08_snp_g_wRory Steel (SNP Youth Vice Convener and SNP Socialists Convener) puts forward the case for transforming the Standing Orders and Agenda Committee (SOAC), and democratising the conference process.

SNP Conference can be an opportunity for members to discuss and decide on the big issues according to different communities across Scotland. That is why I am running for SOAC.

The main thing that attracts me to Commonweal’s IdeaSpace is the diversity of exhibitions on show. And with diversity, comes a diversity of ideas and perspectives. Every group has an opportunity to put forward what they are about – what they think – and be uncensored in raising issues important to them.

When it comes to Conference and policy, this should be our aim as members. We should be empowered to discuss and decide on the big issues of government and society, but our current arrangements limit us from doing so.

SOAC is not the most well known body within the SNP, but it carries great power. By setting the agenda for Conference and National Council, the 12 members of SOAC (6 directly elected; 6 from the party’s NEC) can hold a veto on certain issues before they are even heard by ordinary members.

Policy is turned into law which translates into action and then change. Policy is how we transform our nation and we must all take part in the policy process if we want to see the nation that we long for. We cannot achieve this with our current structures – we need reform.

“Policy is turned into law which translates into action and then change. Policy is how we transform our nation and we must all take part in the policy process if we want to see the nation that we long for. We cannot achieve this with our current structures – we need reform.”

We need to reform the makeup of SOAC. With only six members directly elected to and six coming from the NEC, SOAC is hardly the most open of bodies. The makeup of the body needs reformed so that all who sit on it are directly accountable to members.

We need to reform the purpose of SOAC. It should have less control over setting the agenda. There must be a shift of power from SOAC itself to the membership to choose which motions go before conference. Afterall, it is our party. Who best to choose an agenda than the members themselves?

Members are the ones who chap the doors; deliver the leaflets; brave the winds – it is only common sense that those who do the campaigning have real power in deciding what they are actually campaigning for.

This year’s agenda is thankfully braver than those of previous conferences. We have a motion on the Scottish voting system which can change the political makeup of any Parliament and can improve or hinder citizen representation. We have a motion on Medicinal Cannabis – tackling the drug taboo which can change people’s’ lives.

However, there are a number of motions which simply make a statement, reaffirm existing policy, or are common sense. Of course we reject the xenophobic fallout of Brexit. Of course we agree that littering is bad. Our MPs are already fighting for a real living wage. These are statements or operational decisions which could easily be made by our elected representatives or already have been.

The party structures have to respect that our members are now campaigning and political veterans having been through two referendums and two elections over the past two years and several before. The mass membership is engaged and must now organise to empower ourselves to control the agenda to vote on bolder and more radical policies that will fill the leaflets we post through letterboxes.

Let’s not minimise homelessness – let’s end it! Let’s not tinker with council tax – let’s stay true to our word and overhaul local taxation! Let’s discuss an Independent Scottish Currency! With 100,000 new members, let’s revisit the NATO question!

It may be the case that these policies have not even been submitted. But we cannot know if SOAC does not publish a full list of submissions made so that members can see which motions did not make it to conference and why.

We can transform our conference from a rally to a serious discussion of policy. We can begin to empower members by voting in candidates that have concrete proposals to make these changes. I believe I can do that for SOAC.

We can have bolder policy; we can have greater grassroots control; we can have motions calling for action rather than patting ourselves on the back; we can have civil debate; we can have a diversity of ideas and opinions like those offered at IdeaSpace and remain united and strong as the national party of Scotland.

We can make members matter.

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