Thoughts on the SNP Conference 117


I am campaigning for the SNP in this general election. As I am still locked away finishing my book for 95% of my waking moments, that campaigning has been desultory so far, but will shortly be more lively. I am vain enough to think that my talents stretch beyond canvassing and delivering leaflets, but as the SNP show no desire to ask me to do anything else, that is what I shall be doing.

I did however emerge from my cocoon at the weekend to attend the SNP conference. Here are some very brief thoughts.

Firstly, it was great to be at the conference speech of the leader of a mainstream party, in which she pledged to no replacement for Trident, no more benefit cuts and the abolition of the House of Lords. The last got the biggest cheer of the whole Conference. I was wondering just how many people in England would like the chance to vote for the SNP.

I had a counterbalancing doubt at the back of my mind about this enthusiasm for – as Nicola Sturgeon put it – “Improving” the UK. I don’t want to improve the Union, I want to end it. Power has a fatal attraction to politicians, and I think I detected that exercising power in the United Kingdom is today gleaming brighter in the dreams of some professional SNP politicians than is independence for Scotland.

The other thing I did not like was the machine politics and management of it all. The entire first day there was not a motion that was passed other than by acclaim, and there was not a single speech against anything, though there were a couple of attempts at referral back. The only item permitted on to the conference agenda, in closed session on day 2, that was in the least likely to cause controversy was the adoption of all women shortlists – and the only reason that was on the agenda was that the leader made it abundantly plain she wanted it. I incline to the view that as a short term measure it is justified, but I abstained because I did not like what I saw of the way it was managed.

It was the only debate the leader sat through, and it was very plain she was watching carefully how people were voting. There was a definite claque of paid party apparatchiks and organised feminists occupying front centre of the hall. There was a strong suspicion, voiced by Christine Graham, that deliberately weak and left field speakers had been chosen against women shortlists. And for the vote, party functionaries including Angus Robertson and Ian McCann stood at the side of the hall very ostensibly noting who voted which way and making sure that the payroll vote performed. I was right next to where Angus Robertson stood as he did this. He moved into position just before the vote, made it very obvious indeed what he was doing, and left immediately after. I found myself regarding the prospect of a whole raft of new MPs, their research assistants and secretaries providing 200 more payroll votes, as depressing.

Coming back to the plus side, I was delighted by the content of many of the resolutions passed, including on the right to return of the Chagos islanders and the inequity of financial tests used by the Home Office to keep immigrant families apart. I left pretty convinced that if we can get the abolition of the monarchy, leaving NATO, and an independent Scotland abandoning the pound sterling onto the agenda, we will pass them. But how to get past the agenda gatekeepers? The party is completely sewn up.

I had intended to speak against the new standing orders for Westminster MPs, which contain eleven draconian clauses on whipping and discipline, as against three more liberal ones in the old standing orders. I confess I did not get to speak because the item was called at 9.05 on Sunday morning, on the morning the clocks went forward, and I was commuting from Edinburgh. The spirit was willing but the flesh is pretty knackered.


117 thoughts on “Thoughts on the SNP Conference

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  • JimmyGiro

    “I incline to the view that as a short term measure it is justified…”

    Was Hitler’s enabling act a short term measure? For the ‘greater good’ of the people?

    Once you sew your political flag with feminism, there is no short termism, you’ll be on the long ride of a death cult.

  • Trowbridge H. Ford

    And don’t belittle just canvasing voters and delivering election leaflets.

    While it sounds quite demeaning, it is the best way to make sure you actually got out votes.

    It gives you a chance to open voters up, and get them to actually vote, especially for your candidate and/or your issues.

  • John Goss

    I have raised similar concerns in Left Unity on positive discrimination favouring women candidates to party posts. I have resigned myself to accepting this because although I don’t believe it is good for the party, or for women members of the party, it is what the majority want. I have argued against it at local level and my views have been noted. What more can I do?

    What surprises me is the way you are allowing the Scottish Nationalists to use your talents and your helpful nature after the despicable way they have treated you. It is a questionable loyalty you are showing. The SNP is not a party that tolerates maverick MPs, and as you discovered it has a stitched-up electoral college type candidate selection procedure (as do all main parties). This is the very thing that has allowed the bankers and oligarchs to ‘own’ political parties, the very thing that gets all MPs singing from the same hymn-sheet, the very thing that has brought down the United States. It is the very thing that has destroyed any semblance of democracy.

    Good luck with finishing your book.

  • lysias

    The Athenians knew how to establish a proper democracy that the rich couldn’t take over. Although they elected the highest executive officials (the ten generals or strategoi) as well as certain financial officers who required particular expertise, otherwise whatever the Assembly (ekklesia) as a whole didn’t do, was done by officials chosen by lot from the whole citizen body. They used this method to choose: the Council (boule) which amounted to the upper house of the legislature; the jurors, who constituted the whole of the judiciary (no judges); and all executive officers except for the few who were elected.

    And it worked.

  • Strategist

    Great to read some reporting from a political occasion that gives you both a sense of what it was like to be there and gives insight into what was going on. Don’t get that anywhere in the mainstream newspapers!

