This is shaping up to be a radically different Scottish Conference

DH cropLabour Hame editor Duncan Hothersall says the opening up of the Scottish Conference agenda and policy-making process is more radical than most folk seem to have noticed. This piece was first published on LabourList.


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 the Sunday 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!

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12 thoughts on “This is shaping up to be a radically different Scottish Conference

  1. “Massive growth in membership”—- Really ?
    Will we allowed to get some actual figures? Or is it still some kind of secret ?
    “Opening of conference agenda”—-I wonder if Keir Hardie would have been allowed to put his Home Rule agenda to the modern Labour Party for consideration.

    1. My CLP has almost doubled its membership in the past year. We’ve had a fresh influx since Corbyn was elected. We are not as big as the SNP, but our members are active & positive.

      1. Your CLP “doubling in number” is a bit vague though. If you joined a CLP with only one member …. you’ve doubled its membership. I know that won’t be the case but “doubling” can involve some very small numbers and unless (Scottish) Labour can come up with more definitive, verifiable figures, the suspicion of a dwindling Party (with a probable small “dead cat bounce”) will remain.

  2. I am new to Labour (Oct 2014) and I am looking forward to attending (our CLP policy motion is on requiring developers to provide more affordable / social housing).

    On the conference arrangements, I am a little bemused that the conference has not always operated this way.

  3. Has anyone considered the labour party putting / allowoing another indepence referendum as one of their policies. We know that independence would not improve education, health etc., given that they have had 8 years to make a difference. Let’s call their bluff, because if we had a vote today the result would still be the same.

    So why not include another referendum and maybe some ex labour supporters will come back home. Then let everyone decide their preference. I would then expect the next vote to still be part of UK. Then we could then put this to bed for a generation.

    1. I suspect that nobody has considered such an idea as it’s the daftest of the year so far, just edging out of first place your next one about Scotland having been independent for 8 years.

      1. Stuart, nope I voted No last year. However the Sup talk a lot about being on the left with their policies but their actions are to the right of centre.
        I think Labour ‘are missing out on a lot of members., and in my opinion this would reduce the number of people voting SNP at the next elections.

  4. Sorry Duncan but that’s a very poor piece of wallpapering over the chasms in the wall.

    First off this new surge in membership is ironically going to create a polarised divide between the existing Blairites and the newly joined up Corbynistas.

    The Blairite Scottish shadow cabinet is sitting tight waiting to see how the struggle for control develops down South before jumping over to Corbyn or staying put.

    There may very well be a leadership coup in the near future meaning the newly founded membership will once again dissipate and leave. If there isn’t and Corbyn digs in then Labour in Scotland will have to struggle through a campaign of 180 degree U turns on everything they have said and done since 1999 or resign enmasse.

    Your troubles haven’t gone away they just mutated and evolved.

  5. My question is the same as Gavin’s: How many members does the Labour party in Scotland have? If the new leadership genuinely believes in trusting and empowering the membership being open and honest about this issue is a good starting point. It is also an opportunity for us to gauge our success in our progress in our required re-engagement with the people of Scotland.

  6. Only 6 weeks ago, Kezia was expressing deep unease about the prospect of Corby as UK leader: “There are loads of people who are quite prepared to say ‘Och, it doesn’t matter if he doesn’t look like a prime minister, there’s someone who’s authentic and says what they believe’. But I want there to be a Labour government; otherwise I’m wasting my time. I don’t want to spend my whole life just carping from the sidelines. So you have to convince me that he can be [prime minister]. Here’s a guy that’s broken the whip 500 times. So how can the leader of the party enforce discipline with that record?”
    It is difficult to see, therefore, how any future relationship between the two can be harmonious and constructive.
    However it’s good that she now done a massive U-turn on the constitutional question, recognising that there are merits to the case for Scottish independence. The contrast to her previous bile directed towards independence supporters and her new position of having “tremendous respect” for them is refreshing but she has a long way to go, I suspect, before she persuades Jeremy and the team at Head Office in London. Still, she has obviously calculated that the desire amongst Labour voters for Scottish independence will develop and grow and will be a huge influence in Scottish Labour politics when Mr Corbyn is gone and forgotten.

  7. “Scottish Labour is our party…” you say. Surely the Labour Party in Scotland,controlled by the UK Labour Party, is your party. You can have your say but Big Brother way down south will be watching for corrections.

  8. As a lifelong socialist I was delighted to hear Ms Dugdale on Sunday TV assure us that individual MSP’s /constituencies can canvas come May for independence as hard as they like without reference to HQ; she is not going to shut down debate. At last she must have the SNP on the run, or at least bamboozled. Another suicide note?

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