Q&A with SNP depute leadership candidate Keith Brown
The SNP will announce its new depute leader at its spring conference later this week
Keith Brown MSP - Image credit: Nick Grigg
How do you see the role of depute leader, given you also have a deputy first minister and a party convener?
DFM is a government role for the First Minister to decide. Business convener is a party role for the leader to appoint. The depute leader is for the members to decide and the role is set out in the party’s constitution. Duties include, obviously, deputising for the leader as required, and overseeing policy engagement, including the convening of the party’s National Assembly. I believe that this role is crucial in readying the party for future elections/referenda, and in ensuring we have an engaged and motivated membership.
Why should someone vote for you rather than the other candidates?
I’ve got more than three decades of being a party activist, experience of being a councillor, a council leader, an MSP, a Scottish Government minister and a cabinet secretary. I value all members equally and I’m determined to make sure their voices are being heard and acted on. We’ve got to get ready. Depute leader isn’t a national organiser role or similar – we have an excellent one of those in Fiona McLeod – it’s a job involving plenty of hard work. It’s about listening to members, and it’s about getting the party ready for the challenges ahead, getting us ready to win independence.
There has been a lot of discussion about members not feeling involved in the party decision making. How would you approach that?
I know from going round the country talking to members that there is an appetite to be more involved in either policy making or in relation to local campaigning activity. We have a model that worked well for us when we were 4,000 strong and we adapted it as we grew so the system was still fine when we were 25,000 strong. Then there was the surge in membership at the end of 2014 and we’re simply needing to adapt to make sure we can effectively engage with 100,000+ members.
We have to change the way we work. The return of the old National Assembly structure is needed, but perhaps on a regional basis, online policy discussion forums where members can contribute and experts in the field can offer their opinions, engagement at a level that members want. You can’t impose involvement on people, but you can offer a wide range of options. No one person has all the answers but I’ve got a whole load of questions I’m asking about why we do things the way we do.
What policy does the SNP not currently have that you would like to introduce?
I would like to see further investigation of a basic income policy, and if it can be devised without too many unintended consequences, taken further. However, I think the proper place for members to discuss policy is inside the party, where every member can get a chance to contribute to the discussion.
The FM appears to have fired a starting gun on the independence debate. How do you win over those that didn’t support you last time?
We fired the starting gun on the independence debate in the first half of the 20th century – a bit before my time. Nicola [Sturgeon] was talking about an economic report, the Growth Commission, we can use to build a prospectus of ambition and hope for independence. It’s interesting that the Fraser of Allander Institute published a report this month suggesting “a net outflow of income from Scotland to the rest of the UK and/or overseas”, suggesting we have a solid economic basis. Now we have to do the other thing, too. We have to reach out to people who lean toward ‘No’, listen to them, and address the concerns they have. We have to make a case for Scotland doing a better job by representing itself in the world. We have to fill out the vision.
When would you hold the next independence referendum and why?
A Thursday is traditional! I believe we have to have clarity on the Brexit deal before we can ask people this question. We need to get ready, we need to take the people with us. This doesn’t belong to politicians, doesn’t belong to the SNP, doesn’t belong just to me, it belongs to all of the people in Scotland. When it is called, I would caution the other parties not to disregard democratic norms. If Scotland’s electorate vote for parties committed to an independence referendum, and our national parliament votes for that in a free and democratic vote, then no democratic party should seek to obstruct that democratic will.
Who is your political hero?
Nelson Mandela. It’s hard not to resort to cliché, but he was inspirational in so many ways. If we had more political leaders like him, the world would be a better, and fairer place.
What kind of leader will you be?
I would like to be a listening leader. The key to winning people over to your point of view, whether in the party, in government or in a referendum debate, must be to respectfully listen and then try to find common ground.
What’s your top campaigning tip?
See above. Also, get people who know what they’re doing, put them in place and let them do it. Make sure they’re training other people at the same time, though. Don’t rely on too few people, don’t think you can create a structure with just one person in a region working away. Get out and speak to people, get more people involved. You can’t win anything on your own, find who you need. Remember to task them well, remember to give them the freedom to get on with it and remember to thank them. Along the way, remember not to take yourself too seriously, remember to enjoy it. Above all, though, remember what it is you want to achieve, remember why you’re doing this – it makes it all much easier.
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