Labour­gate

Sunday Herald - - FRONT PAGE - BY PAUL HUTCHEON

Lead­er­ship bat­tle mired in claims of ‘ghost’ vot­ers

Con­cerns over mass sign-up of mem­bers in Sar­war’s con­stituency party

Con­test branded ‘dirt­ier and nas­tier by the day’

SCOT­TISH Labour has been urged to in­ves­ti­gate a mass sign-up of hun­dreds of new mem­bers in lead­er­ship can­di­date Anas Sar­war’s lo­cal con­stituency party.

The sec­re­tary of the Glas­gow South­side party has claimed that some new re­cruits who share the same mo­bile phone num­ber are listed as liv­ing at dif­fer­ent ad­dresses.

The of­fice-bearer also claimed that a tranche of new mem­bers have given the same busi­ness email ad­dress. Th­ese mat­ters have been raised as po­ten­tial ir­reg­u­lar­i­ties in the elec­tion process.

Sep­a­rately, phone bank vol­un­teers for left-wing lead­er­ship can­di­date Richard Leonard MSP have con­tacted new sign-ups across Scot­land who deny join­ing the party, fu­elling fears of “ghost mem­bers”.

A spokesman for the Leonard cam­paign said of the South­side claims: “Where there have been com­plaints then we ex­pect th­ese will be ad­dressed in ac­cor­dance with the Scot­tish Labour Party’s pro­ce­dures.”

How­ever, a spokesman for the Sar­war cam­paign said: “It’s in­cred­i­bly en­cour­ag­ing that peo­ple across Scot­land have joined the Labour Party and we are con­fi­dent that many have been en­thused to do so by Anas’s pos­i­tive cam­paign and by a be­lief that he can be the next Labour First Min­is­ter.

“Jeremy Cor­byn is among those to en­cour­age peo­ple to join the party, and it is deeply dis­ap­point­ing if some are now launch­ing a smear cam­paign against new mem­bers.”

An SNP spokesper­son said: “Labour’s lead­er­ship race gets dirt­ier and nas­tier by the day.”

Leonard and Sar­war, an MSP on the right of the party, are vy­ing to take over the role va­cated by Kezia Dug­dale, but the race has de­scended into one of the most bit­ter con­tests in liv­ing mem­ory. Much of the ran­cour can be traced to the party’s de­ci­sion to use the elec­tion as a re­cruit­ment tool by al­low­ing in­di­vid­u­als to join and get a vote.

Two routes have been used, both of which are le­git­i­mate: mem­ber­ship of the party; and sign­ing up as a “sup­porter” through an af­fil­i­ated or­gan­i­sa­tion such as a trade union. Leonard’s back­ers have favoured the union-sup­porter route, while Sar­war back­ers have signed up a huge num­ber of mem­bers. The dead­line passed last week.

It is un­der­stood around 2,000 new mem­bers may have joined Scot­tish Labour in the last few weeks – a sub­stan­tial rise. How­ever, pro-Leonard con­stituency Labour par­ties (CLPs) have raised con­cerns about the large num­ber of new mem­bers who share email ad­dresses and mo­biles. A shared mo­bile for six or seven peo­ple is be­lieved to make it harder to ver­ify the in­di­vid­u­als, while a shared email means mul­ti­ple elec­tronic bal­lots be­ing ac­cessed by the same ac­count.

The Sun­day Her­ald can re­veal a surge of mem­bers has been recorded in the Glas­gow South­side CLP, Sar­war’s po­lit­i­cal base. It is un­der­stood the lo­cal party had around 700 mem­bers last year, but hun­dreds more are said to have joined in re­cent weeks.

On Wed­nes­day, the sec­re­tary of the Glas­gow South­side CLP emailed party gen­eral sec­re­tary Brian Roy and mem­bers of the Scot­tish Ex­ec­u­tive Com­mit­tee (SEC) to out­line his con­cerns. He wrote that many of the new sign-ups have the same email and phone num­ber and claimed that some email ad­dresses ap­pear four times or more on the full mem­ber­ship list, re­lat­ing to around 120 mem­bers.

He claimed that some of the in­di­vid­u­als with the same mo­bile num­ber are listed at dif­fer­ent ad­dresses across the con­stituency. The lo­cal of­fi­cial also put in writ­ing a con­cern about 14 peo­ple giv­ing the same busi­ness email. The of­fice-bearer added that, bar­ring a few ex­cep­tions, all of the new mem­bers had joined since the con­test started and called for an investigation by an SEC sub-com­mit­tee.

How­ever, a source close to the Sar­war camp said the Glas­gow South­side CLP did not dis­cuss th­ese mat­ters at its meet­ing last week, adding that the sec­re­tary had acted alone.

There is no sug­ges­tion of wrong­do­ing by Sar­war, but the email from in­side his con­stituency party will likely strengthen calls for strong vet­ting.

A ver­i­fi­ca­tion panel, un­der the chair­man­ship of pro-Leonard in­terim leader Alex Row­ley, is con­sid­er­ing the ap­pli­ca­tions. A party source said: “There is un­avoid­able ev­i­dence of a pat­tern of re­cruit­ment of new mem­bers in which many peo­ple share the same mo­bile phone num­ber or email ad­dress and, most wor­ry­ingly, that there are peo­ple who do not know that they are mem­bers at all – ghost mem­bers, in ef­fect. It is an open se­cret in the party that this is hap­pen­ing and much tougher ac­tion is re­quired. It isn’t good to ad­dress the symp­toms – there has to be ac­tion to es­tab­lish the causes.”

On a na­tional level, it is un­der­stood that vol­un­teers on the Leonard cam­paign have con­tacted new mem­bers, only to be told by some of the sign-ups that they had not joined. Leonard’s cam­paign de­clined to com­ment.

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