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In Plain Sight

Day 6

Thursday 23rd February

Another busy day started early with some good news for the team as we finally got a reply from National Secretary to our requests for confirmed nominations. Now that the deadline had passed to add new candidates to the online nomination page, Lorna Finn confirmed that we’d reached the 100 members from 20 branches threshold, although pointed out that members could also ‘ remove their nomination’ until Friday noon when nominations close – we thought it a strange thing for her to say at the time.

Later in the campaign this optional ‘edit function’ became more significant…

Our ‘How to Nominate’ video was having final edits, and would be released later that day, via our Ash Ambassador Network and on social media.

The 9 am, early team call started with some banter as we waited for some members to join. The team chat had contributions into the wee hours as there was so much to do. When AshVengers finally Assembled 😜 by 9.15 am, we ran through the day ahead, tomorrow’s media launch and the weekend plans for visiting the North East (that now included an invitation to Fraserburgh SNP on Sunday).

Our media grid was building but we were still flexing to reactive moments like the morning’s sudden announcement of Chief Inspector Livingston’s resignation. A quick online team discussion and response lines were prepared and approved to meet media asks. Bailey was bossing the media inbox like a pro by now and negotiating with journalists and production teams, like he’d been doing this for years, not less than a week!

An early morning interview with Holyrood Magazine was lined up as a great start to Ash’s day but the media pack were still trying to make a story of yesterday’s Diet Coke moment’ – when Ash walked in through Parliament lobby with Kirk Torrance and Robin McAlpine at each side. It made us all both giggle and eyeroll at what makes a story in Scottish politics these days!

We planned to raise the bar to address the issues that matter to the people of Scotland. That first required us to take control of the media narrative today by confirming that, our nominations threshold had been met, that Ash was a serious contender for leadership and FM and thanking the growing Ash Ambassador network for their support.

Then the Ciaran Jenkins ‘corridor dance’ happened…

Now, we must clarify that we do really like Ciaran and the Channel 4 News team but it’s never acceptable for the media to impede our elected members going about their Parliamentary business, even when there is a frenzy of activity in a leadership election. To be fair, the obstructing camera that added to the squeeze wasn’t Channel4 News, as they recorded the incident with their camera.

Ash was very uncomfortable at this sudden press pincer manoeuvre, which is daunting even to those who’ve experienced intrusive media. Added to that, to answer media questions on camera about a third party’s views on matters with potential legal ramifications, on the hoof is never wise, so Ash managed to escape the stramash and retreat to her office to prepare for FMQs.

This was a big media learning day for both Ash and the team.

While the media continued to scramble to get Ash on camera for comments, we continued to keep to plan, and keep Ash’s media appearances low key before our Friday media launch, once membership nominations had concluded the final ballot.

We planned an eve of launch exclusive with Kevin McKenna and chose the perfect spot to conduct this interview ‘in plain sight’.

We waited for Ash to arrive, watching the comings and goings of Holyrood from our sunny vantage point of the top steps of Dynamic Earth, with Kevin and Gordon from the Herald.

We decided to meet Kevin McKenna there for the interview as parking was easy, it was close to Parliament for Ash and critically, they had a decent canteen for our lunch. The wonderful Lynn from Ash’s constituency office was in Parliament and provided support to Ash as she navigated the media scrum after FMQs and joined us for lunch.

Edinburgh, Scotland, UK. 23 February 2023 PICTURED: Ash Regan MSP, candidate for the SNP Leadership and for Scotland’s next First Minister. Photo credit: Colin D Fisher/CDFIMAGES.COM

The weather was glorious and Kevin and his photographer Gordon, got some great outside shots, with Holyrood in the background. We met up with our campaign photographer Colin Fisher, there too as he’d been working at Parliament for FMQs. With outside photography complete, we all moved inside – fortuitously just as the canteen emptied of school kids and their packed lunches as they moved onto their next trip stop.

We selected a few quiet tables with a black curtain backdrop for Kevin’s interview with Ash and some photographs and ordered coffees for everyone.

Now Graeme and me have a political event nacho tradition, after he nearly choked on an inhaled nacho at one of our first event, just as we were about to get up to speak. Backslapping normally happens post-speech 😂 In line with tradition, we added a plate of nachos for the team to share, with our order of mac and cheese lunches!

