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The European question will define our politics for the foreseeable future

We're all set for Thursday and the start of the SNP Conference, where we’ll finally find out, as the first item of business, who the members have elected as depute leader. It is worth getting a few things on the record beforehand, as the process has been a useful one for the party and we need to keep a few of the points on the agenda.


First published in The National,11 October 2016

Firstly, thank you. I’m delighted with the support I’ve had, from people the length and breadth of the country, supporters I never knew I had. Voting closes tomorrow, so there is still time to get a vote in, but by now the expectation must be that it is all over bar the counting.

I’m standing on my record, and with the unique proposition that the European question is going to be the defining attribute of politics for the foreseeable future, and that I can do something amazing with the role. For me it is not just another title, or another rung on a career ladder. My career ladder evaporates in a couple of years, I can do something with the role now. I’ve also put forward proportionate, workable ideas on how the party needs to change how we do things to better engage our membership and reflect where we are. Many of these ideas are not new, often other people’s, and there is considerable support for them. Whichever of the four of us wins, I hope they will be taken forward.

We need to invest in more people at headquarters, especially to support the training and disciplinary functions of the party. We have too few people doing too much work and they need more support. We need to boost training, and encourage branches to organise training independently. We can do this at specific events, or expanded onto events where we will be gathered anyway like this week’s conference. We have the experience and best practice in spades, we need to share it, developing a range of courses to suit all types and in so doing better cohere the party.

We need to change how we discuss policy, but first, stop talking about indyref2. We’re not going to rerun 2014. Next time, it’s all about indyref new, a new proposition for a new time, because the world has changed a heck of a lot in the last two years and the Brexit rollercoaster hasn’t started moving yet. So we need to discuss policy now, and we need to come up with new ideas as we formulate the plans for Scotland’s future. Currently, we agree policy in National Conference, or outwith that at National Council three times a year. It’s working well but we can do more. Let’s reinvigorate National Assembly, where we – you, me, the members, all of us – can meet twice a year to discuss policy. Within our ranks we have experts in every conceivable subject, and reinvigorating National Assembly means we can bring them right into a discussion! Once we have our National Assembly consensus, we can bring it through conference in the usual way but having already created support and discussed it.

Next up, we need paid organisers, starting in Glasgow where we have a plan, a job spec and a budget already good to go, building on Chris Cunningham’s stunning by-election victory last week. Winning control of Glasgow City Council will be a game changer, and investing in the campaign there will be crucial in allowing us to better serve Scotland’s biggest city. Thereafter I’d put the onus on branches and regions to come up with a plan, and encourage them to make the case for what they agree is needed. We have more people in MSP and MP offices than ever before, so it is all the more important that the work of the party, as opposed to any particular constituency, is co-ordinated. Nice as it is to have elected office, our elected representatives stand on the shoulders of our membership, and we can’t allow the needs of any one institution to distract us from that. Without the party, we all fall.

We also need to support local government more. Councillors are not junior colleagues, they’re elected representatives often with much more accountability and often greater executive authority than parliamentarians. We have resources in various parts of the party. I have for example always made sure all SNP councillors are kept abreast of EU developments.

Given my time again, I wouldn’t change a thing. I’m proud of the campaign I’ve run, and had a great time meeting folk up and down the country. The entire depute campaign has reflected well on the party, at a time when other parties have not quite managed the same unity or fraternal respect. But there are things the party needs to do, because we need to make sure we’re ready for the challenges ahead. We must constantly evolve to reflect our membership and our ambitions for Scotland.