Exclusive: SNP HQ instructs politicians not to attend unofficial conference event amid price row


Alternative festival established for organisations priced out of official conference fringe

SNP politicians have been instructed by the party HQ not to speak at any unofficial fringe events amid a price row which prompted a number of groups to set up an alternative event to run alongside the conference.

An email, seen by CommonSpace, was sent out to elected SNP representatives in mid-August asking representatives to “politely decline” any invitations “to speak at dinners, fringe events or receptions” which fall outside of the SNP conference “secure zone”, which includes the SECC and three nearby hotels; Crowne Plaza Hotel, the Village Hotel and the Hilton Garden Inn.

The email stated that the reason for this proscription on SNP representatives being involved in unofficial fringe events is that events “held outwith this area does not benefit the party” and could undermine the official conference fringe.

“As conference approaches and organisations plan their fringe events, we would like to take this opportunity to request that you politely decline any invitation to speak at dinners, fringe events or receptions which are outside the conference secure zone,” the email said.

“As you’ll appreciate, events within the secure area as part of the official fringe are those paid for by chairites and commercial organisations who contribute greatly to the costs of the conference.

“Any event held outwith this are does not benefit the party, and your involvement in such events means that you are not available to support events on the official fringe during that time.”

Campaigners unveil 'Festival of Ideas' to coincide with SNP party conference in Glasgow

The email has emerged after it was announced that organisations which feel priced out of the official conference fringe will be holding their own alternative festival next to the SECC conference venue.

One of the organisers of the conference, Common Weal director Robin McAlpine, told CommonSpace that the governing party of Scotland should have a more inclusive approach to its conference fringe.

He said: “Common Weal tried really hard to organise a presence at the SNP conference similar to the one we had last year but it just proved unaffordable. We have a more substantial budget than many if not most campaigning organisations so if we can’t afford to get in we realised an awful lot of others couldn’t either. I totally understand that the SNP has to be able to run its conference without unsustainable losses, but this is the political party which forms the government of Scotland.

“If access is defined by how much money you have then you end up with corporate politics with those representing important social issues standing outside in the rain. There should be more to politics than who has the most money and I’m afraid I just don’t think the SNP has got the balance right this year.”

Yesterday, SNP depute leadership candidate Chris McEleny and Scottish charities spoke out over high conference prices, which mean the cheapest stall available for charities is over £3,000 for a space just 3×2 metres. The least expensive fringe meeting for a charity costs over £1,000. McEleny called on charities to approach him with their concerns over prices.

SNP Depute candidate raises concerns charities may be “priced-out” of SNP conference

The prices for non-profit third sector organisations such as think tanks and campaigning organisations will be much higher, with a 3×2 metre stall over £5,000 and a standard fringe meeting over £1,700. Prices for stalls at the official SNP fringe range up to £20,300. The SNP is also charging for other fringe expenses, such as advertising fringe events in the conference programme.

The prices are several times higher than at the SNP’s conference fringe in Aberdeen in 2015.

The 2016 SNP conference comes at a tumultuous time in Scottish and UK politics.Just two years since the independence referendum in September 2014, the UK has been thrust back into constitutional turmoil by the UK’s shock referendum vote to leave the EU. In the aftermath of the Brexit vote, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said a second vote on Scottish independence was “highly likely”.

An SNP spokesperson told CommonSpace: “SNP parliamentarians regularly meet external groups, organisations and charities throughout the year. Any organisations who don’t wish to attend SNP conference are able to arrange meetings at a time and location that suits them elsewhere in the calendar.”

The SNP conference will take place between 13-15 October.

Picture courtesy of Plaid Cymru

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