SOMEWHERE between a hollow, lockstep rally and a chair-throwing bourach there is a happy medium to which a party’s conference should aspire to be. I have submitted my name for consideration as the SNP’s next national secretary because I believe I have the ideas to steer us there. When in-person conferences resume they should be energising, vibrant and participative events that help propel us and our programme forward as we move towards independence.

In the past, conference was host to massive debates. Policy was genuinely set: the referendum strategy, alcohol pricing, Nato membership. Big topics have been trusted to the delegates over the years. There was a sense that if the party was taking a big policy decision it just had to go to conference.

The annual gathering naturally became more cautious after the SNP went into government. Oppositions can demand action, governments must find a way to deliver it. But after the party swelled in 2014 the conference stayed the same, but bigger. Much bigger. The agenda, however, follows largely the same form as it did when I went to my first one in 1999 – leader speeches, pages and pages of resolutions, an internal session for the constitution and reports.

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Recent events have shown that resolutions can be constraining. We would benefit from official forums for the airing of more free-form views. Holyrood occasionally has debates without motion, where a subject is chosen and members are free to make contributions around it. That helps empower members and inform leaders without shackling debate to the minutiae of the wording of a motion. Last year much grief could have been avoided with such a session simply titled “referendum strategy”.

National Assembly is supposed to provide such a forum. I joined the SNP in 1998 and National Assembly has existed for that whole time and has not lived up to its hopes. Conference is the flagship event and instead of a National Assembly being an optional annexe to the conference held the day after, its format should be incorporated directly.

Similarly, we should recognise that the Fringe is no add-on either. It is the engine of small-scale discussion, the break-out sessions where new ideas emerge in smaller groups. Since resolutions come out months before the Fringe programme and are presented as more central to the agenda, no wonder there are annual grumblings about the content. Resolutions are the end point of debate, not the entirety.

I would therefore seek to recast the Fringe as “partner sessions”, alongside National Assembly “discussion sessions” and resolution “debate sessions” to build parity of esteem.

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A final type would be “accountability sessions”. The party gives platforms to office-bearers to report and take questions, but as the party has moved into government influence has moved elsewhere and participation in these sessions has declined. Subject to interest from the membership and agreement with the respective politicians, I would seek to add open Q&As from a member or members of each party policy portfolio team. Members would gain a way of raising issues, Cabinet secretaries and/or Westminster leads would gain a new communication channel that allowed policy and positions to be explained directly, without having to go through the sometimes distorting lens of the media.

As well as convening the conferences committee the National Secretary also deals with discipline and the constitution. I will have more to say about those later, but suffice to say that the new internal governance review is welcome and I have high hopes for it.

I will however make two further commitments at this point. Each national executive committee meeting should agree a minute to be distributed immediately after, just as Cabinet already does. Finally, there is one demand I hear over and over from members, far more than any other – and yes, I will answer emails.