SO now the hurly burly’s done, and the SNP MSP selections are lost, and won, and we can get on with the job in hand – winning independence. And it is important to remember that the best source of support and encouragement for SNP activists is us, other SNP activists. Those who seek to divide the SNP into factions want to undermine what makes us strong. We need to call out the tactics being used against us or we’ll all lose just as we’re on the cusp of winning the big prize.
The selections were, in the main, positive and engaging, even if because of Covid and the strange times we’re living in things had to be different, but we got there. In Stirling my great pal Bruce Crawford MSP is retiring and I’m delighted to see Evelyn Tweed selected by the members as the prospective candidate to succeed him. She’s already a councillor in Stirling so knows the ropes and represents a big chunk of the constituency already. We met up on Monday to chew the fat on how the campaign will go forward and what we need to do not just to win the seat, but to build the case and the organisation for the independence referendum and the council elections in 2022.
People are anxious and stressed and looking to the SNP for leadership and support. They want to know they have serious representatives who care about what they care about. We’re in strange times and we need to make things work. In Stirling we had a real-world example of this with our hustings, which were open to thousands of members, with seven candidates, and had to strike the right balance between being fair, being open and being engaging. Thanks to our master of ceremonies Gerry Mclaughlan and Zoom expert branch secretary Eilidh Reid, we managed over two nights to have two hustings which gave all members across Stirling a chance to see the candidates, and all seven candidates a chance to set out their case. Yes, it wasn’t a regular hustings but it was fair and it worked.
Similarly, we have been grappling with how to make SNP annual conference work. As policy development convener I sit on the Conferences Committee, which has had the unenviable task of trying to come up with a complex event with a lot of stakeholders while also being engaging and enriching. Imagine a 2000-person Zoom call, with all participants on the call all the time, there’s no coffee bar to pop out to or chats to have in the margins – this is a different exercise than we’re used to. How to manage a complex series of votes? What about points of order or remits back? We’ve made it, I think.
We have found a way to keep the conference engaging, give everyone a say and ensure the party’s democracy continues, albeit in strange circumstances. It is not ideal, but we’ll make it work. Crucially, we have arranged a further National Assembly in January to discuss the route to independence, to mull over the tactics and strategy of how to win the independence referendum, and ensure that the enthusiasm and ideas from the wider membership are part of that discussion. That discussion won’t be at conference because given the technical constraints how on earth could we do it justice? It is hardly as simple as a Plan B motion, there’s a dozen shades of opinion and they all deserve a say.
Some of the criticism levelled at Conference Committee members has been disgraceful, albeit it is coming from a small group, and often from outside the actual party. And this is my wider point about factions and division. The SNP is an utterly democratic party and the members are in charge. We also don’t put all decisions to all 150,000 members, we delegate and elect members to positions to make those calls on behalf of the wider movement, and those of us privileged to have that trust exercise those functions in good faith and to the best of our ability. The party is a structure created by the members and evolves as the circumstances of our party change. I think the National Executive Committee of the party needs slimmed down from the, to my mind, unwieldy,42 members we have now. How that happens (if it happens) will be up to the members and the review being undertaken by our depute leader Keith Brown will consider that and other issues.
We may well have disagreements – in fact, being Scots, we quite enjoy them! David Hume said “the truth emerges from an honest disagreement amongst friends” and that has always been my approach to the party. There may well be people I disagree with on some issues, but we unite on the big stuff and put those differences to one side. Nothing is bigger than independence for me.
So to my mind we need to be wary of organisations that seek to put other issues or causes above that aim, seeking to establish permanent alliances and factions within our party. The Women’s Pledge and Common Weal Groups have a place in a democracy, but proposing slates of candidates? That crosses a line for me. We are one party and have one aim. And that aim has never been closer to fulfilment, let’s not blow it now on divisions that needn’t exist.
It is healthy and correct that we have a robust debate, but remember the facts – we’re winning, the polls are with us and the people of Scotland have never been more open to independence. To listen to some, one would think we are in the doldrums when we are assuredly not. The big prize is yet to come, and divided parties don’t win.