Requiem for a Dream

Republicaton of an article on Iain Lawson’s website Yours For Scotland

Requiem for a Dream

The Alba party constitution defines the balance of power within the party ranks. According to the constitution, the Leader has the power to appoint both the Chair of the Party and the General Secretary. Neither is an elected position. 

A position of prestige and authority, the General Secretary is a well-paid employee of the Party and wields considerable power. As well as managing many aspects of the day to day running of the party, the General Secretary is the Returning Officer for ALBA internal elections, and the line manager for HQ employees. The General Secretary also adjudicates which complaints warrant attention.

That is, the General Secretary decides whether to forward complaints to the
Disciplinary Committee, or to consign them to oblivion. 

Yet, according to the constitution, the Leader’s decisions are not absolute. The National Executive Committee (NEC) must approve the Leader’s nominations for General Secretary and Chair.

Thus, the General Secretary finds himself in the happy position of overseeing the
very elections that determine whether he keeps his job. 

The role of Chair, though unpaid, also has prestige and power. The Chair has ultimate authority over the party machinery in Headquarters and steers the Conference Committee’s decisions on what will and will not be debated at conference. 

There are five elected national office bearers in the Alba party: Local Government, Women’s, Equalities, Organisation and Membership.  In 2023 the incumbent office bearers all stood for re-election to their posts and, apart from Local Government Convener, the elections were contested. 

In addition to the national office bearers, the NEC has four male ordinary NEC members and four female ordinary NEC members. 

In the 2023 election for ordinary NEC members there was a lot of competition: eighteen male candidates and twelve female candidates entered the fray.

The NEC elections are in two parts. The office bearers’ elections take place first and are subject to an all-member vote. This allows candidates to stand for both office bearer and ordinary NEC member roles. Successful office bearer candidates are automatically withdrawn from consideration for ordinary NEC member election before Ordinary Member voting starts. 

Once the office bearer elections have concluded the ordinary NEC member voting commences. For the ordinary NEC member election the voting franchise consists only of registered members of the national conference. Registration, facilitated online at a fee of £20, confers voting rights upon members, regardless of whether they physically attend conference or not. 

In 2023 the Alba National Conference convened in Glasgow on October 28th. A total of 288 members had registered via the website and these members formed the electorate for the ordinary NEC member election

Fig 1: Number of people eligible to vote (288)

As the NEC elections commenced in September 2023, Alex Salmond was leader, Chris McEleny was General Secretary and Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh was Chair. 

Since 2021, murmurs of discontent regarding the constitution had echoed within the ranks. There had been concerns over the concentration of power, the party’s perceived top-down structure and a lack of safeguards against bad actors potentially misusing their authority. Notably, when prompted about avenues for improving communication, the Party Leader’s response reflected a disconnect with members. Quipping “I have never known a party that communicates as much as we do, you get e-mails every week, sometimes more than one”, entirely missing the point that top-down communication is not what is being asked for. 

The NEC was not asked to discuss or consent to decisions which would normally be expected to concern them, such as election arrangements, purdah rules, or the imposition of an interim Membership Convener

In the period leading up to the office bearer elections nominations were sought for the five Convenerships and any potential candidate was free to seek nomination, or to be nominated by members.

In this pre-election period the first move by the ‘powers that be’ was to promote favoured candidates via the Alba social media accounts. Apart from the Women’s Convener the favoured candidates were not the incumbents. This was not done subtly, and provoked comment from many members, and may have made the incumbents the underdogs and thus driven support to them.

Then Jacqui Bijster, serving as the current membership convener, found herself embroiled in controversy. Responding to numerous inquiries regarding the election process, Jacqui had been diligently replying with explanations to members. Knowing that she would not be able to individually contact every member making inquiries, she sent an email to all members outlining the basic election process and urging them to direct any further questions to HQ. She did not mention her own candidacy in this or any e-mail, and this took place before the election period had commenced. 

Fig 1a: Email from Jacqui Bijster to members

Her actions sparked an unpleasant cascade of events. Chris McEleny, in a troubling turn, responded with a threatening personal email to Jacqui. The following day, all Alba members received an email from Chris implying Jacqui was a transgressor and listing Jacqui’s opponents for membership convener but missing out Jacqui’s name. This on the same morning Alba members received an email from the party with a puff piece about one of those opponents. 

Fig 2: Chris McEleny to Jacqui Bijster.

Jacqui was also removed from the internal system that allows the Membership Convener to respond to member enquiries and correct account issues. She was never reinstated, and so was unable to perform the role of Membership Convener during the pre-election and election period, despite still holding that position. Indeed, the party Leader appointed another member temporarily to the position of Membership Convener which is another unconstitutional move as is a pattern. There is no blame whatsoever attached to the member that took up the role, and performed it well.

