The fourth great lie of history

Years ago, a Canadian told me what he described as the three great lies of history – ‘The cheque’s in the post,’ ‘It was wonderful for me too honey,’ and ‘Hi, I’m from the government, I’m here to help.’

Well, it’s slightly dated and slightly feeble but now we can add a fourth great lie, the SNP’s

It’s not about independence.

Over the years you’ll have seen this old untruth dragged out whenever the SNP feel under threat and/or want to marshal more votes for their sole purpose – of separation.

And you’ll probably remember the second, associated lie – it’s about a stronger voice for Scotland, keeping the Tories out of power, a progressive alliance/coalition at Westminster, and so on and so on.

With two elections due soon (Scottish councils and UK parliament) the lie’s being deployed yet again. Trouble is, not everyone’s on message. So while you can find lies like this from Nicola Sturgeon:

and this, from Sturgeon’s election agent and Glasgow councillor:

you can also find truths like this, from a failed depute leader candidate in the wake of Stewart Hosie’s resignation:

and of course this, again from Sturgeon:

(if it transcends all those things it sure transcends council elections).

The lie is so blatant and so well known that I swithered before drafting this short post. But sometimes it’s helpful to be reminded of one of the deceptions at the heart of the SNP’s constant attempts to con more naïve voters and ‘progressives’ outwith Scotland about their sole purpose.

Still, from a political party like the SNP, what can you expect? Perhaps my only error is in calling this the fourth great lie of history. It is of course the fifth, following the infamous:

Once in a generation opportunity.

Unless you’re a die-hard nationalist don’t be fooled by the SNP.

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On rebranding separatism

As I write this, round one of the current French presidential election has just been completed and I heard a radio reporter comment on how all eleven candidates invoked the French national motto in their campaigns:

Liberté, égalité, fraternité.

Is there anyone in the Western world who doesn’t know that rallying cry – ‘Liberty, equality, brotherhood’ – coined by Robespierre in the French revolution in a speech in 1790?

That it’s still used in everyday political discourse in France and that almost anyone could tell you its origin speaks of its power. Apart from dropping the original ‘… ou mort’ after The Terror, it survives unchanged. It’s not something that needs to go to the marketing people for rebranding complete with all the accompanying paraphernalia of surveys, focus groups, new logo and so on.

How tawdry and ephemeral the slogans of Scottish nationalism seem by comparison.

It’s difficult to know quite what their rallying cry is.

The latest SNP rebranding emerged, for me at least, when word got out that what in Twitter-ese had been #indyref2, following on of course from the once-in-a-generation #indyref, was henceforth to be known as #Scotref, presumably in an attempt to be new, exciting, different and, well, in the hope that we’d forget we’ve been through the whole sorry farrago before.

If you look at the SNP website (no link, I’m not looking to drive up their page views) you’ll see reference to this:

You can hear the marketing whizzes explaining it:

First off, it drops all those negative associations with a past, let’s be frank,  failed effort. It gets rid of that ghastly “2” which suggests it’s something we’re having to do all over again, locked in a time warp with numbers 3, 4, 5 to follow. It focusses on our USP, Scotland itself. It says this is Scotland’s referendum not anyone else’s. It’s inclusive. It’s decisive. And it’s the start of a new era.

It’s about as inspiring as the party’s current vision:

The SNP is committed to making Scotland the nation we know it can be. Our vision is of a prosperous country where everyone gets the chance to fulfil their potential. We want a fair society where no-one is left behind. And our vision is of Scotland as an independent country – equal to the very best.

Take out the one word ‘independent’ and this could be anyone’s vision for Scotland, or indeed for anywhere. It’s marketing/PR guff written by a committee, what an ex-colleague of mine celled applehood and mother pie.

Why do they do this?

Consider another rebranding within my memory – the car company known originally (at least when it merged several less than world-beating motor manufacturers) as the British Leyland Motor Corporation. Several transformations later, after British Leyland, Austin Rover and finally Rover, it went down the tubes and isn’t much more than a distant memory.

Of course the names themselves weren’t the problem, the issue was the company itself and, at least for substantial periods, the toxic association with shoddy products. The rebranding was an effort to cast off associations with failure and clutch at an image of quality, with ironically the final branding of ‘Rover’ harking back to one of the predecessor companies that did have a reputation for excellence.

The point, if you haven’t grasped it, is that you don’t rebrand if what you’ve got is successful. You rebrand when your product is stale or has negative associations.

If you comb social media, you can find various levels of nationalist confusion and upset at the new name for the SNP’s tired old recycled referendum product. Innumerable individuals, groups and websites have incorporated ‘Indyref2’ or ‘Yes2’ into their names, logos or URLs and have had all that effort undermined at a stroke, in a style reminiscent of the diktats of George Orwell’s ‘MinTruth’ (Ministry of Truth) in his novel 1984. History is being rewritten.

Mind you, history has been rewritten many times by the SNP since their 1930s formation from two earlier nationalist parties. Their first programme asserted their object:

Self-government for Scotland … as a partner in the British Empire.

We won’t see that again. nor many of the other slogans and visions in their failed attempts to persuade the majority of Scots that we really, really want the one thing they do.

It’s all a million miles from the crystal clarity of liberté, égalité, fraternité, still going strong after 226 years.

