Attending NEC meetings is only one of many responsibilities of regional representatives on the National Executive Committee of the SNP. If all I did was turn up at NEC meetings I wouldn’t be much of a representative.
As I write this it is almost a week since I was informed I had been elected. I am only too aware of a responsibility to work in the interest of achieving independence. That will involve a lot of different things. I thought it therefore might be of interest to set out what I have been doing thus far. Let me start by reflecting on an issue I had raised in earlier blogs: The need to have much better communication with party members.
At 10 minutes past midnight last Monday night, I had already received an invite to attend an Inverkeithing branch meeting a few days later. It was in part stimulated by the blogs I had written about the need to strengthen communications. It was the first of a small number of branch invites I have already received. My hope is to attend at least one meeting with every branch in the region. I found the first meeting with Inverkeithing branch very helpful and enjoyable.
By the early hours of Monday morning I had already been in communication with my fellow regional NEC member, Allison Graham. We agreed the first thing we needed to do was to activate the Regional Steering Committee set out in the constitution but as yet never used. We have already been in communication at least once with around 40 prospective attendees as set out in the constitution. Our first informal session is being held over Zoom on Wednesday where we will present our plans for the committee which we jointly chair.
Other communications have included conversing by DMs, emails, telephone and Zoom calls with the Business Convener, National Secretary, four senior office bearers, some fellow ordinary members, and a small number of individuals elected to key party committees. Some of these individual conversations were held at my request, some at the request of others. I was flattered to find quite a few had been reading my blogs on possible reforms.
I have also been seeking some expert advice from senior HR specialists, finance specialists, governance experts and the like to ensure I get on track to prepare myself with the necessary understanding of our legal and good practice obligations as an NEC. This has been particularly useful in strengthening my understanding of what good practice looks like in governance terms, and particularly taking account of the fact that in formal terms the SNP is an unincorporated association.
In addition, I was invited to two Zoom calls with small groups keen to progress matters on specific areas, including the area of a skills/talent audit that I had discussed in an earlier blog.
There is a very important point I want to stress about this early activity. None of it has been driven by any “slates”. All of it was driven by people concerned to advance matters constructively. Let me add a further important observation.
In the SNP it is the membership that is the sovereign authority: Not office bearers; not the NEC, the members. This therefore means I must work constructively with all those elected by the members. I need to respect the sovereign will of members.
What have I learned in my first few days? I’d emphasize at this stage the following.
First, the broader membership I have already engaged with, whether or not they may have supported me, are remarkably keen to engage with their representatives. I am being happily inundated with request and comments.
Second, and I think in part reflecting the first point, there are big expectations that the NEC and office bearers as a whole are going to function more openly and effectively in the future. There is a big expectation on us to deliver, and rightly so.
Third, there has been a strong perception of cliques in the past who did not focus strongly enough on our core purpose of achieving independence. I have my own passions for change in society, but I recognise my responsibility as an NEC member is not to put my personal passions before the interest of our cause.
Fourth, I must ensure I surround myself with people who are more talented than myself from amongst the ranks of the party. That shouldn’t be difficult I hear some say, but the point is not made in jest, nor to present a false modesty. The point is I am increasingly aware of many issues where we need to mobilise the best expertise and the best brains if we are to be successful. People like myself have primarily been elected to reflect political priorities and hopefully a general competence. Unlike say a company board of directors, we have not been voted in because of specific governance expertise. But we do need that real expertise. Therefore we need to ensure we bring on board any missing skills and abilities.
So that’s really it. It has been a busy first week: But only the start, and the NEC hasn’t even met yet.