The Top 10 reasons to back Bhutta

You have the power to select Cunninghame North’s next SNP candidate.

By our nature, we are a party of change, not status quo. Cunninghame North can do better, and here are 10 reasons you should vote for Osama Bhutta. 

  1. This is a transformative election. The next parliament must deliver independence, a fairer society after Covid, and must beat climate change in time for 2030. Osama has shown he has the ideas and approach to build an ambitious future rather than live in the past. 
  2. Only 10% of SNP members in the constituency think we’re doing enough to campaign for independence locally. Osama’s got the background in campaigning and has talked about how we deliver the Yes vote in North Ayrshire that we didn’t get in 2014 
  3. Before even entering parliament, he has been setting the agenda on things like a Scottish currency 
  4. Global recognition will be crucial for independence and he has global experience working with embassies, foreign ministries and the UN 
  5. He has ambition for our area and believes we can end the abomination of one-third of our kids living in poverty and our people being some of the most multiply deprived in Scotland 
  6. To do this, he has published a plan to revive our town centres, bring in green jobs to the constituency, and sort out our ferries
  7. We live in an era of people powered movements and Osama has the modern participative campaigning approach to deliver these wins 
  8. He has promised free authentic curry for activists in the Cunninghame North SNP campaign rooms! 
  9. It’s been unedifying to see the local party’s divisions in the press. This has been years in the making. Fresh leadership will bring people together. Osama’s managed large teams, and with his background in human rights, has the empathetic approach to remove this risk to the SNP and Yes vote. 
  10. He’s won substantial public backing in the constituency within a short space of time on the basis of people looking at his track record, ideas, and engaging videos

You secured the wins for the party in previous elections. Next door to us, Cunninghame South SNP won more than 50% of the vote in 2016 with a new candidate. We can do the same next year with a new candidate who has ambition and ideas. We have the great activists locally, plus the national party leadership which people want to vote for. 

The identity of Cunninghame North’s next SNP candidate is in your hands. Please use your vote which is now in your mailbox.

Campaigning for independence in Cunninghame North

From the survey I emailed to Cunninghame North SNP members last week, a sobering 72% of you think we are NOT doing enough to campaign for independence locally. Only 10% of you did think we are doing enough.

I went to Arran to learn more about how they achieved a 60% Yes vote in 2014. My latest video from there reflects on how we make no mistake next time and achieve a Yes vote across Cunninghame North next time around.

Ambition for Cunninghame North – a plan

I’ve been hearing from so many of you about the local issues which would benefit from your MSP working with people power.

As a result, I’ve published a plan. This includes reviving our town centres, bringing green jobs to Hunterston, and improving our ferries.

The plan is ambitious yet achievable with the right action. Cunninghame North deserves better than one-third of our kids living in poverty. We have to change this, and this plan is a first step.

Let me know what you think. If you select me as your candidate, we’ll get to work straight away.

I am suspending this campaign in protest at rule breaches

Update: The campaign was unpaused on 31st October

Selection contests are opportunities for parties to have important debates about the future and to get the best people in place to deliver on that. For a party which has been in power for 13 years they are important opportunities for renewal.

When agreeing to stand in Cunninghame North against a longterm incumbent, I knew the task was a huge one. I spent time assessing the lay of the land and received enough support from across the constituency to think it was achievable.

I also looked carefully at the selection rulebook. The race is prohibitive for anyone taking on an incumbent. Candidates can only send the ‘selectorate’ two emails and attend hustings. We aren’t otherwise able to contact the membership. Office bearers in branches and the constituency must maintain organisational neutrality and can’t publicly endorse candidates. Despite this, I thought it was still worth pursuing – on the basis of the published rules.  

I’m therefore sad to report that the rules are not being followed by everyone taking part in the contest. Office bearers in one of our largest branches last week circulated a motion to all their members in support of the incumbent MSP. This contravenes rules 8.5, 9.2 and 9.3 about using member data, using party meetings, and the role of office bearers.

This behaviour harks back to the bad old days of internal branch stitch-ups. We thought this kind of thing was in the past when the democracy of One Member, One Vote was brought in.

We could dismiss this motion as a relic of a bygone age, and an act of desperation. The truth is though that we don’t know the effect of this propaganda. It is unfair if candidates do not have equal airtime and access to party email lists.  

It’s also disrespectful to the people who have resigned positions within their branches in order to be able to publicly support my campaign.

I lodged a complaint with SNP headquarters about this exactly one week ago. My message and followups have not been acknowledged.

This puts me in a difficult situation. There is a very short timeframe to this selection contest. This motion is also very likely a harbinger of more cheating. This is not frivolous and in Scotland we still believe that election rules matter.

As a result, I am suspending my campaign until the party decides whether or not it will implement its rules. If it acts in good time, I will resume the campaign. If it does not, it will have to accept a tainted result.

Thank you to everyone who has supported me so far. I know this is not the spirit of the positive future-facing campaign we’ve been running, but I hope you will agree that there is no alternative to making a stand for fairness.  

