I was a bit disturbed last year about an analysis of the local election results that I felt was somewhat divorced from reality.  There was a seductive argument being put around that any voter who had ranked an Alba candidate higher than any party other than the SNP could be counted as a likely Alba list voter, which to be blunt is nonsensical.  In many cases, these were people who had voted SNP 1, SNP 2, Alba 3, or even SNP 1, SNP 2, SNP 3, Alba 4.  The obvious likelihood is that they would have been "both votes SNP" in a Holyrood election, and yet they were being prayed in aid as an indication that Alba's "real" vote was much, much higher than 2%, that very substantial progress had been made since the Holyrood election the previous year, and that the party was already firmly on course for multiple list seats - all of which unfortunately was without foundation.  I believe that list seats
are absolutely attainable, but we're far more likely to get there if we're honest with ourselves about the distance we still need to travel.

Of course I entirely understand that in an attempt to generate momentum, it can sometimes make perfect sense to publicise poll results suggesting 20%+ of voters would consider voting Alba, and to point out the number of list seats that could theoretically translate into.  But the problem kicks in if we start to internalise that messaging and take it too literally ourselves, which I sometimes feel is exactly what is happening.  As I always point out, Archie Stirling commissioned a YouGov poll in 2007 which showed 20%+ of voters would consider voting for his new Scottish Voice party - but on election day a few weeks later, only 0.1% actually did so.  Archie Stirling-type polls count for little in the real world.  I don't want us to get into a groupthink belief that 20 list seats can be easily won through enthusiastic campaigning, and then wake up on the day after the election wondering how on earth we've ended up with zero again.

Six or eight seats, which might be won on around 6% of the national list vote, will be a Herculean effort.  That would be a tripling (in fact almost a quadrupling) of the Alba vote from 2021.  We need to have a hardheaded, rooted-in-reality think about where those extra votes might come from and how they can be won over.

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If you're a member of the Alba Party, and haven't yet voted in the party's internal elections, I'd be grateful if you'd consider giving me your first preference for Membership Support Convener.  The email link to vote should be in your inbox from just over a week ago.

Friday, October 20, 2023

Setback for "Scottish Labour" as first post-Rutherglen poll shows independence support at almost 50%

As I pointed out both before and after the Rutherglen by-election, the problem with any Labour victory was not what it would show us about public opinion, but the effect it would have on public opinion.  What happened was the nightmare scenario because the swing was far greater than expected and gave both the Scottish and London media the excuse they were dreaming of to paint the result as being of biblical significance.  There was a real danger that the early polling after Rutherglen would show a snowball effect with Labour pulling away into a big lead.  That hasn't happened, at least not in the first poll, although the big caveat is that fieldwork opened on the day after the by-election, so although most respondents would have heard about the result, the hysteria of the reporting might not have had its full effect by that point.

Scottish voting intentions for the next UK general election (Savanta, 6th-11th October 2023):

SNP 35% (-3)
Labour 35% (+1)
Conservatives 19% (+2)
Liberal Democrats 6% (-1)

Seats projection (with changes from 2019 election): Labour 27 (+26), SNP 20 (-28), Conservatives 7 (+1), Liberal Democrats 5 (+1)

Scottish Parliament constituency ballot:

SNP 37% (-3)
Labour 33% (-)
Conservatives 18% (+2)
Liberal Democrats 6% (-2)

Scottish Parliament regional list ballot:

Labour 29% (+1)
SNP 28% (-)
Conservatives 20% (+2)
Greens 13% (-)
Liberal Democrats 8% (-3)

Seats projection: SNP 42 (-22), Labour 39 (+17), Conservatives 24 (-7), Greens 16 (+8), Liberal Democrats 8 (+4)

My view remains that the SNP are in all sorts of trouble as far as the Westminster election is concerned, and that a poll like this may even exacerbate the problem by encouraging a "you know, we're not doing too badly in the circumstances, are we?" mindset, when in fact they really need to be taking drastic action to turn things around.  However, as far as Holyrood is concerned, it probably is fair to suggest that Sarwar's fan club may have got over-excited about the significance of Rutherglen.

