Recently the Scotland in Union organisation hit the headlines with a major information leak to independence bloggers such as Wings Scotland and Bellacaledonia and even the unionist These Islands got a little press coverage when a member of its advisory council, Professor Nigel Biggar, got into a row about his defence of the British Empire but More United forms the third leg of the unionist triumvirate and even though it has proved to be the most dangerous so far, not many people know what it did and what it does.
More United is a brainchild of Lord (Paddy) Ashdown. Its stated aim seems laudable enough, it’s there to create a new model of politics, making it less extreme, less tribal and giving the electorate more power to make an impact and although it’s not explicitly unionist a quick glance at its “Team” shows strong unionist make up to its management.
The original More United company was formed by Austin Rathe, Paddy Ashdown, Maurice Biriotti and Elizabeth (Bess) Mayhew on the 18th of June 2016 and the current directors are Austin Rathe, Paddy Ashdown, Maurice Biriotti, Corinne Sawers and Dan Snow.
On the More United website information on the “The Team” page is split into two sections.
The first section is simply called “The Team” and comprises, Bess Mayhew, Austin Rathe, Corinne Sawers, Maurice Biriotti and Paddy Ashdown.
The second section are the “Convenors” (and it has some cross-over with the aforementioned Team).
Anne-Marie Imafidon, Social Tech Entrepreneur
Clare Gerada, Medical Practitioner
Dan Snow, Broadcaster
Gia Milinovich, Writer and Presenter
Janet Smith, Former High Court Judge
Jeremy Bliss, Lawyer and Entrepreneur
Jonathon Porritt, Environmentalist and Green Party Member
Josh Babarinde, Social Entrepreneur and Youth Worker
Luke Pritchard, Entertainer
Maajid Nawaz, Author, Activist and Columnist
Martha Lane Fox, Entrepreneur
Maurice Biriotti, Businessman and Academic
Paddy Ashdown, Politician
Rumi Verjee, Entrepreneur and Philanthropist
Simon Schama, Writer, Broadcaster and Professor
Sunny Hundal, Columnist and Lecturer
There are some interesting snippets of information about those Team members and Convenors which can be found on the web.
Corinne Sawers’ father Sir Robert John Sawers used to run MI6.
There are three members of the House of Lords in there, Lord Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon, Lord Verjee and Baroness Lane-Fox of Soho.
There’s a strong Lib-Dem influence. Paddy Ashdown of course, the ex-leader of the Lib-Dems and a Lib-Dem Lord. Bess Mayhew and Austin Rathe are both ex-Lib-Dem staffers, Clare Gerada is a Lib-Dem, Josh Babarinde used to work as a parliamentary assistant for Lib-Dem MP Stephen Lloyd, Maajid Nawaz was the Lib-Dem candidate in Hampstead and Kilburn constituency in 2015 and Rumi Verjee is a Lib-Dem Lord.
Team members and convenors who came out against Scottish independence are Clare Gerada, Martha Lane Fox and Jonathon Porritt on twitter, Paddy Ashdown on Question Time, Simon Schama as a signatory to the “Let’s Stay Together” open letter and Sunny Hundal on his blog and of course, last but not least Dan Snow who was heavily involved in the Electoral Commission registered “Let’s stay together” campaign and the Trafalgar Square rally.
If Scotland in Union, These Islands and More United form the three legs of a unionist triumvirate in Scotland then Dan Snow forms the apex of the three which links them all together. He’s an enthusiastic promoter of Scotland in Union, appearing at dinners and doing videos for them, he’s on the Advisory Council for These Islands and he’s a director and convenor of More United.
So what does More United actually do? Very simply, it fundraises and uses the cash to support candidates in a General Election who support its values.
The problem for the SNP, quite apart from the unionist Dan Snow as a director, is that one of More United’s values is:
“Openness: we welcome immigration, but understand it must work for everyone, and believe in bringing down international barriers, not raising them.”,
which makes it very difficult for them to endorse an SNP candidate even if by some odd stroke of fate they wanted to. The unionist make up of the More United team includes Dan Snow, Paddy Ashdown and Simon Schama so it’s probably no accident that “bringing down international barriers, not raising them” was written into their values. Whatever happens in the rest of the UK, in Scotland More United will be a unionist organisation which will always support candidates against the SNP.
The following twitter exchange is instructive:
Replying to @MoreUnitedUK
Why are we attempting to deseat SNP mps?
