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38 Days to Change Scotland

Day 1

Saturday 18th Feb – Anstruther, East Neuk of Fife

As I checked the weather on my phone, to plan the last day of our wee family weekend away on the Fife coast, I spotted a message on my phone, from a friend’s sister, who knew SNP MSP Ash Regan.

My friend had told her sister about how Vive Ecosse had been impressed by Ash last year and that we were developing our crowdplatforming blog, podcast and campaign tools for progressing Independence, free to use. We had been messaging back and forth the night before, about campaigning and now I had a message to see if it was OK to pass my number on to Ash.

Absolutely! I assumed Ash wanted to have a chat about our campaigning ideas and maybe wanted to come on our podcast and looked forward to hearing from Ash.

Ash sent me a message within the hour and that’s where #voteAshRegan started.

What had started on Thursday, as a few days away by the sea with the family, walking the dog and pottering about the shops, with a planned Independence zoom meeting on the first night – post Anstruther fish & chips – turned out to be a weekend punctuated by zoom calls, messages and conversations, all about independence and the election of a new SNP leader.

The bombshell of Nicola Sturgeon’s resignation announcement the day before, on Wednesday 15th February, that she was stepping down after nine years, had created ripples across the independence movement and beyond.

Folk were scrambling to understand why Nicola Sturgeon’s “plenty left in the tank”, from her post-Jacinda Ardern resignation interview with Laura Kuenssberg, only a few weeks before, appeared to have suddenly ‘sprung a leak’.

After dinner from the renowned Anstruther Fish Bar on the first night of our wee break, Vive Ecosse joined a Zoom call to discuss the formation of what is now known as the ‘Movement for Scottish Independence’ with representatives from Independence groups all across Scotland.

The following night, Friday, I got a call from another Independence friend about media enquiries into the SNP Finances police investigation – Operation Branchform. I told him that neither I nor the other ex-auditors I knew, had spoken to the media and it was not appropriate during a live police investigation. The conversation then moved on to Independence and the looming Leadership election as we discussed who we thought would be best placed to lead Scotland at this critical time.

Humza wasn’t mentioned by anyone I’d spoken to over years of discussions on independence, as an SNP or independence movement leadership contender but he was now being mooted as a potential candidate, along with others. I remembered a conversation the previous week on why it was odd that Humza and his wife had cancelled a legal action against a Dundee Nursery, that had been front page news when his wife stood, successfully, as a council candidate.

Kate Forbes had been widely regarded as a potential leader in waiting for a few years, just as her predecessor in the role of Finance and Economy Minister, Derek McKay had been, before his resignation in 2020. The timing of this election contest didn’t look ideal for Kate though, as she was on extended maternity leave until April.

It was considered by many inside and outside of the SNP that Angus Roberson had been brought into Holyrood in May 2021, as a ‘Brown’ to Sturgeon’s ‘Blair’ given the unusual circumstances following him not re-standing for Westminster in 2019, having lost his ‘safe’ seat in 2017 while he was the SNP’s Westminster Group Leader.

The subsequent ‘shenanigans’ over him then standing in Edinburgh Central in May 21, a seat Joanna Cherry KC MP had announced she would like to contest against then incumbent Tory leader Ruth Davidson, waa preceded by a series of odd events.

In the summer of 2020, as candidate selection started to be discussed, the then SNP National Executive Committee (NEC) had a strange epiphany on ‘dual mandates’ that they decided they had to rule on before National Conference.

The National Conference was scheduled for November and could/should have debated the merits of a change to selection rules. It was noted by many members that this hadn’t been a concern previously and that during the recent UK General Election in 2019, MEPs like the then NEC Policy Convener, Alyn Smith stood as candidates while remaining in MEP post – only resigning after a win. It also seemed an ironic focus for NEC, given the many ‘dual mandates’ of elected members like Alyn Smith, who also held key internal party roles on NEC.

Members had questioned Alyn Smith at our branch meeting, on this new NEC policy, which would put SNP seats and staff teams at risk during a global pandemic. We were told that it was to save money on a subsequent by-election, by holding it on the same day as the election. This was very odd as the SNP don’t control the running of a by-election and the eventual Airdrie and Shotts by-election to fill the resigning MP Neil Gray’s seat to allow him to stand as an SNP MSP candidates, after 18 months in post, was actually held a week after the Holyrood election on May 13th, at a cost reported to be over £100k.