And they certainly got over-excited about their belief that Scots were turning their backs on independence in favour of "real change" (a phrase that curiously seems to mean continued right-wing rule from London, ie. no change at all).

Should Scotland be an independent country?

Yes 49% (-)
No 51% (-)

We're seeing a continued decoupling between the SNP and the Yes vote, which means by definition that a huge number of current Labour supporters actively support independence (excluding likely abstainers, roughly one-third of Labour voters in this poll would vote Yes). That may not make for the most stable of long-term relationships.

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If you're a member of the Alba Party, and haven't yet voted in the party's internal elections, I'd be grateful if you'd consider giving me your first preference for Membership Support Convener.  The email link to vote should be in your inbox from last Friday.

Thursday, October 19, 2023

Lisa Cameron: what a pointless waste

The more I read about Lisa Cameron's thinking about her decision to join the Tory party, the more I think that a) she's extremely muddled, and b) she's thrown away a golden opportunity to advance the causes she really cares about.  On the muddled aspect of it, she can't seem to make up her mind whether she still supports independence or not.  She's given several different versions of that to the media.  I was quite tickled by the version in which she still supports independence in principle but doesn't trust the SNP to run an independent Scotland (rather similar to Stuart Campbell's claimed reasons for drifting towards voting for the Tories and away from supporting independence-in-practice), because that would have technically meant the Tories were stuck with their first ever pro-independence MP.  But presumably her new handlers quickly realised that would never do, and primed her with the new "oh I'm just so exhausted with nationalism" schtick.

The missed opportunity, though, is on her thoughts about intolerance within the SNP towards religion, and anti-abortion views in particular.  My own party Alba is by no means dominated by pro-life Christians, indeed if there's any dominant worldview within the party it's radical feminism.  But its tolerance towards the type of views Lisa Cameron espouses is beyond question - you need look no further than the identity of the Alba General Secretary.  By joining Alba, or even by following Angus MacNeil's example of becoming a non-partisan pro-independence MP, Ms Cameron could have really made a difference and opened some minds among her constituents about how it's possible to vote for independence without necessarily always voting for the SNP or signing up to the SNP leadership's increasingly narrow and intolerant worldview.

But who in East Kilbride will follow her to the Tories?  Who will even give her a hearing now?  All she's done is trash her own reputation, made herself a hate figure, and closed off any chance of a lasting legacy.  I get the impression it was almost wholly an emotional decision based partly on strategic flattery and lovebombing from the Tory side, and partly on a desire to maximise the sting of her own personal revenge against the SNP.  She probably should have followed the old advice to count very slowly to 1000 before finalising her decision.

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If you're a member of the Alba Party, and haven't yet voted in the party's internal elections, I'd be grateful if you'd consider giving me your first preference for Membership Support Convener.  The email link to vote should be in your inbox from last Friday.

Tuesday, October 17, 2023

Yousaf's craven backtracking: when a "vote for independence" somehow means a vote for more devolution or to give "consideration" to doing something later on, but only maybe

I wanted to wait until I had a chance to read through the full text of the SNP's new "strategy for winning independence" before passing comment.  Well, where to start.  Maybe with the sole positive part: Yousaf has not reversed his dramatic announcement from a few months ago that the first line of the SNP's election manifesto will state that a vote for the SNP is a vote for an independent Scotland.  That's important, because whatever the SNP's own views on whether the election is a de facto independence referendum, it at least gives voters the theoretical opportunity to use it as one.  They had no such opportunity in 2019 because the manifesto did not contain that language (which is why people are mistaken in thinking the SNP are asking for a mandate they already have and are not using).

