2007 - 2021

Report: YesAlba inaugural committee elections

Following a week-long online ballot, the 15 members of the inaugural YesAlba national committee have been named. The election – though conducted imperfectly – moves the process of establishing the new organisation onto a firm democratic basis for the first time, away from the more opaque decision-making by the All Under One Banner (AUOB) team. However, the results also raise new concerns about the political direction of the new organisation.

Conduct of the election

At the most recent AUOB Assembly on 22 November 2020, RSP members successfully argued for the widening of the franchise from roughly 100 people to more than 1,200 people. In the end, 329 people voted; this was less than a third of the total franchise, but not far off the 400 people who attended the earlier AUOB Assembly on 14 November 2020. It is welcome that the total turnout was at least more than three times what it would have been with the smaller franchise.

Unfortunately, the election process was a lot messier. First of all, the last Assembly reached no firm conclusion on what roles there should be on the new committee. As a result, the committee was elected as a whole, with 45 candidates competing for 15 places, with the distribution of roles left up to the inaugural committee to collectively decide for itself (even though candidates were encouraged to indicate in their election statement what role they wanted to take on).

The election took place using the Choice Voting platform, which is expressly designed for elections in which voters can rank candidates in order of preference. However, a ranked system was not used for YesAlba. Instead, voters were invited to choose 15 candidates in any order, with the 15 collecting the most votes being deemed elected without any transfers. This can best be described as ‘first-15-past-the-post’, comparable to the system used in Westminster’s multi-member constituencies until the 1940s. It would have been preferable and more democratic to use the single transferable vote system, which is already used for internal elections in most Scottish political parties and may well have led to a different outcome.

It was also regrettable that voters were not invited to express an opinion on how long the inaugural committee should remain in place. The nomination form for candidates asked whether they thought it should remain in place for three, six or nine months, but those voting in the election itself were not invited to give their opinion. It is a bewildering democratic practice to allow decisions to be made by candidates instead of voters.

Election results

In order of votes received, the elected committee members are George Kerevan (247 votes), Craig Murray (197), Neil Mackay (179), Angus Brendan MacNeil (178), Andrew Wilson (137), Sheena Jardine (135), Suzanne Blackley (133), Mairianna Clyde (131), Ian Grant (117), Charlotte Ahmed (110), Keir McKechnie (109), Lyn Middleton (103), Gillian Mair (95), Linda McCorrison (95) and Carol McNamara (93).

Neither Benn Rapson nor Mike Picken, the two members of the Republican Socialist Platform who we publicly supported, were successful, though they performed relatively well among the 45 candidates. Benn came in 23rd place with 71 votes and Mike came in 29th place with 58 votes. Benn openly sought the role of youth and student officer and outperformed the others who indicated the same. As it stands, nobody among the 15 people elected to the committee is either young or a student, meaning this role cannot realistically be filled without expanding the committee through mechanisms like co-option or a by-election. Similarly, it doesn’t appear that any of the 15 are active trade unionists, so the same would be needed for a trade union officer, which was one of the roles widely supported at the last Assembly. Mike, who indicated that he wanted to take up the role of vice-treasurer, continues to contribute to the work of YesAlba’s finance and governance working group, which has met since the Assembly.

The most troubling feature of the election results is how well candidates drawn from the reactionary wing of the independence movement have performed. This is especially worrying in light of the SNP’s recent internal elections, which also saw some socially progressive incumbents defeated in favour of their reactionary opponents. This merits serious scrutiny.

Reactionaries on the rise

In stark comparison to the small, quiet YesAlba election, the battle for seats on the SNP NEC was fiercely contested. Kerevan notes in his latest piece for Conter that this was the “first since the 1990s, and certainly the first since the SNP membership grew exponentially after the 2014 referendum, in which there has been an organised opposition”. This organised opposition took the form of two somewhat overlapping slates: that of the centre-left SNP Common Weal Group (CWG), and that of the more anonymous and explicitly reactionary ‘SNP Good Guys’. Many mainstream candidates were given the disparaging label ‘wokes’ for their progressive social positions; one unhinged detractor even wrote a bizarre ‘anti-woke’ theme song, disturbingly reminiscent of the most surreal parts of the Trump campaign in the US.

