Blow for SNP as Bute campaign chair resigns

The SNP/Yes Bute 'hub' in Rothesay's Victoria Street.
The SNP/Yes Bute 'hub' in Rothesay's Victoria Street.

The former chair of the group set up to campaign for a Yes vote on Bute in last year’s referendum has accused the island’s SNP branch of “extreme meddling” and of being prepared to gag others within the pro-independence movement.

Alec Mack was the chair of Yes Bute Moving Forward until Friday, March 20, when a lengthy statement was posted on the group’s website in which he outlined his reasons for resigning from the post.

Mr Mack said the SNP’s Isle of Bute branch had removed Yes Bute leaflets from their new ‘hub’ in Rothesay’s Victoria Street, partly because of a spelling error in which the SNP’s Westminster election candidate was called Brenda, not Brendan, O’Hara - and accused the local party leadership of having a “compulsion” to “control information to the point of gagging others”.

He also said the local SNP branch had attempted to keep all the money raised at a Burns Night event in January which had been the idea of the Yes Bute organisation.

Mr Mack’s statement reads, in full, as follows.

“Unlike one or two other resignations which have happened of late, I won’t give the perfunctory explanation of ‘I wanted to spend more time in the garden’ or ‘I want to focus on other political activities’.

“During my short tenure as Yes Bute’s first Chair, I would like to think that I have promoted the idea of free and open debate, so I won’t hide the reasons for my departure by the use of such obfuscating statements. I owe it to our members not to do so.

“Firstly, I’ll deal with the most recent of events. Having handed over £200 (£60 still to be paid) to the SNP for their SNP Hub and after being reassured that we should think of it as our own too, it is with dismay that they have decided to remove our leaflet – which can be viewed on our Facebook page – from their premises. The reasons given by Vice Convenor Hugh Moody [sic] are as follows:

[transcript from e mail 20/3/15]

Thanks for the reply Alec.

In the meantime, I have had to remove the YES Bute leaflets from the hub, and need to request that the picture of the leaflet be removed from the facebook page.

The reasons being.

1. The leaflets content has not been sanctioned by anyone from SNP Bute and therefore Brendan himself.

2. The leaflet that bears his name and photo counts as election material and must therefore be annotated as such, and also be included in expenses.

The online version on Facebook has issues such as calling Brendan “Brenda” and despite asking for its removal a week ago, it is still there.

“I am extremely resistant to the idea that the SNP should have the right to ‘sanction’ or vet what we publish. This particular aspect should be considered in light of the fact that I myself had very recently been contacted by John Duncan [the chair of Yes Bute in the run-up to last September’s referendum] suggesting that we should have a joint media sub-committee or policy.

“This proposal was almost immediately and mysteriously withdrawn without any proper explanation given. What all of this does illustrate is a compulsion by those in leadership at our local SNP branch to control information to the point of gagging others within the independence movement if necessary.

“Mr Moody’s second point, on the face of it, seems reasonable enough, however, it did take him near on a week to find a suitable excuse. It was already obvious by the frosty reception that I had received on visiting the shop, not to mention the fact that our leaflets hidden from view on a high shelf, that the SNP were happy to take our money, but did not appreciate us having any presence in the shop.

“I hasten to add that the Vice Convener’s final point, spelling issues, had already been rectified on the printed version and has since been sorted on the FB version too.

“It is also worth noting that I received a call from Councillor Isobel Strong [chair of the SNP’s Isle of Bute branch] prior to the leaflet going to print in which she expressed concern over grammar. At no point did she express concern regarding content.

“This whole fiasco over a little leaflet is but the latest in a sequence of events which has caused me to arrive at this decision.

“The recent jointly staged Yes Bute SNP Burns night was another episode which sorely taxed my patience. The first I learned that it was to be a joint event was when it was advertised on their Facebook page as being such.

“It had previously been decided that Yes Bute would do a Burns Night on our own. The fact was that at a local SNP meeting it was felt by many present that they could take decisions on our behalf and we’ll just fall into line.

“Rather than cause a fuss, we went along with it. We did send a message of displeasure, however, we have never received a reply. Not one that’s been mentioned in any of our meetings at least. I’ve been to them all.

“To make matters worse, after the event, a certain number of our members, who are also in the SNP, had to fight tooth and nail to ensure that we received any of the monies raised.

“Who ever heard of a joint event in which only one party receives the profits? However, to many at our local SNP, this seemed entirely reasonable.

“I’d also mention that the decision to open an SNP Hub was undertook entirely by the SNP. Partly because they wanted to open a shop anyway for their election campaign, but also because some were not patient enough to see it happen through Yes.

“I would say, if you want a Yes Hub – calling it an SNP Hub is another obfuscation of facts – it should say ‘Yes’ bold and clear on the front. Anything less is another attempt by the SNP to control our movement.

“Many will now criticise me on the basis that I have undermined their campaign. If I felt it made one iota of difference as to the prospects of Scotland becoming independent, I would not take this step.

“The level of meddling from our local SNP has been extreme and I see no prospect of this abating until someone stands up and says so. As Chair of Yes Bute Moving Forward, if we are to see an end to the SNP’s controlling tactics, I feel that I have no other alternative than to resign my position.

“Whilst I have been Chair, we have been an entirely independent voice and, in that respect, it would be sad to see our organisation become a front for the SNP.

“It may not seem like it just now, but the survival of the Yes movement into the years and decades ahead is more important than whether Brendan O’Hara gets elected on this occasion.

“I shall be voting SNP as I feel that post referendum, a strong SNP return of MPs to Westminster will send a powerful message to the British establishment, but I have to say that I’ve seen absolutely nothing in the behaviour of our local branch which encourages me to support them.

“Lastly, I would mention that upon accepting the Chair role I stated that I would need the support of others and, despite such reassurance, I have received not a bit of it. There have been individuals within the committee who have worked to hinder our progress. Particularly in relation to opening a bank account and the selective recording of minutes.

“There is no referendum on the horizon and goodness knows when the next shall come along. When it does, I shall be there standing shoulder to shoulder with the SNP and anyone else who wants to see Scotland govern herself, but until that happens, there are many more useful things I should be doing with my time.

“It has been an honour to serve Bute in this way and I am mindful that by doing this I am leaving others behind who agree that Scotland should be independent, but reject the notion of nationalism as a political ideology. To them I apologise. Eilean Bhòid gu brath.” [Ed - Gaelic for ‘Bute for ever’.]

We contacted Hugh Moodie inviting him to respond to Mr Mack’s comments, and received the following response, issued jointly by Martin Catlin, acting chair of Yes Bute, and Isobel Strong.

“We are delighted that the referendum has empowered so many people to become involved in politics in a way never seen before,” they said. “However the election in May is not a re-run of the referendum but an opportunity to ensure the promises made to Scotland are fulfilled. To do so most of those who voted and campaigned for a Yes vote are choosing to campaign for as many SNP MPs to be returned to Westminster as possible.

“There are clear guidelines in law for election campaigns, set by the independent Electoral Commission, and on this occasion a leaflet produced by one member of Yes Bute, without discussion with the full Yes Bute committee or the candidate himself through SNP Bute, was not in accordance with the standards required and has had to be withdrawn.

“Yes Bute and SNP Bute branch continue to campaign together for Brendan O’Hara.”