I remember when I first joined the SNP I was elected to National Council and attending my first council and being hugely impressed at how transparent and democratic it was. Here was a forum where delegates could question the most senior office bearers on any aspect of their responsibilities, and in the main the responses had to be made publicly there and then, to an audience of thirty elected members and also delegates to National Council from every branch and CA in the country. The remainder of the meeting was taken up with policy discussions and other operational matters. It was real communication between the leadership and the members and that communication went in both directions.

It put enormous pressure on the leadership, it met quarterly so there was regular scrutiny of how you were performing in your role. Internal Party elections were held every year so a couple of problem appearances at the rostrum could easily endanger your position when it was next contested. The Vice Conveners responsible for Administration and Fundraising, Policy, Organisation, Publicity, plus the National Secretary and National Treasurer had to make their quarterly report and answer all the questions put forward under their remit, there and then, so you needed to know your facts, to be very aware of what was happening across the country OR IT WAS GOING TO BE HUGELY EVIDENT THAT SOMETHING WAS WRONG.

There is so much to highlight in its favour. It met quarterly, it was a forum where any branch could seek support from other branches across the Party, it let them see that they were part of something worthwhile, the policy discussions educated delegates, and sometimes the leadership, on where the priorities and direction the Party was going to go.It was the platform where the future “stars” of the Party could be identified and where they could achieve the name recognition across the country that would give them a chance of becoming a candidate, or a potential NEC member or senior office bearers of the future.

Now why would the current leadership and NEC ever want to get rid of that set up.? You know the one that created the bridge between the membership and the leadership. The forum that ensured branches knew exactly what was going on and provided the platform for any branch to flag up and build opposition to anything they thought was against ordinary members best interests.

Let look at some of today’s problems. The lack of Independence strategy and campaigning. Before the changes this would have been picked up at National Council under the Policy Vice Convener’s report, the Publicity Vice Convener’s Report, the Organisation Vice Convener’s report and possibly some others as well. Members would have noticed the absence of anything happening on the most important issue and reason for the Party’s existence. They would have demanded action!

The power grab from the NEC on candidate selection and vetting bias would again have come up, particular on the Vice Convener’s Organisation report and they would have faced tough questions and perhaps faced the very real problem of the Report being voted down by delegates.

The National Secretary would be dragged over the coals for failing to reply to correspondence from elected members, branches and CA’s and ordinary members. There would be no hiding place and delegates would demand it improve immediately.

The National Treasurer would face regular questioning on the Party finances, including any funds “ring fenced” for specific events such as Indyref2.

By now hopefully you will probably recognise why it was a huge mistake to get rid of it. The decision was taken at a sparsely attended internal session when most of the delegates were in the tearoom or elsewhere. The lesson here is cancel the Tetley during internal sessions, attend and protect your rights. It is no stretch to suggest that had National Council been still there then an awful lot of the very severe problems that have emerged in the last twelve months would never have happened.

So the good news for Keith Brown’s Inquiry is you don’t need to work out what went wrong and where the solution lies. No Sherlock Holmes is required. A combination of a return to some form of National Council and a much reduced in size, much more balanced NEC, minus the gross over representation of unelected fringe minorities seats would go a long way to solving the majority of the problems.

You see these bodies were in place for a very long time. They reason for that was that they worked, they were popular, they provided what made the SNP the most Democratic Party certainly in the UK, possibly in the whole of Europe. It is a brilliant example of the problems that rapidly emerge when a good working framework is removed, opening the door to the careerists, the cliques, those forces of the shadows which exist in every Party but whose activities are severely curtailed by the effective vigilance of the ordinary members and branches.

Unfortunately those members and branches blinked and a lot was lost but with their eyes wide open now they can take the urgent steps needed, like in all the best films, to save the day.

It’s the Last Chance Saloon but there is more than enough ammunition to secure the right result.The Clique Cowboy, Cowgirl and (anybody in between) Gang need their Party Robbery attempt to fail and then the Party can reunite and make the real progress on Independence For Scotland which Is what we all seek.

I am, as always

Yours for Scotland

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