A guest post by Denise Findlay for those who asked questions and wanted some answers on how the SNP now operate under the current Leadership.
Power attracts the worst and corrupts the best….
“National Conference is the supreme governing and policy-making body of the Party.”
A definitive statement in the SNP constitution but clearly not the case. The 2018 constitution centralised power in the Leader and in the NEC. The party Leader has sole power over policy both in the manifesto and in government and the NEC has sole power over who represents the SNP and what they are allowed to say.
To compound the centralisation of power the Leader’s husband is CEO and can use the party administration to enhance his wife’s position.
Communication between party branches is strictly controlled through top-down party structures, it is only through ad-hoc social media that branches and members are able to find each other and interact. There is no reason a branch directory cannot be provided with contact details of office bearers. There are many ways to do this which avoid GDPR or data protection issues.
The National Conference notionally is the supreme policy making body, policies passed by conference become party policy but there is no linkage between party policy and policies in the manifesto. There is no mechanism for members to force policies into the manifesto. The manifesto is written by the Deputy Leader and signed off by the Leader, giving the Leader control. There is no requirement for the SNP in government to follow party policy and indeed Self-Id and the Hate Crimes Bill, two controversial policies were never passed by conference. As, policies are not required either for the manifesto or for the government, conference has become a staged PR event as opposed to a policy making body. The policy committee remit should be expanded to include responsibility for the manifesto.
The National Council was replaced by regional steering committees and National Assemblies. The remit of the steering committees is not to hold the executive or political representatives to account, nor is it to develop policy, rather the focus is on campaigning. The National Assembly is a networking event, devoid of any power. The party is happy to have the members deliver leaflets but not to make policy. The most sensible solution would be to restore National Council.
The constitution gives the Leader the tools to ensure her supporters are promoted and any potential rivals or rival groupings can be disadvantaged. This is through using the party machine run by the CEO supporters are rewarded with early vetting decisions, involvement and promotion at Party events and paid Party positions and by appointing the Business Convener, the Leader controls the speaking spots at conference.
Elections to internal positions take place during conference, so the Business Convener can allocate speaker slots to leadership favourites. These elections could take place prior to conference ensuring that all candidates have a fair chance.
Only thirty percent of the NEC are elected by conference. With so many of its membership not elected by and therefore not accountable to Conference, it is difficult to claim the NEC is a proxy for Conference.
The NEC wields total power over who can stand for the SNP. The NEC appoints the vetting committees and sets the parameters under which they will work. The NEC also controls vetting appeals, despite the fact Conference has voted for an Appeals Committee. This seems perverse there is an Appeals Committee, the Appeals Committee should hear vetting appeals.
During vetting massive conflict of interests arise with candidates for selection sitting on and even chairing vetting panels that vet their potential rivals. This happened during the recent round of selections. Clearly no candidate should serve on a vetting panel, this is just basic common sense.
The NEC has the power to alter any rules that are not explicitly reserved to Conference. This even includes altering the NEC Standing Orders. Other rules they can alter includes the elected members code of conduct. This runs the risk of the NEC inserting into the code of conduct conditions that an elected member would find impossible to accept and therefore the elected member could be forced out of the party. Any changes to codes of conduct should be approved by conference.
The voting of the members of the NEC is secret which is bad for accountability because party members do not have the information to judge whether their NEC delegate has represented them well or badly. There should be no secret votes or survey monkeys, the NEC seeks consensus but when votes are taken, the members’ voting record should be added to the minutes.
There are nine affiliated organisation each have a seat on the NEC. The affiliated organisation also gets a minimum of six delegates to conference in contrast the minimum for branches is two. The constitution makes it very difficult to remove an affiliated organisation, they can only be disaffiliated by a conference resolution brought by the NEC of which they are a member.
There is no minimum number for members of an affiliated organisations and given their disproportionate power they are a vehicle for entryism and for a faction to consolidate control of the NEC. Branches should propose a resolution to change NEC membership by removing affiliated organisations, it would be best for branches to take the initiative rather than wait for the Deputy Leader report. The affiliates can continue to propose resolutions and to socialise.
The National Secretary, sometimes for practical reasons has to act quickly to suspend a member. However, the National Secretary also receives all complaints and then on his own authority decides which complaints to pass to the Conduct Committee. This usurps the role of the Conduct Committee
Complaints should be sent directly to the Conduct Committee, who after all have been elected to do that job. This would require an e-mail address and administrative support. On the issue of administrative support, the national office bearers currently receive no support from party staff. The NEC has the power to direct staff It would seem reasonable that some of the party staff should be assigned to supporting the office bearers and the committees, so they can better perform the role they were elected to.
This is just scratching the surface of the issues with the 2018 constitution but several actions should be taken: the NEC is responsible for hiring staff, they should appoint a new CEO; reassign SNP staff to support roles; create a branch directory and Conference should make the changes to the rules detailed above.
The constitution exists to protect members rights and to protect party democracy, when this fails the party is making bad decisions. The focus is on maintaining the power of the Leader and her supporters as opposed to, the primary aim of the constitution, Scotland’s independence.
I am, Yours for Scotland
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