10:10 PM – 5 May 2017
More United @MoreUnitedUK
Replying to @minkpill
Hey! MU is firmly supportive of maintaining the union of England and Scotland (and the rest of the UK!)
10:59 AM – 8 May 2017
So what did More United do in Scotland in the 2017 General Election? In 2017 More United supported and endorsed six candidates in Scotland of whom the majority were not surprisingly Lib-Dems and where their nearest opponent in each case was an SNP candidate. They were:
Alistair Carmichael (LD) Orkney and Shetland against Miriam Brett (SNP)
Christine Jardine (LD) Edinburgh West against Toni Giugliano (SNP)
Jamie Stone (LD) Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross against Paul Monaghan (SNP)
Ian Murray (Lab) Edinburgh South against Jim Eadie (SNP)
Jo Swinson (LD) East Dunbartonshire against John Nicolson (SNP)
Elizabeth Riches (LD) North East Fife against Stephen Gethins (SNP)
From Electoral Commission data More United donated:
£5,000 to Christine Jardine in Edinburgh West
£3,000 to Jo Swinson in East Dunbartonshire
£5,000 to Elizabeth Riches in North East and Central Fife
£2,000 to Jamie Stone in Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross.
Although this last one is an odd one. He received his money a month after the election on 07/07/2017. Every other More United donation was before the poll.
So in Scotland they pumped a direct cash injection of £13,000 into three target Lib-Dem constituency campaigns before the election and £2,000 into a Lib-Dem seat after the election and of the six candidates they supported, five got elected and Elizabeth Riches just got pipped at the post by two votes by the SNP’s Stephen Gethins in North East Fife.
Support was not just limited to cash. Support can include formal endorsement, donations and voluntary support. Each supported constituency had a More United page and the call for support for each candidate on the the last day of the campaign is still up if you Google for it.
From the More United annual report:
“As well as donations, 1000 MU supporters around the UK were mobilised to volunteer around the country. Collectively they gave 3,000 hours over 5 weeks – the equivalent of a year and a half’s full time work.”
Now to be fair to More United they were not the sole donors to these constituencies. From the Electoral Commission data, only six Lib-Dem constituencies got direct donations between the announcement of the General Election on 18th of April 2017 and the poll on the 8th of June 2017 and the total figures are below. (It’s seven if you count Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross who got a donation from More United after the election.)
Jo Swinson in East Dunbartonshire got £35,000
Christine Jardine in Edinburgh West got £24,000
Elizabeth Riches who tried for North East and Central Fife got £20,000
Alistair Carmichael in Orkney & Shetland got £12,000
John Waddell in Aberdeenshire West got £5,000 (A single donation from Balmoral Comtec Limited based in Aberdeen.)
Martin Veart in Edinburgh North East and Leith got £2,000 (From a North East and Leith Lib-Dem donor)
Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Jamie Stone) got £2,000 from More United but not until a month after the election.
From the figures it’s easy to see the four target Lib-Dem seats where a lot of money was directed in from the outside to support the campaign. They must have been gutted not to get North East and Central Fife and it’s certainly clear why Jo Swinson had money to burn on undelivered leaflets.
More United were not the only donors or the only reason that the four Lib-Dem MPs and and Ian Murray got into Parliament but they certainly were significant donors of cash and organised help for campaign work in the target constituencies.
Scotland in Union is there to provide funding to the Unionist side in the next referendum, These Islands is there to give a veneer of academic respectability to their arguments and More United is committed to fighting against the SNP in elections.
As a unionist organisation More United is much more dangerous than Scotland in Union in elections because even though Scotland in Union spent £73,818.21 in Scotland in the 2017 General Election they spent it on their own literature and events while More United donated directly to four of their five Lib-Dem candidates and endorsed and organised help for Carmichael and Murray.
More United claim to have raised over £500,000 before the last General Election and from Electoral Commission data they donated £159,800 in the 2017 General Election to various candidates across the UK. Because they spent more than £250,000 their spending figures are not up on the Electoral Commission site yet and when that information goes live it will be interesting to see what they spent their money on and if there’s a way to find out what portion was spent in Scotland.
More United have their sights on Scottish Parliamentary elections,
“As we grow and raise more, we may begin to support candidates in other types of election, such as Scottish and Welsh or mayoral elections. “
And with over 94,000 supporters, including 14,000 paying members they have ambition:
“We aim to make More United the biggest source of people, money and power in British politics. If we do, the extreme forces that have taken over our democracy won’t stand a chance.”
When it comes to elections forget Scotland in Union, the real unionist danger comes from More United.