SNP and RSP member Tejas Mukerji has previously argued that the CWG’s “willingness to accept endorsements from, and in turn endorse, candidates with sordid histories of bigoted views is deeply harmful and politically self-defeating”. This is plain to see in the response to the make-up of the new NEC. Some very welcome inroads by the left, such as the election of high-profile campaigners against sterlingisation and the conservative Growth Commission report, have been overshadowed by the election of reactionary candidates, particularly those associated with the escalating campaign in the SNP against transgender rights.

When Colette Walker, a supporter of the transphobic ‘SNP Women’s Pledge’, was defeated in last year’s election for SNP women’s convener, she abandoned the party altogether, establishing the Independence for Scotland Party (ISP) on an explicitly transphobic platform. Glasgow councillor Rhiannon Spear, who succeeded in that election, spent much of the following year campaigning against transphobia in Scottish politics and championing the Scottish Government’s proposed administrative reforms to the gender recognition process. For this work, she became a sustained target of the movement’s reactionary wing; Wings Over Scotland has castigated her for months as a “toxic divisive horror” and “truly repellent”. This year, she was ousted in favour of Caroline McAllister, convener of the SNP Women’s Pledge.

Likewise, Fiona Robertson, a disability justice activist who worked closely with Cllr Spear on trans inclusivity in her role as the SNP equalities convener, was defeated by Lynne Anderson, treasurer of the SNP Women’s Pledge. A significant number of LGBT+ SNP members were quickly surprised to find that they couldn’t access Anderson’s Twitter account despite having never before engaged with her, because she had apparently used a tool which allowed her to automatically block Scottish Twitter users who have openly spoken in support of trans rights.

Altogether, the SNP Women’s Pledge has announced that 12 of its members are now on the SNP’s NEC. Not all are women; one of them is Neale Hanvey, who last year compared trans people to paedophiles and won his seat while suspended from the SNP for antisemitism (including sharing an crude cartoon of George Soros as a ‘puppet master’ controlling Obama and Hillary Clinton), and who now sits on the SNP’s member conduct committee.

McAllister was not endorsed by the SNP Common Weal Group, but Anderson and Hanvey were. Kerevan, who endorsed the CWG slate, refers to this very cautiously in Conter: “The CWG also promoted some candidates associated with opposing the Gender Recognition Act. This is a focus of criticism from others on the left, and certainly a rallying point for leadership supporters to attack the CWG.” Kerevan’s writing often switches between a more active, invested register through which he seeks to shape events, and a more passive one in which he observes without guiding. In taking this latter approach, Kerevan abstains from taking a clear position on whether this was right or wrong; his call for “the new left forces in the party [to] consolidate their important but still vulnerable ideological bridgehead inside the SNP” is too vague. The presentation of some members’ transphobia as a mere disagreement over legislation is also too surface level an analysis. Kerevan should have gone further and made a clear statement of solidarity with trans people in the party and the movement. By doing so, perhaps both Kerevan and Conter (which has not published anything on transgender issues since 2018, and nothing at all under current editor David Jamieson) could have spared themselves the sharp criticism on social media which followed the publication of the piece.

The YesAlba connection

While many in the movement were still grappling with the surprise SNP NEC results, AUOB announced the YesAlba committee results. These also included significant wins for the reactionary wing of the movement, though it was far from a total sweep of the board.

The complete results of the inaugural YesAlba committee election (click image to expand). The distribution of votes between the 15 positions is irrelevant, as they were collated.

