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My Year as ALBA Organisation Convener - Part 2 - By-Elections

Updated: Oct 13, 2023

"Oh, the wars they will be fought again"

During my past year as Organisation Convener, there have been five local authority by-elections and we have made progress in them all.

The local authority by-elections are valuable for a number of reasons, they raise ALBA’s profile in the area, we learn what works and what doesn’t work and we get valuable data that lets us know if our overall strategy is working.

After the May 2022 local authority elections, Jacqui Bijster, ALBA Member Support Convener, and I analysed all 111 wards where ALBA stood.

Each council supplies files that contain every ballot paper's rankings. These files are called Preference Profiles. We can use these files to determine ALBA favourability, that is where ALBA is ranked in the top half of the ballot paper, and the likelyhood of a list vote, this is where ALBA is ranked the second party.

First, we determined which wards and regions were most favourable to ALBA and from this, we could extrapolate which regions are most likely to return ALBA MSPs in 2026.

I then correlated the favourability results with other factors such as the index of multiple deprivation, age profile, and type of ward. This information is used for targeting.

When there is a by-election in the offing, I write a by-election preview. For this preview, I use files from the council to determine which polling districts to target.

The NEC decides whether to contest the by-election based on the by-election preview and other considerations.

The analysis from 2022 is used to select the best streets to canvass. We use our canvassing App when canvassing and I analyse the canvass data during the by-election to get an idea of our likely vote.

After the by-election, I use the ballot box files to assess how well we targeted, and the preference profile files to determine if our strategies are working. I provide a report to the NEC.

The type of things I measure are; favourability, if ALBA is ranked in the top half of the rankings. In particular, I study those voters who ranked the SNP first; SNP 1 voters. I calculate these voters' favourability towards ALBA.

The favourability of SNP 1 voters towards ALBA has been transformed since the May 2022 council elections. Despite what certain SNP MPs say ALBA is most certainly not ‘toxic’ amongst SNP voters. Very few SNP 1 voters rank ALBA in the bottom half and bottom a tiny % not even 1%.

I also look at ALBA rankings vis-à-vis the Greens and again ALBA has made transformational progress in the past eighteen months.

I look at the ballot box files to check that targeting has worked. For example, in Bellshill we targeted the Fallside polling district. On the day ALBA received 12.4% of the vote. This demonstrates the results ALBA could achieve very soon.

I have written a by-election handbook that lists everything that should happen during the by-election campaign from the selection process to the Agent financial returns. This handbook is available to all Organisers.

Council by-elections are typically low turnout elections where the main parties contact their already identified voters and attempt to turn enough of them out to win.

ALBA is in a very different position as we do not have already identified voters so we must identify voters and convert voters to ALBA. This means we need to focus on canvassing, we now have the infrastructure in place to organise canvassing and make good use of the canvass returns.

The Linn by-election was November 17th, 2022 our ALBA candidate was Kirsty Fraser and we had a great fun campaign and improved our vote by a third.

During all of the by-election campaigns, we have had excellent support not just from our party leader, but also from our MPs; Neale Hanvey and Kenny MacAskill. The MPs have attended every by-election, and despite their full-time jobs they always find time to help. Both MPs are great to work with, they are reliable and uncomplaining no matter the weather. And it was cold in Linn.

Kenny with the team off canvassing.

We mainly spent our time canvassing, we did not have our eCanvasser App fully up and running at that time so it was tedious manually recording ALBA voters.

Kirsty would listen to voters' problems and would help them with any issues they were having with council services, even once the by-election was over Kirsty kept in touch to ensure the people who needed help got it.

Polling day in Linn was awful weather very wet we were all soaked.

The Broxbun, Uphall and Winchburgh by-election was similarly in the depth of winter, December 1st and over lapped somewhat with Linn. Once more we increased our vote by a third. Debbie Ewen was our fabulous candidate, her whole family and the LACU worked very hard for the Cause.

As well as national issues Debbie campaigned on local issues such as changes to the bus services.

Kenny MacAskill was a speaker at the wee ALBA book in Uphall. Kenny is an expert on energy both renewables and oil and gas.

The Dyce, Bucksburn and Danestone by-election was called in the new year February 15th.

The best feature of the by-election was the excellent teamwork including the support of the neighbouring Aberdeenshire LACU. The help given and commitment of the Party Leader couldn’t be bettered and was inspiring for the campaign team. In addition, there was a lot of support from the members of the NEC, including visits from both MPs. Feedback from the campaign team suggests that the by-election was a very positive event for everyone involved.

Teresa Duffacy Aberdeen Organiser and I designed and printed a women's leaflet highlighting the voting record of the local MSP Jackie Dunbar and we delivered them in the weeks leading up to the by-election launch.

Charlie Abel was a brilliant candidate and Gavin Bain was the agent and also managed the campaign. We held a wee ALBA book in Dyce.

Both Neale and Kenny made by-election visits and we had very strong support from Alex Salmond. Hector, Lita and Carole travelled all the way from Skye, Deborah MacAlpine from West Lothian and Yvonne from the Borders, also pictured are Gavin Bain, Teresa, and Charlie and Neale.

And the NEC came up to cold Aberdeen in the Winter to campaign.

After our best ever by-election result in Dyce, Buckburn, and Danestone it was on to Bellshill in June.

Better weather at last.

Each house in the Bellshill ward received the candidate introductory leaflet. We did as much canvassing as possible and in the areas we were able to target we got good in-person results 12.4% in Fallside and 8.4% in Orbiston polling districts.

We had street stalls, music and a wee ALBA book event. And of course campaigning by NEC members, including Equalities Convener Eva Comrie. Our Local Government Convener Robert Slavin lives in the LACU and did a power of work. And not forgetting Robert Reid from HQ who has been a great support in the recent by-elections.

We achieved a new best-ever by-election result of 3.9% and beat both the Greens and the LibDems.

Then on to the final by-election Girvan on September 21st. This was a very difficult ward with a low pro-independence vote of around 25%. It was a late start which was a further handicap as the postal votes go out around four weeks before polling day.

Our candidate Denise Sommerville was fantastic and she had a great team. We identified some good areas to canvass. Despite the distance Kenny and Neale came to campaign and also Jacqui Bijster and Heather McLean from the NEC. There was also a wee ALBA book event on the Saturday before polling.

The count was manual, this is the first time I have been at a manual STV count but it worked well. The ALBA votes were in the areas we had canvassed. Some areas of the ward were very Tory for example one box had 30 votes in it, and every vote was Tory.

ALBA achieved 2.5% and more than doubled our vote share so we keep making progress.

I want to thank all the ALBA candidates who stood in the by-elections, each one of you are fantastic and worked so hard. I can't tell you how much I enjoyed getting to know you and campaigning with you I had the time of my life.

So thank you

Kirsty Fraser

Debbie Ewen

Charlie Abel

John Marshall

Denise Sommerville

You did ALBA and Scotland proud. And as we look to better times ahead for ALBA and Scotland I am sure I will be campaigning with you all again for Scotland's cause.

I will end this blog with a picture.

This is where I want to be standing behind every ALBA candidate, supporting you all. Anyone that wants to be an ALBA candidate in future elections please put your name forward and know I will stand with you. We have a nation's freedom to win.

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