SSP rules, okay?
In addition to the euro debate, the special conference also considered changes to the SSP constitution. The suspicion had been that this was always likely to be the dullest event of the year with the possible exception of Big Brother. At first sight many of the proposed changes seemed to have more to do with syntax than politics. For example, delete "can be" and replace with "is" in the statement, "Dissent can be positive", which was accepted without debate and without a vote. However, this apparently minor change was a substantial one. Of course socialists should be allowed to express different points of view instead of religiously reiterating the party line, but dissent is not always a good thing. Dissent can be deliberately obstructive, aimed at holding back the process of decision-making. It can take the form of disrupting a party action. The first section of the debate on aims and principles was correctly remitted to the next full conference, as it was recognised that a special conference should not have the power to change our policies. Next an amendment from the Glenrothes branch, which advocated the abolition of national council, thankfully was withdrawn - if passed, it would have removed an important decision-making body, at which all branches are represented. There was discussion over the growing role of regional councils. This was mainly over the proposed composition of regional councils, although there was an interesting amendment from Dunoon branch which called for Argyll and Bute (part of the Highland region) to become a region of its own. Comrades from the area thought that the SSP should ignore existing geography on the grounds that they wanted their own organiser. If there is any region which needs extra organisers then it is Glasgow, which has a higher population, significantly higher membership and a higher level of political activity. Needless to say, the amendment was defeated. There was considerable debate over an amendment from Mid Lothian, which opposed regional networks and regional affiliates having extra representation within the party. This was presented as a safeguard against potential affiliates such as trade unions being undemocratically over represented and being able to outvote the real membership à la Scargill's SLP. This amendment was defeated despite strong support. The main debate of the afternoon was around the constitutional working group's proposals for the composition of the executive. Amendments came from West Lothian, Stirling, Kirkcaldy and Dundee West. The debate was heated and provoked divisions within the ISM leadership faction, with Alan McCombes lining up with the constitutional working group and Richie Venton supporting the amendments. The working group's proposals began well by stating that the function of the executive committee is to "provide political and strategic leadership and is responsible for the day-to-day running of the party". A fair description, also acknowledging that the EC is "accountable for all its actions to national council and national conference". The only amendment to this was from Stirling branch which suggested that the EC should only be accountable to national conference, hence leaving it unaccountable for the rest of the year. The working group's proposals sought to expand the EC significantly by calling for 14 places to be elected directly from conference alongside those for the national convenor, secretary, co-chairs, treasurer and Scottish Socialist Voice editor. Regional organisers would no longer have a place on the executive, but would be allowed to attend as observers. The amendments from West Lothian, Perth and Dundee West called for regional organisers to be retained. What we are now left with is a situation where leading cadre in the SSP who are responsible for organising large sections of the membership are not represented at leadership level. Following on from the decision at the last full conference to implement 50-50 gender balance on the regional lists in the Scottish parliamentary elections next year, the working group called for lay members elected to the EC from conference to consist of seven men and seven women. Only Mid Lothian disputed the imposed gender balance, preferring the formulation, "Branches are encouraged to seek gender balance in their nominations".The constitutional working group's proposals for the composition of the executive were passed unamended, but very narrowly, each amendment being defeated by only a handful of delegates. The debate was so lively that it ran over time, causing every other section of the draft constitution to fall off the agenda. Normal procedure in such circumstances is to remit all unresolved motions to national council or the next full conference, as appropriate. Of course this would have led to a delay in implementing the remainder of the working group's proposals. However, in this case conference decided instead to implement them in their entirety without debate. Sarah McDonald * No euro, please - we're Scottish * Red stars and Mexican starfish