Kerevan was the most popular candidate by a significant margin, winning 247 votes from 329 voters, i.e. 75% approval. This reflects his high profile in the movement, his participation in the two AUOB Assemblies and his repeated calls for a new organisation along the lines of the Catalan ANC. This could be seen as a triumph for the pro-independence left. However, Craig Murray emerged as the second most popular candidate with 60% approval. He is closely aligned with the reactionary wing of the movement and often openly hostile to the left. This marks his second bid for a high-profile role in the movement, overlapping with his run for the ceremonial role of SNP president and winning around 20% of first preference votes.

Murray, who did not participate in either of the Assemblies, has indicated that he wants to become the chair of YesAlba, which would effectively make him the face of the organisation. This would be a spectacular own goal, not least because his ongoing prosecution for contempt of court over his blog posts about Alex Salmond’s trial for sexual offences would immediately embroil the new organisation in a damaging spat already deeply tainted by misogyny and rape myths. This would likely prevent YesAlba from becoming a genuinely mass organisation and representative of the entire Yes movement. On top of this, Murray is vocally anti-feminist and has fiercely defended misogynists like Tommy Sheridan. Adopting the language of the alt-right, he claims that the left is trying to censor his blog as well as Wings Over Scotland, one of his key allies. Murray will also attract considerable negative attention over his embrace of conspiracy theories, such as his various arguments that the Douma chemical attack in Syria was a “false flag” or that the UK and Israel could be responsible for the Skripal poisoning in Salisbury.

Kerevan could be a reasonable choice for chair, and one with more legitimacy given that he attracted 50 more votes than Murray. However, he was an SNP MP as recently as 2017, which would undermine YesAlba’s raison d’être as a grassroots movement which is independent of the politicians. Murray is emphatically not a politician (though not for want of trying, as he failed to pass vetting to become an SNP candidate), but his appointment would conflict with Kerevan’s earlier suggestion that YesAlba will become the organisation of the “working class” element of the independence movement. This is hardly consistent with Murray’s wealthy background as an ex-diplomat who recently purchased a home in Edinburgh outright for over £600,000.

Four members of the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) vied for a spot on the committee; each openly identified themself as an SWP member in their election statement, acceding to the suggestion of the RSP at the last Assembly. Keir McKechnie and Charlotte Ahmed were elected. It is disturbing to see the SWP gain this foothold in the movement given its history, particularly its cover-up of rape allegations against its national secretary but also its role in the collapse of the Scottish Socialist Party. That McKechnie and Ahmed succeeded while SWP members Bob Fotheringham (70 votes) and Brian Claffey (65 votes) failed likely reflects the high-profile role they played in the Assemblies. The pair are unlikely to act as standard-bearers for socialist politics or as a bulwark against social conservatism (despite their formal support for trans rights), considering the SWP’s opportunistic habit of shelving its own positions in exchange for organisational privileges, e.g. accommodating Zionists within the Scottish section of its Stand Up To Racism front organisation, of which Ahmed is a prominent spokesperson.

Committee members Lyn Middleton and Gillian Mair are both vocal campaigners against gender recognition reform and fans of Wings Over Scotland. Middleton has, for some time, used “We are all Rev Stu” as her display name on Twitter in an expression of solidarity with Wings (a.k.a. ‘Rev’ Stu Campbell) after he was banned from the platform for violating its hate speech policy by harassing trans users. Mair claimed in her election statement to have been explicitly endorsed by Wings Over Scotland (though that endorsement seems to be missing from the Wings site).

It is worth emphasising that, unlike in the SNP NEC elections, voters did not take a disciplined approach to the YesAlba elections. Many reactionary candidates, like ISP supporter Terry Howson, did not succeed in getting elected, while many dedicated independence supporters who are uninvolved in these battles did. There is also no clear reason why, for instance, Ian Grant, treasurer of the Scottish Independence Foundation (SIF), was easily elected to the committee but Kevin Gibney, co-founder of the prolific ‘citizen livestreaming’ operation Independence Live, was not, given both have made a major contribution to the movement. The presence of Angus Brendan MacNeil, a sitting SNP MP and one of the leading proponents of a ‘Plan B’ on independence, may have interesting political consequences for YesAlba.

