Party Culture: A reform agenda 5 of 5

When I indicated in my blog of October 7 Time to Stand Up: Running for the NEC that I was putting my name forward as a candidate for the National Executive Committee of the SNP, I was very uncertain regarding where it would lead.

I have since then published on this site over 7,000 words on governance arrangements, held a range of Zoom meetings with party branches and members, and had many individual conversations. I am more convinced than ever of the desire for constructive change.

In this final blog in my series, I am not going to summarise all my arguments. If you haven’t been following my blogs on party governance, and would like to read them as a complete set, I have put them together in a .pdf document which I can email out on request. You simply have to email me and ask at

Let me reflect on what I have learned in the course of the last few weeks. Somewhat to my surprise, in my Zoom meetings with branches not a single person challenged the idea that there was a need for change in the way in which the National Executive Committee works. The concerns of members mainly centred around the following areas.

First, a perceived lack of transparency. Such concerns often centred around hearing of contentious decisions made by the NEC via the mainstream media or social media but with no communication directly from the NEC and no convincing explanation to members or branch officials of the reasoning involved.

Second, a concern about an apparent lack of focus on Scottish Independence. Many claimed in discussions to be aware of other political interests that were being pushed within the NEC, but at the expense of a lack of focus on Scottish Independence.

Third, and related to the above points, a perception of cliques or factions within the current NEC that were not putting the interests of Scottish Independence at the forefront of political deliberations.

Fourth, a lack of effective leadership of party staff, with a wide range of criticisms of lack of responsiveness to branch concerns. There was a related perception that there was a disregard for the membership as a whole.

Fifth, a lack of accountability. With a small number of notable exceptions, some claimed they had no significant communication or engagement with regionally elected NEC members following the last conference, despite the role they were expected to fulfil. Some also felt there was a lack of effective communication from some senior office bearers.

Sixth, there was widespread agreement with my proposition that much more needs doing to both identify and utilise the talent within the party. It was leading some members to opine that they felt as if they were seen as simply here to be rolled out to campaign at election time, and to be otherwise kept in the dark.

Seventh, a concern that debate within the party is being deliberately stifled with, for example, a loss of the open policy debating that used to be the norm at conference and elsewhere.

The above made me realise more than ever that the primary concerns amongst members related to issues that don't necessarily require any constitutional change, but do require a change in “culture”, a change in the ways in which we as a party behave towards one another, make and explain decisions, communicate and engage, show respect and build trust. This is very important.

In another aspect of my life I have for many years taught post graduate students about aspects of organisational change. There is a considerable amount of research that shows that when organisations fail to achieve their intended objectives, in around 70% of occasions it is because of a weakness in “culture”. My discussions over the last few weeks have led me to the belief that the types of concerns being raised by members, precisely mirror organisational culture issues.

In some respects, this is very encouraging. With effective leadership, and particularly from the NEC, it is quite possible to put in place the building blocks for a more purposeful culture. It is a matter of collective will to want to become more transparent; to ensure a focus on our primary goal of independence; to increase both the quantity and quality of communications; to facilitate member engagement; to encourage real political debates throughout the party; to show respect to member interests, and so forth.

Research also shows us that by taking action on such culture issues, a likely consequence will be to raise both trust and motivation. We will be building a culture where other issues, such as natural justice and dispute resolution have a much stronger foundation of trust and respect to build upon.

I realise that in my blogs to date I have raised a wide range of other issues. Some of my own ideas may ultimately require some constitutional change. Others will require those in elected positions to accept more responsibility (myself included should I be elected to the NEC). But I think I agree with the many members who have so eloquently in recent weeks made clear to me that an early focus on “fixing”some of the issues affecting party culture should be a key and immediate focus.

I therefore offer my thanks to everyone who has constructively engaged with me over the last few weeks. Should I be elected to the NEC you have not heard the last from me.

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