This was a post that we didn’t want to write. It isn’t becoming for parties to argue, especially when they have the same goal – independence. And people have very little patience for the quarrels of political parties. However, the behaviour of the Action for Independence party (AFI) towards ourselves and the constant questioning as to why we have ruled out aligning ourselves with them, requires a fuller answer than we can give in tweets or quotes. We also feel it is important for Yes voters to understand what they are buying into and what it is likely to deliver.
Both AFI and ISP started their journey in November 2019. The inability of independence supporting parties to utilise the list and increasing unease at the direction, or lack of it, coming from the SNP on independence was the spur to both groups. AFI (now led by Dave Thompson), was started by Pat Lee, a former convenor of Solidarity. ISP was started by Colette Walker, a former SNP member and disability rights activist. Pat Lee’s approach was to try and unite the smaller independence supporting parties. Our approach was to start a new centre/centre left independence supporting party.
In both instances, we were starting from what we knew. It was natural for Pat Lee to appeal to smaller indy parties, because most of them are far left, which is where he comes from. It was natural for us to form a centre/centre left party because that is politically where we come from. We weren’t going to attempt to unite the far left, because, frankly, it wasn’t our business to do so. Better people than us who belong to these parties, have tried and failed. Why on earth would they listen to a stranger? We felt that it was a job best left to someone who belonged to that movement.
By November 2019 the Greens had ruled out doing pre electoral pacts with other parties at their conference, so we felt that any opportunities to link smaller parties were going to be very limited. From a strategic point of view, pitching to the centre was likely to be more successful, because that is where most of voters’ allegiances lie. It’s a crowded field but also a much bigger one and any attempt to ‘max the yes’ would have to go where most of those voters were.
Becoming a Political Party
But it wasn’t just that. We knew that it wasn’t straightforward to apply to be a political party and it could take some months. We also thought that with regard to what AFI were proposing, that there was a high chance that the Electoral Commission would require the participating parties to actually merge, as they did with Labour and the Co operative party.
That would mean that any party in that arrangement would have to share the same constitution and financial scheme. This in turn would require the consent of their members and motions passed at party conferences. It would also mean that the said parties would have to make a fresh application to the EC to ratify this . It would need a change of reporting monies to the EC (which political parties are required to do) through the new body. That’s before you even get onto vetting and choosing candidates.
Quite simply, there wasn’t enough time to go for an alliance. It was the work of years, not months and given the previous experience of RISE we thought it was something that had been already tried and failed. We opted to travel fast and light and put in a straightforward application for a single party to the EC. ISP did go along to AFI’s meeting in February. We told them that we had put in an application and asked if they had put in one. They hadn’t and they said that they were going to have a conference in May, at which point they would decide who their leader and office bearers were going to be and they would also sort out their constitution. As these were all essential items for an application and with the average waiting time on an application being two months, we reckoned it would be at least July before AFI would know if they were a goer. ISP decided to get on with our own application and let AFI get on with theirs.
Electoral Commission and the Application Process
It’s worth pausing at this point to explain a bit about the application process to be a political party. You need a constitution, with your leader, treasurer and nominating officer identified on them. You need to have a financial scheme. The constitution and the financial scheme have to match up. There’s a lot of reading across that has to be done. The name and symbol that you pick for your party must not be misleading or too similar to anyone else’s name or symbol.
When you put in your application, the EC has to display it on their site for a month for comments/objections. After that, they take it down and go through it. If there is a mistake (and it is easy to make one) you don’t get to correct it and send it back. You have to re-submit the whole application and begin the process again. It means that an application can very quickly become a very lengthy process.
It took us five months to get our registration approved and seven months for our symbol. When we got our registration in May and launched our party AFI said that they were continuing with their application and that when they had got it, we could join them. It seemed to us that the sensible thing for the AFI to have done at this point was to drop their application and join us, but this didn’t happen.
State of the Parties
AFI finally put their application in, in July. It was rejected in September. This is now into the second week of October. We don’t know what the EC rejected in AFI’s application apart from the name, but there clearly has had to be a lot of adjustment for the next attempt. If AFI re-submit next week, it’s likely to be December before they get a reply.
You might say that this is none of our business and it’s not very nice to talk about AFI like this. And you would be correct, except that AFI has made it our business. At various points AFI has implied that ISP are ‘in talks’ with them. We’ve been castigated by their supporters for being spoilsports and splitting the vote. We’ve been told, ‘It’s good to talk.’ And most recently we have had our logo printed along with others under an AFI umbrella graphic, which to the untrained eye, makes it look as though we are affiliated. When we asked politely for this to be removed, a question mark was placed on the symbol instead and we were trolled on our FB account for being spoilsports and splitters again.
Let’s be absolutely clear. AFI are not registered, which means at this point they will not be on the ballot paper. AFI are not looking to join ISP, but for us to join them. That would mean that the earliest that we could do this would be December if AFI passed registration. By the time this was run past the Electoral Commission it would be the end of January. We would have to amend our constitution, our financial scheme, run under someone else’s symbol and allow someone else to choose which of our candidates actually ran. It would be completely chaotic and completely mad for us even to think about this, at this stage. And it is completely unreasonable for AFI to expect us to do it.
It is not our fault that AFI submitted their application so late. And we have no intention of having our own campaign disrupted because they failed to attend to the bread and butter issues around registration. We do not know why they were so late with their application, but ISP have no intention of paying the penalty for that.
It may be that AFI find a berth with Solidarity’s registration (who have declared that they will support AFI) if they do not manage to obtain their own registration. And we wish them well if they do that, but it is not the political direction in which ISP wish to go. As we said at the start, most of Scotland’s voters lie in the centre/centre left and Solidarity doesn’t appeal to that electorate.
We understand the voters’ frustration with this. Of course ISP are worried that this may have consequences for the list vote being split. It’s just that we cannot see another sensible choice at this stage. Either ISP go with a certainty – our own registration and our own symbol and run the best campaign we can with the structure that we’ve already set up – or begin all over again and take a gamble that AFI are going to make it onto the ballot paper in time. And right now we’re not at all confident that they will.