Inside photographs done and the interview in full flow, we sat a couple of tables up and over lunch, had a good blether with Lynn from Ash’s constituency team on independence campaigning. Gordon, the photographer from the Herald, later entertained us over coffee, with his brilliant ‘pants’ story of his trip to see Sean Connery in his Bahamas home! Ask him if you see him 🤣

Ash and Kevin finished, what we all agreed was a great interview and we all looked forward to reading it later that night, as Kevin headed straight back to my home city of Glasgow, to ‘file the copy’ before tomorrow’s big Ash Regan campaign launch day.

Kevin McKenna interviews Ash on eve of campaign launch.

We walked Ash and Lynn back to Parliament then Graeme and me went to collect the ‘vote Ash Regan’ launch posters, from a local print shop, that the team had ordered. Graeme then headed off to meet Kirk and Ash to finalise the speech for tomorrow while I headed home for a school parents evening.

The team chat was busy that evening with last minute details for tomorrow’s campaign launch, and a final read through of the speech. Ash Ambassadors had been invited, photography and video footage plans agreed, with Colin and Al, and copies of speeches and media run lists had been printed and packed into the car. Tomorrow was an early morning start.

I finally got to bed around 1.30am – I think most of the team did too. We were all buzzing for the campaign launch proper, in the morning!

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Love Is Love

Day 4

Tuesday 21st February

While Kate and Humza continued to face a barrage of media questions on religion, and now on their voting record or voting intention on Equal Marriage, Tuesday for us was themed by ‘connections’.

It started in the wee hours and resumed with an early team call – a pre-10 am call with Graeme was unheard of so this was serious stuff for us!

We had all determined that it was better for Ash to avoid immediate media reaction pieces as there was a toxic atmosphere bubbling up and Ash had a daunting few weeks to navigate to get her positive, constructive messaging out, on a campaign shaping up to be riddled with obstacles to achieve that.

It was evident that Kate’s team had tried to get questions of religion upfront to address and then move quickly past it, but the media kept circling back, fueled in part at least, by Humza’s campaign comments which seemed to be centring on creating some kind of ‘Progressive It’s a Knockout’.

We intended to allow Ash space to work with us on her critical campaign messaging proactively, for a planned campaign launch on Friday with the media all in one place, of our choosing, once the SNP membership had confirmed their nominations for the ballot.

The media were all over Holyrood when Ash arrived so Bailey popped by her office at lunchtime to introduce himself and see if she needed anything. He brought up lunch and they had a quick chat on how to navigate the media as the controversy being whipped up over the views on the Equal Marriage of two long-serving MSPs was suddenly all anyone was talking about, after Kate’s media interviews. Ash wanted to calm the situation and remind everyone of what is important while settling those who were understandably upset.

When asked directly for comment on Equal Marriage, by Ciaran Jenkins from Channel 4 News, as she passed him in the Parliamentary lobby, she simply said, 

“love is love”

Ash Regan 21st Feb 2023, when asked by Ciaron Jenkins of Channel 4 News on her views on Equal Marriage.

We later released a press statement with Ash’s full response which tried to lighten the mood, in a Scotland that had led the way in the UK on Equal Marriage, and ended her statement with, 

“…just don’t marry the wrong person – been there, done that 😉 Thankfully we’re still friends!”

Ash Regan, press statement on Equal Marriage, 21st Feb, 2023

There was little time for making pancakes, this year – my kids got some bought-in from the local Co-op. ‘Team vote Ash Regan’ had an anything-but-flat day, as we added to our core team, met face to face, launched #voteAshRegan branding, site and media mailboxes, invited Ash Ambassadors to the wider team, met with subject experts, secured more nominations, planned our media launch and poured over the campaign rules just released by SNP NEC, to understand the constraints we had to operate within.

By the end of Tuesday we had secured Joanna Cherry KC MP for Ash’s planned media launch on Friday, the day nominations closed. Joanna had declared her support for Ash’s leadership bid as she knew of Ash’s background, both in independence campaigning and Common Weal, as well as her recent principled stance on self-id and the criticality of safeguarding the rights of women and children.

Fraser, from Joanna’s team, was liaising with us on the launch details and weekend arrangements, as both Joanna and Ash had been invited to a YES event in Stonehaven. We invited Fraser along to a call we had set up for Wednesday evening with Professor Richard Murphy. The team is indebted to Fraser’s ongoing support in advising us on media lines over lunchtime and joining early morning and weekend calls to add his experience.

