Last night’s meeting was an educational affair, as Cllr Alycia Hayes (of Trossachs & Teith Branch) was guest speaker on the topics of party structure and the Holyrood voting system. With the large number of new members (and some not so new) finding the party organisation a little confusing, it was felt this might be of benefit to everyone!
The meeting opened with the convener’s report. As it has been the summer there hasn’t been much business, except for the hard work campaigning to get Gerry McLaughlan elected at the Stirling East by-election to the council, on Thursday 1st October. The secretary noted that this Autumn’s party conference will be on 15-17 October in Aberdeen. As a branch we get to send 36 delegates – the last chance to register is on 17th September but really those interested should let a member of the Branch Executive know ASAP.
The treasurer (bright and breezy as always these days!) was able to report that while some funds have gone out to cover printing and campaign costs for the council by-election, overall the position is good because of the huge rise in membership fees. The political education officer closed the officer’s reports by asking that anyone interested in the proposed trip to Westminster they should let her know – see the Contact page for her email address.
No councillors from the branch were present to give a report at this point, because they were all out campaigning for the by-election. As a member of the SNP group on the council, Alycia Hayes reported that there are two big issues ahead just now. Currently underway is another round of priority based budgeting: the council has an £18M gap to fill, but despite having made a number of cuts, as usual are putting off doing anything serious about it – with the result that after the 2017 elections there are going to be some tough decisions to make. There will also be a cross-party meeting on the 10th September to discuss the council’s response to the refugee crisis, particularly how Stirling can take some refugees without impacting on those locals currently needing housing.
The branch sub-groups reported – the main news is that the sponsored walk along the West Highland Way has been cancelled due to clashing commitments. Otherwise, comms are ticking along nicely, and the organising group are working on a few things which they should be able to share soon.
Then on to the major business – Alycia gave us a tour of the party structure. How does one manage a genuinely grass-roots organisation with 110 000 members? The analogy she used was a plate of spaghetti and meatballs (no, really!). The members are the plate, and all the other bits of the party flow into each other, all underpinned by the members. The core of the party is the local branch, and the National Conference – where all the big decisions are made by votes of ordinary members twice a year. She led us through the National Executive Committee, National Council, and National Assembly, and various other committees that manage different parts of the party’s work. All the elected members in the party as a whole are accountable to ordinary members (and approved in their roles at National Conference), and it was observed that this really democracy at work, a far cry from the “dictatorship” label those in other parties, themselves far more centrally managed, like to throw at us. There are a few staff at HQ to support things like campaigning and organisation, and the Constituency Associations complete the picture, bringing together branches to select candidates for standing as MP or MSPs. This was all peppered with brilliant and amusing graphics, or it would have been but for a lack of a projector!
Alycia closed with an explanation of the additional member system that’s used for Holyrood elections, including a run through of an example list vote count. This showed how difficult it is to get list seats when a party is doing well in the constituencies, yet it was noted that this is something that the SNP did right across Scotland in 2011. The point was clear – we need to do well on the list vote next year – as there are seats to be won there too if we work hard enough!
In the final part of the meeting, we heard from Cllr Jim Thomson and Gerry McLaughlan (freshly back from campaigning). We need to work hard to get Gerry elected – 1000s of leaflets are going out and the team have nearly knocked on every door in the ward (that’s 9600 voters) but many people weren’t in and need revisited. Gerry has been on the case already, getting press releases out pressing the council on the issues of the school crossing and fly tipping – both of which have come up repeatedly at doorsteps in the campaign. Gerry thanked the branch for the support he has received so far, and asked for more people to help. See https://www.facebook.com/GerryMcLaughlanSNP for the schedule.
The meeting closed with a question from a member on TTIP and a brief discussion.