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No meetings without Big Brother

The UK Government was stamping its feet with impatience due to the continuous disregard of the Scottish Government in following its Foreign Affairs “rulebook”.

The UK Government announced that if the Scottish Government doesn’t invite it to meetings it arranges itself, it will simply not turn up or help set the meetings it wasn’t invited to from being set up.

You may need to read that a few times. The UK Government has indeed threatened to pull support from meetings that it was never involved in.

Oh well.

The fact remains it’s a bluff, the UK Government does operate considerable diplomatic resource and is particularly effective, it would be a loss, but not an unmanageable one. However it won’t pull support – for a bigger reason.

Scotland to become independent will at some point require its own diplomatic apparatus, and it will need to diverge from UK Government foreign policy. This is not particularly novel, all countries around the world handle this challenge, in unique and bespoke ways.

However that is the nut of problem for the UK Government. It does not want Scotland to gain its own unique voice – because that voice is recognition. Recognition that would one day be provided to a newly independent Scottish state. Thats the real issue at stake here, that people abroad may recognise the unique, divergent, and different voice.

For as bold as ‘SUPREME COURTS’ are when considered with “ACTS OF UNION”, the truth remains if a number of countries around the world recognise that unique Scottish voice as an Independent Scottish voice – it becomes fact and as history has shown – there is not a lot the UK can then do about that.

From Humza Yousaf and his partners tours and speeches on world politics, its very clear this particular power couple have their eyes set on more international politics following what is likely to be a short stint at the top of Scottish politics. This leaves the inescapable conclusion that Humza is likely to continue to speak to whomever he likes.

The UK Government will complain and flail but likely won’t pull support or risk going blind to the scant details they currently get, and they need to maintain the plausibility they still have control behind the scenes. Just don’t look behind the curtain.

The whole point is rendered somewhat silly when you consider on the same day that David Cameron is writing letters to Angus Robertson asking him to rein in Humza Yousaf and ensure officials are in the room from the UK Government – the other Conservative Party Prime Minister Boris Johnston is telling a covid enquiry that they forgot to check with any health officials in the middle of the largest pandemic in modern lifetimes if sending everyone as a herd into restaurants would be dangerous.

Officials are clearly not that important to the UK Government while it breaks its own laws and rule books. They certainly aren’t required to be medalling in Scotland establishing its own voice.

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Competence, constitutionally

First Minister Humza Yousaf set out the Scottish Government plan for establishing a constitution for an Independent Scotland.

This is a welcome development and should be widely supported. If you look at our article: Where are the investigative journalists?

You can see a large number of the breakaway countries form the British Empire – actually did so by building a constitution and then ascending it through a plurality vote, leading to independence.

This building block is fundamental to the forming of a modern nation.

Humza was correct in saying – Westminster not having one – is the constitutional outlier.

The debate is now open, the discussion has now begun and the question is now – what do you think is fundamental to a country?

This is important stuff. We want to get this right as a nation.

STV’s Colin McKay asked if it’s not putting the cart before the horse effectively debating this before independence or in lieu of an Independence Strategy. However I don’t think many of our journalists have a firm grasp on this may be the step – that actually delivers independence.

As a movement we need to let parties do as they do – while we focus on building the foundations of the future – which is more important.

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Labour concede election

Question Time in Fort William presented a small glimpse of what may come to be the next chapter of the Scottish Independence partnering, but first we need to look back a bit.

The Scottish Greens found themselves with a lot of power without much real preparation for being saddled with it, sadly this manifested in some of the oddest and widely unpopular legislation the Scottish Parliament has enacted.

Nicola Sturgeon found herself evicted from office in the severely damaging defence and promotion of ideas that found no traction with the electorate. It’ll now come to pass that Sturgeon may also have led the most ineffective and support losing Parliament due in part to the stranglehold the Greens exerted. 

However it’s largely pointless to dwell on what has gone past us and instead focus on the future. 

Humza at some point will have to jettison the old guard – still battering on as though the whole saga was just a bad dream – or be jettisoned himself, there are only really two options available to the SNP just now. 

However what was striking was that Mairi McAllan, who in the past has been a very effective friend and repeater of Nicola Sturgeon has decided to refocus on being more conciliatory and focussing on echoing what people actually say to her. It was amusing to see the change. 

Likewise Alex Salmond, seemed to have risen above any real fight with the SNP, and instead went back to pronouncing the benefits Scotland already has. Watch closely – and if he hadn’t mentioned ALBA, you could be forgiven for thinking he was still in the SNP, the stats and arguments he was making were straight from his former playbook. Indeed they might even be. 