Prospects for YesAlba

Just as I started to put finishing touches on this report, figures from the SNP mainstream began to respond to the announcement of the inaugural committee. The response has been hostile from some quarters; James Dornan MSP, for instance, has disparaged YesAlba as “a new talking shop” and instead urged independence supporters to simply “get behind the FM”. This contrasts with SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford’s attendance at the first of the two AUOB Assemblies, where he welcomed the emergence of the new organisation despite receiving a thorough grilling from its delegates over strategy (notably, he has stayed quiet ever since).

Separately, the organisation has come under fire from Gaelic language activists over its use of the name ‘YesAlba’, which was previously used during the 2014 referendum campaign by pro-independence Gaels. This embarrassment could have easily been avoided if the name had been opened up to a discussion and a vote, instead of being imposed by AUOB.

It is not yet clear whether the make-up of the inaugural committee or these obstacles will have a serious impact on YesAlba’s growth. As one example, Dundee and Angus Independence Group has already decided to affiliate to YesAlba (though is also joining the recently-launched National Yes Network, which some see as a competitor). I argued in my previous report that “If YesAlba becomes both a mass organisation and an open arena for political discussion and debate, then there is a very weak argument against the Radical Independence Campaign affiliating to it”. If YesAlba immediately flounders, that conversation comes to a natural end. If, however, it gains a mass character in spite of all this, the left may have a responsibility to intervene and contest for its leadership.

Either way, RIC’s role in injecting republican, socialist, green and progressive politics into the movement remains distinct and important; it will likely be able to connect the independence movement with social inequalities and class struggle in a way that YesAlba doesn’t currently appear keen to do. All eyes now turn to the RIC AGM in January.

 

 

Article originally published at Republican Socialist Platform here. Republished with thanks.

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  1. Jacob Bonnari says:

    Hardly a word on the primary goal: working together to develop a plan which will deliver independence.

    Full of: deconstructionist navel gazing, niche policy and procedural issues. It smacks of Life of Brian’s Judean Peoples’ Front / Peoples’ Front of Judea nonsense.

  2. norm says:

    Sounds like a lot of hot air just for people to boost their own egos.

    https://independenceconvention.scot/ Already exists.

  3. Nick Gethins says:

    Pretty much in the gutter here by conflating Murray with the alt-right, he is a whistle blower who exposed the the British state for being complicit with torture during ‘the war on terror’. I would would look to the views of journalist of international gravitas such as the Grayzone, Robert Fisk, Jullian Assange or Chris Hedges. Pulitzer prize winning journalist Hedge’s on Murray’s coverage of the Assange case ‘a remarkable feat of jouranlism’. Murray is a man of international standing in the progressive media. A man who well deserves a leadership role in the indy movement.

  4. Robbie says:

    Aye you two are right,just I love me ,fa do you love Shite

  5. Mary MacCallum Sullivan says:

    In find this report remarkable for its willingness to put people into ‘political’ ‘camps’ or categories, using often judgemental labels that I suspect many would utterly disavow.

    Scottish independence politics at this point is in a ferment, with groups forming, managing, coalescing, organising and otherwise going through a process of ‘forming’, well known to those involved in group facilitation – a process bound to be chaotic and messy.

    So I find the terms in which this ‘report’ are framed leave a bad taste in my mouth: the use of labels such as ‘reactionary’, ‘transphobic’, reference to an ‘escalating campaign in the SNP against transgender rights’.

    This is just the way to toxify the, usually honest, attempts by a whole mess of folks to find ways to advance the overarching agenda of Scottish independence with s sense of urgency and commitment. This is just the way to put folks off; it is divisive and deprecating about people with a range of world-views and ethical perspectives who are nevertheless clear about a shared goal, and willing to get involved and engaged in the grassroots effort to achieve it.