I’ll lay odds* that within two years  the SNP will having a new slogan and/or vision as well as a new name for the referendum they’ll still want but won’t get, or more likely won’t have the courage to pursue since they’ll never get a clear majority for separation. Because you only rebrand a faltering product.

* – no offers thanks, it’s a metaphor, I’m not a betting man.

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Are these SNP MPs on a shoogly peg?

Insofar as there’s any received wisdom for Scotland the day after parliament approved a general election, it’s that the SNP might be vulnerable to losing seats on 8 June. But which seats? This post takes a look at some of the factors that might be involved and draws a few tentative conclusions.

The exercise you see below is simple. It takes into account three factors:

  1. the size of the majority the sitting SNP MP enjoyed in the general election in 2015
  2. the extent to which their constituents voted ‘Leave’ in the EU referendum
  3. the extent to which those constituents seem to be against a second independence referendum.

The first factor is a simple question of arithmetic. The second two reflect fundamental current SNP policies – independence and EU membership (or close alignment … they seem to have been wavering on this recently). Brexit is of course also the immediate cause of the June election.

For the data in the table below, the three factors were ranked for all 56 constituencies the SNP won in 2015. The table only shows the fifteen most vulnerable MPs based on these factors, where 1 is least favourable to the SNP and 56 is most favourable. So for example:

  • Calum Kerr in Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk had the smallest majority of all SNP MPs and so is ranked 1 on that factor
  • Angus Robertson’s constituency in Moray recorded the second highest percentage vote of all Scottish constituencies for ‘Leave’ in the EU referendum and so is ranked 2 on that factor
  • the highest apparent opposition to another independence referendum is in John Nicolson’s Dunbartonshire East constituency and so it ranks 1 on that factor.

An overall ranking is obtained by simply adding the three ranks together, which of course assumes the factors are of equal importance. There’s a note on the data sources at the end of this post.

Here are the results of the exercise for the fifteen most vulnerable MPs (depending on how you view this post, clicking on the table may enlarge it):

Sources: see notes at the end of this post

I wouldn’t make any excessive claims for the exercise but it does raise some interesting issues.

Can you believe that dominant figures like Alex Salmond and Angus Robertson are so at risk? If you look at how out of tune they are with their constituents on Brexit and indyref2 (Salmond) or Brexit alone (Robertson), why not? In Robertson’s case there’s also the extent to which the Moray economy is dependent on RAF and Army employment, not quite the SNP’s strong suit in policy terms.

It’s also interesting to see that two other old hands are vulnerable – Angus MacNeil in the Western Isles, and Pete Wishart in Perth and Perthshire North. Apart from their majorities, both have what might be politely termed ‘interesting’ profiles in terms of personal behaviour. Search their surnames on this blog for various examples.

‘Interesting’ behaviour and attributes might also apply to some of the 2015 intake – Paul Monaghan (Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross) and John Nicolson (Dunbartonshire East) – again both featured elsewhere in this blog, as well as Ian Blackford (in relation to the late Charles Kennedy) and Michelle Thomson, currently an ‘independent’ MP following revelations of her property dealings.

Of the others, some are relatively well-known and have reputations (of sorts), others have scarcely appeared in the public prints since 2015.

What happens on 8 June to all of them is in the lap, if not of the Gods, then of numerous other factors – whether they all want to stand or are selected, their party’s manifesto and how it chooses to fight the election, the national mood to endorse independence/separation just now, the performance of other parties and their candidates, and so on.

It’s interesting in particular to see how many of the SNP’s top 15 vulnerable constituencies were previously held by the Liberal Democrats or had a Lib Dem come second in 2015. If ever there were a natural home for pro-EU non-nationalist voters, it’s the Lib Dems. I note with interest also that former Dunbartonshire East MP Jo Swinson has expressed her wish to stand against John Nicolson, whose political demise would be seen as a great boon by many.

Lest that be thought too partial, note that Labour and Conservatives also came second in a number of these constituencies in 2015. If I were looking for a party that might defeat the SNP in any of these seats, I’d start with the one that was second last time round.

Data sources:

  • Majorities, sitting MPs and candidates who came second in 2015: all accessed via constituency lists in United Kingdom general election, 2015 (Scotland).
  • Leave (i.e. the EU), proportion of voters by constituency who voted leave in the EU referendum: Areal interpolation and the UK’s referendum on EU membership by Chris Hanretty and the associated spreadsheet. Actual figures are only available where constituency and local authority boundaries match. Where they do not, Mr Hanretty’s estimates have been used.
  • No indyref: in the absence of any local polling data for the strength of opposition to another independence referendum, constituencies have been ranked by the proportion of their electorate who have signed the current petition to the UK government/parliament that ‘another Scottish independence referendum should not be allowed to happen.’ The figures are shown here (hover over the constituency concerned to see the proportion).
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Did someone mention an election?

Which vote was that?

  • EU parliament May 2014?
  • Scottish independence referendum September 2014?
  • UK parliament May 2015?
  • Scottish parliament May 2016?
  • EU referendum June 2016?
  • Councils May 2017?
  • UK parliament June 2017?

I confess to some considerable sympathy with Brenda in Bristol on the TV news yesterday who said:

General election? Not another one! For God’s sake …

You should worry Brenda. In Scotland we’ve had two more major votes than you since 2014 with a third an ever-present threat.

The third one is of course another Scottish separation referendum. No date yet and the prime minister’s clear it’s not going to happen until Brexit is done and dusted, whatever toys the SNP throw out of the pram meantime.