Airdrie and Shotts 2015 General Election costs

Returning Officers’ services – £3,089
Polling station costs – £113,649
Postal vote costs – £16,270
Poll card costs – £22,962
Count costs – £25,935
Other costs – £13,888

When on NEC the following year, I asked if the same rules applied to councillors standing as MSPs. I’m still awaiting an actual answer but was told, instructively by a sitting councillor that, “you only have to go to one council meeting every six months” which I felt sure would be comforting for communities across Scotland trying to survive and recover from a global pandemic…

My own one-term Councillor was both my MSP and Councillor for a full year. It’s unlikely she’d have won a second term, especially if a second SNP candidate with a surname higher up the alphabet had also stood – such is the dice that STV elections with alphabetically ordered ballot papers, roll. Her husband then stood, unsuccessfully, for councillor in a different ward and again, unsuccessfully at a recent by-election.

Ash Regan’s name had come up more and more frequently, since she resigned from her ministerial role in the Scottish Government in October 2022 over her concerns about self-identification and lack of safeguarding for women and children in the GRR Bill.

Many people I had spoken with had been impressed with her conscience votes on GRR and her unequivocal position on the safeguarding of women’s and children’s rights.

I’ve yet to speak to anyone who can defend how this Bill was conducted and passed, by whipping of 3/4 parties against the most reasonable amendments, or the implementation conundrum it left for Police Scotland and public bodies across Scotland. As it was rushed through 100+ amendments, before Christmas recess – even if it had received Royal Assent these implementation issues would remain unresolved.

A Reconsideration Stage could have been called by The Cabinet Minister who moved the Bill, Shona Robinson but by mid January, The UK Secretary of State for Scotland had stopped the Bill reaching Royal Assent via a Section 35 order. Nicola Sturgeon declared with passion that her government would take this fight to the UK Government through the courts, thus making GRR a defacto devolution battleground.

Irony klaxon 🚨 that this passion to defend devolution was from the same First Minster who has announced less than two months earlier, that we should all accept the judgement of the Supreme Court on the pre-emptive reference from her own Lord Advocate, on Scottish Parliament’s competence to hold an advisory Independence Referendum!

The perfunctory response to that event was to announce an ‘emergency special conference’ 4 months later. Like the independence ‘secret plan’, this ‘special conference’ is yet to materialise as the Mother’s Day event on March 19th was cancelled when Nicola Sturgeon announced her own resignation less than a month after the S35 order was issued and a month before her ‘special conference’.

The smart money thinks GRR Bill outcome was designed to be a distracting tool that would result in more ‘on the shelf’ legislation like the Hate Crime Bill 2021 – which reaches its 2nd anniversary of being unimplemented in April 2023. Unimplemented legislation is the political equivalent of “don’t blame me, I tried”.

‘Progressive’ seems to be the new ‘HOPE’ for the SNP election branding team. Expect it in bold black lettering on yellow banners at future SNP events.

Mid-April is coincidentally also the deadline for the Scottish Government to raise a legal challenge to the UK Government’s S35 order, blocking GRR Bill from Royal Assent via the legislative rule book of our devolution, The Scotland Act.

I assume Scotland’s Lord Advocate who brought a pre-emptive reference to the Supreme Court for advice on the legal competence of a draft Indy Referendum Bill, will have her legal advice on a S35 challenge, listened to, in determining the merits of taking the UK Government through the Court of Session, Outer and Inner houses and onto the Supreme Court.

One of the Supreme Court’s former justices, Lord Hope has opined on the validity of S35 in these particular circumstances, alongside legal experts on Discrimination Law, Naomi Cunningham and on Public and Constitutional Law, Dr Michal Foran, at the Women and Equalities Select Committee in February at Westminster, following the issuing of the S35 order in January this year.

The parting line on the call from my friend on Friday night was, “you should reach out to Ash”. I told him I didn’t know Ash personally but we knew some friends in common, mainly from the Woman’s Protests on Self-Identification. Friends had liked what we’d all seen of Ash and had been very impressed by her impassioned speech outside Parliament in December.

