Saturday, April 27, 2024

Has The Times misrepresented what Alex Salmond said about his price for backing Yousaf?

The Times website has an "exclusive" claiming that Alba are making a 'Scotland United' electoral pact the price of any support for Humza Yousaf in the no confidence vote.  Some people are interpreting that as a demand that is intentionally so unpalatable for the SNP that it's actually meant to be rejected, in other words that Alba have already made up their minds to vote against Yousaf and are just working their way through the pre-vote choreography.  But this may be one of those occasions where it's worth looking beyond the headline and reading the details of the article, because what Alex Salmond said was more conversational and open-ended than you might realise, and at least for now I think it remains an open question whether he has been interpreted correctly.

Mr Salmond even goes out of his way to suggest that an electoral pact for the general election may not actually be possible at this stage because candidates have already been selected.  He goes on to say he might want to have a discussion about a pact for Holyrood 2026, but the wording is vague enough that I'm not convinced he's deliberately making impossible demands.  And although the electoral pact issue is described as "top line", elsewhere in the interview he describes independence itself as the "number one priority".

My question would be this: if Yousaf concedes the referendum legislation that Ash Regan has argued for, and makes some sort of concession on the rights of women and girls, but refuses an electoral pact, would - or should - Alba say that's not enough?  I doubt it.  The referendum in particular would be a monumental win for Alba and it would be crazy to spurn it. But that may be an academic point, given how the usual suspects are lining up to demand that Yousaf treat Alba as complete untouchables.

I'll actually be happy enough if Alba end up voting to remove Yousaf in the coming days, but only as long as it's done surgically and doesn't topple the government or trigger an early election.  As Tyrannical Theresa might put it, now is not the time for that.  Although, as we now know beyond all doubt, no time was ever the right time for Humza Yousaf to be First Minister of Scotland and leader of the independence movement.

Exactly half of MSPs (64 out of 128) want Yousaf to go - and that's as close to checkmate as may make no difference

The impression I formed from listening to interviews with Green MSPs yesterday is that they don't necessarily want to topple the SNP government or to bring about an early election, but they are determined to remove Humza Yousaf as First Minister, if they can.  And whatever you think of the Greens, that's actually an understandable position because he's been thoroughly duplicitous in his dealings with them, pledging an undying commitment to them one day and then unceremoniously dumping them the next day.  They're perfectly entitled to say that if they're going to work with an SNP minority government over the next two years, they need to be able to trust that any ad hoc deals that are formed on policy are worth the paper they're written on, and the trust simply won't be there until a First Minister who has proved himself to be untrustworthy is replaced.

(There is an obvious irony here, though, in that some would argue that the Greens overstepped the mark last year by interfering in the SNP's leadership election to try to get Humza Yousaf installed, and could barely contain their jubilation when they got their way.  That hubris is perhaps the one sense in which they were authors of their own downfall.)

The SNP might be tempted to respond by saying that it is up to themselves to decide who their own leader is.  But if they are, they'd be wise to learn a lesson from relatively recent history, because what the current situation reminds me of most of all is the crisis in the Welsh Assembly in early 2000.

If you recall, Tony Blair was an extremely reluctant devolutionist, and wanted to ensure that he effectively retained the power he was nominally ceding.  He wanted to hand-pick the leaders of Scotland and Wales, and just to drive home the message that London rule was being repackaged rather than ended, he rather absurdly wanted those devolved leaders to simultaneously serve, at least to begin with, as Secretary of State for Scotland and Wales respectively in his own UK Cabinet.

Initially he didn't run into any major difficulties with his picks, because Donald Dewar and Ron Davies were immensely popular and were probably the leaders Scottish Labour and Welsh Labour would have chosen anyway if they had been left to their own devices - although to his great credit Dewar threw a small spanner in the works by refusing to serve as both Scottish Secretary and First Minister at the same time, which he felt would have been incompatible with the principles of devolution.  But then Ron Davies had his "moment of madness" on Clapham Common, and suddenly Blair found himself imposing a new leader on Welsh Labour that they did not want. Two-thirds of Welsh Labour members voted for the charismatic maverick Rhodri Morgan, but due to a blatantly rigged election process that gave a third of votes to MPs and a third to trade unions who didn't have to ballot their members, the Blairite machine politician Alun Michael was very narrowly declared the 'winner'.