Sadly, however, that ‘betrayal referendum’ (remember ‘One Opportunity’ and ‘Once in a generation/lifetime’?) will continue to loom until the SNP lose significant electoral ground.

Because that’s the Ground Hog Day we’re all locked into in Scotland, isn’t it? Theresa May can say the June election is about Brexit. Labour (Diane Abbott this morning on BBC Radio 4) can say it’s about presenting alternative policies to the British people. The Lib Dems can claim with some truth that they’re the only UK-wide home for Remainers. And the commentariat can assign any number of motives to Mrs May’s decision, from wiping out Labour to strengthening her hand for a soft Brexit.

The truth for Scotland just now is that every damned political act of any significance is about one thing only – separation. It’s one reason the Scottish parliament hasn’t passed any legislation in a year but can devote two days of government time to debating a referendum that’s not going to happen for a long time if ever. It’s why education is at best mediocre after ten years of SNP government and their wrestling with reform can only produce a trickle of feeble announcements about councils of advisers, ensuring teachers are ‘key decision takers’ (what a surprise) and lowering pass rates for National 5 assessments. And it’s why the SNP are putting so much effort into the level of government – local councils – that their over-riding ambition has least to do with.

How you should use your preference vote in those local elections is quite complex under the single transferable vote system if you want to keep the SNP and other nationalists out. The choice in the parliamentary first-past-the-post system is much clearer. Your one vote can only count for one candidate. My personal view is that anyone who wants Scotland to remain as part of Britain should under no circumstances vote for a separatist candidate but should cast their vote for the pro-GB candidate most likely to win.

If the SNP try to spin the line that a vote for them is the only way Scottish pro-EU voters can express a preference to still ‘Remain’, forget it. The Liberal Democrats are your party of choice. If voting tactically for any other party than the one you’re thirled to sticks in your craw, go for that. Since the SNP make every election a test of people’s will for separation, every vote against them diminishes their case. Even in 2015, when they got 56 out of 59 Scottish seats they knew fine well that they still only got a minority (49%) of votes. In the Holyrood election last year, they only got 46.5% of the constituency vote and of course had to form a minority government. And despite a decade of agitation, they still can’t get a majority for separation in the opinion polls. If we’re past ‘peak-SNP,’ help them on their way down.

Nicola Sturgeon said in London today (yes, she flew there as soon as she could after the PM’s announcement) that the SNP would, even if it were unlikely, join a coalition at Westminster to keep the Conservatives out of government. As they say on social media – ‘Pfft.’ She tried it in 2015. It didn’t work then, it couldn’t work now.

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Pete Wishart SNP MP links the Scottish council elections to the ‘rape clause’

If I wasn’t aware of Pete Wishart SNP MP from other crass and ill-judged behaviour (see numerous examples here) I’d have said this is almost unbelievable.

Set aside the mere details in the tweet above that this long-standing member of the House of Commons and chair of a select committee is so ill-educated he doesn’t even know how to spell ‘absolutely’ or ‘boak’ (a good Scottish word for vomit, something I felt like doing when I saw the tweet).

Set aside, if you can, that here is a man who believes it appropriate to link how you vote in a council election with a hugely sensitive issue that is absolutely nothing to do with those elections.

Set aside also that the implication of his words may be defamatory to many individual candidates and some political parties.

What is both disturbing and repulsive is that he thinks it appropriate to use a smutty playground synonym for masturbation in the context of a controversy that is focussed on the rape of women, to use it in fact three times.

It’s disturbing enough that when I just checked the number of people on Twitter who ‘Liked’ his tweet, it had risen to 408. If you’re thinking of responding with ‘Lighten up, it’s just a word,’ don’t. It’s the wrong word in the wrong place.

Sadly, there are fools a-plenty out there in cyberspace. We all expect it. We should not expect it of an elected parliamentarian.  If I were to use the ‘W’ word about anyone in this context it would be about Mr Wishart, although I’ll settle for the more decent ‘idiot.’

In between writing this and checking his Twitter page the above tweet has disappeared from Wishart’s timeline. Someone at SNP HQ with more tactical sense if not more taste has clearly had a word. Too late, Pete, too late.

Update 9 p.m. 14 April. Wishart now says he only retweeted someone else’s meme and he found it an amusing echo of a well-known ‘Chewing the Fat’ sketch. That makes his offence all the more egregious because he knowingly linked it to the rape clause.

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Council elections 2017 Part 2: What does a review of SNP candidates tell us?

In Part 1 of this two-part post, Your handy guide to some SNP candidates (and non-candidates), I looked at some of the SNP’s candidates for the 4 May council elections in Scotland, as well as some of those who might have been. My thanks to people who provided me with information or checked facts for me. As a result, the examples now cover exactly half of Scotland’s 32 council areas with, I suspect, more to come. The question is, what does it all tell us?

To clear one thing out of the way, not one of the facts I presented has been challenged. I was needled over the nature of the research (someone else’s word, not mine) I’d done – ‘So you didn’t even leave your screen?!’ – as if somehow I should have tramped the mean streets, notebook in hand. In fact, apart from informants who alerted me to local issues, I was able to rely on the media (all duly credited) for the facts I used. All I did was something the media haven’t done – pull together a national picture from many dispersed sources.

