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19 March 2016
Like visitors to cycling expo next door, SNP resolution on public sector reform was told to ‘get on your bike’

Like visitors to cycling expo next door, SNP resolution on public sector reform was told to ‘get on your bike’

“The SNP Government has shown itself to be bold and radical in government, working not for vested interests or the status quo. This resolution is in that radical tradition.” So said SNP MSP Kenneth Gibson as he made his case for a shake-up of the current model of 14 health boards and 32 local authorities.

Or, at least, that was what the convener of the Scottish Parliament’s Finance Committee was going to say if he had been called to the stage at this month’s SNP conference inside hall five at the SECC.

Like visitors to the cycling exhibition next door, Resolution 19 – by far the meatiest policy discussion in prospect as 3,000 delegates gathered in Glasgow – was told to ‘get on your bike’.

Conference acknowledged the “Scottish Government’s success in helping thousands of Scots get back to work” (three days later, official figures showed unemployment had risen by 16,000 between November and January) then swiftly moved on to topical resolutions that included, you guessed it, ‘Both votes SNP’, without so much as a mention of the final agenda item.

After two days of being told at almost every turn not to lend their second vote to other independence inclined parties such as the Greens or RISE, delegates clearly needed a reminder. Party spinners said the decision to bypass Resolution 19 was at the discretion of SNP business convener, Derek Mackay, as conference chair.

Asked by Holyrood as he headed out the SECC why the resolution had not been taken, the Transport Minister said bluntly, “lack of time”. As the government minister in charge of keeping Scotland’s transport system running, one would expect Mackay’s time management skills to be up to the standards of a Swiss watch.

That, of course, is an aside. Holyrood published the speech that never was – in which the Cunninghame North MSP claimed the current structure of local government and health boards is “neither sustainable nor desirable” – two days later. It is indeed radical, calling for health to fall under “reinvigorated local authority control” whilst at the same time “merging – where appropriate – local authorities”.

In what is surely unprecedented for a party conference speech, the Conservatives are only mentioned four times and Labour once in 829 words. Amidst an unrelenting war of words between central and local government, Gibson – a councillor from 1992 to 1999, who in his second term achieved the biggest majority of any Scottish councillor – largely steered clear of politics to talk about outcomes.

Although the kind of reforms called for will attract champions and critics in equal measure, they provide the basis for a conversation; a conversation that should have happened on the final day of the SNP conference.

The fact that it failed to take place merely reinforced the comments of Dr Malcolm Kerr, convener of the Isle of Arran branch, who just 24 hours earlier used the podium to liken conference to Labour under Tony Blair due to the “complacent” and “self-congratulatory” tone of several resolutions.

“Over 3,000 delegates took part in the SNP spring conference, the largest ever pre-election conference in the party’s history,” said a party spokesman. “It’s often the case that not every resolution will be taken, and we encourage movers to resubmit for the next meeting of National Council.”

Holyrood understands that Gibson will indeed resubmit the resolution. Let’s hope next time it is given the time of day.

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