Party democracy in SNP is at stake when we meet for conference
- First published in : Visit Website
- First published on: 18th Aug 2023
Recently I sat down to write a short speech about why I support Scottish independence. It struck me that it was some time since I had last done this. It was the sort of thing I did day in, day out this time nine years ago at the height of the indyref campaign. However, in recent years, the focus has been rather more on the how than the why of independence.
My speech was for the opening night of The Ayes Have It at the Edinburgh Fringe which went on to debate independence again on several evenings, offering the opportunity for local school students as well as politicians to go through their paces on the issue that still dominates our political debate. It was hugely enjoyable but also a timely reminder that it is possible to debate contentious issues rigorously while maintaining good humour and respect. But what I found most useful was being forced to sit down afresh and apply my mind to the essentials of the issue that brought me into politics.
Scotland is a nation with incredible potential yet when you compare Scotland’s performance within the UK to that of other comparable independent European countries, we are lagging far behind. Why? Because all these countries have significantly more economic policy autonomy than Scotland and a much greater ability to tailor policies to their own specific circumstances. In all the great policy challenges we face today – climate change, the cost of living and the energy crisis – Westminster is not up to the challenge. The Tories are, well, the Tories, and Labour are so afraid of their own shadow they are incapable of offering meaningful change.
Scotland needs independence to be able to tackle these crucial challenges in a way that benefits all our citizens. Independence must be linked to the issues which are foremost in the public’s minds if we are to advance our cause. We need a vision of a different Scotland. But such a vision must be fleshed out and backed up with a coherent and cohesive policy programme. I would like to see the SNP adopt a Green New Deal and go into the next Holyrood election with a package of measures to be delivered over a period of years as we make the transition from devolution to independence. The Common Weal think and do tank has done a power of work in this area and you can access materials about what a Green New Deal would mean for Scotland on its website.
At the Ayes Have It debate, the focus was on the why rather than the how of independence. But the how is something that still requires to be ironed out and the place for the SNP to do this is at our conference in October. The provisional agenda for 2023 Annual Conference is due to be published on Tuesday.August 22. I am aware of and have lent my support to resolutions submitted with the support of branches and parliamentarians that would provide a vehicle to debate our independence strategy. But here’s the thing – we cannot treat the issue of independence delivery as just one more resolution on the agenda with only 30 minutes or so for debate.
We were supposed to have a whole day of debate devoted to this at the cancelled special conference in March. The Dundee event in June was no substitute for this as there was no structure to such debate as occurred, no resolutions and no voting.
Accordingly, with a General Election next year, this conference agenda should set aside a considerable chunk of time to have the debate we did not have in March and to finalise our policy position. Conference is the supreme policy-making body of our party and it is the right place to finalise our strategy.
There is also the issue of the SNP Governance and Transparency Review. When it was established, earlier this year, it had a clear endpoint – the 2023 Annual Conference in October. Members assumed that they would be able to then move on with some concrete proposals to vote on in order to achieve the much-promised improved governance and transparency. However, I now understand that there will be no votes as such at the October conference on any reforms to be recommended by the review and that the governance regime of the previous leadership is to drag on to an as yet undetermined date in 2024. I have been speaking to SNP branches and members over the summer and I know many are not at all happy about this.
The SNP Trade Union Group is by far the largest affiliated organisation of the SNP, and I am proud to be one of 10 MPs and MSPs sponsoring an event to be hosted by it which was initially prompted by concerns about the rather tight schedule for the submission of conference resolutions. The event will take place in a week’s time on Saturday, August 26, in the Renfield St Stephens Centre in Glasgow. It will discuss what has been tabled at annual conference in relation to the Governance and Transparency Review and whatever motions appear on the conference order paper relating to future independence strategy. The event is open to all SNP members and registration is free although a donation of at least £5 would be appreciated. It will afford members the opportunity to further amend whatever proposals are to be considered at National Conference and will be an exemplar of the sort of standard party-political participatory democracy to which I would like to see the SNP as a whole return.
The aftermath of Nicola Sturgeon’s resignation has underlined what some of us have argued for some time. The SNP need to review our independence strategy, our governance, internal party democracy and our policy programme. The membership through the democratic structures of conference must have the last word on all these matters. The restoration of party democracy must happen at the October conference. If you are a member, what are your branch going to do about it?
It’s up to all of us to make sure that this can is not kicked any further down the road.