More than one report suggested that the SNP were struggling to put together a list of candidates in some areas. Given the size of their membership this was intriguing. One possible reason is that size does not correlate directly with number of good potential candidates. For every hundred members in any party a large proportion (90%?) will never want to stand for election. Of the remainder that do, the party would probably not touch a substantial proportion with a bargepole for various good reasons. Those that remain still have to stand and then get elected.

Another reason for the apparent struggle to find candidates may be that many SNP branches seem to be riven by dissent between long-standing and newer (post-2014) members. A substantial number of councillors who have served their communities faithfully over a long period appear to have been rejected in favour of Johnny-come-latelies. As a result, a fair number are standing as independents.

That itself seems to have given rise to a theory that some of the independents standing in many places are in fact a clever ruse by the SNP to get more pro-separation candidates elected than they could muster themselves. I’m not sure about this myself. A combination of voter ignorance about candidates described as ‘independent’ and the vagaries of the single transferable vote system could cancel out any perceived advantage. Administrations formed across party lines after 4 May might give a clue as to whether that particular theory holds water.

I deliberately included some examples (there are many more) of candidates who already have some paid role within the party or support MPs/MSPs funded (quite legitimately) from the public purse. If you’re short of candidates (see above) or want people who’ve already proven their loyalty, these people form a handy pool of biddable talent, certainly more biddable than the long-standing community activist who, in more traditional times, might have been noticed by the party and asked ‘’Er, how do fancy standing for [name of party]?’ (this happened across all parties locally).

One reason existing party workers are biddable is that, like all parties enjoying electoral success, the SNP seem to attract mainly young, educated people to work on the bottom rung of the political ladder (the same thing happened with the Tories under Thatcher and Labour under Blair). Many of them will not want to hang around doing an MP/MSP’s case work: they will be ambitious and want to start climbing the greasy pole. A stint as a councillor is a good next step before they look for a parliamentary seat at Holyrood or Westminster at the earliest opportunity, their chances bolstered, they hope, by early success at the local level.

The contrast of this professional tribe to the more traditional community-based councillor could not be starker. Working in a council area is one of two qualifications for standing for election there (the other is residence). The only link of some of these people to the area they are standing in is the fact they work for the local MP/MSP, maybe not even full-time,  and thereby qualify to stand. Their commitment to the place will probably be relatively modest (I’m being polite) and they are more likely to follow party lines dictated nationally. It may be good for their careers and for the party in the short term. It’s unlikely to be good for councils and communities.

In fact, a substantial number of them, if they get elected, are likely to be frustrated by council work, especially if they’re in opposition or don’t get the preferment of office as the chair or vice-chair of a council committee. And the big challenge for the SNP in councils is that the one thing they want above all else, separation, is least relevant to this lowest level of government. If they are in a governing administration, they’ll also find that the cause of many of the challenges they face, for example funding constraints and a mediocre education system, can be laid directly at the door of an SNP government now in power for ten years. Their council opponents won’t let them forget that.

However, the most depressing although not entirely unexpected aspect of trawling through a raft of information about individual SNP candidates or near-candidates is how often the modern, civic mask slips. It might be simple boorishness, the casual use of inappropriate language or images, tasteless and unsustainable comparisons, or an anti-Englishness, coded or not so coded. Worst of all is the apparent alignment of a few candidates’ sympathies with Sinn Fein and its violent precursors. It’s not enough to excuse those sympathies with, as someone said to me online, ‘He’s Irish!’ as if that were OK. Other Irish political parties, North and South of the border, are available. An irony too in what seems like a growing SNP sympathy for a party whose main aim is to unite an island when theirs is to divide one.

I won’t end this post by patronising readers with advice on how to vote in the forthcoming council elections though I’d urge you to check Part 1 before you decide. Me? You won’t be surprised to know I’m as likely to vote SNP as I am to tweet ‘The Ra on tour’ the next time I set off on a weekend break.

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Council elections 2017 Part 1: Your handy guide to some SNP candidates (and non-candidates)

The information in this post has been culled from a variety of mostly publicly-available sources. If it contains any errors or you have information about any other candidates let me know and I will correct or amend the text.

The SNP’s selection of candidates for the Scottish council elections on 4 May seems to have been accompanied by a degree of controversy almost entirely lacking for any of the other parties. This handy guide looks at some of those controversies in nearly half of Scotland’s 32 council areas. As the title says, it includes information about some ‘non-candidates.’ They are people who had either made it known publicly that they wanted to be selected but weren’t or who voluntarily withdrew their potential candidacy for various reasons.

The rest of this post is arranged alphabetically by council area and then, if more than one individual is featured, alphabetically by surname. The name of the ward they are or would have been standing in is included in brackets after their name. Any general issue about the SNP in the area follows after the information about the individual(s). Links to the sources of information used are included mainly as points of reference. You shouldn’t need to click through to them unless you want to check that my interpretation of them is correct: some sources contain additional information not included here, some don’t. Where sources might be difficult to access or have been deleted, entries include screenshots of the relevant information.

In Part 2 of this post I will discuss what we can learn about the SNP from the people here.