When Yousaf became leader, I noted that it meant the SNP had ceased to be a party actively seeking to win independence for the first time since at least 1942.  His announcement about the content of the first line of the manifesto (which he was almost certainly forced into by circumstance) caused me to tentatively reverse that assessment, and I suppose because that now forms part of the finalised "strategy", I must concede that the SNP do remain an actively pro-independence party.  But it's a finely-balanced call, because almost everything else in the text seems designed to undermine the meaning and clarity of the manifesto's opening words.

How do you signal to voters, the UK Government and the international community that an SNP vote is not really a vote for independence, even though you say it is?  Well, how about by going on to say that a vote for the SNP is actually a vote for certain limited powers to be devolved, which would obviously be unnecessary and impossible if Scotland is already independent.  Or how about by saying that you want the power to hold a referendum transferred to Holyrood, which would be unnecessary if Scotland has already voted for independence in a meaningful way.  Or how about by dropping in the subtext that even if you get the power to hold a referendum, you might not use it any time soon, thus implying the 2024 manifesto is even less of an urgent attempt to win independence than its 2019 counterpart. Or how about by suggesting that if no progress is made as a result of an SNP victory, you might then give 'consideration' to using the 2026 Holyrood election as a de facto referendum, with the implication that - in spite of all appearances - the wording of the manifesto cannot really be construed as making the 2024 election a de facto referendum even if voters wish to use it as one.

That word "consideration" is the most snivelling part of the whole exercise, because at least if there had been a clear statement of intent to use 2026 as the de facto, we'd have a roadmap towards independence.  As it is, we instead have the very real prospect of continuing with election after election of just kicking the can a bit further down the road.

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If you're a member of the Alba Party, and haven't yet voted in the party's internal elections, I'd be grateful if you'd consider giving me your first preference for Membership Support Convener.  The email link to vote should be in your inbox from last Friday.

Friday, October 13, 2023

VIDEO: Vote James Kelly #1 for Alba's Membership Support Convener to democratically empower *all* party members

* Voting for Membership Support Convener opens TODAY and all current Alba Party members can vote.

* 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, October 12, 2023

Vote James Kelly #1 for Alba's Membership Support Convener: Thoughts on how to radically democratise Alba's conference

As I said in yesterday's post, part of my reason for throwing my hat in the ring for the Membership Support Convener election is to hopefully kickstart a debate about thoroughly democratising the Alba Party's internal structures.  Of course if I was elected nothing would change automatically, but I'd at least be able to raise these issues and I'd have a mandate behind me to do so.  The most important thing in my view is that the ruling body of the party, the NEC, should become fully elected by the whole membership.  That's not the case at the moment, with only around half the spots on the NEC elected by the rank-and-file - and, as it happens, all of those positions were filled without a vote last year, meaning that the outgoing NEC has a very limited democratic mandate. But I think there is a broader test that ought to be applied and it goes beyond the issue of NEC elections.  Is there any actual good reason why the members should not be in full control?

As far as the NEC is concerned, the answer to that question is obviously no.  The only logical reason I can think of for not allowing most members to vote for ordinary members of the NEC is to give people an incentive to pay the registration fee to attend conference and thus gain voting "privileges", and that isn't a remotely good enough reason.  It's wrong as a matter of democratic principle, because people shouldn't have to pay extra for what should be their automatic democratic rights as members, and nor should the opportunity to purchase those rights be finite on a "first come, first served" basis.  But it's also completely needless, because I think we all know that enthusiasm for attending the conference would be just as great even if there was no exclusive right for attendees to elect ordinary members of the NEC.  That's not the main attraction by any means.

It's the same story for the other committees being elected by the tiny subset of members who have voting rights at National Council - is there any good reason why the wider membership couldn't be making that choice for themselves?  Of course not.  If it's just to give the National Council something to do, well...come on.  That's not more important than maximising the power of members, not by a long chalk.