The Welsh public were no happier than Welsh Labour members about having Michael imposed on them, and punished Blair by giving Labour an astoundingly poor result in the inaugural Assembly election in 1999.  Having fully expected to win a working majority, Labour ended up forming a minority government with just 28 seats out of 60.  The three opposition parties recognised that Michael was the Achilles heel, and after biding their time for the best part of a year, they followed the tactic Douglas Ross is currently attempting by tabling a motion of no confidence in Michael personally.

On the day the vote was scheduled to be held, Michael made a speech brimming with entitlement in which he declared that he was passing the decision on who leads Welsh Labour back from the Assembly to Welsh Labour itself.  He theatrically handed a resignation letter to the Presiding Officer, expecting that to mean the vote would be cancelled at the last gasp.  But the Presiding Officer was the former Plaid Cymru leader Dafydd Elis-Thomas, who took the view that he couldn't be expected to read letters while in the middle of chairing a session.  So he allowed the vote to go ahead, Michael lost, and then an hour later Michael's resignation was accepted anyway. In the blink of an eye, Rhodri Morgan was unveiled as the new leader. That might be a warning from history to Yousaf not to attempt any procedural tricks, especially with a Presiding Officer in the chair who was elected as a Green MSP.

It's true that it's for the SNP alone to decide their own leader, but it doesn't follow that if there is to be an SNP minority government, the parliament is then obliged to accept that leader as First Minister.  Unless something changes, exactly half of MSPs (64 out of 128, excluding the non-voting Presiding Officer) want Yousaf gone, so even if he survives the vote of no confidence on the Presiding Officer's casting vote, that position doesn't look sustainable for much longer.  The SNP have three basic options: a) change their leader so they can install the new leader as First Minister with the proper confidence of parliament, b) keep Yousaf as their leader but put forward someone else as First Minister (an unorthodox arrangement in a UK context but not uncommon abroad), or c) say that only Yousaf will do, and if he doesn't have the confidence of parliament, there'll have to be an early election to resolve the matter. 

What isn't a credible option is trying to carry on as if the will of parliament doesn't matter - and Alun Michael can tell you how that worked out for him.

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It's getting close to the last-chance saloon, but there's still time to help Scot Goes Pop continue through this general election year.  Donations can be made via the fundraiser page HERE, although if you have a Paypal account, a better way to donate is by direct Paypal payment, because the funds are usually transferred instantly and fees can be eliminated altogether depending on the option you select from the menu.  My Paypal email address is:

Friday, April 26, 2024

Are we moving into the final days of Yousaf's leadership?

It was just over a year ago that I was struggling to work out how seriously to take the pronouncements of "Smitty", a commenter on Wings who seemed to be leaking inside information about the SNP leadership election, because there was no way of verifying what he was saying and there was always a chance it was an elaborate hoax.  In the end, that's what it seemed to be, because the basic thrust of his claims was that Humza Yousaf had lost.

So once again I'm not sure how seriously to take the claims by Wings himself today which are based on information from "trusted sources".  It's true that possibly the same sources turned out to be right yesterday about the scheduling of an emergency Cabinet meeting, but that doesn't necessarily mean that they'll be right about everything.  But just as a hypothetical, let's work through the potential implications of what they're saying.

Firstly, that Humza Yousaf will resign before the no confidence vote is held.  That's possible because arithmetically he seems to be in a right old pickle.  Due to the surprisingly strong stance of the Greens, 64 votes to remove him are assured as long as everyone turns up, which would mean to survive he'd need Ash Regan to actively vote for him and then the Presiding Officer to bail him out with her casting vote in line with convention.  I don't take remotely seriously the idea, being punted by Wings himself only yesterday, that Yousaf could lose the vote and carry on anyway.  So everything hinges on what Ms Regan does, and as we now know, it's a vote of no confidence in Yousaf personally rather than a collective vote of no-confidence in the government, which makes it much less unthinkable that she could vote him down if he doesn't yield to enough of her shopping list of demands.  Or she could abstain, which would probably have the same effect.

It's therefore at least semi-plausible that he could resign to avoid the humiliation of either being defeated or being seen to capitulate to Alba.  The continuity faction may have calculated that it's better to replace him with someone the Greens don't hate with a passion, and that way the government may be able to muddle through the next two years by means of ad hoc deals with the Greens rather than ad hoc deals with Alba.

The next part of the claim is that Neil Gray is the person that the continuity faction want to replace him with.  Again, that's perfectly plausible, Gray is massively overrated but he's been punted for years.  He would make the situation even worse because he appears to be even less serious about independence than Yousaf is, and has less charisma.