SNP members are the party’s superpower. We must use them better.

The SNP’s membership base is the largest of any of the Scottish political parties and, by head of population, the largest in the UK overall.

That’s an incredible position to be in, and it came largely in the aftermath of the 2014 referendum. At the time, Nicola Sturgeon said of the five-fold surge in the party’s membership:

“[This is] a massive opportunity to transform how we do politics and to connect with the people of our country in a way that none of our opponents can match.

“… Where that takes us will not be dictated by politicians, it will be driven in the words of the US constitution by “We the people”. Make no mistake, I know where I want that change to lead: To Scotland being an independent nation.”

Since then, it’s become assumed by many insiders that members actually joined as a badge of identity, to make a point, or give money. But at their core, I believe most people joined the SNP to make a difference. The reality of membership for too many of them however hasn’t met their high expectations. Most haven’t found a foothold in party activity.

We can see the result around us now. Widespread grumbling about HQ, NEC and others in the party hierarchy reflect a disengagement between the political class and the grassroots. The atmosphere is febrile. Many find more fulfilling activity inside other independence groups.

This is a shame for both members and politicians alike. The gap between parliament and the street is currently too wide. We live in an era of people power – Me Too, Greta Thunberg, Black Lives Matter, Belarus et al. People benefit from proximity to politicians, but politicians should also be utilising and allying with people power in order to achieve big objectives. In the next few years we want to create a new state and have a ‘war time’ mobilisation to defeat climate change.

In today’s world, people want to be more involved than allowed by the politics of the past. In that old model, a problem arose, and the parliamentarian would ask a serious question in the chamber or fire off a letter to somebody important. They’d then report back on the response they got and explain they tried their best. Occasionally they’d get a victory.

As the dominant optics, this is seen as more performative than participative, and as such is not fulfilling. Politics should not be a spectator sport. Our role is not just to follow the news and comment about stuff on social media. This road leads to much of the online anger and argumentation that we see today instead of productive activity.

The pandemic gave us a glimpse of what community solidarity and acting for each other could look like in the 2020s. Party politics should help fuel this on an ongoing basis.

Given I’m running for office myself, it would be remiss of me not to give undertakings regarding how I’d change things. My commitment is to work with members and constituents to set clear targets and priorities for the constituency. This could include things to do with ferries, housing, or jobs in the area. It could involve solving problems for individuals where appropriate, as well as national and global matters. We would agree what we want to do.

We would then work out – together – what our tactical plan is for achieving these things. There would be regular and transparent report backs. We will win more by working this way. Our members are the SNP’s superpower. It’s time to unleash them.

SNP members are right now in a powerful position. They will shortly select the Holyrood candidates for their constituency. They should think carefully about what kind of relationship they want with their candidate and MSP.

For my part, I’m not just asking for their votes. If they select me, it is the start of a partnership between us.

We won’t just stuff envelopes or deliver leaflets, though we will do a lot of that. We will work together to rekindle the fire in the bellies of our people and to connect their hearts in solidarity. We will do in politics as in the rest of life – work as if we are in the early days of a better nation.

First published in The National

Scots independence needs an England strategy

Let’s put the Tories on the back foot. Full article below, video summary above.

The fresh crab must have been good. Shortly after his last visit, the prime minister
announced he was coming back to Scotland for more, this time for a camping holiday.

In between, the chancellor made a day trip to Bute. After years of ignoring us Scots, the Tories suddenly can’t get enough of us.

Boris Johnson has form when making seemingly random visits. Before the Westminster
election last year, he dropped in on a number of northern English towns, sometimes
allowing himself to be heckled on the streets. It was said that his visits were followed up by sophisticated social media targeting into those areas. Many of these ‘Red Wall’ Labour areas shortly thereafter fell to the Tories.

As reported by George Kerevan in The National a few weeks ago, two of the key players of the Tory ‘Meme Machine’ social media operation, Sean Topham and Ben Guerin, have now been drafted to work on Scotland.

Peter Geoghegan and journalists at The Guardian and Open Democracy have since revealed that the UK government gave the duo a £3million contract for 6-months of coronavirus PR. Now, you might think that UK govt comms on Covid-19 has been a murderous muddle, but sometimes you’re only as good as the decisions taken from above.

Having worked in the Middle East, I’ve heard of lucrative PR contracts in my time. I’ve never come across anything in the realm of £500,000 per month. What it means for their work with the Tories on Scotland remains to be seen. I would urge readers to be vigilant regarding what is appearing on their socials.

Don’t be taken in by appearances of buffoonery. The Tories are determined not to let
Scotland go. We were told that the Queen purred like a cat when she was told Scotland
voted no in 2014, and the PM does not want royalty barking at him instead.

The recent daytrips take me back to 2014. English friends of mine suddenly became vocal about their love of Scotland. Some of them finally made the trip they always promised and came up to chap doors in another nation’s vote. Remember the schmaltzy advert featuring Grant from Eastenders about being ‘best friends’. If this was a Friends episode, it would be the one where Joey controls all the money and makes all the big decisions.