As was pointed out on the comments section of the previous post, the real reason why voting rights of members have been limited in this way may be more to do with making the party more controllable by the leadership of the day.  Which may well be an innocent enough state of affairs for as long as we have a leadership we all approve of (which is very much the case at present) but becomes much more of a problem in the Starmer or Sturgeon scenario where a new leader takes over and then moves the party in a dramatically different direction without any prior indication that this was what they intended.  Once that happens, it can very quickly be checkmate if the internal democratic processes do not allow the members to reassert control.

Which brings me onto the question of conference, which is the supreme decision making body of the Alba Party.  We use the term "conference delegates" but of course that's not accurate - they're not delegated by anyone, they're simply members who have registered for conference on a first come, first served basis.  The best analogy would be the annual public meeting in a direct democracy such as the Swiss canton of Appenzell Innerrhoden, where any citizen can simply turn up and be a lawmaker for the day.  It's wonderfully empowering, but there is a limitation in Alba's case - numbers are artificially limited due to the size of the venue, and in any case we all know that there are people who would love to go but are simply unable to do so due to personal circumstances.  Again, we come back to the principle I suggested earlier: is there any good reason why all Alba members should not form part of the supreme decision making body of the party and thus have absolute control over the party's destiny?  Due to the current state of technology, the answer is inevitably and obviously no.  The conference is already livestreamed for the benefit of non-attendees and it would be incredibly easy to allow those non-attendees to take part in votes on resolutions electronically.  It wouldn't be all that difficult to go even further and have a properly hybrid conference with remote speakers, but voting rights are always the bottom line.  Extending voting at conference to all Alba members is so obviously in keeping with the logic of a conference open to all that it's surprising it hasn't already happened.

If I'm elected as Membership Support Convener, I will be trying to spark discussion on these issues of internal party democratisation, but I also want to prioritise engagement with members, particularly re-engagement with less active members, and to help resolve some of the communication difficulties between Alba members and the leadership that have plagued the party over its two-and-a-half year history.

One beauty of standing is that even if I don't win, I can use my campaign to raise awareness of issues that are troubling members, and that might make it more likely that they'll be resolved regardless of who is elected.  So if you're an Alba member and there's anything you'd like to draw to my attention, feel free to drop me a line at:

Voting opens tomorrow (Friday) and all current Alba members can vote.  You should receive an email link to the online ballot when the vote opens.  It's a preferential voting system, so although I'm asking you to give me (James Kelly) your first preference, you can if you wish give me your second or third preference instead, and of course I'd be equally grateful for that!

Wednesday, October 11, 2023

Vote James Kelly #1 for Alba's Membership Support Convener to kickstart a conversation about moving to a democratic one-member, one vote system for electing the NEC

First of all, many thanks again to everyone who nominated me - there was a late flurry at the end which got me well past the required twenty mark.  So now I want to share my thinking with you for putting myself forward for Membership Support Convener, and how that thinking has crystallised over the last couple of years by simply observing the way things have panned out within Alba.  

As you might remember, when we were all starting with a fresh slate in 2021, I stood as a candidate for ordinary member of the NEC and was lucky enough to be elected. During that election process, a number of people complained to me about two things: a) that ordinary NEC members were not being elected by the rank-and-file membership but only by the small minority of members who effectively paid a premium fee to register for conference, and b) that other crucial elements of internal party democracy were being stripped back, for example by not having direct elections for party chair or party treasurer.  I certainly agreed with the point about NEC members and made clear that I would be supportive of a change to election by one-member-one-vote.  In all honesty, though, once I was actually on the NEC it was a very new experience for me - when I was a member of the SNP I had never held internal office even at branch level, so there was a process of adjustment as I got used to how everything worked, and raising what I knew would be highly controversial and unwelcome points slipped down my list of priorities.