There was so much we wanted to achieve with the campaign, primarily to connect with members, develop core policy with them and reach out to civic Scotland and the independence movement but the timescale was so short and the NEC rules so limiting, coupled with the emerging intense hustings and debate schedule, that it felt like it was shaping up to be ‘SNP Squid Games’ rather than a leadership contest!

We needed a way to get clarity of messaging and agreed Kevin McKenna was our ideal pick as a journalist who gets to the root of what makes folk tick and we needed that. Thankfully Kevin agreed to meet us on Thursday for what we hoped would be our pre-media launch interview – it all hung on Graeme and Kirk securing our venue.

‘Independence – nothing less’, underpinned Ash’s Campaign from day 1 and we set to work to address the big issues that were roadblocks to building confidence to deliver a YES majority in 2014. The Scottish Currency Group had impressed both SNP membership and the wider independence movement with the work they’d done since 2014 and we wanted to ensure they got a platform on our campaign. 

Similarly, Professor Richard Murphy had spoken and written eloquently on Scotland’s potential under independence and on the annual GERS charade. Richard was on top form the next evening as we met on Zoom, and he told us he had just written a long-form article for the National on Tuesday, covering his thoughts on much of what we discussed on Wednesday evening. I was surprised to discover that I was the only one on the call that knew everyone! We agreed on the importance of getting the right people in the room to make progress, a theme that ran through Ash’s campaign.

Robin McAlpine, Ash’s ex-colleague from her time at Common Weal was meeting her for a pre-arranged coffee on Wednesday, and the team were passionate about ensuring the incredible work Common Weal had done over almost 10 years had the appropriate platform to discuss the big ideas to help shape Scotland. So many people across Scotland had poured their energy and talent into delivering an ambitious, achievable vision for an independent Scotland and Ash wanted to ensure that these valued assets were connected, to our common purpose for Scotland.

While Bailey was helping Ash navigate the media teams at Holyrood while managing the mountain of media bids that were pouring into our new mailbox, Graeme was collecting Kirk from Inverkeithing Station to secure a venue for our campaign launch. We had all agreed on our strong visual message of ‘building bridges’ and ‘SNP/Scottish ambition and achievement’ was encapsulated by the spectacular Queensferry Crossing – now to secure the ideal venue to present that vista! Our first venue choice wasn’t available and the second, Transport Scotland’s outside space, we felt was too much of a weather risk so we moved North to the Doubletrees by Hilton and it was available and just perfect!

As I liaised with Alan from Phantom Power regarding the now-confirmed launch plan for Friday, Kirk confirmed with Colin, our campaign photographer, and Graeme secured the talented Mrs O, our press release Ninja extraordinaire! Graeme and Kirk then headed off to meet Ash at Costa in Fort Kinnaird, getting there just before closing!

There was much relief in the team that Friday’s launch was now locked in, as it allowed us to promote the announcement, just after midnight as, ‘ASH WEDNESDAY: CAMPAIGN LAUNCH’

Colin McKay from STV News, while seeking confirmation of Ash’s intention to stay in or drop out of the campaign, had said, “Maybe she’ll announce her campaign on Ash Wednesday.” This amused us so much that he was on ‘our wavelength’ that we decided to give Colin a wee exclusive at the Parliament the next day by Bailey telling him where to be as Ash was passing.

As we got the press release ready to go to launch ‘ASH WEDNESDAY’, the final connection piece was slotted into place just before midnight. Ash asked me to add her partner to the team, which I did and that was the start of something really special.

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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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Strictly Scores Are In…

We’ve discussed a few times now, the democratic gap in how the electorate can judge whether our politicians are living up to their promises.

We thought it might be fun to try a bit of ‘Strictly’ style judging of some politicians who’ve been in the news this week on their ‘footwork and performance’.

So who tops the leaderboard by being Fab-U-Lous and who’s failed to impress the judges, leaving them a likely contender for the electoral dance-off?

Matt Hancock – following his decision this week to step down as Tory MP to seek,

‘new ways for me to communicate with the public’

https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2022/dec/07/matt-hancock-will-not-stand-conservatives-next-election
Nobody Likes Me (Guess I’ll Go Eat Worms)

Service to the public – 0/10 – Drops his ‘passion for politics’ at first sniff of a TV career thinks, as he now thinks ‘he’s a celebrity so he’s outta here!’

