This story is detailed and long and normally I would not publish it because of its length BUT the author wants everyone to know but has been meeting media reluctance, yet if the content here is correct, then it does need to be known by the SNP membership as an example of how rules can be ignored and the SNP HQ officials and committees do not operate their own rules. I have not listed all the evidence he provided but I think there is sufficient to establish that the rules were broken during this selection process. His aim is to ensure this cannot happen elsewhere without others in the SNP knowing that it happens. Now that it is published here that has been achieved. Readers can judge for themselves the rights or wrongs of the matter and if the SNP branch in Clydebank want to send me their response I will be happy to publish their explanation as long as it is couched in polite language. This process in question after all is how members of our Parliament are selected. It must be above reproach.
SNP Rule Breaking
One of the benefits of being a member of the Scottish National Party is the right to take part in internal party democratic election processes.
Without doubt, the most important is the election of a candidate to then stand for a constituency and for that individual to then go forward and not only represent the members but every single constituent should they be successful in being elected at the ballot box on election day.
Candidates are vetted for suitability prior to putting themselves forward to be selected by the constituency members in a candidate selection election, which in itself has strict SNP rules of neutrality in order that the whole process is fair to each candidate.
The Constituency Association representing all of the branches is tasked with making sure rules are abided.
This process has to be considered as a job interview.
The successful candidate will be very well rewarded with a high salary and substantial expenses in order to do the work expected of them effectively at Holyrood or Westminster and employ staff to assist them.
The membership could be described as the gatekeepers to democratic representation and each will be looking to select the most suitable candidate in the belief that the whole process has been carried out with honesty, integrity and without bias. Similar attributes one would expect to find with a candidate.
But what if it hasn’t?
What happens when multiple rules of neutrality are broken to help get one particular candidate elected?
What recourse do SNP members actually have and more importantly, does this SNP process work?
What occurred in Clydebank and Milngavie constituency for the 2021 Scottish General Election should be a wake up call to all SNP members, branches, Constituency Associations, The SNP National Executive Committee, Members Conduct and Disciplinary Committees and absolutely every future SNP candidate.
It all started for me personally following the decision by the sitting MSP, Gil Paterson to retire.
Gil had been a tremendous servant to the SNP, his constituents, SNP branches and members for many years and whoever was to replace him had a very high bar to aspire to reach.
Gil was a great SNP campaigner, communicator and organiser, tactician, caring to both the SNP itself and all his constituents. To branches and members, a friend who listened and gave sound advice when asked.
Clydebank is by far the largest branch in the constituency, Bearsden North and Milngavie the smaller two neighbours.
The constituency candidate selection election was chosen by the NEC to be an all women campaign.
This report covers the following:
Selection Rules – Scottish Parliament Elections 2021
UK Data Protection Act 1998
The first candidate to announce her intention to stand was Roza Salih.
A ‘People’s Champion’, Roza Salih is very well known for her campaigning for employment, immigration and human rights in Scotland. An enthusiastic supporter for independence and very experienced working with and resolving constituent’s issues having worked for Chris Stephens SNP MP for many years.
The next candidate to announce she was standing was Marie McNair, a Clydebank councillor and member of Clydebank SNP branch.
It was at this point my attention was drawn to the number of elected parliamentary and council representatives and branch office holders from Clydebank SNP branch openly announcing and encouraging support for Marie McNair on social media. Neither Bearsden North or Milngavie branch office holders encouraged support for any candidate and stayed completely neutral. Whilst not actually acting in their capacity of the branch officers, the fact remains they would be very well known for holding those positions and influence within the campaign.
The local Constituency Association were advised about what was taking place and members were contacted and asked to remain neutral. Despite the warning, the branch officer, parliamentary and council officer support continued unabated.
There is absolutely no doubt that Clydebank SNP branch knew the SNP rules governing the candidate selection election as they refused to circulate another candidate’s letter to branch members that she had sent to them at the start of the campaigning before she realised that all communications had to be sent via snp.org.
A meeting of potential candidates was seen advertised online which I decided to attend as Roza Salih was one of the four candidates taking part.
Whilst watching this event it became obvious that someone really had it in for Roza as he continually posted offensive and harassing comments solely directed at her.
This individual was a member of Clydebank SNP branch.
