I VIVIDLY remember attending my first SNP Conference 20 years ago in Dundee. The whole conference was alive with debate, ideas and personalities, and there was some stooshie over housing policy. It was fantastic.

Like a number of people, I was hesitant about joining a political party, but was immediately reassured by the vibrancy of debate and room to contribute to those positive discussions. I felt genuinely empowered as a new member, and excited about my involvement.

One of the huge strengths of the SNP is our internal democracy. So that’s why I was surprised to read the suggestion that the party should take a “command and control” approach to the selection of our parliamentary candidates.

Our members are the beating heart of the SNP. Any member can bring forward a policy proposal through their local branch, and any member has the opportunity to take part in conference debates and stand for office bearer positions. Indeed, any member can be a prospective candidate and even run for a senior position like Depute Leader.

Our local branches are the foundation of our party democracy – they shape policy and run local campaigns, like the huge number of successful constituency campaigns for the snap Westminster election last year. They are also empowered, quite rightly, to choose their local council and parliamentary candidates. If there is more than one potential candidate nominated, then this goes to a ballot of members in the ward or constituency.

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SNP Headquarters does not get to parachute in candidates, or instruct candidates to put themselves forward in particular seats. Potential candidates make those choices themselves.

Having a candidate who has been chosen by local members gives them a connection to their candidate, and they are therefore more likely to work to secure a win for them if they have had a say in choosing them. It’s democratic, but it’s also a key part of our successful model which has seen the SNP go from strength to strength in elections.

Internal contests in the SNP are common – from selection contests to elections for local and national office bearers. I’ve taken part in a fair few, and they have always been a fantastic good-humoured experience, based on respectful and friendly debate.

In these kind of contests, we don’t view ourselves as opponents, but as fellow candidates, each putting forward our ideas and what we consider our strengths. And that’s how it should be.

The membership surge in the SNP after the 2014 referendum did pose some logistical challenges, and has sparked a series of internal reforms to adapt to our sheer size, but also the different needs and expectations of our broader membership.

It is a fantastic strength of the SNP that we have risen to the challenge of welcoming new ideas and approaches, and that we are working together in common purpose to achieve our goal of independence.

But no matter how much we have grown as a party, our core purpose and ethos remains the same. We exist to achieve independence for Scotland, and to empower our fellow citizens to choose that future. It is only right that our own members are empowered by a party with a strong internal democracy too.