Tenacity – 3/10 a few points for his humiliating determination for celebrity status that had him move from ‘licking political posteriors’ to ‘eating bovine butts, amongst other delicacies…

Integrity – 0/10 – He stood for re-election as MP for West Suffolk in 2019 and took key Ministerial Roles, including most recently Health Secretary during Global Pandemic but demonstrated he was incapable of either following his own rules or seeing through any commitment.

Credibility 0/10 – despite holding Ministerial Roles from 2013 largely under the radar, his performance as Secretary of State for Health and Social Care from 2018-2021 was what put him in the spotlight. His performance during the pandemic can be summarised by his ‘caught on CCTC camera’ kissing someone clearly not in his ‘immediate household’ during a global pandemic where he was leading on public messaging.

Trust – 0/10 – see above

Likeability – 1/10 – 1 point for the morbid curiosity factor of what he’ll do next.

YES (for Scottish Independence) positive impact – 6/10 – not really for his individual impact (does he even know where Scotland is?) but contribution to cumulative Tory repulsion score which is pushing more Scots to the ‘independence cannae be any worse surely?’ position.

Gordon Brown – following his cuckoo clock (re/re/re)entry to the constitutional debate when the ‘independence event chimes’ rang!

Broontervention Time!

The paper – titled A New Britain – says Labour in government would offer “economic, social and constitutional innovations that can make the UK work better for the Scottish people”.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-scotland-politics-63853652

Service to public – 8/10 – UN Special Envoy for Global Education (unpaid), Ambassador for Global Health Financing by the World Health Organization (WHO) and other work donated to Gordon and Sarah Brown Foundation to support charitable endeavours. He does not sit in the House of Lords and still lives in his former constituency.

Tenacity – 8/10 can’t knock his clockwork-like emergence at the sniff of an uptick in independence support. Gordon Brown, considered ‘a big beast’ of Scottish politics, is our very own Scottish groundhog Kirkcaldy Gordy whose emergence into the media predicts an Independence ‘Spring’ in the same way Punxsutawney Phil’s emergence from his burrow indicates an early spring if he doesn’t see his shadow.

Integrity – 2/10 – Kirkcaldy Gordy’s latest emergence is a ‘shadow’ of his former ‘broonterventions’ as he has either forgotten his 2014 promises of ‘as close to federalism’ and the ‘most powerful devolved parliament in the world’ or he thinks we collectively have in Scotland! He is going for a trio approach now, flanked by Sir Keir and Anas who, between them just screech ‘representative of the working class’ and ‘core Labour values’. Suggestions welcome on a name for the Labour ‘boy band’, perhaps ‘The Unelected?’

Credibility 5/10 – difficult one as a former chancellor for 10 years and anointed Prime Minister, there’s a mixed bag of success and abject failure. His credibility on Scottish democracy from his increasingly incredulous pronouncements has lost him points here. His ‘independence footwork’ makes Ann Widdecombe look like a prima ballerina!

Trust – 0/10 – fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me, fool me three times, are you still here??

Likeability – 5/10 – An acquired taste I think it’s safe to say. Those who know him speak highly of his kindness, humour and loyalty. This suggests he needs a new PR team as it doesn’t cut across as he always seems to preach at Scotland, from an unelected pulpit, like we’re unruly parishioners for not believing in his personal faith in a broken union.

YES (for Scottish Independence) positive impact – 8/10 – Now there are undoubtedly Scottish indy supporters who are Labour at heart and would align with much of what Brown stands for but this is where it gets interesting. Will Labour values trump independence aspirations this time?

Are Labour values more assured in an independent Scotland that on the spin of a UK electoral roulette wheel, where they have a track record of snatching defeat from the jaws of a (predicted in the polls) General Election victory?

Stephen Flynn – on his new arrival on the front stage of the UK Parliament as SNP MP’s new Group Leader.

To Sunak at Flynn’s first PMQs as SNP group leader, “Far be it from me to offer advice to a near-billionaire, but he’s going to have to up his game.”

https://www.thenational.scot/news/23175841.scottish-independence-poll-raised-stephen-flynn-first-pmqs/
Promising youngster?