Alex has obviously concluded Humza will sooner or later be forced to exorcise bad omens from the SNP cog-works and has moved a little ahead into the phase where we have one movement, albeit with distinct voices. 

Diverse voices with varying tones and messages is what the movement needed last time round but lacked in the political arena – but enjoyed on the community level. This time round it does seem at least we will enjoy that improvement. 

The standout though – is exactly what will end with the Labour Party (in disbelief), presented in a neat little package by Jackie Baillie. 

You see Jackie went on the attack about how she campaigned in 2019 for remaining within the EU. However thats not Labours current position, it does not seek to solve the European problem, instead as Jackie said, much the same as currently dished up will be delivered by Labour, but with friendlier smiles. 

While the independence movement bolsters on, debating the merits or demerits of full membership, EFTA and single market access – the Labour Party won’t actually have anything with any substance to add. This isn’t going to delivery any fruit to the Labour Party, in part because they can’t help secure the future of fruit workers. 

The electorate will maybe vote Labour in some places as a kick to the Tories but theres no resounding message the Labour Party have found to share. Bereft of talent or substance – it’s the same old folks making the same old noise and Scotland has moved on from it. 

Outrage from Ian Murray followed the day after – he was upset the SNP’s condition of support will be for a referendum on Scottish Independence. 

Amusingly in being aggrieved – Ian Murray had already conceded Labour won’t win the next general election without the SNP’s help. How pathetic. They can’t even pretend they’ll succeed because it’s that unlikely. 

If the only choices of Conservative Party Policy are whether you want the red or blue set – is it any wonder why Labour can’t beat the SNP when it should be at its weakest? Furthermore not expecting to beat a terribly weak Tory performance?

In the next few weeks and months, the SNP will learn some lessons, as will ALBA, they’ll tune and hone.

The SNP have worked out behind the scenes that the Greens are an anchor rather than a propeller. Despite knowing folks like Mairi and Alex share no desire to work together – they’ll find an equitable platform to stand on to push the cause – while Labour languish in the polls. 

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Articles Ash Regan Campaign

View from the bridge

Day 7

Friday 24th February

It’s ten past midnight and we’re sending out the reminder email for the morning’s launch. This is our set piece event, the unveiling of the full Ash Regan campaign. Up to this point – it’s been a mad scramble and pieces have been moving across the board at a lightning pace.

At 7:30am the team were awake and debating in the chat: SNP Trek 2: The Wrath of Ashten or SNP Wars – A New Hope. Between “May the force of Independence be with us all” and “Beam Ash Up, Scotland” – Kirk asked us to keep the “wonderful” Star Wars metaphors to ourselves. Sorry, Kirk, they’ve been published.

8:30am, Graeme, Kirk and Mrs O arrive on the scene, and the posters and placards are ready. The podium and AV kit are being set up. The sun is scorching in the background with the Queensferry Crossing brilliantly standing in the background.

Holyrood Magazine had kicked off by calling us the Unity Candidate, and LBC’s Gina Davidson called Ash the dark horse. It was looking good. Our campaign photographer Colin was setting up his kit and Phantom Power were setting up theirs to send out a video of the speech.

The team finally were all in the same room, which oddly hadn’t occurred until this moment. Ash Regan turned up in a £600 blazer from Oliami, which was absolutely stunning and First Ministerial. It had been hand-crafted in Scotland, in her childhood hometown of Cumbernauld. From the Press launch being held in the Caledonia Suite to the Blazer being from Scotland – the stars were aligning.

Unfortunately due to the very restrictive £5k budget from SNP HQ – we couldn’t put on a breakfast roll or any decent snacks for the launch press. Water and some cheap biscuits had to do! While the press and guests were filtering in – Phantom Power created some impressive drone shots from the bridge to the hall, which look epic on the launch video.

The room was set out in a press room style – big open windows to the bridge in the background, Ash with a clear podium to show openness and transparency, two dedicated media interview areas, a command area and finally some break-out areas for interview and media upload.

Credit:  Colin D Fisher/CDFIMAGES.COM

A letter to the independence movement was sent at this point. It would be the focal point of the upcoming speech and it was likely the top trending piece of social media of the whole campaign.

Colin took a ‘front page’ picture of Ash with her arm on the guardrail in front of the bridge, and journalists went live from the berm surrounding the hotel. Indeed we were featured on the live news and Colin indeed got his picturesque front pages. Things were working out.

 Credit: Colin D Fisher/CDFIMAGES.COM

Our team had a quick pow-wow with Ash who was ready to face her first large speech as potential FM and then enter a nearly 3-hour festival of media from podcasts to live broadcasts. Ash and Joanna had a quick chat before Joanna would go on to introduce Ash.