  • falloch

    I am ferent YES person, but I am not an SNP member (not being a UK citizen, I don’t have a vote), nor am I an apologist for the SNP, but having witnessed the twists and turns of the Labour Party for the past 30 years, I am a bit lenient on the SNP right now. The party was an independence-focused party for years, evolved into a more civil society-minded party since, when?, the formation of the Scottish Parliament?, and now its membership numbers have exploded to over 100,000. This heady number is wonderful but also terrifying, and the need to show at least some party discipline may seem sinister, but might be a path that seasoned SNP workers are taking, in order to maintain some order and discipline with such a huge and sudden growth in the number of party members. With time, I hope that the party lockstep (which is actually minimal compared to its Lab/Lib/Tory counterparts) will relax – I look forward to Holyrood elections. This WM election is just total, necessary, ruthless focus, to get where Scotland needs to be in WM.

  • falloch

    Re Chagos Islands – this is just good news, though received with caution, since who knows what legal loopholes will the UK gov’t pull out of its rabbit hat at the last minute. But even worse, what effect is global warming having on the Chagos Islands? Thinking of the Marshall Islands, Maldives, etc. that are also at sea level and starting to experience inundation. Is this a short-lived victory for Chagos Islanders, if their beatiful archipelago is about to disappear underwater in the next few years?

  • Summerhead

    Craig, I too fervently believe in the abolition of the House of Lords along with the other policies you mention but living in Cornwall, I don’t wish I could vote for the SNP but will be glad to vote Green as they put our one and only Earth as their top priority and are not neoliberal bankster shills.

  • fred

    ” I confess I did not get to speak because the item was called at 9.05 on Sunday morning, on the morning the clocks went forward, and I was commuting from Edinburgh. The spirit was willing but the flesh is pretty knackered.”

    It must be hard moving the clock forward an hour for those who would rather move it backward over 400 years.

    Dissent is to be banned from the ranks of the SNP.

    http://www.heraldscotland.com/politics/scottish-politics/snp-clampdown-on-mps-who-fail-to-toe-the-party-line.121904022

  • Alan Glass

    “I am persuaded that diversity of opinions is nearly as natural as diversity of countenances, and wherever in a numerous deliberative body no such diversity appears, I do not consider silence, except on self-evident propositions, as evincing uniformity of opinion, for that would be unnatural, but rather as a proof that their deliberative authority is merely nominal, and that they are in reality overawed by some superior power.”

    Richard Hodgson (19th April, 1798)

  • RobG

    Craig, we live in interesting times, and particularly with this general election.

    Just get your book finished. It will be more important in the long run and in the greater scheme of things.

    Methinks you’ll have a larger role in the aftermath of the general election.

  • Born Optimist

    Interesting insights here into the functioning of the conference. The thought that struck me on reading the points re the ‘gatekeepers’ keeping track of voting preferences was unrelated to management of the conference. It concerned our media. If they did their job properly such issues would be meat and drink to them: asking why this was necessary, and what use the data would be put to. The media spotlight, in other words, needs to be placed on all aspects of politics in order to keep the voting public fully informed.

    I doubt if there is anything underhand in the current setup but all organisations reach tipping points when the status of those within it matter more than the function it exists to serve. I trust this point will not occur for the SNP until Independence is gained.

  • Mary

    Polly Toynbee’s (sorry Craig!) thoughts on the SNP.

    No wonder the SNP are confident – the Tories behave as if they want Scotland gone

    To discount Scottish votes is to expel them from Westminster and turbo-charge the case for independence

    Nicola Sturgeon at the SNP spring conference
    ‘Burning with energy, blessed with an enviably able new leader, the SNP feels like the party of most Labour activists’ secret dreams.’ Photograph: Mark Runnacles/Getty

    Monday 30 March 2015

    Scotland will be gone: it feels almost gone already. In the hall of the SNP conference in Glasgow, the full force of this political tsunami rolled out in every speech at the weekend. Soaring SNP membership, at 103,000, would be equivalent to a UK-wide Labour or Tory party garnering 1.2 million supporters.

    Burning with energy, blessed with an enviably able new leader, the SNP feels like the party of most Labour activists’ secret dreams. On the day Labour started selling £5 red mugs emblazoned with “controls on immigration – I’m voting Labour 7 May”, the SNP voted against “discriminatory” immigration laws that “rip families apart”, wanting a welcoming Scottish policy “driven by compassion and common sense”. With motions on more generous benefits, land reform, no fracking, no austerity, no Trident, when Nicola Sturgeon says SNP support would give Labour “backbone and guts”, a good many English Labour party members might nod in agreement.

    /..
    http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/mar/30/snp-confident-tories-want-scotland-gone

  • fred

    “Scotland will be gone: it feels almost gone already. In the hall of the SNP conference in Glasgow, the full force of this political tsunami rolled out in every speech at the weekend. Soaring SNP membership, at 103,000, would be equivalent to a UK-wide Labour or Tory party garnering 1.2 million supporters.”

    They gained so many members because they are not a political party any more they are a cult.

