Challenger declared winner in Scottish regional secretary election as FBU leadership finally admits: we did suspend ballot

Ian Sim - new Scottish regional secretary

IAN SIM has been declared the winner in the election for Scottish regional secretary. Sim, a critic of the current FBU leadership, defeated incumbent (and favoured candidate of the union’s head office) Denise Christie by 757 votes to 588.

The result was announced after the union’s executive council decided to reinstate the election yesterday (Friday) afternoon.

The election had been controversially suspended on 1 December – just 15 minutes before the close of balloting. FBU head office initially claimed in a communication to the Scottish regional committee that the independent scrutineer, Popularis, was responsible for the decision to suspend the election. But this claim was later disproved when the managing director of Popularis disclosed in an email that the union took the decision. (In any case, the scrutineer had no authority to suspend an internal FBU election.)

The false statements from head office caused a considerable backlash inside the Scottish region and left senior officials facing tough questions.

In a circular yesterday morning to Scottish members, sent just hours before the election was reinstated, general secretary Matt Wrack attempted to provide an explanation for the series of events. Wrack stated that, in relation to the election process, “the implementation of FBU rules is a matter for the FBU alone” – a clear acknowledgement that the union was ultimately responsible for the decision to suspend the ballot.

However, other parts of Wrack’s circular appear to raise more questions than they answer.

For example, Wrack stated that the election was suspended as a consequence of a complaint by a member alleging that an official of the union had breached the union’s policy on canvassing during elections. This, he implied, left the union with no choice but to halt the ballot.

In fact, the complainant was not just an ordinary member, but a senior official of the union and a close supporter of Christie. Furthermore, we at Campaign for a Democratic FBU have learned that the complaint was submitted several weeks ago and was considered by the region’s executive council member to have been resolved shortly thereafter. We have also learned that the president of the union, Ian Murray, was consulted on the issue at the time.

This raises suspicions over why it was considered necessary to resurrect the complaint just moments before the result of the ballot was due to be declared.

More pertinently, there was absolutely no obligation on the leadership of the union to suspend the election simply on the grounds that a single complaint had been lodged. The complaint did not relate to the conduct of either of the candidates, and there was no suggestion that the integrity of the ballot process itself had been undermined.

Indeed, it appears unprecedented for an FBU election to be suspended on the basis of a single complaint that did not relate to a candidate. It is not at all unusual for complaints to be lodged during elections, but it is customary in such circumstances for the election process to continue, even where a disciplinary investigation may be taking place in the background. Elections are usually suspended only where a candidate has been suspended from office. That was not the case here.

The risk now is that an unwelcome precedent has been established. How could the leadership not suspend an election in the future whenever a complaint over canvassing is lodged? It is potentially a charter for individuals to ensure elections are frozen at an opportune point: all they would need to do is submit a complaint alleging that a fellow member or official had breached the canvassing policy, and the wheels would instantly stop. At least that’s what would happen if the leadership were consistent in their actions.  

The whole saga around the Scottish regional secretary election will go down as another unedifying chapter in the record of the current FBU leadership. Scottish members deserved much better.