Later on Friday night I had a few more calls and message exchanges with those I consider to be wise heads in Scotland about the tectonic events that were coming thick and fast in Scottish politics. My head was buzzing as I went to bed, trying to make sense of what might unfold in the coming weeks.

The early morning text from Ash’s friend focused my mind on the key event of the impending SNP Leadership contest and mapped out the next 38 days for Vive Ecosse.

I replied with,

Happy to help do what I can to bring democracy back to our politics and Ash is a breath of fresh air for critical thinking so lacking in too many in HR. 

My number is …..

I got a message back from Ash within the hour, sent her some information on Vive Ecosse and we arranged to have a call later that day. I called Graeme, explained the background and he agreed it would be a good idea to have a call later and see what Ash needed from us.

We had our first group call with Ash, Graeme and me early on Saturday evening. Ash told us that she was announcing her candidacy for nomination in the Sunday Mail, so we knew the candidacy would be live by 10 pm that night on social media. There was work to do!

The contest was on.

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Chain of Freedom Scotland

Independence doesn’t bring about itself – you need to go out and demonstrate that there’s not just a hunger for if, but there is an active and vibrant demand.

That’s what we’re going to do with the ‘Chain of Freedom Scotland’.

Inspired by the Baltic Way,

A peaceful political demonstration which took place on 23 August 1989 when approximately two million people joined their hands forming a 600 km long human chain through the Baltic countries, thus demonstrating their unity in their efforts towards freedom.

https://www.thebalticway.eu/en/history/
Photo: P. Šķiņķis

Across sixty six miles of Scotland we are going to split into 11 groups – run by each of the Yes/Indy groups.

In each of those 11 groups, we’re going to split into one mile chain links. Inside those links you’ll be able to see the person along from you and it’ll be up to participants how they want to demonstrate support for Scottish Independence.

For some that will be playing your bagpipe to your neighbour, for others that will be taking pictures and sharing on social media. However the important thing is that we turn out and show that the movement is alive and full of the passions of the nation.

In the short space since the idea was born, there are already over nine thousand members in the group – and that’s before we’ve even a got close to the date!

There’s still time for groups to get involved for their local area and there’s more than enough time for individuals to get registered to take part.

It really does need the whole Indy family to turn up and show the world – that Scotland’s people want their independence.

Find out more about Chain of Freedom

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We are the SNP

https://twitter.com/ashregansnp/status/1640421765716295688

It has been 31 days from nomination to result. 31 days of solid political campaigning at the top tier of Scottish politics – the first leadership election within the last 20 years for our party.

In this time we’ve had a debate schedule that rivals, and in many ways out paces, all other elections within both Scotland and the United Kingdom.

Between us all we have given more interviews and spent more time being grilled by the media than any other electoral force on this island.

We have travelled to the far reaches of the country and where land ended, our digital frontier was explored. When the cameras went off, the emails went out.

I would like to take a moment to thank not only my brilliant team, but the other two candidate’s teams. The background heroes and heroines of the campaign. Those who serve us to serve you.

I’m told we’ve sent nearly twenty thousand emails to media organisations and we’ve handled nearly two thousand media enquiries. The sheer scale of campaigning is incredible.

Now quantity of messaging is easy but to connect with people through a clear message that shows you care, is what counts, to advance the conversation all across this nation and take our people to a place they can believe in.

I started out by saying Independence – nothing less. In these 31 days, we have normalised talking about Independence again.

Together we have moved the conversation to the front and centre. where it belongs.

Together we have discussed currency. We have normalised and promoted the idea of a Scottish Pound.

Together we have propelled new ideas and new strategies on how to first demand our democratic will is respected, and in time, delivered.

There has never been since 2014, such a robust, engaging and challenging debate. There has never existed a moment where we could not advance our argument with detail and passion.

The defining metric of this campaign is how it has relit the fire in the spirit of the movement to go on to deliver for our country. It is not the argument of yesterday but of today.

