We're past the halfway mark in the SNP depute leadership contest. Ballot papers go out in just 10 days’ time. This has been, and will continue to be, a good natured campaign – able candidates offering different views of what the job entails, discussing things in a respectful and thoughtful way.
So far there have been 17 hustings up and down the country with many more still to come. A few members have come up to me after these events a little frustrated. They complain that the meetings are meant to help people make up their minds and yet after hearing our presentations they are less sure of how to vote than beforehand.
In part, that’s because there is a lot of genuine agreement between the candidates. And in part, it’s because we are each offering a different prospectus for the job – and some members will find them equally attractive. It’s as much a choice about what job you want done as who you want to do it.
However, the good news is that the more we go on in the campaign the more differences are starting to emerge. I’m going to tease out three.
Firstly, you have a choice between candidates who say our organisation is basically OK and those who say we need an organisational upgrade. I want to see major reforms to how we do things. Changing how our branches work, changing how we communicate with each other and changing how we make policy. Putting the emphasis on involving more members at all levels.
Most importantly, I don’t believe these changes will take place just by wishing for them. We need to make them happen. That means we need people to do it. We are too big an organisation to rely solely on the voluntary efforts of very busy people.
Branch activists need support from full-time organisers both at HQ and in regional offices throughout the country.
It has been suggested that I am standing for the wrong job and organisational change is a matter for our party’s organisation convener. It isn’t. The convener’s job is to make the existing structures work as best she can. Changing these structures is a matter for us all. I do not think for a moment that I have all the answers or that change will be easy. But I seek a mandate to make a start.
This party will be required to lead and win the next independence referendum, possibly sooner rather than later. We need to be match fit to do that.
I want to divert about 10 per cent of our income to build a network of regional organisers under the direction of local members. Some argue that we cannot afford this and it will take money from campaigns. I say we can’t afford not to – and better organisation will make campaigns more effective (even if it means being less of a contributor to the country’s paper recycling). In fact, if we do not invest in our organisation now we may not be able to sustain it in the longer term.
A second difference is how to make sure the party is able to be effective in all parts of the country, taking into account the different issues – and opponents – that exist. Is that achieved by having a leader from a rural constituency if the depute comes from an urban one – or vice versa. Or is it better achieved by developing our regional structure so that in every part of the country we are in tune with local circumstances and set local priorities.
Besides, let’s not go looking for divides where they don’t exist. The truth is that many issues are national but affect rural areas differently. If anything, the inner city problems of poverty pay, poor transport and shortage of affordable housing are worse in the countryside.
Finally, differences are emerging as to what being depute leader entails. For me this is not just a title but a job of work. I’ve had to think long and hard about how much time I could give to the task.
As an MP my constituents will come first. But I can strip back other activity at Westminster and by making this my only party responsibility I reckon I can devote the equivalent of 12 to15 hours a week to the job. That means I’d have to pull back on campaigning work on Palestine, electoral reform and disability. But I’d rather make sure I do the depute job well.
Some of that time I’d spend at HQ but much of it I’d spend going round the country talking to branch volunteers about how we get better. I would aim to be the membership’s voice in the leadership.
We have a great leadership team in the SNP already, at Holyrood and at Westminster.
I’d bring a fresh perspective to that team.
This column was written for The National - 10th September 2016
Four weeks ago I was worried about writing this column on the eve of the last major parliamentary debate on Brexit. Anything could have happened, rendering my speculation obsolete by the time you read it. I shouldn’t have fretted. Anything could have happened but nothing did.
Here I am again. Groundhog day. It’s Tuesday. There’s a big debate tomorrow.
Tuesday. Another day spent discussing Brexit. Another day of my life I’m not getting back.
We are no further forward. As the clock ticks down to exit it’s only fair to ask: What the hell is Theresa May playing at?