    Please don’t put them off with this rather mean-spirited and premature critique.

    1. David Younger says:

      My sentiments entirely.

  6. N. Holmes says:

    I stopped reading this long winded, tedious, student politics style article as soon as the author described a women’s rights group as ‘transphobic’ and on looking up his profile, discovered he uses pronouns in his bio. I am so tired of these bandwagon jumpers who have tried to take over the independence movement and I am tired of this divisive nonsense about ‘reactionary’ figures, etc. Just get on with independence and forget the trans rights activism.

    1. Ian says:

      I find it a strange assumption that independence supporters would be put off by trans people having rights or by people campaigning for marginalised groups having increased rights. I also find it strange that you consider highlighting that some figures are divisive is more divisive than the figures themselves being divisive.

      I would say it is a good idea to discuss the appropriateness of people voted into leadership positions of a new organisation, particularly as their actions could potentially have a huge impact on the independence campaign. Trying to shut down discussion on the grounds it is divisive seems like burying heads in the sand. I can see why people wish there was no issue with individuals as long as they support independence, but in the real world things are much more complex and deserve examination.

      Any independence campaign should fit in the with the values of the Scotland that we want to see, having prominent individuals who’s actions and views are problematic is much more divisive than highlighting that these actions and views exist. The mere presence of these individuals could act as a barrier to some people participating.

  7. Daniel Raphael says:

    This was tremendously informative to someone such as myself not at all familiar with the internal politics of the Indy movement in its non-SNP incarnation. Some of it was familiar to me from general reading, and I think the author did a good job of presenting volatile, difficult persons and politics without concealing or trying to finesse his own perspective. That’s legitimate–all analysts have a view, an opinion, and it is easier to usefully employ their analysis when their own “take” on matters is clear. I don’t see this as being judgmental or cruel at all, though those who prefer the more typical BBC-style pretense of impartiality might very well perceive it in this way.

    So far as “navel-gazing” and similar disparagement might be considered, the article was not about the prospects or plans for independence; the article was, as clearly headlined, about elections within and for a newly formed/reconstituted organization. It’s simply irrelevant to complain that the article wasn’t about something else.

    Finally, there assuredly are conservative and radical tendencies within the Indy movement, and saying so doesn’t make it so. The analysis follows the facts on the ground, not vice versa. Whatever your views might be, whether on the trans issue or this or that personality in the spotlight, clarity with the intention of showing differences is a helpful thing to bring to the ongoing conversation. I think this piece was well written and thought out, and was offered with the intent to be helpful. It is.

    1. MBC says:

      It doesn’t offer any support for the accusations it makes against Middleton, Mair, or Murray for being transphobes. It simply asserts they are.

  8. Michael says:

    There is so much that could be said about this terrifyingly ideological and unapologetically biased article, but I will comment on only one items.

    Regarding Douma, the Independent reported the following (The evidence we were never meant to see about the Douma ‘gas’ attack, 23 May 2019): “Put bluntly, the [concealed an leaked OPCW report] is suggesting that the location of the cylinders was a set-up, that someone inside Douma immediately after the bombings of 7 April 2018 – and no one, not even the Syrians or Russians, deny there was conventional bombing and shelling that night – placed the cylinders in the locations in which they were subsequently examined by the OPCW. Since the first images of the cylinders in these locations were shown on footage before the Syrians and Russians entered Douma, the obvious corollary is that forces opposed to the Assad regime may have put them there.” In other words, the OPCW’s own leaked report strongly suggests that Douma was literally a false flag incident.

    Bella needs a fact checker!

  9. Dougie Blackwood says:

    Didn’t read the blurb but read the comments and a posting from the real Yes Alba, the one for gaelic speakers.

