Let’s Reclaim Conference!

I wonder how you felt when the email from the National Secretary dropped into your inbox around the end of June? I had a mixture of emotions when I saw the three main topics were Independence, Council Elections 2022 and COP26. 

All are no doubt worthy and indeed in the case of Independence a discussion which the Party needs to have on a number of levels. Strategic timeframes, improving the 2014 offering and involvement with the wider YES movement being just three examples.

I also felt that familiar feeling of who has Branch or CA meetings in July and especially just after a General Election? The email came to me on the 28 June at 19.08 and the closing date for resolutions is Friday 23 July. Allowing barely 3 weeks for the grassroots of the Party to arrange a meeting, ignore the difficulties of ensuring that it is quorate, circulate and discuss resolution ideas, and then send them to HQ. Forgive me the cynicism but in a year when the internal workings and democracy have been under the microscope like never before in my 55 years in the Party, this smacks of a complete unwillingness to even contemplate change far less learn lessons.

We all know what will now happen. As usual the agenda will be dominated by resolutions from the ranks of our Parliamentarians and the NEC with their rights to submit resolutions without the bother of having to consider the poor bloody infantry who have just slogged their guts out to get them into office. (Full disclosure here, having undergone eye and cancer surgery this year, I am not one of those troops). 

My Branch, like most others, does not have a meeting scheduled for July so we will probably not be able to submit. But, can I gently suggest two amendments to the Constitution ideas for general discussion and perhaps someone might see sufficient merit to take forward.

The first is that the dates of Annual and Spring Conferences be set. Perhaps the last weekend in September and middle of March? This would mean that we all knew the dates and the National Secretary could issue the guidance in sufficient time to allow the whole party the opportunity of drafting policy etc.

The second would be to remove the right of our Parliamentarians to submit resolutions in only their own names. By forcing those we have just elected to come to their Branches and CAs to take forward their policy ideas we would ensure that the wider Party membership was able to participate before the draft agenda was circulated. This would not stop our Parliamentarians from submitting ideas but would make sure that sufficient time had to be made for discussion at grassroots level and stop this farce of a 3-week window of opportunity. 

Many, myself included, have stopped even going to Conferences because they have become “clap-fests”, where the role of the delegate is little more than to applaud. The last real debate I can recall was back in, I think, 2012 when membership of NATO was debated. That debate was passionate, informed and civil. An example of what we can be and how political debate can be enacted. While I appreciate that Governing must sometimes mean rapid decision making that’s no excuse for not allowing the ordinary members the maximum opportunity to participate in our internal decision-making processes.

Finally, it would not be appropriate to close without remembering the late Jim Lynch. Jim was a “leading light” even when I first joined in the 1960s and had a real human touch. He was never too busy to offer words of encouragement and sometimes advice to a young but enthusiastic Nationalist. One of nature’s real Gentlemen and a stalwart of the Independence cause. Taken too soon and will be much missed.