Where I become much more sceptical about the claim is the idea that the Forbes wing of the party will for some unspecified reason roll over and allow Gray to have an unopposed coronation.  Now, it's true that Kate Forbes has a strong mind of her own and it doesn't always tally with what people sympathetic to her think is sensible, so I can't rule out the possibility that she'll sit this one out, either for personal reasons or for what would probably be misconceived political reasons.  I hope to goodness she doesn't.  But even if she does, it doesn't follow that Gray will be unchallenged, because from what I recall of the SNP leadership rules, the threshold to stand as a candidate is not all that high.  Just a year after we saw an epochal battle between evenly matched continuity and change camps, it seems totally inconceivable that at least one person from the change camp will not put themselves forward - unless of course there's a unity candidate who everyone thinks is fab, but that candidate would not be Gray.  So I'm confident there would be a contested election if Yousaf stands down, although admittedly Gray would have a much better chance of winning it if Forbes is not his main opponent.  (Bear in mind, though, that even if the Wings source is correct about Forbes' intentions, there'll be massive pressure on her to change her mind.)

You'd think, incidentally, that journalists from The National would have SNP sources that are at least as reliable as any that Wings has, and it's interesting that Hamish Morrison is punting John Swinney rather than Gray.  But this paragraph made me laugh - 

"Kate Forbes has been touted by some, but given her views on LGBT issues and abortion proved so divisive in the SNP leadership contest, she may be a long shot."

Come on, Hamish, propaganda is one thing but you've got to at least make it sound plausible.  It remains to be seen if Kate Forbes would stand, but if she does, she will not be a "long shot", she will self-evidently be the strong favourite, having come within a whisker of winning last year in spite of the outgoing leadership chucking the kitchen sink at her, including just about every procedural dirty trick in the book.

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It's getting close to the last-chance saloon, but there's still time to help Scot Goes Pop continue through this general election year.  Donations can be made via the fundraiser page HERE, although if you have a Paypal account, a better way to donate is by direct Paypal payment, because the funds are usually transferred instantly and fees can be eliminated altogether depending on the option you select from the menu.  My Paypal email address is:

Thursday, April 25, 2024

Even on a non-binding vote, Yousaf's job would be on the line

OK, this is my fourth post of the day, but I'm having to do this just to keep up with the pace of events.  Two things have changed since my last post - to my surprise, it turns out the Greens will vote in favour of the motion of no confidence, leaving Alba and Ash Regan holding the balance, and the vote will be a non-binding vote of no-confidence in Yousaf as First Minister rather than a binding vote of no-confidence in the government.  Some people are interpreting the latter point as meaning that the whole process is a sham, and an indication that the Tories don't really want to bring the SNP government down, because an early election would cost the Tories themselves a lot of seats.

I don't think it's as simple as that.  A non-binding motion is easier to vote for (which may be why the Greens signed up so quickly) but it's still very hard for Yousaf to ignore if it goes against him.  In that event, there would be three possible outcomes - 

1) Yousaf respects the vote and resigns as First Minister, but does not resign as SNP leader.  This would almost certainly result in an early election, because the SNP would presumably not be willing to nominate an alternative First Minister, and no unionist government would be arithmetically viable.

2) Yousaf respects the vote and resigns as both First Minister and SNP leader.  This would be a highly desirable outcome from the point of view of the independence movement, because it would allow a more popular and credible SNP leader to become First Minister without an early election being held.  If we could be sure this is what would happen, it would make sense for Ash Regan to vote for the motion of no confidence.

3) Yousaf refuses to respect the vote and tries to stay in office.  The opposition parties wouldn't be able to leave it at that, because he would be defying the will of parliament.  A binding vote of no-confidence in the government would surely follow swiftly - even if the Tories ran away from it for self-preservation reasons, Labour and the Lib Dems would step into the breach and the Tories would look ridiculous if they abstained.  The Greens might turn the screw by saying they'll have no choice but to vote for the motion unless Yousaf stands aside to allow fresh leadership to take over - at which point he probably would.

So whichever way you look at it, the outcome of the vote next week (assuming it's held) does matter enormously.

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It's getting close to the last-chance saloon, but there's still time to help Scot Goes Pop continue through this general election year.  Donations can be made via the fundraiser page HERE, although if you have a Paypal account, a better way to donate is by direct Paypal payment, because the funds are usually transferred instantly and fees can be eliminated altogether depending on the option you select from the menu.  My Paypal email address is:

Now that Alba have gained the balance of power, they'd probably be unwise to throw that enviable position away the very next week by forcing an immediate election

Since writing my previous post about Alba's enviable new position as holding the balance of power at Holyrood, I see that Stuart Campbell is trying to coax the party into voting against the SNP government when the vote of no confidence is held next week, even though "an extremely well-placed source" (very possibly meaning Alex Salmond himself) has told him that won't happen.  Mr Campbell is assuming that if he gets his way, the government will fall and an early election will be held.  I think that's a false premise - my guess is that the Greens will express their anger by abstaining on the vote, thus allowing the government to survive whatever Alba do.