    Maybe listen when they portray some sense and change their name.

  10. Arboreal Agenda says:

    The most bigoted article I have ever read on here. Seriously divisive stuff that seeks to silence and other a whole communities of independence supporting people, and indeed just about anyone who supports the continuation of sex-based rights for women.

    I do hope a strong repost to all the grossly unjust labelling of people as transphobes (and the rest) from those concerned will be published.

    1. N. Holmes says:

      Thank you for this comment, very well said. I submitted a comment earlier along the same lines and it was censored so I am surprised they have allowed your comment. This article is a pious, extremist and ideologically zealous diatribe that will only alienate supporters of Scottish independence.

    2. Ian says:

      By bigoted, do you just mean you don’t agree with it?

      1. Arboreal Agenda says:

        No.

        I made it clear why it is bigoted i.e. that it labels anyone with concerns about the conflict between trans rights and women’s sex-based rights as a transphobe and more, it labels two organisations as specifically transphobic. Many people support those organisations and or have similar concerns thus tarring anyone with those concerns as transphobic in an attempt to demonise them and de-legitimise any such objections from even being discussed. This is wrong and makes the article prejudiced and bigoted as it takes as granted this is a given without even a cursory attempt to justify that. It is perfectly possible to disagree with a ‘gender critical’ stance without labelling someone or an organisation as transphobic but the approach here is to use insulting labelling instead.

        In more general terms it labels just about everyone it criticises as a ‘reactionary’ (even the SWP), a milder but similar sort of ad hominem attack on those with differing views as to what the writer thinks as progressive. What really is progressive is very much a matter for debate but again, there is no attempt at any such analysis here.

        I have no objection to polemic and strong opinion but not that which seeks to demonise and deligitimise as a strategy to undermine differing viewpoints to avoid any actual debate.

        Funnily enough I suspect I would agree with Connor Beaton on many things given my own politics in general but we would likely never find that out as he has, by default, labelled me a transphobe something I can now only hold in contempt. And this is the problem with this type of article as evidenced by many of the comments here – all it does is alienate those it might ostensibly be trying to reach.

        1. Foghorn Leghorn says:

          Yes, deploying sectarian rhetoric does seem a strange way of trying to build ‘a mass democratic organisation’. Is the Independence movement decaying into a barney over who’s got the biggest willie? Can we expect any post-independence discussions to comprise similar barnies?

          You’ve got to laugh!

  11. Liam Don says:

    A thoroughly disgraceful, divisive and toxic article. This is why no one reads BC or takes it seriously any more. This is literal poison to the independence movement.

    1. “This is why no one reads BC or takes it seriously any more” says someone reading and commenting on Bella. Ho hum.

    2. Wul says:

      The article was written by Connor Beaton. It’s not a Bella Caledonia editorial.

      Do you only want to read things that you already agree with?

      I know almost nothing about the internal wranglings of all the above people and their agendas, but I’m interested to hear what others think. I am quite capable of clicking over to Craig Murray’s or Stuart Campbell’s blogs ( or any number of other sites) to read their version of events. One of the things I value about B.C. is the range of material on offer. It’s why I contribute to it.

      Conner Beaton gets to set out his argument. You get to criticise it. I get to read both people’s views. That’s a win for me.

  12. Josef Ó Luain says:

    Where will Andrew Wilson ever find the time to do anything other than listen, very carefully?

  13. Peter Hurrell says:

    One of the worst articles ever published on BC.
    Badly written, illjudged, tedious, juvenile and factually incorrect.
    Would have been simpler just saying “there’s only me and our kid that’s alright….. and even he’s a bit of an arse”.
    Absolutely dire.

  14. James Mills says:

    At first glance I am with Groucho as regards this institution YesAlba !

  15. MacNaughton says:

    A totally sectarian and obnoxious piece of propaganda which takes “the debate” to new lows…

    An embarrassment to Bella’s normally high standards…

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