Fig 3: Chris McEleny to ALL Alba Party Members on 9th October 2023

There were complaints about Chris’s treatment of Jacqui, including one from Jacqui herself, but none received a response. This is perhaps hardly surprising as Chris decides what complaints to pass on and what complaints he will ignore

A few days later when the election period commenced, it was announced that candidates and incumbents were to be subject to purdah. However, despite several requests, the rules of purdah were never explained or circulated to candidates, and requests to meet with the General Secretary on this subject were ignored. Direct questions about whether specific actions were or were not allowable during purdah also went unanswered. This increased the atmosphere of threat during these elections.

The promotion of favoured candidates and sidelining of the incumbents continued, including a member of staff bad mouthing incumbents in Alba chat groups. This could be described as dark arts: the leadership using the power of the party machine to promote their favourites and denigrate those they want to undermine. Rumours of a ‘leadership hit list’ abounded.

During this period, the existing NEC were increasingly excluded from decision making and oversight. Information was not passed to the NEC members, even when this information directly concerned the purview of an office bearer. In many cases, NEC members found out information relevant to their work from the Friday email along with the rest of the membership. The NEC was not asked to discuss or consent to decisions which would normally be expected to concern them, such as election arrangements, purdah rules, or the imposition of an interim Membership Convener. 

NEC meetings, normally held on the 1st Saturday of every month, ceased. The last meeting, delayed from early September, took place on the 30th of September. After this there were no NEC meetings until after a new NEC was elected at National Council in December. This was not explained or justified to the NEC. Questions, reports, protestations and requests for meetings from NEC members went unanswered.

It was clear that the current NEC – the ruling body of the party – was persona non grata in the Alba Party.

In the midst of this period a group of activists who had become disenchanted with the situation began to discuss reform. The issue of breathing new life into the party’s constitution became active again. Their proposals, intended to democratise and safeguard the Alba Party, met a wall of resistance at the Conference Committee. 

It was at the final meeting of the Conference Committee
that the infamous ‘dossier’ made its first appearance. 

Constitutionally, the Conference Committee is made up of four members elected by National Council and two members from the NEC. However, Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh as Party Chair also takes the Chair of the Conference Committee and, in addition, as convened for the 2023 conference there were four other NEC members on the committee, selected by the Party Chair. That is five NEC representatives and only four from National Council.  

All the constitutional amendments proposed by the internal activists were refused by the Conference Committee, and instead discussion on constitutional change was kicked into the very long grass. 

The activists were rightly angry that all their amendments were refused for reasons they found unconvincing, and they were even more angry that – due to the five NEC members on the Conference Committee – the Committee had been convened unconstitutionally. They planned to raise this issue at the closed session at conference. 

It was at the final meeting of the Conference Committee that the infamous ‘dossier’ made its first appearance.  The Party Leader arrived and unexpectedly took the Chair, claiming that as leader he can Chair any meeting he wants.  He then claimed to have a dossier of bad things that had been said online. This was claimed to include abuse of his family (although he has never produced any evidence of this) and threats to disrupt conference (assumed to be the activists planning to raise a valid constitutional issue, since no other ‘disruption’ has ever been evidenced). 

No one has ever seen what is in this reputed dossier, but over the next weeks it was used as a threat, a smear and a massive piece of misdirection.  

This is totally unacceptable behaviour from a party leader. If there are threats or abuse then the perpetrators must be referred to the disciplinary committee, or indeed the police. Instead, by refusing to detail or evidence the contents of the ‘dossier’, Salmond threatened and smeared by implication every member of the party. This is the point where trust or respect for Salmond is lost. 

The office bearer elections opened on October 13th and voting closed at noon on October 27th.  Early on the morning of October 27 th, Jackie Anderson went to vote and found her votes had already been cast for all of the candidates HQ had been promoting.  She e-mailed Chris McEleny and got a reply that something had gone wrong with the database merge to the voting company and that she would be given a new vote by him. Who knows how many members this happened to, but other members expressed doubts and Chris had said a small number had been affected. He didn’t quantify how small.

Fig 4: Chris McEleny reply to Jackie Anderson 

On October 28th, Saturday morning Conference delegates gathered for the closed session and announcement of the Office Bearer election results.  The office bearer voting had ended, and the results were known to those in the know, however unusually no candidates were informed of their results in advance of the announcement, as happened in previous years.  

Salmond took the stage and began by addressing the issues raised about the election process. He assured the room that these worries were spurious, and that he gave personal assurance that the election was perfectly valid. He then produced and waved around a black folder, repeating the unevidenced claims about its contents made at Conference Committee. He then set aside the result of the Office Bearer election, for reasons which to many were unclear, given that he had just reassured conference that the election was valid.   

Constitutionally the Leader has no right to set aside the result of an election. This was not done with the agreement of the current NEC nor with the agreement of Conference

Fig 5: Salmond addressing Glasgow Conference, 28th October 2023

Salmond assured the Conference that the voter register for the ordinary NEC member would not change – 

“I’ll freeze the electorate as it is now. The National Executive elections will be run from National Council as well, again with the people registered for this conference so the electorate will remain the same” – Salmond, Saturday (AM) 28th October 2023. 