But I think what happened last year puts beyond all doubt that the current election system is not fit for purpose and has to change.  National Office Bearers on the NEC (including the position I am currently standing for) are elected by all Alba members - but that doesn't count for much if there is only one candidate for each position and no election is held.  That is exactly what happened in 2022.  Not a single vote was received by the Leader, the Depute Leader, the Women's Convener, the Equalities Convener, the Organisation Convener, the Membership Support Convener or the Local Government Convener.  It's highly likely that all or most of the people who took or retained office would have been elected anyway - but the bottom line is that members had no choice to make.  With glorious irony, though, there then followed an extraordinarily competitive election for ordinary members of the NEC, but most Alba members had no say in that either.  From memory, it was only something in the region of 5% of the membership who were both eligible to vote as conference attendees and actually did so.  To add insult to injury, there were severe problems with the vote, so even some of the people who tried to vote didn't succeed.  There were separate ballots for female and male candidates, and some people submitted their form without twigging that they'd only voted in one of the ballots.  They then weren't able to make any changes and were effectively stuck with an unintended partial abstention.  As one of the unsuccessful candidates (I managed mid-table respectability in sixth place out of eleven on the male ballot, thus missing out on one of the four spots available), I didn't raise any complaint because it seemed highly unlikely to me that the glitches made any difference to the final result - all candidates would have been affected equally.  But from a voter's point of view, that sort of episode just isn't good enough.  If you have to pay extra to be able to vote, you certainly have every right to expect that your vote will be recorded.

So we ended up with an Alba ruling body that quite simply was not elected by the membership.  Half the people on it simply 'emerged', while the other half were only elected by a very small premium-paying selectorate.  That's part of the reason I felt it was important to stand for one of the National Office Bearer positions this year, because if I ensured that there was a minimum of one challenger to the incumbent, members would at least have some kind of choice for one spot on the NEC.  But I also felt it was important to give the whole Alba membership an opportunity to express support for one very simple proposition - that the entire ruling body of the Alba Party should be elected by the whole membership.  There is no justification for members being denied their right to choose the ordinary members of the NEC as well as the National Office Bearers.  Any party that does not allow its members to elect the ruling body is not a truly functioning internal democracy.  Frankly, I think the current system only looks vaguely justifiable to people (or to some people) on the basis that it's "slightly more democratic than the SNP, at least on paper", but that's not really good enough.  There's not much point in starting a new party unless the intention is to lead the way and create something genuinely superior to what has gone before.

I hesitate to use the phrase "de facto referendum" (ahem), but if I am elected Membership Support Convener on the basis I have just set out, I would claim that as strong evidence that the party membership as a whole is not satisfied with the current arrangements for electing the NEC and that there needs to at least be a conversation about moving to full one member, one vote (with the exception of the position of parliamentary group leader, who I would agree needs to be on the NEC as of right).  And hopefully I might help to start that conversation even if I am not elected, but obviously the more votes I receive, the more likely that will be to happen.  My own personal view, actually, is that all of the party's national committees should be elected by the whole membership, but the really important thing is that the ruling body should be democratically elected.

Our occasional commenter Keaton has made the point a number of times that even if the people arguing that Alba needs to totally replace the SNP as the leading party of independence get their way, Alba would then just turn into the SNP Mark II as a result of careerists joining the gravy train, and we'd end up back to square one with independence on the backburner.  What is the only protection against that danger?  The membership having total democratic control over their own party.  A party with constitutional structures that allow it to be "managed" by the leadership of the day will always be vulnerable to a takeover by cliques or vested interests, as we have seen in the SNP in recent years.

More broadly, I think I would bring a distinct perspective to bear as Membership Support Convener, because I am one of the people who due to personal circumstances haven't been able to attend in-person events regularly, so I know what it feels like to be part of an "invisible membership" who are on the outside looking in as an 'in-person core' effectively get on with (to all intents and purposes) being the party.  The other day I saw an NEC candidate being castigated on the basis that "we never see this guy, who the hell does he think he is putting himself forward?"  That attitude is a massive part of the problem.  There are a million and one good reasons why some people simply aren't able to pound the streets at by-elections or attend in-person LACU meetings, and telling those people they have no contribution to make is incredibly alienating, not to mention ableist.  This is 2023, folks, technology has advanced, and there are many ways that people can make a contribution if you would just allow them to do so. As Membership Support Convener, my first priority will be to re-engage that wider "inactive" membership and make them realise they have a genuine stake and a role.  Even if you truly believe that only in-person active members have any value, the goal should surely be to increase that base of active members, and you're not going to do that by saying to people "this is our party, not yours, so butt out".  It's also not the way to stop inactive members from ceasing to be members at all.