Aberdeen

Allard, Christian (Torry/Ferryhill). Mr Allard, a French national, was an SNP regional list MSP from 2013-2016, having inherited the seat when the previous incumbent resigned. The Press and Journal rather kindly said he was ‘renowned for his online presence.’ It’s true he’s invariably polite on Twitter but his renown is more for its dogged persistence than grasping an opponent’s point of view. As a French citizen he plays well to the SNP’s current EU fad. As a resident until recently of Aberdeenshire he was unknown to have any interest in Aberdeen city politics or, it turns out, any great understanding of the electoral system:

You’ll observe that when first nominated he believed part of his ward was called Tory (Freudian slip there) and that electors had two votes, like Holyrood. Wrong on both counts.

Cooke, John (Hazlehead/Queens Cross/Countesswells). Mr Cooke is already a councillor and according to The Herald tweeted the offensive ‘quisling’ at least three times last year, compounding his intemperate use of language with a claim on Facebook that the ‘UK Home Office are no better than Nazis’ about a simple immigration case where the conditions of a visa had not been met and the offending family were to be removed to suffer persecution at the hands of the authorities in their native … Canada.

More generally, in mid-March the Daily Express identified Polish national Konrad Rękas campaigning, they said, in Aberdeen with SNP candidates Dell Henrickson, Michael Hutchison, Alex McLellan, and Ciaran McRae. Rękas is, they claim, ‘deputy chairman of the Polish pro-Putin party Zmiana.’ His Facebook page contains numerous entries supportive not only of the SNP but also Sinn Fein. He is also Facebook friends with ex-BNP leader Nick Griffin. It is not known if the SNP in Aberdeen are or were aware of these facts.

Aberdeenshire

Cox, John (Banff and District – former SNP, standing as an Independent). Cox is a decent and long-standing councillor who like a number of others in Aberdeenshire has been in and out of the SNP over the years. The Press and Journal revealed that he’d not been selected as an SNP candidate in February, when they cited a second ex-SNP councillor, Hamish Partridge (also standing as an independent) as saying the SNP group on the council was in ‘meltdown.’ That was an over-reaction although it has in many ways been a house divided unto itself for a long time, with the turmoil focused, ironically, in their supposed stronghold in the North of the area. Also ironically, from a party that is supposed to be the master of the subject, a spokesman was quoted as lamenting that Mr Partridge’s ‘council business is now conducted on social media.’

Reynolds, Glen (Banff and District). Head South to Angus if you want an SNP candidate (Julie Bell) who’s into holistic therapy. Here we have a different sort of alternative health practitioner:

council17reynolds

Yes, hypnotherapy. It’s not clear if Dr Reynolds (quite a kenspeckle figure: clock all his skills/occupations on his author website) had hypnotised himself when he gave the local paper details for his profile (cutting via the Aberdeenshire Independent Councillors Facebook page). You’ll see under ‘Previous political experience’ he has volunteered ‘Not known.’ Also that his ‘Best quality’ is ‘Life experience.’ Surprisingly he forgot his life experience included standing as Labour candidate in the general election in Banff and Buchan in 2010, where he lives now. And in Berwick on Tweed in 2005. Tut tut.

Angus

Bell, Julie (Kirriemuir and Dean). Ms Bell says on her Twitter page that she is a ‘holistic therapist. Doing politics differently.’ So differently does she do politics that she subscribes to the SNP mantra of oppression lock, stock and scented candle. In response to SNP ‘growth’ commission chair Andrew Wilson who said, optimistically, that the Scottish economy might take 5-10 years to recover from the shock of separation, she tweeted:

And back in December 2016:

I doubt somehow if these gems appear in her election material for the good folk of Kirrie and the glens.

Finally, if her LinkedIn profile is up to date, Ms Bell is also an Angus council employee. Nothing wrong with that and councils have procedures in place to ensure fairness and probity if an employee stands for election. But jumping the gap between hired hand and elected politician can be difficult. I’m not sure an aspiration to ‘do politics differently’ will help with that challenge.

Wright, Paul (Brechin and Edzell). Mr Wright has recently featured in the Sunday Express for what they call ‘“sickening” porn posts.’ For what it’s worth, his interest in the subject seems only to extend to using a couple of images on Twitter during a heated argument shortly before Christmas, apparently in an attempt to smear one particular individual. He’s one of that strange band of ‘cybernats’ who choose to be anonymous online and style themselves as animals (Mr Malky), faux aristocrats (Oor Lady …) or members of the opposite sex, in his case Paula Honey Rose. He now claims ‘everyone’ knows that’s just his Twitter persona but it wasn’t always the case, until someone ‘outed’ him with this photo:

Curiously, last December he travelled alone from Brechin to Edinburgh to lurk outside a Scotland in Union Christmas bash, a strange sort of stalking which he tweeted about at the time:

On his Twitter page he describes himself as ‘An independent person, somewhat difficult to label or categorise.’ We now know he’s not so much independent as SNP.

Footnote: as I drafted this it seemed that Mr Wright had been dropped by the SNP as a candidate and now intends to run as an independent (sic). I can’t be sure this is true as he seems to have put out a series of contradictory and confusing tweets on the subject.

More generally, a correspondent points out that with Mr Wright’ no longer running on an SNP ticket, the party now has 14 candidates standing for a 28-member council. So even in the unlikely event of all their candidates winning a seat, they could not form a majority administration.

