In previous blogs I have been critical at times of party governance and the National Executive Committee. However, that is not enough. In some respects it is easy to criticise, but not so easy to make constructive proposals. How then could we make a difference, given it will probably be at least a year before any major party constitutional reform can be made? What can we do?
This latter question is why I read all 193 pages of the constitution, rules and standing orders of the party. Even within current constraints, what could be done? I think the answer is, perhaps surprisingly, quite a lot.
In this blog I am going to suggest just four examples of what could be done if a majority on the NEC could be mustered.
First, the agenda. The standing orders of the NEC say this regarding the agenda.
. “The Agenda for the National Executive Committee shall normally contain at least the following items, as applicable—
2.Minutes of the Last Meeting
4.National Secretary's Business
5.National Treasurer's Business
6.Current Political Business
· Party Leader’s Report
7.Business Convener's Business
· Chief Executive’s report
8.Reports of National Office Bearers, Committees and Groups
9. Any Other Competent Business
10. Date time and place of next meeting”
Given the number of National Office Bearers, committees and groups, this could be death by reporting.
As I read the above, my own thoughts turned to my experience of assisting boards of companies in the course of my working life. It reads like getting reports from everyone, but not discussing how the business is performing. My own view is that before any reports, there should be a standing agenda item along the lines of:
Scottish Independence: Progress discussion.
Subsequent reports could then be understood in the context of how far we are effectively driving towards the party’s goal. Hardly a radical proposal I would have thought, but one to ensure we don't lose sight of what the party’s purpose actually is.
Second, establishing a talent register. There is nothing other than a lack of will to stop the NEC from requiring the establishment of an expertise survey amongst party members and maintaining a “Register of Talent”. A well designed survey could capture members willing to volunteer their expertise to assist the party. Within the party we have people with expertise in the voluntary sector, private sector and public sector. We have practitioners, researchers and academics with expertise in a huge range of areas. We have people with international as well as national experience, and so on. By capturing the talent at our disposal we could mobilise an unrivalled effort to prepare for independence.
Third, establishing a new body for political education. Back in 1980 the late Dr Allan Macartney was the leading light in setting up the Scottish Self-Government College. It ran weekend schools in political education and also provided some bespoke provision under commission from various groups in the party. It went into decline following the death of Allan. There is considerable expertise in education and political science in the party that could be mobilised to establish a modern equivalent of the SSGC. It would be a fitting tribute to Allan, as well as a welcome resource particularly for those members with aspirations to contribute more to the party.
Fourth, communication and transparency. I can see nothing in the current party constitution, rules and standing orders that puts in place a recognition of the need for open communication with party members. This is yet another area where the NEC could take an initiative. For example, I can see nothing preventing the NEC from setting up regular communication with branches (or even directly with members) explaining key issues being considered or decided.
And so on. My examples above are of course simply my own. Others will have their own suggestions. My point is that however flawed some of our governance arrangements are currently, it does not mean we need to passively accept things as they are. We need to think more creatively and purposefully about how to strengthen our focus on independence and how to better mobilise the talent within the party.
So much can be done. We just need the collective will to act.