Despite their best efforts to deter visitors with a website design likely to induce a potentially very messy bout of motion sickness, I still subscribe to Source. Every once in a while there is an article which makes it worth the challenge of an opaque navigation system and a user interface with more moving parts than a Victorian automaton – but with none of the pleasing elegance of those contraptions. So reluctant am I to subject myself to Common Weal’s replacement for the doomed OpenSpace that wasn’t ‘open’ in any sense whatever, I often decline to click the links in the emails which arrive in my inbox. So I’m grateful to a friend for drawing to my attention this article by the estimable Dr Craig Dalzell – whose The Common Green blog is, in stark contrast to Source, both aesthetically pleasing and intellectually stimulating.
With customary erudition and analytical skill Craig Dalzell sets out his deep concerns about the arrangements for this month’s SNP Conference as described in the leaked provisional agenda. As he says,
I’m deeply worried that this development is a sign that the party leadership is trying to tighten its grip over the direction of the party.
You and me both, brother! Not to mention several thousand ‘ordinary’ members of the SNP. ‘Ordinary’ in this context meaning outwith the impenetrable bubble into which the the most senior SNP personnel have retreated. A secure citadel from where edicts are handed down like royal proclamations nailed to the castle gate. One such edict being the Provisional Agenda for the Scottish National Party’s 86th Annual National Conference to be held in a virtual space where nobody can hear you scream. Or so they hope. It is this provisional agenda which is the proximate subject of Dr Dalzell’s piece. Ultimately, however, what he is addressing goes well beyond the conference. It is about the fate of the SNP and given the centrality of the SNP to Scotland’s politics, much more besides.
I’m doubly grateful for his article as Craig’s list (sorry!) of what’s wrong with the provisional agenda obviates the need for me to compile one. Listing what’s right with it would be a much less daunting task.
- There are no immediately obvious spelling mistakes.
If I think of anything else I promise to get back to you. In the meantime, I urge that you read Craig Dalzell’s very disturbing analysis. You should also also try to get a look at the provisional agenda itself. You’ll pardon me if I don’t provide a link as I fear that to do so would put me in breach of one of the rules that SNP National Secretary Angus MacLeod does see fit to apply – albeit selectively.
Which brings to mind a second thing that is right with the provisional agenda. Or at least something which is not unequivocally wrong. Which of us did not laugh when we saw this prominently displayed on the front page –
The National had the detail before most members were even aware of the document’s existence. Although to be fair members being left unaware may be what is meant by ‘confidential’ in this instance.
We are aware now. And I think I may be in the unaccustomed and not entirely comfortable position of speaking for the majority of SNP members when I say that we are not best pleased.
Credit where it’s due. The document is comprehensive. If only in the sense that there can hardly be any member who fails to find something to which they object – be it the relatively trivial fact that it’s so late in being published or the rather more serious matter of the ‘resolutions’ not being actual resolutions at all. The party’s constitution clearly defines what resolutions are. And these are not they. There is no identification of who submitted the ‘resolution’. They are not even composite resolutions put together from a number of formally submitted resolutions. If they were then the sources of the original resolutions would have to be identified. The drafters of the provisional agenda seem to imagine they’ve got around this problem by referring to their ‘resolutions’ as having been,
…consolidated from the many resolutions received.
This makes manifest one of the risks I identified as being associated with a mass submission of resolutions, as actually happened. There was always the possibility that those we’ve come to refer to ominously as merely ‘They’ would shove all those resolutions in their compositing blender and serve up a cold, insipid, grey sludge. Which is as good a way as any of describing the provisional agenda. Offensively inoffensive would also do. Or substantially free of substance. You get the picture.
OK! So we’re agreed that the provisional agenda is unacceptable. The question then becomes one of what we do about it. Can we please not let this be yet another thing we complain about but do nothing to rectify. Most of all, can we please not let this be an excuse for walking away from the party. Scotland’s cause needs the SNP. The SNP needs its members. The SNP does not need those currently deciding (dictating?) the direction of the party if the members don’t agree that this is the right direction. Either the party is what the members make it, or it becomes what the members fail to prevent it becoming. There is no perspective from which the party is not the responsibility of the members to whom it belongs.
