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By Jason Michael
Note [24 March 2021]: This article was written over two years ago. Since that time, changes have been made to the AUOB organisation, both to its structure and to its leadership. Please be advised that the author no longer believes this criticism holds true.
KNOW THE TRUTH and the truth will set you free. This past week has been a revelation. The truth be told, there was a moment when I seriously considered giving up and walking away from the independence movement. Not that I would consider becoming anti-independence – not for a moment, I just thought, after an unsettling glimpse into a particular recess of the movement’s imagination, that perhaps it would be better to leave this writing malarkey to people more comfortable with the vision of independence I saw in that place. We don’t all see independence the same way and we certainly do not all see eye to eye on how we should go about getting there. Such variety is good, of course, but there are limits. We all have our limits. One of my own, as I have recently discovered, is the prevalent attitude – how prevalent I don’t know – that about any amount of shadiness, corruption, and dishonesty can be accepted or conveniently ignored so long as it helps get us to independence.
With the very best of intentions I published an article on this site asking, in the nicest possible way, if the All Under One Banner organisers would mind not lying to us again. Manny Singh, the head steward at AUOB, posted to Facebook the night of the Edinburgh march and rally that he, Gary [Kelly], and Neil [Mackay] conspired to mislead those hoping to attend the event, telling them that in an emergency meeting with HES, City of Edinburgh Council, and Police Scotland the police had overruled HES’ position that there could not be a political rally in Holyrood Park. Manny was emphatic in this statement, using the word “lie” a number of times, he was clear when he said HES was “never going to budge,” and that the lie was “for the greater good.” He even justified the lie by saying that “someone had to lead.”
There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that this was a lie, that it was deliberate and calculated, and that it was the product of a group discussion. Yet, we could have easily gotten past this. In the piece I wrote I acknowledged the success of the marches and congratulated AUOB for what it has achieved. All that I asked was that the guys don’t lie to us again. They are not our leaders. Manny, Gary, and Neil are events coördinators. We must always be given all the facts and given the freedom to make up our own minds – all the time and without exception. We are an independence movement!
In no way was this, as Mr Singh claims, a wee “white lie.” It was a whopper of a lie, and for two reasons; it misrepresented the position taken by Police Scotland – which may be a criminal offence – and it encouraged people to attend under the false belief the ban had been lifted – which may have had serious consequences. If people are going to engage in acts of civil disobedience, as I and many others said we were happy to do, they must be fully informed and free to make that decision, based on all the facts, for themselves. But we could have gotten past the lie. My intention in the previous piece on this episode was to be constructive. Had the organisers accepted this, had Manny accepted this, we would now not be where we are at now. Instead of seeing the merit of this criticism and accepting that people were rightly frustrated and angry with them, the organisers dug their heels in and compounded the lie with denials, abuse, threats, intimidation, and a whole new set of lies intended to bury the first.
Before getting much further into this it is important to address a few concerns. Since first mentioning all of this on social media a number of people have put it to me that I am being “divisive” and that I should not be giving ammunition to the unionists by airing what everyone seems to agree is indeed dirty laundry. Others are concerned that by “attacking” AUOB I am running the risk of bringing down the very people who are getting independentistas out onto the street. These are real concerns and it is only right I answer them.
Mhairi Hunter (@MhairiHunter) October 15, 2018
Glasgow Councillor Mhairi Hunter, commenting online, rightly noted that “these marches self-run to a large extent due to the nature of the participants.” The driving force behind pro-independence marches and rallies is the nature of the participants and not the organisers. AUOB exists to facilitate what independentistas want to do already. AUOB is not convincing them, it’s serving their requirements. Others can do this, and, as Mhairi correctly says, it can be done better. With or without AUOB and with or without these three guys at the helm of AUOB marches and rallies will happen because the movement wants them to happen. We need not lose too much sleep over the prospect of AUOB going under, though it is not my intention to send it under.
What about the airing of dirty laundry? This is the objection that annoys me the most. We are deluding ourselves if we think that by speaking out about Gary, Neil, and Manny’s antics we are telling unionists anything they don’t already know. Everything I am about to say here and more fully hopefully in an upcoming article for iScot Magazine – pending editorial review – was rolling down the unionist Twitter feed – the “yoon stream” – long before the bee landed in my bonnet. The odd thing is, as we have seen from recent discussions, is that none of this is news.
I keep returning to the fact that we are an independence movement, and for good reason. Independence is not simply a political goal. It is a state of mind. We cannot hope to free Scotland if we are slavishly devoted to hiding bad behaviour, covering up misdeeds, and protecting toxic people for the sake of independence. If, for the sake of independence, we are prepared to dispense with the principles of openness and accountability the freedom we gain can and will only be slavery by another name. I can assure you, we have nothing to lose by exposing the truth. In fact, a movement committed to transparency can only be the better, the stronger, for it. In the Church I have painful experience of an organisation that covered-up really bad things for the sake of protecting its reputation, and – trust me – right now it is paying the price for that mistake. On this, I do happen to know what I am talking about. So, let’s not be going down that road. It is short-sighted and will only lead to our destruction.