The harassment was reported to Police Scotland and the individual suspended by HQ before he then resigned his membership of the SNP.
His Aunt, a member of Marie McNair’s own candidate campaign team was later reported to Police Scotland for the racial abuse of Roza Salih.
It became obvious that a widespread effort was in place to get Marie McNair elected to stand for the Clydebank and Milngavie constituency and Roza Salih represented the biggest challenge.
It was around this time that I was made aware another candidate had approached the constituency branches with a view to standing. Michelle Thomson was born, raised and educated in Bearsden and prior to becoming an SNP MP, was well experienced in the world of commerce and worked with Business For Scotland during the 2014 independence campaign. Michelle received a very positive reception from senior branch office bearers at both Milngavie and Bearsden North branches but was made to feel unwelcome at Clydebank SNP branch. She decided to take her vast experience elsewhere and Falkirk East were the resultant beneficiaries when she not only won the candidate selection but also the Holyrood seat.
Events took another rule-breaking turn on the day prior to the ballot opening for the candidate selection election at 12pm 23rd October 2020, when totally against the rules of neutrality, SNP members only in the Clydebank area received a four page leaflet via Royal Mail promoting just one candidate, Marie McNair, and produced by her 21 member campaign team.
This named team included very influential individuals including the local MP, the Provost of West Dunbartonshire and numerous elected councillors and Clydebank SNP branch office bearers.
You simply cannot get any more influential than that when it comes to promoting one single candidate and only posting it to the voting members of the largest branch membership in the constituency.
The Clydebank Members Group for Marie McNair
Martin Docherty-Hughes MP
Provost Willie Hendrie
Councillor James Finn
Rosa Salih received an email from a member of Clydebank SNP Branch on the evening of 22nd October which included photos of the brochure. The member also sent it to the SNP National Secretary at the time, Angus MacLeod. Roza forwarded the brochure to the other candidates to advise them what had been sent to Clydebank SNP members by Marie McNair’s campaign team. During a conversation to do with the online harassment, Roza brought the case of the leaflet to my attention and I advised her to inform the Convener of the Constituency Association to keep him in the loop about what was taking place. Roza also contacted the National Secretary asking for his help on no less than 10 occasions without receiving a reply. It took the threat of taking it to the media before the National Secretary replied with just over 2 days remaining of the ballot being open. For members who had voted by Royal Mail then there would have been insufficient time to take remedial action and recast their vote.
In a final candidate selection election campaign email to all constituency members sent in the same hour that the National Secretary had emailed them, Marie McNair had an opportunity to distance herself from the leaflet mentioned by the National Secretary. Marie McNair did not.
She went on to win the ballot soon afterwards with Roza Salih a close second.
Attention had also focused on the means to distribute the rule breaking leaflet by Royal Mail to members of the Clydebank branch as the SNP rules are very specific in relation to data base use and access.
It transpired that the Clydebank membership data was held on a completely separate Data Protection Act registration with the Information Commission Office and held by Clydebank SNP branch since 2002.
Questions were asked by me and the Constituency Association regarding the authority and legality surrounding this registration as whether the use of SNP held data had been both authorised by HQ and also whether HQ was fulfilling its own lawful obligations of oversight.
The CA suggested some initial questions be asked by branches.
Following the SNP National Conference in November 2020, a new National Secretary was appointed by the membership and I therefore looked forward to the outstanding questions being investigated after reporting the complaint directly to Stewart Stevenson MSP at the end of November 2020.
After initially receiving no response to my emails, I was advised by an SNP MP to copy in the SNP Compliance Officer Ian McCann in any correspondence. However, it was not until 8th January before I received a reply. The matter of urgency centered on the period between candidate election and confirmation. Thereafter it was based upon the assumption that the complaint would have already been sent to the Members Conduct Committee and should disciplinary action or another resolution be required, that there remained time enough to re-run a new candidate selection election free of any rule breaking and if not and deemed appropriate, that Roza Salih replace Marie McNair as the candidate.
It transpired that not one complaint had been sent to the MCC since it was elected at conference.
One aspect regarding the initial investigation did raise eyebrows and centered on the candidate not having knowledge that a promotional leaflet was being produced for her campaign by her 21 member campaign team and being delivered by Royal Mail using an SNP database of member’s personal information that questions of legality and authorisation remain outstanding. Also that her campaign team never communicated what they were doing on her behalf and used three images of her in the process.