Later, Salmond claimed he had checked out every complaint (he didn’t call Jackie Anderson who had an acknowledged problem). Anyway, he reported that he had found nothing at all wrong. That being the case, why was the election re-run? Why didn’t the October 27th result stand?

Fig 6: Alex Salmond’s e-mail to members December 2023.

Jacqui Bijster, having endured months of bullying, withdrew from the Membership Convener election at conference, unable to face another 5 weeks of unpleasantness. Later both Denise Findlay and Leigh Wilson withdrew from the Organisation Convener election. 

The election was re-run without the most popular candidates and the leadership favourites triumphed in all but the Equalities Convener poll, where Eva Comrie easily saw off Abdul Majid. Eva won 82% of the vote. 

The office bearers result was announced on the morning of December 2nd at National Council in Aberdeen and ordinary NEC member voting opened at 11.30 am.  To remind you, at Conference the Party Leader had stated unequivocally that the voting franchise for the ordinary member vote had been frozen and would not change.

Jacqui Bijster, although she withdrew from the membership convener election, was nominated for ordinary NEC member and should have appeared on the ballot: she did not. 

And what is completely wrong and inexplicable is this: for this re-run ordinary NEC member election there is a voter roll of 393 voters: an extra 105 voters have been added to the voter roll since the Glasgow conference, in direct contradiction to what was said by the party leader.  

When the discrepancy was brought to light by an eagle eyed member in February 2024, Chris MacEleny posted on the Alba website that there were 393 eligible voters by end of conference.  Even if we accept this at face value, which we should not, it already contradicts what Salmond said on the first morning of conference.   

Fig 7: Chris’s claim of 393 voters by end of conference.

Ordinary Member voting closed on Sunday December 3rd at 5pm and the winners were posted on the Alba website on the afternoon of Monday  Dec 4th.  The full results from the previous year (2022) were removed from the Alba website but the 2023 full results did not take their place. In fact, the full results for 2023 have not to date been made available either to candidates or members

Candidates were told to request their own results if they wanted them. These were partial results detailing only the elections or eliminations up until the round the candidate was elected or eliminated and only the candidates own voting totals. Candidates are told that Abdul Majid and Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh have topped the ordinary NEC member poll. Both win in the first round in a field of eighteen and twelve candidates respectively, and quota (that is the number of votes needed to win) is 62. Therefore both must have received more than 62 first preference votes.    

Candidates got their own results and compared them, but the results were contradictory: Leanne Tervit was told Christina Hendry was elected at round 2, Jackie Anderson’s results stated Christina was elected at round 2 or 3, and another candidate who was told Christina was elected at round 3.  For the male election a candidate received results that stated Hamish Vernal was elected twice at round 15 and at round 16. 

Fig 8: A difference in the round Christina Hendry was elected.

This simply should not happen in STV elections. The round the candidate is elected at is fixed, calculated by the computer and cannot vary between candidates. 

The full results of any of the 2023 elections have never been published, even though this would seem the obvious way to clear up any doubts.

Roddy Macleod, duly elected, refused to take up his place on the NEC. Leanne Tervit, also elected as Ordinary Member, attempted to get the results published to no effect and resigned on principle. Allan Petrie, another elected Ordinary Member, later resigned in protest at the treatment of Jacqui Bijster and Leanne Tervit.   

Something is clearly very wrong. 

Crucially, where did those additional 105 voters in the Ordinary Member election come from?

Nationbuilder is the database that holds the Alba membership, and we were told, by a whistleblower, in Nation Builder at least 30 new members who joined in November 2023. All signed up to concession membership at £1 a month, were assigned by an HQ staff member  to the HQ branch, rather than the branch indicated by their address which is what should happen. 

Fig 9: Nationbuilder page with new concession members

The outcome of assigning to the HQ branch is that no one else in the Alba party will know about these members. This is very unusual, since the constitution clearly sets out that members are entitled to attend and vote at LACU meetings covering their geographical area. Previous advice given to members who did not want to join their “geographical” LACU or who wanted to move to another, was to write to the General Secretary, who would consider the request and make a ruling. Why were these new members not assigned to their geographic LACU? Did each one receive special permission from the General Secretary to join HQ branch?

Fig 10: Extract from Alba Constitution

Now in the aftermath of these elections, the promise of fairness is tarnished by allegations of tampering and malfeasance, after the resignations and withdrawals, the voices of dissent grow louder, and trust is hard to come by.

Figure 11: Salmond on transparency

Questions linger, and whispers of impropriety and deceit are echoing through the Alba Party. As the dust settles, the party stands at a crossroads, its future uncertain, its integrity tested.

In the end, the truth lies not in the words of the powerful, but in the hearts of those who dare to question, to challenge, and to hold fast to the principles of democracy. It is in their hands that the fate of the Alba Party ultimately rests.

Jackie Anderson

Jacqui Bijster

Iain’s Blog is available here for more information on Scottish Independence.

Other relevant items from Iain’s blog:

THAT ALBA ELECTION

24th Jan 2024

WELL WILL HE GET AN ANSWER?

12th Oct 2023