Scottish Labour will meet at conference in Perth at the end of October on the back of a huge surge of interest and a massive growth in membership. The new leadership in Scotland and the UK has put fire in the bellies of party activists, and old friends and sparring partners are already looking forward to meeting up.
But conference can be a daunting prospect for first-time attendees and new members, and too often a very passive experience even for seasoned activists. Conference arrangement committees, agendas and running orders, motions and composites, fringe meetings and demonstrations – these are not always the most accessible or, dare I say, the most exciting of prospects. And members can sometimes feel that what happens is pre-ordained, and they have very little influence over it.
But one of the first acts of Kezia Dugdale and Alex Rowley’s leadership last month was to significantly change the face of conference, making it more accessible and giving members a significantly greater say. And the changes we will see are more radical than I think a lot of people have so far realised.
First of all, local parties have been asked to debate, agree and submit policy proposals for the 2016 election directly to conference. Any individual member can bring a proposal to a local meeting to be debated. Each CLP can choose a proposal to submit to conference. The submitted proposals will be voted on at conference and those receiving a two-thirds majority will be taken forward as part of the manifesto process. No leadership filter, no committee shenanigans. Every submission voted on, and every one receiving two-thirds support of members going through.
This is a significant shift to an open policy-making process, and it shows a leadership ready and willing to put its faith in party members. It’s a huge opportunity for new and old members alike to make a serious contribution to party policy. I hope members across Scotland will take advantage and bring their policy ideas to their local parties over the coming month.
Second, and I think just as significant, is the opening up of the conference agenda into an extended Sunday session that has been dubbed “Members’ Day”. This is a major departure from the traditional model where what happens at conference is controlled from the top down. What happens on theSunday session is going to be directly in the hands of members.
During the Friday session, members will vote on every submitted resolution, and the top four resolutions will be given specific debating time on Members’ Day on the Sunday. Resolutions on the same topic will be grouped into issues. Once again, no leadership filter, no committee shenanigans. Direct democratic membership power.
As a CLP chair I know the wealth of talent, ideas and enthusiasm among our rapidly growing membership. And I know that some people have felt frustrated in the past by some of the top-down traditional decision-making in our party. So I’m genuinely excited to see this radical grassroots opening up from our new leadership, and I look forward to the new ideas it will generate.
My one concern is that not enough members know about it!
So please, share this news, and get in touch with your local party to find out how they plan to take in and debate submissions. Then let’s put our thinking caps on and come up with the policies we want to put in front of our whole membership and push to make part of our 2016 manifesto.
Scottish Labour is our party, and our 2015 conference is going to be an opportunity for us to have our say. Please take it.
Full details of Scottish Conference 2015 are here, and there’s a special £5 day rate for Members Day on the Sunday. See you there!
Duncan Hothersall is editor of LabourHame