But I can't be sure of that, so this is an important question, and it's taken me a little while to work out what I think about it.  I didn't even think an early election was a possibility until a few hours ago, so all of this is a completely new consideration.

I have argued repeatedly in favour of using an early election as a de facto independence referendum.  So really the question is whether forcing an early election in June (probably) would achieve that goal.  The answer is probably not.  It would depend on the SNP's own attitude, and with their famed over-caution, they would probably say "not this time, but maybe in 2026".  (Remember under the Scotland Act, an election will still take place in 2026 even if there is an early election this year.)  And they might even have a point just for once, because they would be starting so much on the back foot in a forced election right now that it wouldn't be the most promising circumstances to win independence.  A plebiscite election campaign needs at least a little bit of planning and preparation if it's going to succeed.

So if an early election in June isn't going to achieve independence, might it be a stepping stone to it by producing a breakthrough for Alba?  It's possible, but I suspect the odds are against it.  One of my internal battles within Alba, especially during my time on the NEC in 2021-22, has been to try to inject a degree of realism about where the party stands with the public, because I cannot see much evidence at all from opinion polls, or from the 2022 local elections, or from local council by-elections since 2022, that Alba have gained significant support since they fell well short of winning list seats in 2021.

Mr Campbell acknowledges that an early election might backfire for Alba by losing them their only seat, but he still argues that they have much less to lose than the SNP in 1979, who were defending 11 seats (they ended up losing 9).  But that misses the point about 1979 - the problem wasn't just the seats the SNP lost, it was also the fact that they set themselves up to take the blame for Mrs Thatcher coming to power.  If Alba are seen to be the decisive factor in forcing an election, and if an election produces a unionist majority (which on polling evidence is the most likely outcome), independence supporters might never forgive Alba for that, and the SNP won't be slow to issue constant reminders.

I suspect Alex Salmond's strategic mind will be telling him that if you gain the balance of power unexpectedly, you don't throw it away the very next week.  You keep what you've got and milk it for all it's worth for a while.  There may be a correct tactical moment to force an election before May 2026, but I doubt if it's right now.

Just one caveat, though: if an early election was bad for the SNP, it might be the only way of ejecting Humza Yousaf before the Westminster election, and a new leader might just save the independence movement's bacon at that Westminster election.  But sacrificing the movement at one election for an unproven chance of salvaging the movement's hopes at another election would be an incredibly risky game to play.

*  *  *

The most dangerous narrative for Humza Yousaf that is taking root today is that he "cannot be trusted".  If he needs a coalition partner after the next election, whenever it is held, the Greens are likely to laugh in his face, because they'd know that their position in government would never be secure.  Even if Yousaf says on a Wednesday that a coalition deal will be honoured, it could be scrapped without warning on the Thursday morning.  What's more, his SNP colleagues will know that the necessary trust can only be re-established with a new leader, so he's just made his own early departure even more likely.  For the life of me, I don't understand why he's made the decision unilaterally like this and taken all the blame - he could have been cannier by nudging the Greens towards voluntarily leaving government, perhaps by means of certain unpalatable ministerial appointments.  

*  *  *

There is one thing in the SNP's favour.  Unionist parties are forever telling us that a referendum would be too expensive, and is unwanted and unnecessary because "we've only just had one" (ie. a decade ago).  Well, an early election would cost money, wouldn't it?  It's unnecessary, isn't it, because we had one as recently as three years ago and there's going to be one in another two years anyway?  What's the difference, chaps?

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It's getting close to the last-chance saloon, but there's still time to help Scot Goes Pop continue through this general election year.  Donations can be made via the fundraiser page HERE, although if you have a Paypal account, a better way to donate is by direct Paypal payment, because the funds are usually transferred instantly and fees can be eliminated altogether depending on the option you select from the menu.  My Paypal email address is:

Humza Yousaf has just handed Ash Regan the balance of power in the Scottish Parliament - at least some of the time

The Bute House Agreement was not signed until August 2021, which meant that for three months after the May 2021 election, the SNP continued with what was billed as a "minority government".  That was technically inaccurate language, because excluding the non-voting Presiding Officer, there were 64 SNP MSPs and 64 MSPs from all other parties combined.  It was therefore impossible to bring down the government as long as all of the SNP MSPs turned up.  A tied vote on a motion of no-confidence would simply have led to the Presiding Officer using her casting vote to defeat the motion, in line with convention.