Right. Back to Manny and the lie – and it was a lie. No sooner than I published my last article than the organiser Gary Kelly was on social media insisting “the lie was the lie.” Oh yes, and it gets crazier. To back this up he offered a fragment of a text purporting to be from the minutes of the emergency meeting with HES, Edinburgh Council, and Police Scotland suggesting the police had in fact overruled HES. This, however, still contradicted the statement released by HES in which it definitively stated it had not been overruled and that the ban was still in place. As it looked like the claim that the lie was the lie was itself a lie, I asked if AUOB would send me a copy of the minutes. The response from AUOB was that no organisation would do that. Another lie. Others began asking about accounts, and these aren’t published either. At this point I rattled off two FOI requests, asking Police Scotland and HES for the minutes of the meeting, but it will take a bit of time before I have these. Not to worry, I received a phone call from Ronnie Anderson – a man who left All Under One Banner describing Gary, Manny, and Neil as “gansters.” Ronnie suggests the minutes are bogus, saying that in his experience Manny in particular has refused to have a minutes secretary. Let’s see what the FOIs turn up.
Then there is the abuse and intimidation. I wasn’t expecting this. It is fair enough to question an organisation. AUOB deals with people. It should know, surely, how to deal with the public. But no, not quite. On the morning I published the first article the AUOB account tweeted that I would not be invited to speak at another event. My punishment for having the temerity to call a lie what its organiser had already and repeatedly called a lie was to be excommunicated from being part of “all under one banner.” I would have to find a banner to get under all on my own. But it turns out I wasn’t alone. Anyone who questions or criticises them is subject to the same ban. It even turns out that the organisers are quite open about their refusal to accept criticism. Neil posted to Facebook:
We at AUOB also do not accept negative criticism of our rallies re any choice of speaker or performer we allocate to the rally. Basically if our rallies are attacked (even by insinuation alone) on the basis of a speaker or act being included then AUOB is being attacked and we shall never submit to such Tyranny.
This has to be a paraphrase of the Braveheart line: “An assault on the king’s soldiers is the same as an assault on the king himself.” Anyhow, that makes me a Tyrant (with a capital ‘T’). It also makes Lesley Riddoch a Tyrant. It was Lesley he was talking about after she refused to share a platform with Tommy Sheridan. Hmm. The tyranny of dissent. Please tell me I am not alone in being extremely uncomfortable with an organisation – one which has voiced its interest in becoming the sole organisational body representing the grassroots of the independence movement – that treats any and all criticism as tyranny and punishes it with immediate and summary expulsion?
Yet, it didn’t even end here. Neil Mackay dropped me a private message on Facebook reading: “Who the fuck do you think you are sad wee man. Nasty vile egotist Prick.” Again with the capitals, and the lack of a question mark was just confusing. When does the insistence that we are not lied to result in expulsion and abuse? When is all criticism treated as tyranny? This wasn’t even just me. I like being unique, but they deprived me even of this. Scores of people have come out on social media to share their experiences of AUOB and its organisers. Someone from Dumfries alleged there was a “divvying out of money” from the collection buckets in a pub after the march in the town, another from Dundee described how the same standoff that was created in Edinburgh happened in Dundee, with a march being organised without any consultation with the city council – an SNP council – and local activists left with the impression “it was about provoking a reaction.”
Everyone who challenges them is subjected to personal abuse. Friends of mine in Wishaw, a mother and daughter, were dragged through the muck and called all sorts of names for months by AUOB organisers for the crime of questioning the routing of a bus from where they were to Bannockburn. The screen shots of this abuse reveal a disturbing and frightening picture of what and who these people are. Not even former members of the group are safe. Neil Mackay – who seems to be the hitman of the operation – was reported to the police, after being deemed unfit to lead the organisation, for making threats against the family of former organiser John Mellon. In an email that was sent to me this morning Neil writes to Mellon:
I’m sick of you through and through and stop contacting me and stay away from me or else. I look forward to the news one day you have shat yourself to death in an old grubby care home, won’t be long now. Fuck off.
Neil has to get at least 15 bonus points here for artistic impression. Cursing one’s enemies to shit themselves to death in a nursing home takes quite a lot of thought. This wasn’t the only report to the police about Mackay. AUOB former member, Ronnie Anderson, was forced to go to the police after he and others were threatened with physical harm if they did not hand over the accounts when the group split over what Anderson described as “the gangster takeover.”
Well, here it is folks – here’s the dirty laundry. This is not a “spat,” as some have said on social media, to be dealt with in private. This isn’t even a difference of opinion. I don’t know these guys. I have never met them – well, apart from Gary, briefly, in Edinburgh. I have never had a discussion or an argument with them. If I’m honest, thank God I haven’t. This is far more serious. All of this is already well known to the unionists and it is only a matter of time before all of this is burst right open by the unionist press. In fact, a friend who works for a nasty tabloid has suggested that this is now “in the pipeline.” Is this what we want to keep under wraps for the sake of the reputation of the independence movement? Really? If there is one shred of truth to any of this, and if it is fully exposed in the mainstream media, we are all going to suffer. The whole movement will suffer.
What I am suggesting – and that it be done with all haste – is a full inquiry into this operation. Not the marches, not the rallies, the speakers, or the participants, but the people running it. Something stinks to high heaven and I for one want this dealt with. This is an organisation on which the reputation of the movement rests. If AUOB is to continue we should know the full truth of what has been going on, its leadership should be open for election, its accounts published, and all its communications open to scrutiny. “Tick tock,” we like to say – well, the clock is ticking. But this wouldn’t really be complete without another lie. Gary Kelly, responding to my question about Neil’s recent behaviour had only this to say: “Neil isn’t on the AUOB team bit spoke in ages he does his own thing [sic].” I know that’s a lie.