Sunday, 6 September 2015

Alphabet soup

THE Scottish Green Party is not known for its big internal rows, but one continues to brew.
Rather oddly, it hinges on the third letter of the alphabet and involves the party's co-convenor Maggie Chapman.
Here is the story.

A Scottish Greens disputes body is investigating claims of ballot irregularities in the contest that selected the party’s joint leader as a Holyrood candidate.

The Appeals, Conciliation and Arbitration Tribunal (ACAT) is considering allegations that the internal procedures governing the regional List contests unfairly benefited Maggie Chapman.

However, the probe has been delayed after the ACAT co-conveners left their positions on on the Tribunal.

Patrick Harvie and Alison Johnstone are the only two Green MSPs, but opinion polls have predicted the party could get into double figures after next year’s Holyrood election.

The party’s post-referendum surge in membership resulted in fierce competition in the internal rankings system to determine who topped each regional List for the party.

The number one ranked Green candidate on each of the eight Lists has a good chance of getting elected.

In the North East, party joint leader Chapman saw off a range of local candidates to become her party’s top nominee.

However, the process has since become tainted by allegations of ballot manipulation and favouritism.

A key issue in the internal selection was the order of the candidates on the ballot papers sent to local members.

Being the first name on the ballot – as was the case in the Holyrood election in 2007 when the SNP ran as Alex Salmond for First Minister – is said to provide an in-built advantage.

As previously revealed by the Sunday Herald, a Scottish Green party committee ordered the names by a formula, rather than random selection.

On every List, the order of the names on the ballot was alphabetised by the third letter of each candidate’s surname.

In the North East, this meant Chapman was the first of twelve names, while her main rivals were positioned down the ballot paper.

The only exception to this rule was for surnames beginning with “Mc” or Mac”, where the formula applied after these letters were excluded.

A complaint was made and ACAT is now investigating.

According to the party’s constitution, two non-voting co-conveners administer the Tribunal, which is made up of five randomly selected members of the party.

Party sources say Chapman is part of a socialist grouping inside the Scottish Greens that includes ex MSP Mark Ballard and former Edinburgh University rector Peter McColl.

These leftists are believed to be keen to co-operate with RISE, a new socialist party launched earlier this month.

However, many Greens believe RISE is a potential electoral rival and should be kept at a distance.

ACAT’s role is to adjudicate on internal disputes relating to expulsions, dismissals and other rows referred to it by party members.

Scottish Tory MSP Murdo Fraser said: “The Scottish Greens seems to be getting their organic alphabet soup in a mess with this candidate selection row. They like to present themselves as a different sort of party, offering a fresh approach to politics, but it seems they are just as capable of back room manoeuvres as the so-called established parties.”

A spokesperson for the Scottish Greens said: "This is an internal matter and we are very confident it will reach a clear and constructive conclusion soon. We are focused on delivering the best ever Green result in the election in May."

Thursday, 27 August 2015

Kez, not Jez

THE UK Labour leadership contest has been dogged by claims that the rules have allowed Tories and non-Labour supporting lefties an opportunity to skew the result.

Over 112,00 people have paid the £3 to get a vote as registered supporters, 148,182 have signed up through affiliated unions, and 105,973 have become full-blown members.

Most of these new recruits, it is claimed, are supporting left-winger Jeremy Corbyn for the leadership.

Scottish Labour has not been immune from this phenomenon.

In its own leadership contest, 6,000 registered and affiliated supporters took the franchise to around 21,000, which included a mini-surge in new members.

The question some party figures are asking is: what effect will these new folk have on the internal List ranking system for the Holyrood election.

As has already been reported, Labour expects to lose all its constituency seats next year, so any MSPs will be regional members.

Kez Dugdale, Scottish Labour’s moderate new leader, wants fresh talent (code for a cull) and a rejuvenated group. 

The prospect of thousands of Corbyn-loving left-wingers voting in the internal contest is deemed in some quarters to be a threat to these ambitions.

However, such fears look to be unfounded.

For one thing, the franchise will be restricted to members and exclude registered or affiliated supporters.

Labour’s governing Scottish Executive Committee (SEC) also decided in June that the freeze date for members voting in the List rankings process will be June 13th.

At this point, Corbyn was not on the ballot and the surge in members sympathetic to him had not taken hold.

In other words, Corbyn’s bedrock support – the new tiers of party supporters, plus newly recruited members – won’t get a say in who will be Scottish Labour's A-list candidates next year.

The SEC meets again on Saturday and, if the June 13th freeze date is revisited, I am told it will be pushed back even further.

The end result is that Corbyn-mania is unlikely to have an effect on the selection of Labour candidates for next year.

Monday, 10 August 2015

Save your sources

Since last month, I have written articles for the Sunday Herald/Herald on police using surveillance legislation to establish contact between journalists and their sources.