However by breaking off the Bute House Agreement today, Yousaf is not reverting to that status quo ante, and the reason is Ash Regan's defection last autumn from the SNP to Alba.  There are now five opposition parties in the Scottish Parliament, and they outnumber the SNP by 65 seats to 63.  So in theory the government can be brought down, but in practice I struggle to imagine the Greens risking the wrath of the independence movement by "doing a 1979" by bringing about an election at such an unfavourable moment.

However, the Greens now seem to hate Yousaf's guts far more than Alba do, which would have seemed an impossible state of affairs only yesterday.  It seems almost inevitable, then, that they will find specific issues on which to vote with the unionist parties on, and the only way in which Yousaf will avoid defeat is with Ash Regan's vote.  (Remember the convention on how the Presiding Officer breaks a tie will not always work in the government's favour - it's about backing whatever is the status quo, not about automatically backing the government line.)

This is, then, kind of the arithmetical scenario Alba were looking for when they stood on the list in 2021, and it should give them some limited leverage with the government, albeit any informal deals will have to be done on the quiet given the antipathy between the SNP and Alba.  And if by any chance the Greens are crazy enough and angry enough to try to force an early election, it will be entirely up to Ash Regan and Alba to decide whether that happens.  Right now might not be the ideal moment for the early plebiscite election we all want, but that doesn't necessarily mean the ideal moment won't arrive before 2026.

Current state of the parties:

SNP 63
Conservatives 31
Labour 22
Greens 7
Liberal Democrats 4
Alba 1

Presiding Officer 1


Why has the coalition been ditched, and what now?

It's difficult to blog about something I don't fully understand.  One of the things that had defined Humza Yousaf's leadership was his cast-iron commitment to coalition with the Greens, and while there was certainly internal pressure within the SNP to ditch the coalition, that came mainly from quarters that Yousaf has always cheerfully ignored until now.  It seems unlikely that the Green leadership played any role in pulling the plug, because they had been engaged in brinkmanship to try to stop their membership from voting to walk away.  Yousaf may have calculated that Green members were highly likely to do just that and thus saw an opportunity to look decisive by getting in first, but if so, there must be a risk that such a sudden and unexpected dumping will poison relations between the SNP and the Greens for years to come, which could have ramifications for the independence cause and also make it harder to avert a Labour-Green (or Labour-Lib Dem-Green) coalition in future.  So answers on a postcard, really.

We'll now see whether the theory that the Greens were a major drag on SNP support had any validity.  I suspect it was wildly exaggerated but there may have been a small grain of truth in it, and even clawing back 1% of support could make a difference in a tight election.  In other circumstances I might be worried about the Greens taking revenge by putting up lots of candidates against the SNP and splitting the Yes vote, but weirdly they had seemed hellbent on doing that anyway.

One benefit we may see is within the 'pro-indy establishment', which extends to small bits of the media and to non-party organisations.  A majority pro-independence government including the Greens but excluding other small pro-indy parties provided cover for the Greens to be given a special status by the pro-indy establishment.  But now that the Greens are an opposition pro-indy party, just like Alba, there may be a balancing-up effect.

Tuesday, April 23, 2024

No, Sarwar does not lead Yousaf on "best First Minister" polling - that was last month

This is a rare example of me rushing to defend Humza Yousaf, but an element of 'professional pride' kicks in whenever I see Wings deceive his readers about opinion polls - 

"Anas Sarwar is preferred by voters as the next FM (the stat that really tells you who’s going to win elections), but only by a solitary point over the hapless and beleaguered Yousaf – who’s barely enjoyed a single good day in his year-and-a-bit in charge."

That's not true.  Mr Campbell is referring to the March edition of the monthly Redfield & Wilton poll, which showed Sarwar move ahead of Yousaf on the head-to-head "best First Minister" question for the first time, but that result is now out of date.  The April poll showed Yousaf resume his lead.