Argyll and Bute

Campbell(-Sturgess), Math (not standing). A curious one, this. A Math Campbell-Sturgess has been an SNP Inverclyde councillor for a while but seems to have moved across the water to Argyll and Bute. In the process he’s changed his surname from Campbell-Sturgess to plain old Campbell. See before and after pics:

On 9 March he tweeted:

but he’s not on the list of candidates. Under either name. He may have been nominated but presumably wasn’t selected. Oh well, there’ll always be another time. As for the name change, difficult to fathom unless you know he runs (maybe he is) an outfit called English Scots for Yes. And yes, he says he’s English, despite the ‘Campbell,’ alone or hyphenated. If he was trying to appear more Scottish for the selection process it obviously didn’t work. As you’ll see from a recent tweet he’s also in favour of illegal extra-parliamentary action to achieve independence:

He follows other minor SNP councillors in being prepared to declare UDI. I wonder if knowledge of that that was a step too far for the good folk of Lomond North.

East Ayrshire

Leitch, Claire (Ballochmyle). Ms Leitch is one of a number of people on 6 April who liked or retweeted an image of a gallows that had been posted on Twitter by a well-known tweeter who uses the delightful handle @YesthatcherDead:

council17leitch2

The message with the picture is addressed to a number of Labour politicians and warns that the councils the party holds will be lost in the forthcoming election. Unlike some, I don’t conclude that the original poster is literally wishing death on the individuals concerned. But the combination of the image and the unsavoury name of the originator at the very least raise doubts about the judgement of anyone who says they ‘Like’ such stuff. Claire subsequently tweeted her horror at having ‘Liked’ the image ‘by mistake’:

council17leitch3

Careless at least but I’ll take it at face value. Many haven’t.

East Lothian

Brown, Steven (formerly Preston, Seton and Gosford, not standing). On 9 March local paper the East Lothian Courier reported that sitting councillor Steven Brown had not been reselected by his SNP branch to stand again – ‘it is understood his supporters are extremely angry at how he has been treated. One told the Courier: “He’s worked hard over the years but has been stabbed in the back by the new members who joined during the referendum and the Scottish Parliament elections”.’

McLeod, Kenny (Tranent, Wallyford and Macmerry). The same East Lothian Courier article claimed that this second sitting councillor had to scrabble around to get reinstated to the list of potential candidates after a cock up (my phrase not the Courier’s) that may have been administrative or part of the same problem soon-to-be ex-councillor Brown suffered.

Edinburgh

Lunn, Alex (Craigentinny/Duddingston). According to the Evening News, there was more than a spat in the local SNP branch over selection for this ward. Sitting councillor Lunn (ex-Labour) was deselected at a ‘brutal’ meeting earlier this year, then two other potential candidates resigned. Party HQ reinstated Lunn and parachuted in two other candidates to fill the gap caused by the resignations. All in accordance with party procedures but doesn’t sound a happy place. Canvassing should be fun.

Ross, Frank (Corstophine/Murrayfield). No election newbie here, Frank is already SNP group leader and depute leader of the council, no less. An accountant to trade, he seems to have forgotten he owned a hotel in the Highlands when he completed his councillor’s register of interests (The Herald). A simple mistake we could all make. If the SNP do well in May he may become council leader although (The Herald again) he may also face an inquiry by the Standards Commission for Scotland. Oh dear.

Fife

Keatings, Martin (West Fife and Coastal Villages). Mr Keatings is an Independent candidate and very clear on his Facebook page that he is a ‘Yes’ supporter. Nothing wrong with that, indeed commendably honest, if little to do with local politics. He wouldn’t appear here if he hadn’t posted this recently on Facebook:

council17keatings

If nothing else, his statement is a warning to voters to be aware of the motives of at least some independent candidates and to check why they’re standing. Whether they’d all be as (inadvertently?) honest as Mr Keatings is another matter.

Glasgow

Campbell, Graham (Springburn/Robroyston). According to the Evening Times, Mr Campbell is the partner of SNP MP Ann McLaughlin and has been (still is?) employed by her to work with community groups. He has a chequered political career, having been involved with the Scottish Socialist Party, Solidarity, Rise and something called the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition. A ‘senior source’ in the party expressed concern to the Evening Times that his candidacy was ‘entryism, it’s toxic and unpleasant … when you’ve stood against the party several times and campaigned against it less than a year ago you should maybe be required to spend a little longer as a member before becoming a candidate.’

Casey, Allan (Dennistoun). The Herald had a detailed article in February on Mr Casey’s previous support of the Provisional IRA which seems to have included writing on his Facebook page ‘Up the provos’ and ‘Your deeds [the SAS’s] would shame all the devils in hell – f**k the brits, remember bloody Sunday 30th January 1972.’ But it was all before he joined the SNP and anyhow he’s deleted the posts concerned, so that’s OK. Casey is another candidate who works for an SNP MSP, in this case Ivan McKee.

McCabe, Paul (Springburn/Robroyston). Is there something about the SNP branch in this ward (see Campbell, Graham above)? The Scotsman reveals he’s written a series of ‘abusive tweets’ about women. Two examples – ‘Deputy Dug [a nationalist jibe at Kezia Dugdale] looks and sounds like an oompah loompah’, and ‘Hillary Clinton: I wouldn’t have sexual relations with that woman!’ But never mind, he’s gay (SNP spokesperson), it’s all tongue-in-cheek, and besides ‘He has huge respect for Nicola Sturgeon.’ So that’s all right, then. As with so many of the examples in this post, it’s not the precise words or actions, it’s the sheer lack of judgement and taste of so many SNP candidates that voters should ponder.