I think it's fair to say that internal online communications between the party and the membership have at times left a lot to be desired, and I have heard the word "shambolic" being used.  I'm no more perfect than anyone else, and I'm sure I would make mistakes and sometimes people would still feel dissatisfied, but nevertheless I do feel confident that with fifteen years of experience as one of Scotland's leading pro-independence bloggers, I would be able to find creative ways of engaging the party membership by email communications, and hopefully I could help ease some of these ongoing problems.  

The vote opens on Friday, and there will be a preferential voting system.  Obviously I'd ideally like you to give me your first preference vote, but if you don't want to do that, you also have the exciting opportunity to give me your second or third preference vote, and I'd be equally grateful for that!

Friday, October 6, 2023

More analysis of the Rutherglen & Hamilton West by-election outcome

Just a quick note to let you know I've written an analysis piece for The National about the by-election result and the changes I think the SNP will need to make in response.  You can read it HERE.

One of the most idiotic self-inflicted wounds in UK political history: in a by-election that might never have been held if the SNP hadn't campaigned for it, Yousaf suffers crushing defeat that calls his future as leader into question

Rutherglen & Hamilton West by-election result:

Labour 58.6% (+24.1)
SNP 27.5% (-16.7)
Conservatives 3.9% (-11.1)
Liberal Democrats 2.9% (-2.3)
Greens 2.0% (n/a)
Reform UK 1.3% (n/a)
Scottish Family Party 1.0% (n/a)
Scottish Socialist Party 0.8% (n/a)
Independence for Scotland Party 0.7% (n/a)
Trade Union and Socialist Coalition 0.6% (n/a)
Independent - Daly 0.2% (n/a)
Volt UK 0.2% (n/a)
Independent - Love 0.1% (n/a)
Independent - Cooke 0.0% (n/a)

I'm sometimes accused of being robotically hostile towards Humza Yousaf and never giving him credit where it is due, but I can honestly say that at the start of the night, when the gossip was about a narrowish Labour victory margin of around seven or eight points, my planned title for this blogpost was "Damp squib for Labour: they win Rutherglen but with underwhelming swing".  When it started looking as if the margin might be more like fifteen points, I was going to say it was the nightmare outcome, because the result was bad enough for the SNP to suggest that they were on course for defeat at the general election, but not quite bad enough to shock them into rethinking the leadership question.  But I can only react to the numbers that are actually in front of us, and they are truly shocking for Yousaf.  Very few people saw a 30+ point Labour victory coming.

It should never be forgotten that this was a needless by-election that the SNP played a key role in bringing about.  There was previously a pro-independence MP in place and she would have stayed there until the general election if the recall petition had failed, which came closer to happening than expected.  It's impossible to know whether the SNP swung the balance with their decision to actively campaign alongside Labour to persuade people to sign the petition, but the possibility can't be ruled out.  If so, the SNP leadership were the authors of this calamity in a very literal sense.

I've seen people trying to argue this morning that all that's happened is that Labour have turned out their voters from 2019 whereas three-quarters of SNP voters from 2019 stayed at home.  I mean, come on.  Differential turnout will have been a factor but it simply doesn't occur at that scale.  There will have been plenty of Labour voters who didn't show up for this low-turnout election, meaning there will have been a substantial shift of votes from SNP to Labour, and indeed from Tory to Labour.

It's a sign of just how poor the politicians were at 'reading' this result in advance that the Greens were suggesting it would show them on course for a second list seat in the region.  Instead they ended up with 2%, which wouldn't be winning them anything at all on the list.

