THIS IS THE FIRST OF THE REPEAT POSTINGS I AM PLANNING TO POST BETWEEN NOW AND THE SNP CONFERENCE. THIS ONE WAS POSTED AT THE BEGINNING OF AUGUST. YOU CAN JUDGE WHETHER IT HAS STOOD THE TEST OF TIME?
KEEPING AN EYE ON THE NEC
I have been away from Party Politics for almost twenty years because of the diplomatic post I held until retirement. Before that I had held senior office in the SNP being the Executive Vice Convener in charge of the Party Administration and Fundraising and I also served on the NEC for many years until my businesses expansion overseas no longer made this possible.
So it’s only in the last week that I have discovered how the NEC make up has changed during my absence. In my day the NEC consisted of the elected senior office bearers, all of whom were elected each year by delegates at the Annual Conference. Added to this was ten elected ordinary NEC members all elected by the delegates at National Conference, again on an Annual basis. The only special positions that existed then was a place for the youth wing and another for the student wing. They were appointed by their respective organisations.
In the main it was very democratic, if I could have changed anything I would have made the election system for Senior Office Bearers three years rather than annually which I thought was too short and discouraged any long term planning as the requirement to get re elected each year made short term measures much more attractive.
I have to say I was very surprised at the changes. There was an enormous growth in the NEC from members appointed by specific groups rather than the Conference. If you are looking for what has gone wrong with the NEC I would start there. It is much easier for small groups to control sectional interests than the entire Party. To build their power it is in their interests to further divide the party into factions, then demand a place on the NEC for each of these factional interests. One problem with this is that any member gaining a place using that method owes it to the faction rather than the Party. This makes them much easier to control or replace if they develop any Independence to the group’s wishes.
Two other groups are vital if you want to take control of the Party. One is the committee that controls the vetting of candidates for the Approved List. This allows a method where the group’s loyal supporters can be approved and opponents rejected. By ensuring more candidates share the group’s objectives and know they are candidates because of it, the grip on the Party continues to grow.
The other committee which is vital is the Standing Orders and Agenda Committee. As the name suggests this is the body that sets the rules but more importantly determines which motions appear on the Conference Agenda. To be fair this is often a very difficult job but it is also an excellent way to control the Party, killing off any motions which are critical or which propose a different policy to that currently being followed. Equally it can be used to ensure motions that support the group’s aims can successfully appear on the agenda.
So you can see from the above it doesn’t really involve many well organised people to takeover or greatly influence the outcomes of a political party, whether it be in terms of policy, personnel, candidates etc. Ordinary members are the spoilers in all this. That is why these type of groups strive to create distance and secrecy between the membership and the Party apparatus.
How can you defend against this? There are two ways, firstly ordinary members must be aware of how this can happen and operate great scrutiny over who your branch appoints as delegates to conference, instruct them on what and whom they must support on the various motions and elections. Even better nowadays these elections should be decided by one member, one vote. An investment in blockchain voting would make it both cheap and secure. The best defence against group manipulation is widening the franchise and getting the maximum member involvement.
Be aware that if you shine light on these methods of taking over, or unfairly influencing the Party be prepared of being accused of being disloyal, endangering unity etc. Nobody who opposes you will want to discuss the actual issues in the sunlight, nope, much better to try and smear you as a troublemaker and just hope nobody pays any actual attention to the problems you are raising.
As a first step members should be demanding a return to a system where there are minimum factional positions and where the vast bulk of members of the NEC are appointed by either the entire delegate base at Conference or better still by one member, one Vote.
In the interest of unity I have argued this call for more democracy minus any reference to recent incidents, personalities or particular groups. It would be a much improved situation and would do much to restore confidence in the NEC if these ideas were adopted.
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I am, as always
YOURS FOR SCOTLAND