It is unfortunate that I was not party to an unrecorded Zoom conversation set up to build bridges between Bearsden North branch and Marie McNair after her candidate election when one of the branch office bearers picked up a comment that brought the result of the initial investigation into question.
It therefore remains hearsay and so we must ignore it and continue to accept the earlier investigation result.
All attempts to get the SNP National Secretary Stewart Stevenson to further engage fell on deaf ears so I resorted to others for assistance but on every occasion did copy both him and Ian McCann in as well.
Initially I sought help from the NEC member representative Doug Daniel. Doug tried without success.
I then sought help from the SNP President Michael Russell. Mike noted the seriousness of the complaint and advised that his position was an honorary one but he also tried to assist but again without reply.
I then sought the assistance of Brian Lawson, SNP representative on the NEC for the West Region and despite Brian’s effort, he didn’t get a reply either.
Last but not least, I asked for the assistance of the leader of the SNP and First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and received no reply.
By this time the election was just a month away so realisation was setting in that despite doing my best to make sure an internal matter remained internal, nobody with authority to actually oversee a serious complaint and request for a further investigation was prepared to correspond.
Internal SNP rule breaking to get an individual put in place in order to stand as an MSP is one thing but the questions surrounding the potential of a data protection breach and potential mismanagement of data oversight falls under the Data Protection Act.
I therefore was left with no other option but to report the case to both Police Scotland and the Scottish ICO for investigation. Police Scotland interviewed me and took details and later informed me that they could only take action once the ICO reported failings back to them. The Scottish ICO advised me that investigations are taking around four months or longer to put in place and that they would investigate but it would help speed the process up if I contacted the SNP Data Protection Officer in advance.
The SNP Data Protection Officer is Scott Martin.
Mr. Martin was written to on two occasions in April and asked questions pertinent to separate Data Protection License held by Clydebank SNP branch and authority and oversight by the SNP.
No reply has ever been received to address the questions asked.
Dear Mr Martin,
I am advised that you are the SNP Data Protection Officer.
I have an outstanding complaint of 6 months duration in relation to a non-neutral candidate selection election in Clydebank and Milngavie constituency.
Whilst much of the complaint deals with the breaking of multiple internal SNP rules, one element that doesn’t is the potential non-compliance with the Data Protection Act 1998 by Clydebank SNP Branch, though if confirmed may well have a lack of oversight concern for your office that would require addressing.
Despite months of communication, no internal investigation of my complaint was ever forthcoming.
I was therefore left with no option other than to bring Police Scotland and the Scottish ICO into the equation to investigate instead.
Please note that the Scottish ICO will be in contact with you to follow up on my report.
This element of my complaint centres on the use of a completely separate ICO registration (Z6923109) from HQ and held since 11th July 2002 by Clydebank SNP Branch.
It was used by Marie McNair’s campaign team to send a campaign brochure by Royal Mail but only to members of Clydebank SNP branch, the largest by far in this constituency.
The registration covers three parts. Branch members, Electorate and voting intention, Financial.
Information I sought investigated include:
Evidence this ICO registration was sought and obtained with the permission or approval of the SNP and if so, when.
Confirmation that the SNP knew that ‘Branch Membership’ was included and known to be part of the said ICO registration.
That permission, if granted, included the updating of membership data originating under the SNP’s own Data Protection licence that is available to named office bearers.
Confirmation that any amendments to Data Protection Law that the SNP has put in place since 11th July 2002 also applied to the said ICO registration and was acted upon.
Confirmation that the said ICO registration was legal for use by her campaign team for the distribution of a brochure only to the membership of Clydebank SNP branch and solely to promote her candidacy and no other candidate during the candidate selection election campaign.
Electorate voting and intentions appears on the said ICO registration. This would usually refer to the whole constituency electorate and their intentions as used on Activate.
Is this legal as a separate ICO registration from the SNP’s own ICO registration for which the Data Controller is the SNP.
Confirmation that the membership of Clydebank SNP branch knew and fully understood their inclusion and the use of the said ICO registration, including new members as they joined the SNP.