Never has there been more need for SNP members to step up and accept their responsibility. If the party is not what you want it to be that is because you have failed to make it what you want it to be. If the party has become something you don’t like it’s because you have failed to stop that happening. If the party is in danger of becoming, something you don’t want it to become then it is your job to make sure that doesn’t happen. At a time when there is very strong competition in the political stupidity stakes, walking away from the SNP at this juncture is right up there with the leading contenders.
It is no exaggeration to say that the SNP’s 86th Annual National Conference is of historic importance – for many reasons. A marker must be laid down it this conference which clearly indicates to members that they are in charge and to the public that the SNP, as well as being the only credible party of government, is once again the party of independence. The party that will fight for Scotland’s cause.
Two issues must be addressed at this conference. One of which doesn’t appear on the provisional agenda at all and the other which appears only in as a dessicated husk sucked dry of meaning and effect by those whose personal or factional interests are best served by conference being rendered meaningless and ineffectual.
The first issue is the matter of internal governance. One of the most glaring omissions from the provisional agenda is the resolution on transparency submitted by SNP Sighthill/Stenhouse. I claim no expertise in the party’s constitution or rules, procedures etc. But it seems to me that adopting this resolution would be a crucial step in the urgent process of putting control of the party – and of policy – back in the hands of members.
Of more concern to me personally is the lack of anything meaningful on the constitutional issue. The ‘resolution’ under the heading AN INDEPENDENT FUTURE FOR SCOTLAND says absolutely nothing about what the SNP leadership intends to do to make that independent future a reality never mind bring it closer. It leaves the party committed to an approach to the constitutional issue which is bound to fail in terms of restoring Scotland’s independence. An approach which I’m confident conference would demand was changed were delegates to be allowed to vote on that. The ‘resolution’ presented in the provisional agenda barely makes it to innocuous when what is required is something bold and decisive and assertive that will reinvigorate the Yes movement and inspire the people of Scotland.
To say that we should not accept a Westminster veto over Scotland’s right of self-determination is utterly vacuous unless it is explicitly what this non-acceptance implies. It is frankly ludicrous in the face of the failure of the ‘resolution’ to reject and renounce the Section 30 process to which the party is currently wedded.
What is coming across to me from the attitude of the party leadership and management is that they have the voters so they don’t need the members. The SNP is polling so far ahead of what we’re obliged to call its rivals that victory in next year’s election is all but assured. And that is all that matters as far as certain individuals and factions are concerned. There appears to have been no thinking beyond the 2021 Scottish Parliament elections. The priorities seems to be to ensure that conference doesn’t rock the, return to government then business as has become usual over the years since the last election. Meaning independence always as the lure held just out of reach but never approached. The promise of action to restore Scotland’s independence looks set to be the SNP’s version of British Labour’s promise to abolish the House of Lords.
They’re probably right. They probably do have the voters. The SNP will surely return to government after the 2021 election. But at what cost? To what extent are the party highheidyins prepared to alienate the membership? Even supposing they manage to stitch up the conference as they are obviously trying to do, have they considered the consequences? Have they thought about what happens after the election? Do they really think they can prevaricate and procrastinate and obfuscate on the constitutional issue and continue to enjoy the support of the majority now in favour of restoring Scotland’s independence?
How do they reckon new and long-term independence supporters will react to yet another pathetic, pointless Section 30 request and the prospect of another five years of furiously indignant speechifying from Ian Blackford? What do they suppose will happen when we reach the tipping point at which favouring independence becomes demanding an end to the Union with England-as-Britain? How will they respond to that demand?
The highheidyins evidently feel they can treat conference delegates with disdain and show scant respect for the members those delegates represent. But the party will not long survive with a similar attitude to the electorate. The voters tend to take umbrage at being taken for granted.
That this would be unfortunate for the SNP is no more than a pity. That it would be a tragedy for Scotland should be deeply concerning to all who hold Scotland dear. The conference is a crunch point. Aye! Anither wan! Life at present seems to consist of a series of crunch points to be confronted. But it cannot be overstated how crucial it is that conference delegates retake control of the agenda in order to deal with the urgent issues which the leadership is trying to avoid.
A plan of action is required. A coordinate response is required in response to what is without doubt a coordinated assault on the status of conference and its ability to fulfil its remit as the main policy-formulating body within the SNP. Work on this has already begun. I cannot say more than that for fear of betraying confidences. My advice would be to watch SNP Members for Independence, which has become one of the main venues for discussion among activist members determined to put independence back at the top of the SNP’s agenda. I shall provide updates when possible.