If Yousaf survives this setback and remains leader (and it would be far better for the SNP if he doesn't) it's now essential that he brings his rivals Kate Forbes and Ash Regan back into the Scottish Government in senior positions, and introduces a more collective style of leadership.  Factional rule with a B Team government has been tried, and unsurprisingly it has failed.  But above all else Yousaf needs to start convincing voters that a vote for the SNP in the general election will directly lead to Scotland becoming an independent country.  Anecdotally, the reports from Rutherglen suggested that pro-independence voters were drifting to Labour because they felt that independence was no longer really on offer to them.

Thursday, October 5, 2023

Possible benchmarks for Rutherglen?

No matter what the result tonight, someone will pop up and say "oooh, you can't read too much into by-elections, voting patterns are different for by-elections".  Which spectacularly misses the point, because by-elections are important not because of what they show about public opinion, but because of the effect that they have on public opinion.  The most celebrated by-election results, like Hamilton 1967 and Govan 1973, produced extraordinary nationwide snowball effects that fed into successive general election results.

However, to produce a snowball effect, a by-election result would need to have the "wow" factor, and because there's such a strong expectation that Labour will win tonight, I'm not sure a narrow Labour victory would be enough to produce a game-changing form of momentum.  To get a sense of where expectations lie going into the by-election, I ran an unscientific Twitter prediction poll the other day, which produced the following results - 

SNP win: 30.2%
Labour win by 0-9 points: 43.0%
Labour win by 10-19 points: 18.6%
Labour win by 20+ points: 8.3%

I suspect the high percentage for an SNP win comes from people who aren't aware of the basic arithmetic of the situation, ie. that Rutherglen is an unusually favourable seat for Labour and that the SNP would generally only win it if they're in landslide territory nationally, which plainly they aren't.  Nevertheless there does seem to be a genuine perception that the SNP have reeled Labour in somewhat and a big Labour margin of victory is no longer on the cards.

That means the expectations game has produced dangers for the leaderships of both parties.  If the SNP win (which I really can't see happening), it could be the beginning of the end for Labour's chances of a comeback in Scotland next year.  But if Labour win by more than 20 points, which I'd suggest is a more plausible surprise than an SNP win, it could now be a sufficient shock to the system to raise big question marks over Humza Yousaf's future as leader.

Wednesday, October 4, 2023

Final push for nominations in the Alba internal elections

Apologies for another post about the Alba Party's internal elections, but there's no point leaving a job half done.  As you probably know, I'm putting myself forward for two positions: Membership Convener and Ordinary Member of the NEC.  I would need twenty nominations from current Alba members to make the Membership Convener ballot, and I would need ten nominations from current Alba members to make the NEC Ordinary Member ballot.  Nominations will close on 6th October (ie. Friday), so it's all getting a bit urgent.

To crank up the tension further, I've just drawn up a list of people who have told me either by email or by commenting on the blog that they've nominated me for both positions, and I would appear to have exactly twenty nominations, which would be plenty enough to get on the Ordinary Member ballot, and just barely enough to get me on the Membership Convener ballot.  However, I only know the names of eighteen of those twenty people, so I can't check for duplication, and I also can't be totally sure that all of them have validly nominated me.  The situation is thus still a bit dubious and I would need a few more to be confident of really having twenty.

So if you're a current Alba member and you'd like to nominate me, the email address to send nominations to is:

As far as I know you just need to give the name of the person(s) you're nominating and the positions you're nominating them for.  Ideally if you could also copy that message to me, or send me a message afterwards so I can keep count of the nominations as best I can.  My own email address is:

You might remember that last year every single one of the National Office Bearer positions had just one candidate standing, and therefore not a single election for those positions took place.  I'm hoping to help play a small part in ensuring that members at least have a choice this year.  (There were of course very competitive elections for the NEC Ordinary Member positions last year, but those are only elected by conference delegates and thus the vast majority of members didn't have any say.)

