Article by Joanna Cherry QC MP originally published in the National.
A WEEK is a long time in politics. In my column seven days ago, I expressed concern that no dates had been announced for the SNP conference. Further concern was expressed in The National earlier this week when unnamed insiders (yes, I know we are all a bit sick of them) were quoted in a news article suggesting there might not be a conference at all.
Of course, that was nonsense because the terms of the party’s constitution require an annual conference with elections to the NEC. The constitution also mandates that conference is the supreme governing and policy-making body of the party and holds the party’s office bearers to account.
It would be out of the question for it not to happen, particularly when all the other main parties have managed to arrange online conferences. Delegates who attend conference normally vote online in the NEC elections so there should be no difficulty there.
It will have come as a great relief to SNP members when, on Wednesday, in what seems to have been an exclusive for Holyrood Magazine, it was confirmed that the conference will take place in November at a date yet to be announced. An SNP spokesperson described plans for a “large-scale virtual event” and said details are to be announced “in the coming days”. I am sure members and branches will be notified soon, together with a general press release
This conference comes at what may prove to have been the most important moment in our party’s history. It is a moment of opportunity – but also a moment of considerable danger for Scottish democracy. It has not proved possible to stop Scotland being taken out of the EU against our will and now devolution, the little bit of home rule we had, is being dismantled.
I believe we should be careful not to waste too much time in a battle we cannot win. No-one can now doubt that power devolved is power retained. The Sewel convention is about as much use for defending devolution as a chocolate teapot and the UK Supreme Court has not seemed terribly interested in upholding the devolved settlement.
I don’t have much faith in legal action based solely on the Scotland Act and I fear we are banging our heads off a brick wall if we think this Tory Government will devolve any more power to Edinburgh, let alone borrowing powers in any way other than one that would be a damaging trap.
Independence is the only way forward. As a party, we must find a way to deliver both the democratic vote in favour of independence that I believe is inevitable and also the policies that will make independence a success.
I and many of my colleagues at Westminster are working hard on policy and work is going on elsewhere in the party, but it is time for conference to see the results of these labours and also to debate some of the exciting ideas coming from groups such as Common Weal and Skotia. We must have our policies in order and our finances in order and our party must be match fit for the fight that lies ahead. The decks need cleared.
Although what occurred as a result of my attempt to be selected as the SNP candidate for Edinburgh Central has not been a pleasant experience for me, some good has come of it. Concerns which I and others have had about the way in which some members of the NEC operate have now been brought to the attention of the wider membership of the SNP and, as it has transpired, Edinburgh Central members will still have a choice of candidates. This is not personal. It is about the good of the party. Many people assume the animosity towards me from some members of the NEC is because of my views on the importance of protecting women’s sex-based rights under the Equality Act. But there was rather more to it than that.
AT our conference in October 2018, I was elected to the NEC. I saw it as part of my role to raise concerns about the party’s complaints procedures and vetting process that had been brought to my attention by a number of members and branches whose correspondence on these matters with SNP HQ was not being dealt with to their satisfaction.
My attempts to do so were not appreciated by some. Subsequently, my private correspondence on these matters was shared with everyone on the NEC without my permission and then selectively leaked to the press to smear me.
Our HQ must exist to support branches, party members and the wider aims of the party.
To those who say we should not wash the party’s dirty linen in public I say: Yes. I agree. We should not do that. But given the amount of misleading information that has been briefed into the public domain by anonymous sources, I have had no choice but to set the record straight.
No-one should have to endure lies and smears being peddled about them by anonymous sources within the party without being able to defend themselves, particularly not when they are on the front line on behalf of the party defending our country’s democracy and right to self-determination.
We cannot go on like this. The NEC exists to deal with party governance. Members elected to it must be able to raise the concerns of other members without being vilified. Scrutiny, as we have heard so many times in politics this week, is important. So is transparency.
So let’s have democratic transparency and scrutiny at the SNP conference in November and let’s have it as we go forward with the new SNP NEC which will be elected at that conference.
YOURS FOR SCOTLAND.
Seeing you are here why not take out a free subscription to this blog which is available on the Home or Blog pages of this website.