Though the GDPR Update to the Members handbook is available to download from the member’s library, I have never been able to download the Data Protection Policies file and even now it continues to state the file is missing. As you would have responsibility for maintaining that the membership is always aware of these facts, could you advise when the file was last updated and checked to be downloadable in order members are kept up to date with current obligations.
ICO Registration Z6923109 may well be found to have been in use of SNP data since 2002. Almost 19 years.
Councillor Marie McNair, the successful MSP candidate, her campaign team and fellow Clydebank SNP branch members would have been familiar with the use of this resource for many years covering Westminster, Holyrood and council elections and its additional register with the ICO to cover its fundraising tote for campaign expenditure.
Could you advise if this was a notifiable use of the SNP’s own ICO registration?
As voter intention is included in the said registration and SNP member rules dictate against support for any other party except Plaid Cymru, voter intention therefore would not include SNP members and hence confirming that the data would be used typically for updating Activate and local modelling of the whole constituency.
Does candidate vetting include questions that warn against the use of unauthorised data or data sourced from an unauthorised source.
Do campaign organisers have a duty of care or responsibility in maintaining the use of only authorised data.
Unless located in the Data Protection file that cannot be opened in the SNP Library, does the SNP provide advice or warnings against members or branches using unauthorised data protection registrations for any use of official SNP data.
Bearsden North SNP 2nd Officer
The election has come and gone and now Marie McNair sits in Holyrood representing Clydebank and Milngavie constituency. It has been a very frustrating experience trying to right a wrong yet continually hit a brick wall of no communication, more so when one reads of the aspirations of the Governance Review.
It would have been an easy route to take to simply ignore and accept what took place but if honesty and transparency are qualities you expect and want to uphold in your political party, processes must work and be seen to work as trust is at stake. Internal complaints are not something any member would take up lightly and only submitted to safeguard the party from embarrassment. They must be addressed fully.
There is now no way of knowing that had it not been for interference in the neutrality of the candidate selection election whether the result would have been any different.
I think it would and hope it won’t be too long before Scotland benefits from the public service Roza Salih would represent with her enthusiasm, dynamism, sincerity, empathy, experience and attention to detail that will make her a great elected politician for whichever constituency is lucky enough to elect her in the future.
Lessons will not be learnt unless members are aware of the problem and as normal channels are obviously not working, I decided once the election was out of the way to take it to the media in the hope that in the future, nothing like what happened in Clydebank and Milngavie constituency ever occurs elsewhere.
I have read of stories that the media is protecting the current SNP and didn’t believe it.
Therefore, it came as a surprise to find the first point of contact, The National, didn’t follow it up!
I was recommended by a friend to James Matthews of Sky News for his quality of communication and fact checking and now fully concur with that and his report, but I also sent my report to multiple national newspapers and not one of them followed up at all, so maybe there is no smoke without fire!
What really astounded me was having no interest whatsoever from the two local newspapers that cover the constituency, the Clydebank Post and the Bearsden and Milngavie Herald!
It’s not every day a member of the Scottish Parliament is elected to be a candidate and in particular when there has been acknowledged SNP Party rule breaking involved in the process to elect one particular candidate over all the others standing.
Bearsden North SNP 2nd Officer:
I thank Raymond for sharing this information with us and hope now that it is out in the public domain the SNP HQ staff, in the form of the Chief Executive Mr Peter Murrell will answer the charges laid at his door by Mr James. The complaint is certainly in sufficient detail. I have already offered the local SNP branch in Clydebank the right of reply and I happily extend that to Mr Murrell should he wish to clear up this matter. My own view is that whoever wrote the rules has never been involved in real politics. A lot of the problem here appears to be unrealistic rules that have been written by numpties on the NEC or HQ which is overloaded with them these days. The entire complicated centralised over control of the selection process by the NEC was a disaster area in control freakery. I would in fairness highlight there is no direct allegation that the successful candidate was personally involved in the rules breaches.
I am, as always
Yours for Scotland.
BEAT THE CENSORS
Unfortunately a number of pro Indy sites have turned out to be merely pro SNP sites and have blocked a number of bloggers, including myself. We have managed to frustrate these efforts to close us down through our readers sharing our articles and building our audience. In addition many have taken out free direct subscriptions. I very much appreciate this support.
Are available on the Home and Blog pages of this website. By taking out a subscription you will receive notification of all future posts. You will be most welcome.