Service to public – 5/10 – not much detail is known yet about Flynn as he was only elected in 2019 so has not had a chance to be re-elected by his constituency. His previous election as a councillor on Aberdeen City Council in 2015 was also a one-term position. Interestingly he became SNP Group Leader on the Council a year later in 2016 and was also a political researcher for SNP at both Holyrood and Westminster, both common SNP political career paths. Re-election is a good test of public service but Flynn has so far not been tested in this way as he’s ‘upgraded’ before re-election. The jury is out but we’d welcome constituents’ views of Flynn as a councillor and MP.

Tenacity – 10/10 This boy doesn’t lack ambition!

Integrity – 2/10 – Hmmm this needs work, given the early announcement of his challenge of Blackford for the group leader role, then the retraction/denial (rumoured to be after ‘words from Bute Hoose’) before the retraction of the retraction when he reannounced he was indeed to stand.

The dance of both Flynn and Blackford was full of spins and pivot turns as they covered the floor with perma-smiles and shrieks of ‘unity’ to distract the viewers from the cracks!

Credibility 5/10 – difficult one, as he has stepped up to defend the interest of jobs in his North East Constituency against proposed oil & gas taxes, even while FM was gushing about it. Have we seen enough substantive action yet? His first outing at PMQs was as good as I’m sure he hoped for. Flynn was assured and clinical in his delivery although I’m sure he thought Christmas had come early with IPOS STV indy poll news while in the chamber that provided the collateral for his set piece second question! “In that context, can I ask the Prime Minister, does he consider that increasing energy bills on energy-rich Scotland by a further £500 will cause those poll numbers to rise or to fall?”

This question was clever as it was a 1-2 to both Tory and Labour.

“What does he [Sunak] consider to be the greatest achievement of the Conservative Party in government since 2019: leaving the single market and customs union, ending freedom of movement, denying Scotland her democracy, or getting the Labour Party to agree with all of the above?”

Trust – 5/10 – The jury is out but some feel his announced replacement of the chief whip (and friend) Owen Thomson with Martin Docherty Hughes, seen by many as an ally of Nicola Sturgeon is a breach of trust. The late announcement of ‘running mate’ Mhari Black was sneaky and I’d suggest unwise after MPs had already come out to support his leadership bid. Power is a funny old thing that can come back to bite you and if it does you need your friends…

Now his new front bench announcements will tell us some of his intentions so we watch with interest. Is he giving the whip role as a gesture but doesn’t intend to use it as aggressively as it has been used, to corral an SNP position directed from Holyrood as Westminster becomes the focus of a potential ‘plebiscite’?

Likeability – 7/10 – The Holyrood Magazine piece from 2019 showed an amiable young husband and new dad who liked footy and was ambitious for himself and Scotland. Let’s see how he handles his new position of power to keep true to his values.

YES (for Scottish Independence) positive impact – 8/10 – If from no other viewpoint than to fire up the damp, sooty embers of the SNP front bench for independence, then Flynn has scored here. Day 1 in a new job to receive a poll with 56% for yes, really is the dream start. This time the air must not be allowed to seep out the indy ballon so man the pumps and take a deep breath, as we need sustained energy now from the SNP and, creativity, not predictability. Game on!

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West Lothian By-Election Results 2022 Results in

Labour have won the Ward 2 Broxburn, Uphall and Winchburgh by election today. Not untypical for a by election the turnout is down from 42.2% in May 2022 to 27.2% yesterday Dec 1st.

% of vote share changes from May 22 to Dec 22

Tory vote has collapsed so it’s likely they’d have lost their existing seat on the West Lothian Council if it had been their seat in the by-election.

SNP and Greens need to be careful of complacence as both have dropped vote share, while Labour retained their seat with an increased % of the vote, likely from a mix of Tories and SNP.

The only Independence supporting party to increase their vote share is Alba Party, albeit by small gain but moves Broxburn, Uphall and Winchburgh from #63 to #45 in Alba’s May 2022 candidate results list.

We also can’t assume all the Labour vote are not pro-independence, given figures summarised by The Ferret in 2020 to be on average from polls at 32% of Labour’s own membership as pro-Independence, with more at least neutral on the constitution.

This all highlights the complexity of the SNP leadership’s announced ‘plebiscite’ elections and why very careful thought is needed to fully understand HOW this approach will work.

Interestingly, unlike May 21, two independent candidates stood on Dec 1st and swept up almost 9% of the vote which shows that there are definitely electoral opportunities beyond party politics in local elections, especially in 4 member wards.