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Agenda suggests a welcome return to grassroots democracy in SNP

  • First published in : Visit Website
  • First published on: 25th Aug 2023

Let's deal with the good news first. Several grassroots resolutions concerning the party’s independence strategy have made it on to the SNP’s provisional conference agenda which was published on Tuesday. Lessons have clearly been learned. Under the new leadership, members who put forward ideas about how we win our party’s main goal will no longer be booed off the stage.

In a foreword, Humza Yousaf has promised that independence will be front and centre in the General Election campaign and that he will be framing his own resolution for debate at conference after he has listened to what members have to say at the Regional Assemblies. There will be an extended process for considering that resolution, and lodging amendments, before it appears on the final agenda. I hope that extended time for consideration of the motion will also be afforded.

Now the bad news. A Survation poll published on Wednesday put the SNP and Labour neck and neck in Westminster voting intentions and predicts that we could lose up to half our seats at the General Election. There’s no room for complacency here. I attended an event held by the Diffley partnership on Wednesday which indicated a similar result and there is a definite trend in the polls. However, there is hope in that these polls also show solid support for independence which remains close to 50%. That is considerably higher than current SNP support.

If the SNP want to be the party of independence, then we need to work hard for pro-independence votes. The party’s strategy for the election must take this new factor into account. If we frame our independence stance properly, we can work to win back the support of Yessers who have lost faith in our party. If we can’t, the country’s main pro-independence party will lose the election in Scotland. The scene has been set for us to win back that trust at our October conference. Under new leadership, the party have accepted what some of us have been arguing for years – that only through proper debate involving our grassroots membership can we forge a winning strategy on independence.

However, it’s vital that sufficient time is allocated to this debate. There are 58 resolutions on the provisional agenda. The final agenda after delegates get to vote on their choices will be considerably slimmed down but the resolutions on independence must be given centre stage and a considerably bigger chunk of time for debate than the other resolutions on the final agenda.

Turning to those other resolutions, I was struck by their variety as well as their number. I hope that in choosing which to debate, delegates will bear in mind the issues that both polling and focus groups show matter most to the public. These are the cost of living crises, the energy crisis, healthcare and the NHS, the economy, poverty and inequality and the environment and climate change. Our conference needs to focus on getting our offering on these issues right.

Readers who listen to the Holyrood Sources podcast will have heard Geoff Aberdein – formerly chief of staff to Alex Salmond when was First Minister – say that we must approach the General Election with policies on the side of public opinion. He argues that one of the reasons for the SNP’s slide in the polls is that on a number of our current policies, we are not carrying public opinion with us and, often, where the party has taken a position, we have not done enough to persuade the public of its merits.

In my opinion, he is right about this, and the same could be said of our coalition with the Greens. Yes, I know it is there to give us a working majority at Holyrood, but as Geoff and his fellow pundits have identified, the public don’t care about that. They need to be persuaded that it’s a good deal delivering policies to tackle the issues that matter most to them. Again, the polls don’t show that. Instead, they show that 40% of voters oppose the co-operation agreement and others don’t think it is working for them.

This is an issue that needs to be addressed not by ripping up the agreement with the Scottish Green Party but rather by revisiting it. The Scottish public don’t need to be convinced that we need to tackle climate change. They know we do and – Patrick Harvie, take note – this includes the older generation of voters, many of whom in my experience care passionately about the condition in which they will leave our planet for future generations. What people need is a practical plan for tackling climate change and reaching our net-zero targets which doesn’t put the cost of so doing on those who can least afford it. So far, the Scottish Greens are not bringing this to the table and, when they are not lashing out at those who disagree with their identity politics, they seem more focused on lumping the costs on individual households rather than creating joined-up collective solutions.

The SNP don’t need the Scottish Green Party to deliver on climate change – what we do need is a creditable long-term plan of the kind Common Weal has set out in its Green New Deal. If we can take the Scottish Greens with us on that, well and good, but the tail cannot continue to be seen wagging the dog. 

Talking of Common Weal, Robin McAlpine was interviewed by Lesley Riddoch and Pat Joyce on their podcast for subscribers this week. I heartily recommend subscribing and giving this – as well as the Holyrood Sources podcast – a listen. Intriguingly, he revealed that he is currently working on a new paper about independence strategy which he plans to publish in early September. I am looking forward to reading it and delighted to hear it will be out in time to inform the SNP debate at conference in October.

Meanwhile, for all those who want a taster of the debate on these important issues, there is still time to book a place at the SNP Trade Union Group’s event in Glasgow tomorrow. It’s open to all SNP members and you can register via Eventbrite – search the site for “SNP Independence Strategy and Party Governance”. I am delighted to be sponsoring this event but sad to be missing it as it clashes with a last-minute holiday booked before Parliament returns. However, I am very much looking forward to hearing about how it goes. Grassroots participative democracy is making a much welcome return to the SNP and that can only be a good thing.