The speech landed well and was First Ministerial in its content. It had been the product of a few days of tough work. We released it to the media just 15 minutes before we went live with it. BBC News had wanted to carry us live but dipped out after 60 seconds to go to some random SNP student who spoke abysmally and critiqued a speech that he had never actually heard. Naughty step for them.

From a list of media bids – Ash took questions in turn, this was the bizarre part where most asked the same question in slightly different wording. Most journalists feel like they have ‘gotchas’ but in reality, ask the same as their competitors did a moment before. Most forgot this was a small campaign versus the larger staff of the actual First Minister.

The BBC get a special mention as the least organised of all – they’d have quite liked their own event. However, the amount of time you gave the BBC vs the coverage you got – ended up being a terrible sum for us.

As Allison and Bailey handed out microphones to the journalists, they asked their questions with vigour, asking for details on the SNP structure and its transparency, especially with Peter Murrell at the helm.

 Colin D Fisher/CDFIMAGES.COM

We found this quite amusing as Allison was handing microphones to the journalists who had been hounding her following her departure from the Finance and Audit committee and NEC two years ago, without realising she was standing right there in front of them in the room.

It’s probably worth noting in light of current events – Allison and her former colleagues are still not speaking to the press (nor even me when I try very hard!) regarding their time there, and ViveEcosse will obviously only make comment when legally clear to do so.

A moment of silence was held in solidarity with the Ukrainian people on the year anniversary of the war.

 Colin D Fisher/CDFIMAGES.COM

We attempted our first media scrum and huddle – it was a bit less organised than we’d liked. It had some great pictures but must have been intimidating for Ash. She rocked it and we moved on to the 1-2-1 interviews, breaking only for the toilet and water.

The 1-2-1 interviews were an interesting experience. Every journalist overran. Every journalist complained that they were late. At most, we were a few minutes late – but we learned they just didn’t like each other very much. We were about halfway through when we detected Ash had described some policies of her own – that we hadn’t spoken about as a team – it was then we realised we’d mucked up by not recording the interviews ourselves. We would now need to watch the media that dropped out and adopt it as campaign policy. Oops.

The final media interview was with the Founding Editor of the Edinburgh Reporter, Phyllis Stephen which was Ash’s local paper. We had promised them an exclusive which was the EFTA policy – however one of the journalists had already pulled it out during an interview. We, therefore, had to improvise and offer ‘Currency’ as an exclusive – the meeting to discuss – was to follow the interviews.

It’s worth us noting – the two journalists that get the job done but are also wonderful to deal with are Phyllis Stephen (Edinburgh Reporter) and Gina Davidson (LBC). Both are genuinely nice people and a pleasure to deal with.

Ash would then go on to meet with Dr Tim Rideout of the Scottish Currency Group, to be briefed on their policies for an independent Scottish Pound. When speaking with Tim beforehand, we were incredulous to discover that despite the years of work of the Scottish Currency Group and successful SNP Conference resolution, Tim had never met First Minister Nicola Sturgeon. We made sure Tim, founder of Scottish Currency Group met Ash and acknowledged that they are a valued asset to independence. This initial meeting with Tim lasted around 45 minutes and ended with Ash liking their proposal enough to back it. This would be added to the media grid for Wednesday.

 Colin D Fisher/CDFIMAGES.COM

The launch rounded off with some portrait pictures of Ash, her family and the team. We’d then sit and chill before tidying up the room. Phantom Power struggled to get the video online as the Scottish press core was taking up all the hotel’s bandwidth – which made it very difficult. The mobile signal was too poor to help.

 Colin D Fisher/CDFIMAGES.COM

As Ash, Kirk and her parents set off for home. Bailey, Mrs O, Allison and myself would set off for pasta and pizza at a nearby restaurant in Dunfermline – which absolutely hit the spot following a day of very little to eat.

We finished the day with a team roundup of applause for each of the members on the chat. Each applause focused on the skills and talents each person had brought to the team. We’d move from the start of Star Trek to becoming Olivia Pope’s Gladiators.

About five minutes after this, we received the list of official hustings and TV debates. Oh wow. The team would set about our plan to get this reduced to a saner schedule, at least, we believed. Ash and Kirk were in the car on their way for the North East trip, and the team were at home base. It suddenly felt more like the SNP Squid Games – who’d get knocked out first.

It occurred to us there were at least 13 debates, and 16 days remained until the ballot opened, that meant every day was now a campaign day, ouch. Likewise, this would now elevate the debate platform to greater than a normal Scottish Election and more than a US Presidential Election. This was about to get gruelling.

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Articles Ash Regan Campaign

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!