Friday, September 29, 2023

Uniquely in world history, the SNP have a majority fringe

So, rather helpfully, we have six exact names of people belonging to this fringe malcontent group.  Of course one thing that all fringe malcontent groups, all over the world, have in common is that they have very little support, but it's usually not possible to measure in precise detail just how pitifully small their support is.  In this particular case, though, we have a rare opportunity to do just that, because remarkably, no fewer than two of the six leading members of the fringe malcontent group actually stood for the SNP leadership only six months ago, so let's refresh our memories of just how dismally they performed.

Kate Forbes took just 40.7% of the first preference vote.

Ash Regan took just 11.1% of the first preference vote.

In combination, that suggests the fringe malcontent group commands the support of a mere 51.8% of the SNP membership.

Oh wait, that's an outright majority, isn't it.   I'm sometimes accused of being overly-pedantic, but I'm not aware of any version of the English language in which the majority of an organisation can be described as its "fringe".  Maybe it's the Humza cheerleaders who are the real fringe malcontents, who knows.

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For members of the Alba Party: I'm currently seeking nominations to stand for Membership Convener and for one of the ordinary member slots on the NEC.  If you're a current Alba member and might be interested in nominating me, you can find the details HERE.

Thursday, September 28, 2023

Is there any excuse at all for Humza Yousaf removing the whip from the newly-crowned MSP Of The Year?

Although I think Humza Yousaf should step down in the very obvious interests of both the SNP and the wider independence movement, I'm certainly not someone who will just reflexively oppose something because Yousaf was the person who did it.  In the case of Fergus Ewing's highly controversial suspension from the SNP, there is one nagging doubt I have that might theoretically mitigate in Yousaf's favour, and it relates to the long-standing convention at Westminster that an MP will automatically forfeit the whip if they vote against their own government on a motion of no confidence, or indeed if they abstain on a motion of no confidence without a valid excuse.  Fergus Ewing of course voted in favour of a motion of no confidence in the Green minister Lorna Slater - so is that somehow equivalent to voting in favour of a motion of no confidence in the government?

I don't think it is, actually.  I did make the point repeatedly during the SNP leadership election that the argument that "electing Kate Forbes would be dangerous because SNP MSPs would refuse to install her as First Minister" was a piece of absolute nonsense, because those MSPs would know that abstaining or voting against their elected party leader in the First Minister election is tantamount to voting on a motion of confidence to bring down the SNP government, and they would lose the whip for doing it.  But that's different from the vote on Slater, because the fate of the government really does hinge on the outcome of a First Minister election - if the SNP leader doesn't win it, you get a unionist First Minister who will attempt to form a unionist government.  By contrast, if you vote to remove one low-ranking minister from the government, the same government can simply continue with a new minister.  It's true that the Greens might walk out of the coalition if they were not allowed the ministers of their choice, and therefore the composition of the government might change from SNP-Green to SNP-only.  But that would be a decision made by the Greens, and wouldn't be a direct consequence of the vote.  

So I don't think the logic for suspending Ewing stacks up.  The Slater vote is being used as a convenient excuse to punish him for a wider range of rebellions on matters of conscience that would not in any normal government warrant the withdrawal of the whip.

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Thank you to members of the Alba Party who have already nominated me for the positions of Membership Convener and ordinary member of the NEC. There were a flurry of emails yesterday from people receiving acknowledgements of their nominations, so the email address seems to be working and the nominations are being monitored.  I need ten nominations to be on the general NEC ballot, and twenty nominations to be on the Membership Convener ballot.  So far, and by a very rough count that may not be entirely reliable, I reckon I have about sixteen nominations for both positions.  So I should (touch wood) be on the NEC ballot, but it remains to be seen whether I'll get the handful of further nominations required to get on the Membership Convener ballot.  If you're a current Alba Party member and are interested in nominating me, you can find the details HERE.