At this moment, which of the following individuals do you think would be the better First Minister of Scotland? (Redfield & Wilton, 6th-7th April 2024)

Humza Yousaf 35% (+4)
Anas Sarwar 30% (-2)

Nevertheless, Yousaf's leadership is on the ropes due to the fact he represents the Continuity Sturgeon faction, which is an increasingly tarnished brand for extremely obvious reasons. Out of curiosity, I asked my Twitter followers yesterday who they want to be the next SNP leader, and the results were startling - 

Stephen Flynn 62.2%
Kate Forbes 29.4%
Angus Robertson 4.3%
Mairi McAllan 4.1%

I have to say I disagree with that.  We were all impressed by Stephen Flynn when he took on the Speaker, but I still think Kate Forbes is the most voter-friendly option the SNP have, and there's polling evidence to demonstrate that.  The idea floated in the press at the weekend of a joint ticket with Forbes as leader and Flynn as deputy might well be the way to go.  

As for the other idea floated in the press, that the continuity faction will play a slightly longer game in the hope of installing either Mairi McAllan or Jenny Gilruth, words fail me.  McAllan is not ready for the top job yet, and I'm not sure on what planet Gilruth will ever be ready for it.

Sunday, April 21, 2024

The case against a small political party treating its own members as the enemy

As regular readers will remember, I was elected at the start of the year to a working group which is reviewing the Alba Party's constitution.  For confidentiality reasons I can't give a running commentary on the progress of that, but obviously having been involved in the process for a few weeks, I've become much more exposed to the main arguments against having a fully-fledged internal party democracy.  In view of that, I think it might be helpful to post an updated version of my own arguments in favour of democratisation, because ultimately it's rank-and-file members who will decide what happens.

First of all, a party which regards its own members with extreme suspicion and constantly tries to work out how to 'protect itself' from them is not in a good place.  What actually is a political party if not its members?  I suppose the alternative conception of a party is as a vehicle for a self-selecting leadership elite who may take members along for the ride but will never cede any real control to them.  That would be analagous to the way in which the powers of the House of Lords were previously used to protect the aristocracy from the voting masses.  It might be fine if the project a party represents is inspiring enough that people are willing to join simply to be part of a passive fan club, but my guess is that if Alba is to thrive, both existing members and potential new members will be looking for a lot more than that.  The problem is that Alba is mainly seeking converts from the SNP, and the obvious question is why would anyone leave a large party of power, one that denies its members much of a say, to join a much smaller party that also denies its members much of a say?  Where is the incentive?  Wouldn't you just think you might as well stick with the larger party which is actually in government?

There's also a really striking paradox in simultaneously saying that the leader should be trusted but the members should not be (because they might be a bunch of filthy infilitrators or whatever).  If you to try to protect the party from its own members (which again I think is a contradiction in terms) by substituting internal democracy with a system of patronage and leadership control, you're then putting all your eggs in one basket, because you're forgetting that the party leader himself is directly elected by precisely those awful members who you regard with such suspicion.  If the members are potential infiltrators who can't be trusted to elect the NEC or other committees, there clearly must be a fair chance that they will install an interloper as leader - and then having spurned the opportunity to introduce a democratic system of checks and balances, you'll be powerless to resist the absolute control of that one person.  That's exactly how the Sturgeon leadership of the SNP, once it had its feet under the table, was able to essentially ditch independence and replace it with an identity politics agenda.

It also does matter whether all party members are allowed to take decisions or only a tiny minority of members.  Alba's Conference Committee is an extremely powerful committee acting as a veto on issues reaching the floor of conference, which is supposed to be the body through which members exercise supreme control over the party.  In other words, members can only exercise control over the party via conference if they first have control over the Conference Committee - and they don't. The idea that party members are somehow in control of the Conference Committee because everyone on the Conference Committee is a party member is a bit like saying the system of rotten boroughs empowered the populace because the tiny number of people who could vote in them were all citizens.

Given its massive gatekeeping power, the case for the Conference Committee being directly elected by all party members is overwhelming. And any political party which uses its disciplinary machinery to suppress dissent among members must give members direct control over the composition of the committees which make the decisions on disciplinary matters.  That seems to me to be an indispensable safeguard, and without it individual members are helpless to protect themselves from arbitrary ill-treatment at the hands of an over-powerful leadership.

Last but not least, I never cease to be astounded that in the 21st Century people are still making the argument that the franchise for internal party elections should be restricted to a tiny minority of knowledgeable or experienced members, on the grounds that the wrong people will be elected otherwise.  That's essentially identical to arguing that the vast bulk of the public are too stupid or uneducated to be allowed to vote in general elections.  Nobody would ever dream of making that argument about elections to public office, so why it suddenly becomes OK in the context of the internal structures of a political party is beyond me.