The sterling work of the Press Gazette last year led to the law being changed in this area.

From March 25th, police must seek judicial approval to access details of our phone records, texts and emails.

However, as the Sunday Herald revealed, Police Scotland is one of two forces to have breached these new rules.

The row over this individual violation will rumble on, but a wider question is whether Police Scotland used this tactic before March.

The IOCCO, which monitors the use of the RIPA, reported earlier this year that police forces had applied for communications data (in relation to journalists and their sources) on hundreds of occasions.

Any journalist who writes about the single force and is concerned their phone records/texts may have been accessed can respond in a constructive way.

A Subject Access Request (SAR) gives citizens a qualified right to all information held on them by ‘data controllers’, which includes public bodies.

I suggest journalists who have written public interest stories on Police Scotland click on the following link and print off the form:

In the ‘any other information box’ (second box from the bottom) it would be wise to ask for the following:

-          - All applications for communications data relating to [you] in relation to Police Scotland
-          - The results of all applications for communications data relating to [you] in relation to Police Scotland
-          - All information held on [you] by the single force's Counter Corruption Unit

A SAR will cost you £10. The National Union of Journalists in Scotland is encouraging reporters to go down this route. I agree.

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

A-list, not Z-list

If you are a Scottish Labour supporter, this week’s Survation poll makes for further grim reading. 

Not only is the SNP likely to increase its Holyrood majority next year, but Labour looks set to lose all its first-past-the-post MSPs.

A fair guess would be to assume that the Nationalists will get 70-plus MSPs, while Labour will be reduced to between 25-30 List members, at best.

In these circumstances, Kezia Dugdale – who is almost certain to be the next party leader – will be tarred as an election loser and come under pressure.

However, a number of senior party sources have told me an opportunity lurks in this likely crisis.

According to these well-placed insiders, Kez’s top priority should be to transform a poor Holyrood group by getting rid of the under-performers and replacing them with the party’s brightest and best.

A talented group of 27 is better than a below-average contingent of 38, so the argument goes.

The problem is the looming contest to determine the internal list rankings.

Current MSPs – some of whom are judged not good enough to be councillors – will go head-to-head with defeat MPs and the usual assortment of timeservers and relatives of senior party figures.

In its place, sources say, Kez should create a panel with the specific objective of weeding out the has-beens and never-gonna-be.

David Cameron, in the teeth of opposition, introduced an A-list of candidates when he was opposition leader.

If you weren’t on the A-list, you couldn’t get a candidacy in a winnable seat.

Folk believe the new Scottish Labour leader should introduce an A-list and force a change of personnel on the Holyrood group.

A caveat would be that such a panel was used by Scottish Labour before the first Parliament election in 1999.

Individuals like Susan Deacon struggled to make the cut, while the principle of Buggins’ turn seemed to prevail.

This time,  sources say, there should be only one requirement for making it onto the A-list: talent.

Monday, 18 May 2015

The Scottish Labour succession

A consensus is emerging that Scottish Labour deputy leader Kezia Dugdale should replace Jim Murphy unopposed.

Her supporters point not only to her performances at First Minister’s Questions, but argue that the party does not need another leadership contest five months after the last one.

Their preference was for Murphy to lead Labour into the next year’s Holyrood poll  – due to the belief that it is almost unwinnable – but the leader’s resignation has scuppered this plan.

However, I understand close Murphy ally Ken Macintosh MSP is mulling over a possible run.

Macintosh went for the job in 2011 and lost to Johann Lamont.

Ironically, Dugdale was one of his supporters.

This is setting tongues wagging for a number of reasons.

Given Macintosh’s closeness to Murphy, does the latter approve of the former’s leadership ambitions?

And would, as some party insiders fear, Murphy be an influential figure if Macintosh won?

As a caveat, I understand Ken would not stand if Kez did.

Even so, Labour Kremlinologists should look at Murphy’s exit speech on Saturday for a few clues.

Other than resigning, he said he would bring forward a bold set of internal reforms to transform his party.

No detail was offered, apart from numerous references to why there must be one-member-one-vote (OMOV) for future contests.

If Murphy believed there was going to be a coronation, why would he major on the rules and terms of a contest?

His focus on OMOV is interesting for another reason.

In December, he told me OMOV was already a done deal in Scotland, following the party’s Collins Review.

“The Scottish Labour party already agreed to make these changes,” he said. “The unions voted for it north and south of the border”.

Despite saying five months ago that OMOV had been pushed through, Murphy is now trying to make it the centrepiece of his reform agenda.

One final thought on Macintosh’s previous attempt at securing the leadership.

Although Lamont triumphed in the electoral college, she did not win the section for party members, whose views would prevail in a OMOV system.

The members voted for Ken.