Quite a force of English society took part in our referendum –media outlets, oil companies, all the Westminster leaders, spy chiefs, banks, and even supermarkets made interventions. This time, we shouldn’t wait for all this to come onto us. It would be a mistake to locate the only field of battle inside Scotland. After all, colonies often left London rule because the mood of the chattering classes in London changed.

So let’s get Johnson on the backfoot. We know the SNP message is popular amongst the
English public. Nicola Sturgeon’s television performances have won rave reviews and even calls for the SNP to stand for elections in England.

The SNP worldview has gone down well with English liberals in the past, but now, in a post-Brexit, post-Covid world, they will know that they can’t plausibly ask the Scots to hang around in a union of permanent omnishambles. Even BBC coverage which so many Scots objected to in 2014 could be framed very differently by BBC staffers next time around.

But only if we make the case. Only if we keep our purpose at the centre of everything we say and do. We want to improve the wellbeing of our people, play a positive role in the world, and save the planet we live on. All in stark contrast to the work of the Westminster government.

All of us have got a role in this. We’ve got people we want to convince to support
independence – friends, family, co-workers and neighbours. Most of us also know folk in England. Talk to them and engage them with your hopes and dreams for the future of your nation.

We should also countenance major action in London if standoff on a referendum continues, and public health allows. Johnson is more comfortable with us marching around Scottish towns than if we turned up in large numbers on his doorstep. Enough of us would make this journey. In 2002, for a protest on the Iraq War, we took 50 coaches from Glasgow to London.

There will be tens of thousands ready to camp outside Downing Street if the political point of decision reaches the fever pitch we are expecting in the coming year. It’ll be the talk of London. And if we do it right, thousands of decent people in England will march with us. What a way to set the tone for our future relationship. Best friends, hand in hand, as equals.

Plan A won’t be enough. Neither will Plan B.

Scotland will be independent. This much we know. What we don’t know is how it will happen. In truth, we probably won’t know how it happened afterwards either.

If we look at major historical events like the collapse of apartheid, the ejection of Britain from its colonies and women getting the vote, there was a weight of activity which brought critical moments to pass. We remember one or two iconic pictures and actions, but the rest is contested, and many factors and people are given credit.

With support for independence hopefully polling as a majority position for good, there is no single thing that brought us here. Certain people, particularly the SNP leadership for the last 17 years, were indispensable. But there is plenty of credit to go around – including to external events. At the bottom of the despair in 2014, no mastermind predicted the important boost in the polls that would be provided by Brexit and the UK government’s mishandling of a coronavirus.

And so it will be in the period to come. The external shocks may not be in our control but we must all play our part and continue to do the small and big things which will propel us forward.

It will most likely not be nice and neat. We had that chance in 2014 and in true Scottish fashion we turned that down in favour of doing things a harder way. Boris Johnson will do everything possible to block our path as the “sheer might” of the British state has done time-and-again to people across the world.

Building a new country is meant to be difficult. This won’t be won by a few politicians and lawyers while the rest of us commentate on social media. We all need to show how hungry and serious we are.

We live in the age of Greta. We will win thanks to a mass grassroots indy movement vibrant with creativity and energy, “leaderful” from the ground, taking tactics from movements like Time’s Up and those that gained marriage equality. We will attract international attention thanks to the progressive causes – like wellbeing and environmentalism – we embody in everything we do and through our use of the famous Scottish sense of humour.

What I’ve seen in recent times though, since getting reengaged with the independence movement after a few years away, is a discourse of rancour. People full of energy but complaining that while it’s going well, it’s not going well enough. People calling for more from the SNP but also calling for the SNP to get out of the way.

This is not a time for squabbling, it’s time for organising. Film maker Ava DuVernay recounted a story from legendary civil rights activist John Lewis who passed away in recent weeks. She asked him what activists should be doing at this moment. His reply: “Do everything”.

We will have to assess and reassess plans after progress and temporary setbacks. There will be no linear Plan A. A topline Plan B will not be enough on its own either. We will likely need Plans C, D, E – and now thanks to Covid we’ll also need F, G, H and more – implemented in towns and villages across the country and beyond to get to our goal.

While independence won’t be won by parliamentary process alone, MSPs and MPs have an important role. They should see parliamentary politics as part of mass organising, not the other way around. Right now though, there seems to be too a large gap between parliament and the street. We must secure a majority for independence in Holyrood next year and we can hope the UK government respects that. We need to be ready for the possibility that they don’t.

In that case, with so many stalwart MSP campaigners stepping down, we should be quizzing potential new MSPs about their credentials to inspire, engage and organise communities. It’s not good enough to look for the old toolbox at this point in history.

There is nothing more Scottish than the fact we turned down independence in 2014 and took this longer harder road instead. Our new state will be all the stronger for it though as we will carry forward the momentum from our activism and make it as successful as it can be.

Scotland won’t just be standing on its own two feet; it will rise on the 10.8 million feet of all our people. And after it happens we won’t just say that we were there, but that we made it so.

First published in The National