It is right that we look at where we have lost our way, because it is incumbent on us to steady our ship. It is right that we take control and we embrace our critical friends. It is right we listen to and learn where we got it wrong.

You see, the opposition, the Westminster elite, the UK Government, have enjoyed this leadership election. They’ve enjoyed the media showing our fault lines, exposing them, and showcasing them on live television.

However, know this, friends. We are our own best opposition. We are our own greatest critical friend. We are our own guiding light. There is a reason the opposition have not managed to land a blow in years.

Know that the SNP from this moment will find unity and strength, overriding division and grudges.

Know that the SNP are built to win elections in Scotland.

Know that the Beltane flame has been lit again for the light of independence and will connect across our land. It will not go out.

And finally,

Know that the greatest fear the union has – is us – firing on all cylinders, with the full powers of the Scottish Parliament and with the backing of the Scottish people.

Many column inches have been written about how vicious, detailed, and incisive our fury has been with each other – well, they have seen nothing like what is about to be unleashed on the union.

They have no idea how a reenergised SNP will deliver even greater political force and result.

We stand here not as three candidates any longer but instead a party. A party united against the fundamental structures and constraints of this dis-united-kingdom. A party fit for the democratic fight for our people.

The SNP that has emerged will tackle the ills of inequality that scar our country, from poverty, to addiction to drugs and alcohol, while inspiring new generations of learners in education that will once again lead the world.

There is no possibility of us not tackling head on the extremes of a decaying Conservative government and the hapless enablers of the Labour Party.

These are not serious electoral challengers, they are small men, strangled by special wealthy interest, who will not deny a just democratic future to the people of Scotland.

We are a resource rich nation and our people deserve better. No individual can change Scotland, only a collective effort will deliver.

The Independence phoenix has risen from the ashes – and will burn brighter and stronger on the fuel of our collective experience.

We are taking our fight up a notch to match our rising ambition. We are discussing big ideas and bold promises. We will not speak softly, we will assert what we know is true.

The people of Scotland are sovereign, and only the people of Scotland will decide when it is time to reject the decline of Westminster and chart a new course – into the safety of Independence.

In ten days the SNP will celebrate 89 years as a political force spanning nine decades. We will complete our founding mission before we celebrate our centenary, that much is certain.

I am honoured to serve you, my fellow members, as together we serve the people of Scotland.

We are the SNP.

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Inspiration

On the 18th of February there was an opportunity to advance the case of Scottish Independence. Since 2014 there has been a stalemate that seemed unbreakable and unbroken. 

I joined Ash Regan’s campaign on that day. With considerable substance over style, a feisty fireball of determination and a calm confidence. We moved forward on one mission: 

Independence – nothing less. 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿 

The strategy was mocked, derided and attacked but held true to the belief that our best days are ahead of us and our big ideas are worth exploring. 

Ash Regan does not back down. Ash Regan gets things done. Ash Regan has once again lit the fires of debate around Scotland’s future and moved the ball back into Scotland’s court.

Tomorrows successes will be propelled regardless of result by the power of her example. 🔥 

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Movement for Scottish Independence

Every now and then something kinda cool comes along and piques interest.

We’re nearing the tenth anniversary of the first Independence referendum, and we’re now in a position to say not only has the First Minister who led the movement there moved on, but so has his successor, Nicola Sturgeon. A generation has definitively, in every conceivable fashion, now passed.

There have been some big ideas in the SNP leadership race, but some have been wandering around the movement for a long while. One is the establishment of a campaign vehicle, an organisation built from the ground up.

ViveEcosse attended some of the formation meetings and while it’s taken a while to get where we are, there are some very interesting things to report.

The ‘Movement for Scottish Independence’ is now alive!

Political parties are already registered entities so will exist regardless – instead, this is for everyone else – an umbrella organisation to help with the logistics of being a full member of the electoral process.

Already there are a ton of Yes Groups, the Scottish Independence Convention and the influential Common Weal think tank leading the way.

It’s one we are proud to stand under – and the campaign is just getting warmed up. As always we’re advocates of wider doors and longer tables, so we hope to see you all in MSI too.

Originally reported in The National: https://www.thenational.scot/news/23408813.independence-groups-back-reform-umbrella-structure-yes/