Highland

Campbell-Sinclair, Glynis – see Sinclair, Glynis.

Gunn, George (East Sutherland and Edderton). Like one or two others, Master Gunn falls into the ‘non-candidates’ bit of this collection. He’s standing all right but as a ‘ – ‘. You fill in the blank. In other words, a blank appears against his name on the notice of poll. He doesn’t say he’s an Independent and he doesn’t say he’s SNP. But, hold. Is this the same George Gunn who worked not so long ago for local MP Paul Monaghan and Russia Today commentator, about whom so much has been written in this blog? It is indeed. A helpful constituent of Dr M’s has sent me a recent newspaper cutting headlined ‘Sacking threat forces MP’s assistant to quit’ (probably P&J – no date visible). The assistant? George. His offence?  Apparently lying that he’d spoken on fisheries (not the party’s strong suit) at the spring SNP conference. Only problem was he hadn’t. He was also recently the local SNP branch secretary but it’s not clear if he’s fallen out with them too. Presumably he has meantime, since he’s standing against an SNP candidate. The boy George looked as if he was on a meteoric rise in the party, having stood for the Scottish youth parliament only two years ago. He illustrates the hazard of voting for independents without knowing exactly where they stand on the issue of separation. Rumour has it that he has a personalised number plate on his car ending in the letters ‘SNP.’ Oh well, if that’s true, no doubt it’ll come in handy when he’s re-admitted to the army of the faithful. Don’t vote Gunn.

Sinclair, Glynis (Culloden and Ardesier). Confused? Perhaps this helps. Spot the difference:

council17sinclair1

council17sinclair2

The first image is of sitting councillor Glynis Sinclair on Highland council’s website on 21 April 2017. The second is the same person … in the list of candidates on Highland council’s election page, also on 21 April 2017. According to the Press and Journal Mrs Sinclair/Campbell-Sinclair has changed her surname to ensure she’s closer to the top of the ballot paper (candidates are listed alphabetically). Mrs Campbell-Sinclair/Sinclair says she ‘changed her name by deed poll in February for family reasons, not for any electoral gain.’ Shame she forgot to tell the bit of the council that keeps their website up to date.

Slater, Jean (Inverness Ness-side – former SNP, standing as an Independent). The Highland News records that SNP councillor Jean Slater is standing as an independent in May, having been deselected by the local party branch. A number of such deselections, and subsequent decisions to stand as an Independent, are recorded in this article. The political realist might say ‘It happens.’ But it does seem to happen more often in the SNP than in other parties. Ms Slater’s case is highlighted because of the reported claim by Maxine Smith, leader of the SNP group on the council, that ‘the party’s selection procedure for candidates is rigorous.’ Readers might have cause to question that claim given some of the other example cited in this article. Fellow SNP Black Isle councillor Craig Fraser (standing again – he did pass the selection process) called the decision ‘beyond stupid.’  Retiring Independent councillor from Badenoch and Strathspey Dave Fallows may have hit the nail on the head when he said that Ms Slater’s ‘quiet unassuming drive to help [her] constituents has not been recognised for the immense value that it represents.’

Inverclyde

Donnachie, Philomena (Inverclyde North). The words of the Greenock Telegraph tell you all you need to know about Ms Donnachie:

She was embroiled in a national row last year after comparing then Prime Minister David Cameron and London Mayor Boris Johnson to child killers Ian Brady and Myra Hindley. Under a Facebook photo doctored to make Mr Cameron and Mr Johnson look like the Moors murderers, Ms Donnachie, 55, said the only difference was the Conservative pair ‘bury their victims in the DWP [the Department for Work and Pensions], not the basement’ … she also praised the creators of the offensive picture, saying: “Using a recognised image to deliver a powerful message is exceptionally intelligent.”

Philomena is a caseworker for local SNP MSP Stuart McMillan.

More generally, earlier this year councillor Chris McEleny, the leader of the SNP group on the council, was reported in the Greenock Telegraph as saying he wanted to allow people who failed the party’s vetting tests to still stand as candidates in May. This was apparently because the party were having problems sourcing enough candidates for the election. An anonymous party member was quoted as saying the local SNP branch was divided between ‘traditional’ supporters and those who joined in recent years and backed a more left-wing approach.

I don’t know what happened to councillor McEleny’s aspiration, but it doesn’t look good. The SNP have had enough problems with elected candidates who did get through their vetting procedures, as exemplified in this article.

Midlothian

Wallace, Joe (Penicuik). Councillor Joe has been provost of Midlothian council (still is until the election). I’ve blogged about him before, when he was recorded saying at a council meeting ‘the MoD, er, send us people with mental health problems that come out the army with drugs and drink problems and they get passed on to us’ (Midlothian has a large barracks in its area). This sort of attitude and accompanying incoherence is so endemic to the SNP at local level that I didn’t think to include it in the draft of this article until reminded by an online contact, to whom my thanks.

North Ayrshire

Brahim, Joy (Dalry and West Kilbride). Like one or two others mentioned in this article, Dutch citizen Ms Brahim is a candidate who qualifies to stand in a council area not because she lives there (she doesn’t, she stays in Glasgow according to the Daily Record) but because she works there. Workplace is a quite permissible qualification for candidacy under council election rules. But her job is not any old job, for example in her chosen professions of law or marketing. It’s as an SNP activist working for an SNP politician, in her case local MSP Kenneth Gibson.