    Poor Nicola, supposed to be leader but Alex was swanning around London talking like she didn’t exist and she can’t control the majority of her members. They are controlled by a man who lives in Bath who calls himself a Reverend and has a logo disturbingly like Nazi insignia. He has used social media to brainwash the young and vulnerable. They are the ones who joined en mass and hijacked the party.

  • Komodo

    Looks like you’ll be on the awkward squad for a while, Craig! The mention of feminists is somewhat chilling and I share your shudder. However, no party is going to be content with the male vote alone, and my experience is that where communities exist, it’s the women who are the more effective opinion-changers. Granted, the stridency and emphasis on gynaecology of the feminist movement are pretty hard to take, but it’s probably a necessary evil.

    Also, it seems to me some discipline is necessary in a formal party. The alternative is well seen in UKIP, one of whose members every week can be relied on to put his foot in his mouth, and has to be disowned. Once the hopefuls get to the Commons, they’ll be facing a united enemy controlled by sadistic whips who ensure no-one steps over the boundary into individual principles; like it or not the SNP will have no option but to follow suit. Best get used to it now.

    I understand the desire to get rid of the Lords. But there has to be some kind of backstop of legislatively-experienced (and life-experienced) scrutineers to check the excesses of the doctrinaires in the Commons. If the lower House were radically revised, I might agree to ditching the upper one, but as things stand losing the Lords completely might well diminish democracy further.

    Personally, I think you’d do more good as a published polemicist than an MP, and you’d be free to promote your own values rather than a necessarily homogenised consensus. If democracy changed anything it would be illegal.

  • fred

    “According to Common Space, another of the resolutions that passed was abolition of the unrepresentative (and utterly misnamed) “First Past the Post” voting system:”

    While at the same time urging Scottish voters to vote SNP in order to keep Conservatives out of Westminster. Maybe the first political party in Britain to openly advocate tactical voting.

    Can you believe the hypocrisy of it.

  • Clark

    Fred, 10:36 am:

    “Maybe the first political party in Britain to openly advocate tactical voting.”

    Fred, it’s just karma, just cause and effect. I warned you, to end this nonsense you needed a Yes result. The SNP would have gone into decline and Scottish politics would have started diversifying. It only needed a 5% swing.

    But no. You and others like you pulled every trick in the book to keep power centralised in Westminster, under the City of London. Your opposition reacted by regrouping – a centralised power to meet a centralised power. You reap what you sow.

  • ------------·´`·.¸¸.¸¸.··.¸¸Node

    Fred : “[The SNP] are controlled by a man who lives in Bath who calls himself a Reverend and has a logo disturbingly like Nazi insignia.”

    Presumably you refer to Rev. Stuart Campbell who operates the pro-Indepedence website “Wings over Scotland.” RepublicOfScotland slapped you down for making a similar claim last week. At the time, I gave you the benefit of the doubt and put it down to blind prejudice and ignorance. By repeating it, you are deliberately lying and demonstrate that you prefer propaganda to truth. As you know ….

    “The site is edited and maintained by Rev. Stuart Campbell, a Liberal Democrat voter at every election for the last 22 years but now non-aligned. It advocates Scottish independence, but is not affiliated or connected in any way to the SNP, and neither gives to or receives money from the party, or indeed any other party.”

  • fred

    “Yup. Everyone else is doing exactly the same, Fred. There’s no-one who reflects your high principles either, is there?”

    I don’t recall a party saying before the election they would prop up the party which came second and keep out the party which got most votes.

    AFAIK in Britain it’s the party with most votes who forms the government and for a minority party to say they would override that is hardly democratic.

    They claim to want self determination for Scotland but they don’t mind denying it to everyone else. It isn’t even as if the SNP are politically opposed to the Conservatives, in the majority of votes at Westminster they have voted with the government especially on economic matters, between 2005 and 2010 it was 88% of the time. Yet they con Labour supporters into voting SNP to keep the Conservatives out of power.

  • Clark

    Node, yep, Fred is for Westminster what Macky and John Goss are for the Kremlin:

    “Danger! All who oppose the Great Power are Nazis!”

    Radical Decentralisation NOW!

  • fred

    “Fred, it’s just karma, just cause and effect. I warned you, to end this nonsense you needed a Yes result.”

    I’ll decide for myself what I need thank you.

  • Clark

    Fred, rule by the biggest minority is not majority rule. If the second- and third- placed parties share policy objectives, their combined will outweighs the first- placed. That could be, and should be, reflected in the voting system, as the Alternative Vote system reflects it – where a candidate can’t be elected without the approval of at least 50% of the voters.

    YOU are opposing democracy by supporting minority rule.

  • Clark

    Fred,11:26 am:

    “I’ll decide for myself what I need thank you”

    Wrong again Fred. The people decide, as best they can under the limited system made available to them. You got it WRONG, and you should admit it. You thought too small.

  • fred

    “YOU are opposing democracy by supporting minority rule.”

    It’s the party with most votes who forms the government. If after that different parties decide to vote against the government that is a different matter but as I pointed out in the majority of votes the SNP have voted with the conservatives.

    That is the system and to attempt to wreck that system by voting down the Queen’s speech is not democracy.

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