Exclusive: SNP conference shake up as branches set new agenda with real debates


#SNP17 to debate land reform, Palestine, sex work, a national bank and @TieCampaign

SNP GRASSROOTS MEMBERS have succeeded in setting more of the party’s conference agenda at its Spring gathering in Aberdeen this March.

Conference motions confirmed for debate include land reform, the occupation of Palestine, sex work laws, establishing a national investment bank, and support for LGBT+ inclusive education. The set of motions reflects demands from within the party for a bolder approach to government – which contrasts with previous agendas that faced criticism for being “self-congratulatory”. 

Land reform returns to the agenda for the first time since members rebelled against the party leadership for not going far enough on the issue in Autumn 2015. 

The conference agenda is set by members of the Standing Orders and Agenda Committee (SOAC), new members to which promised to do more to include members’ motions in the agenda. 

Since the expansion of the party’s membership, SNP campaigners have called for stronger government policies on land reform, fracking, TTIP and other trade deals, justice reform, and rent controls.

As a result, the government was pressured into dropping plans for an Inverclyde super-prison in January 2015 and strengthening the Land Reform Act 2016. However, the SNP’s overall direction has remained largely unchanged since its membership quadrupled to over 120,000 following the 2014 Scottish independence referendum. 

Long-standing MP Angus Robertson won a commanding victory to become SNP Depute leader, while new MP and pro-reform socialist candidate Tommy Sheppard came a distant second. 

Motion 3: Creation of a National Investment Bank of Scotland

Will independence lead to a different economic policy from Tory dominated Westminster? One policy think-tank Common Weal has pushed for is establishment of an investment bank to provide capital to drive the economy and break the stranglehold of big finance

Kirriemuir and Dean branch have submitted a motion for “examining the feasibility of a Scottish National Investment Bank (SNIB)”.

Motion 4: Israeli settlements in the cccupied Palestinian territories 

SNP Friends of Palestine has made great inroads into building support for justice in Palestine, including receiving the backing of a majority of SNP MPs

The conference will debate Israel’s illegal settlement building on Palestinian land, which was condemned by the United Nations last December.

Convener of SNP Friends of Palestine Andy Murray said it was “great that it’s on the agenda” and it provides “a starting point for a far wider debate”.

The Scottish Government already has a procurement policy that “strongly discourages trade and investment from illegal settlements”, including the occupied Palestinian territories. MP Tommy Sheppard previously backed a wider debate on the issue of ‘Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions’ within the party.


Motion 7: Achieving ambitious land reform in Scotland

Half of Scotland’s private land is owned by just 432 interests, 750,000 acres are in tax havens, and around 13,000 hectares of derelict land is concentrated in the poorest communities. 

So land reform, one of Nicola Sturgeon’s major pledges, is unfinished business. Campaigners have been fighting hard for a more radical approach – and the issue has seen the only defeat of the SNP leadership at conference in recent years, when they lost a vote on more moderate measures in 2015

Importantly, the motion calls for “exploring all fiscal options to ensure that our land is fairly and sustainably valued and managed”. This means considering a land tax. So that’ll be a motion to watch.

Motion 12: Time for Inclusive Education (Tie)

The Tie Campaign returns to SNP conference – after a motion of support was passed in March 2016

SNP Youth, which has been pushing for greater action on inclusive education funding, proposes that the party backs the campaign’s pledge for “legislation and teacher training” covering “all of Scotland’s schools” to tackle discrimination and bullying. 

There has been wide and cross-party support for the Tie Campaign, and there has been unease inside and outside the SNP that the government has not taken enough concrete action to implement policy. 

Motion 15: A Scottish model of legislation on sex work 

Laws on sex work – from wholesale criminalisation to full legalisation – is a hotly contested issue, especially among feminist campaign groups.

SNP conference will hear a motion in favour of the Swedish model: decriminalising the sale of sex, criminalising the purchase of sex, and offering support “for those wishing to exit commercial sexual exploitation”. 

Sex work legislation was subject to a consultation by outgoing MSP Jean Urquhart, who received over 70 per cent support for a change in the law away from the current black market trade in sex work. 

Engender backed the principle of reform. Scottish Women’s Aid supported decriminalisation – but said criminalising the purchase of sex should remain an option. 

Zero Tolerance opposed “wholesale decriminalisation” of “an inherently exploitative and violent system”.

Proposed amendments to the range of motions have still to be confirmed. 

Picture: CommonSpace

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