Brown, Stephen (not standing). Stephen Brown was selected as an SNP candidate for Dalry and West Kilbride but had to stand down before nominations closed because he tweeted this:

Civic it wasn’t, and a stooshie duly followed. Doubtless the party would deny it, but there is a strong suspicion he only decided not to stand after several days pressure on social media and in the mainstream press like The Herald. He cited health reasons, which was unfortunate because they clearly hadn’t been an issue a few days previously.

Limonci, Maria (Irvine West). See Brahim, Joy. Same situation, although Ms Limonci stays in South Ayshire according to the Daily Record article cited above and works for a different SNP politician, in her case local MP Philippa Whitford.

Sturgeon, Robin (Irvine South). If the name’s familiar, you’re right, he’s the first minister’s dad. It seems to be turn-and-turn-about for the Sturgeon family in North Ayrshire. Mum Joan isn’t standing this time and dad Robin’s having a second attempt at getting elected, having failed in a by-election less than eight months ago. Last time, some nifty use of their single transferable vote preferences by electors did for him. It’ll be interesting to see if the same happens again when all seats in the ward are being filled.

North Lanarkshire

Coyle, Michael and Agnes (both Airdrie South). Another curiosity here. Husband and wife Michael and Agnes Coyle have both been serving councillors for the same ward. According to The Herald, neither survived the SNP’s vetting process. He appealed and got a seat, she didn’t. Now he’s one of two SNP candidates in the ward, she’s standing as an independent, although on the council notice of poll, there is merely a blank space in the description against her name. For some reason, and unlike most councils, North Lanarkshire does not list candidates’ addresses so it’s not clear if they’re still together domestically if not politically. Presumably as context for what has happened, The Herald added ‘Michael and Agnes Coyle are at the centre of the so-called ‘Monklands McMafia’ feuds and are the fulcrums of an old-guard power base which includes former minister Alex Neil and local MSP Dick Lyle.’ (Politics is obviously a family business for the Coyles – daughter Sophia is standing for the SNP in nearby Airdie North)

Lyle, Marina (Bellshill). A late addition to my list of SNP candidates in North Lanarkshire, sitting councillor Ms Lyle features in The Herald on 13 April as facing a formal hearing by the Standards Commission for Scotland. The allegation is that she failed to declare a financial interest in a former council house gifted to her by her father Richard Lyle, SNP MSP. Quite a family affair, SNP politics in North Lanarkshire (see Coyle, Michael and Agnes immediately above).

McAnulty, Julie (Coatbridge North). Former SNP councillor Julie McAnulty is standing as an independent in May. The background is confusing: google her name to see the numerous articles in the media over the last year about her and some of her (now ex-) SNP councillor colleagues. Accusations of a ‘turf war,’ racism and corruption (not necessarily all about her) feature. The Herald’s take on the subject is the same as its views on the Coyles, it’s caused by ‘the bitter feud which has torn apart the SNP in Lanarkshire.’

Perth and Kinross

Doogan, Dave (Perth City North). Mr Doogan has been the deputy leader of the council. According to The Courier in early March he gave a speech in Gaelic to the council in a debate on the language and later provided a translation which read in part:

Let us not reflect on concerns that we have been under the heel of foreign influence and power for over 300 years … The island of Britain is no longer subject to the actions of quislings who may seek to see smaller cultures extinguished on an island of coffins by red coats.

Of course, he was reflecting precisely on his ‘concerns.’ Conservative MSP Murdo Fraser subsequently ambushed Nicola Sturgeon at first minister’s questions by quoting the words, which drew the response from her that ‘I condemn any comments or language that are in any way, shape or form racist or anti-English.’ That’s fine and dandy but Doogan is still an official SNP candidate in a council election.

Scottish Borders

Whyte, Iain (Hawick and Hermitage). Mr Whyte is included not because he lives in East Lothian, where he is said to have failed to make the cut as an SNP candidate, but because he works for regional list South Scotland SNP MSP and Holyrood minister Paul Wheelhouse. Nothing wrong with living in East Lothian and standing in Hawick, although an unkind local on Twitter described him as a ‘carpetbagger.’ If you work in an area it qualifies you to stand in council elections there. He’s here because he represents a phenomenon noted elsewhere in this article – the junior party worker who then seeks election to public office. It’s something I’ll pick up in the second part of this two-part article.

South Ayrshire

Cullen, Chris (Ayr East). According to the Daily Record, Chris Cullen displaced sitting councillor Ian Douglas in Ayr East who is not standing again after being outvoted during the SNP’s candidate selection process. He is engaged to the daughter of SNP MP Corri Wilson. The Record reproduced a Facebook message in which he refers to a forthcoming holiday abroad with the two of them as ‘The Ra [IRA] on tour.’ Just a year ago on Twitter he was posting things like this:

Mr Cullen said he supports the unification of Ireland, adding ‘I am not, nor have I ever been, a supporter or a member of a terrorist organisation.’ Fair enough – maybe – but using the colloquial ‘Ra’ and posting approving Tweets from former Provisional IRA members doesn’t look good when you’re going to seek political office. At best naïve given the history of sectarianism in the West of Scotland, his sympathies, whatever his protestations, hint at something darker.

You can find Part 2 of this two-part post here. Feel free to send additional information about any candidates mentioned, amendments/corrections, and news of other controversial candidates that may have been missed here.

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