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Councillor Chris McEleny calls on SNP national secretary to resign

Jenni Davidson/Holyrood

Councillor Chris McEleny calls on SNP national secretary to resign

SNP councillor Chris McEleny has called on the national secretary of his party to resign, following fierce internal criticism of the National Executive Committee’s (NEC) handling of candidate selection ahead of the 2021 election.

The move comes after the SNP reversed its decision to stop MSP James Dornan from standing in his seat at the next election, and following claims it acted to block MP Joanna Cherry from standing.

Dornan announced his plans to stand down as MSP for Glasgow Cathcart, before reversing his decision due to the coronavirus crisis. But the SNP NEC then announced it would apply an all-women shortlist to the constituency, blocking him from running, before reversing its decision and announcing Dornan as the candidate.

Following the decision, Dornan said: “I know many will already be aware but today I’ve been informed that the decision made by NEC to make Glasgow Cathcart an all women shortlist has now been rescinded by the National Secretary as it was deemed unconstitutional.”

Meanwhile the party also faced criticism from members after announcing new rules forcing sitting MPs to resign their seat in order to run for the Scottish Parliament, in a move some claimed was aimed at blocking Joanna Cherry from standing for Edinburgh Central.

Under the changes, if Cherry was chosen as an SNP candidate for the 2021 election, she would be required to stand down as an MP. However the Edinburgh South West MP has now announced she will not stand for selection.

Calling on national secretary Angus MacLeod to resign and announcing his intention to take the role himself, McEleny said he was “deeply concerned about the manner in which the NEC has been operating at a governance and scrutiny level, and whether or not it is effective in running the party to ensure the aims of the party are best met and the cause of independence is progressed”.

Meanwhile, in a leaked letter to the SNP business convener and the national secretary, Stirling MP Alyn Smith warned that the NEC is too large, and that the party should create an Equalities Forum, which would mean roles such as the including the women’s, equalities and disabled members conveners would be removed from the committee.

Smith also proposed creating a Regional Forum, which would include all 16 regional representatives. The move would mean the NEC would be reduced from 42 to 18 seats.

Saying that over the last week he had seen members turn from “grumbling bemusement” at the NEC to “anger, not unjustifiably, at the conduct of the NEC as a whole and some individuals specifically”, he said: “The SNP NEC is too big, unwieldy, unfocused and, as recent events have proven, politically unsound.”

“The Equalities ‘brief’ has expanded, by my count, to almost a dozen people representing one strand or another of their interpretation of the equalities agenda. This is of course important, as a gay man equalities are close to my heart, but not as close as independence.

“I am not alone in thinking that too much of the party’s oxygen has been taken up by discussion of peripheral issues like GRA reform, with a small but vocal number of NEC members focusing on these peripheral issues, however worthy, to the exclusion of all else. This imbalance has not served that debate, the party or the cause well and has led to pushback and resentment from the membership.”

Questioning the decisions of the NEC, McEleny also called for its reform. He said if he was national secretary he would move to suspend the decision to ban dual mandates, initiate a Chief Executive Appraisal system to improve accountability of party staff.

McEleny, who is standing against SNP MSP Stuart McMillan for selection as the SNP candidate for Greenock and Inverclyde, said he would only serve as acting national secretary until the next SNP conference.

Referring to the ruling on James Dornan’s seat, McEleny said: “This decision in isolation is tantamount to actions worthy of resignation. Thankfully the right outcome was achieved when the efforts to act unconstitutionally were met with widespread condemnation, but not by first grossly damaging efforts many people in the party have made to ensure that Scotland’s parliament better reflects the fact that 52 per cent of the population are female and this should be reflected in our elected representation.”

He added: “However, the injustice of the situation in which members of Edinburgh Central have been denied their constitutional right to self-determine who should be their SNP candidate at the Scottish Parliament election prevails. This is an outrage to all that hold the value of internal party democracy to a level of fundamental importance.

“It is apparent that the reported voting process is not constitutional. Further, it is for the democratically elected members of the NEC to propose actions such as a policy on dual mandates, and such a fundamental policy shift must be ratified by the conference of the party. It is concerning that the requirement to make such a decision, only a month away from selection contests was thrust upon the NEC by paid party staff.”

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