Exclusive: SNP Depute candidate raises concerns charities may be “priced-out” of SNP conference

Charities and campaign organisations speak out over hiked SNP conference pricing

SNP DEPUTE LEADERSHIP candidate Chris McEleny has voiced his concerns over the possibility of charities being “priced out” of the SNP’s annual conference in October at Glasgow’s Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre (SECC).

As well as a large seated are for speeches, votes and other conference matters, political party conferences usually have a large fringe venue with organisations hosting stalls and fringe meetings and rallies. However prices have increased considerably to take part in such fringe events at this years SNP conference.

The SNP Inverclyde councillor told CommonSpace that whilst the logistical difficulties of putting on an event such as the annual SNP conference should be considered, special arrangements ought to be made for non-profits.

He said: “If charities are priced out that’s not acceptable.

“There are practicalities that a party of our size faces, and that has to be born in mind.

“With the size of our membership, something like the SECC is the only type of venue that can accommodate our membership. It’s only £30 for each delegate to attend, and that price is kept low by charging for fringe events and so forth, and I would hope that corporate stalls would help subsidise those costs.

“That being said I think if you’ve got a set amount of room for stalls, then charities should have a set number of them, if not for free then for a price that won’t be too high.”

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The contender for the leading SNP post said he hoped the issue would be resolved.

“There’s still a month until conference, and I would hope these issues could be ironed out. If any charities are concerned about this matter they can contact me,” he said.

The comments are a response to inflated prices at the 2016 SNP October conference.

The largest stalls, of 6 x 8 metres will cost organisations £19,896 over three days, with a £509.34 booking fee. Small stalls are cheaper, and there are discounted rates for charities.

However, a 6 x 8 metres charity stall will still cost £11,983 with an additional booking fee of £311.

The smallest and cheapest stall for a registered charity will be £2,985 with an additional fee of £86.57, however this price is for a stall space just 3 x 2 metres.

The cheapest fringe meeting for charities cost over £1000.

The prices are several times higher than at the 2015 SNP conference in Aberdeen, and a lower price scale for third sector organisations in 2015 has been discarded completely in the 2016 price scheme.

One organisation told CommonSpace that their quoted price for the 2016 organisation was more than 400 per cent of their 2015 price.

Liz Murray of the registered charity and campaigning group Global Justice Now told CommonSpace that the “sky high” fees were in danger of excluding organisations and depriving delegates and elected representatives of access to political issues.

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She said: “The way that the SNP conference is currently set up excludes many organisations in the voluntary sector who just can’t afford to pay the sky high fees to hold a fringe event in the venue.  The shame of this is that SNP politicians and party members miss out on the creative and innovative thinking and the grassroots experience that smaller organisations would bring.”

The high prices at the conference have prompted several non-profit, charity and campaigning organisations including The New Economics Foundation, Compass and CommonWeal think tanks and campaigning groups and registered charities including Global Justice Now, Friends of the Earth Scotland and World Wildlife Fund Scotland, to set up their own festival in the Glasgow Science Centre next to the SECC. The festival will run concurrently with the SNP conference from 13-15 October.

Murray argued that the alternative festival showed the need for the SNP to improve access to its conference.

She said: “That Common Weal have organised this separate festival of ideas outside the main conference venue demonstrates the need for wider access to the conference itself.  We’re really pleased to take part in what should be a fascinating event, with such a broad range of dynamic organisations and creative thinkers.  We really hope that the SNP conference delegates take the time to visit it.

Mick Napier of the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign told CommonSpace that party delegates have a right to explore wider political issues.

He said: “I think it’s shocking the price for a stall, shameful.

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“This makes it more difficult for SNP members to access a full toolbox of ideas, a full spectrum of truly radical ideas.”

Asked what he wanted to achieve from contributing to the alternative festival, Napier said: “We want to access a very large number of politically engaged people, and enter into a full and free exchange of ideas with all of them.”

The SNP’s annual conference is set to be the most important in years.

It comes months after the UK’s shock vote to leave the EU on 23 June, an event which First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said made a second referendum on Scottish Independence “highly likely”.

It also comes in the wake of the devolution of further tax and spending powers to Scotland, powers which prompted the SNP to promise the creation of a new social security service.

An SNP spokesperson told CommonSpace: “There are a range of options available to organisations who wish to exhibit or host fringe events. We always welcome a range of external organisations to Conference and our members enjoy the contribution they make to the event.”

Picture courtesy of the SNP

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Comments

peterabell

Wed, 08/31/2016 - 10:14

It is fashionable to be disparaging about market forces. All too often this attitude is justified as, unfettered, these forces produce outcomes that are less than optimum - or worse. But reason demands we allow that every once in a while market forces are actually an effective way of resolving complex issues of supply and demand.

The SNP Conference offers organisations unique access to nearly 4,000 political leaders and activists, The people who shape party policy and, thereby, government policy. The people who are among the most active in politics at every level from grass-roots to cabinet. People who are knowledgeable and influential. There's massive competition for places. This has to be managed.

The likes of Common Weal are making a fuss about the cost of this access. The question they fail to ask while whining about these charges is, how else might the SNP go about the task of rationing such a valuable commodity? The party managers have a duty to maximise the return to members - who actually own the commodity being haggled over. They have no duty to subsidise other organisations. And doing so would involve subjective judgements that would inevitably provoke even more graceless complaining from those who considered themselves unjustly denied the patronage of the SNP.

If we could all just stop the knees jerking for a moment and look at what the result of the new pricing arrangements has been. Has it not worked out for the best all round? It has made this new venue possible, opening up affordable space for even more organisations, while allowing the SNP to cover the costs of mounting the biggest political event in Scotland - and maybe even replenish the war-chest it will need in order to fight next year's crucial council elections and the coming referendum campaign.

Sometimes market forces actually work to everybody's benefit. This may be one of those occasions. It would be gratifying if people could see it as a happy outcome rather than just another excuse for petty, pointless and exceedingly tiresome sniping at the SNP.

Ian Clark

Wed, 08/31/2016 - 20:59

Your comment raises a few issues.

You rightly imply that the SNP can do what it wants at its own conference and that its managers have obligations to members and none to outsiders. Equally obviously some of us are concerned about access to influential politicians being significantly determined by market forces (or - uncharitably simplified - about ‘cash for influence’).

‘Has it not worked out for the best all round? It has made this new venue possible, opening up affordable space for even more organisations, while allowing the SNP to cover the costs of mounting the biggest political event in Scotland … It would be gratifying if people could see it as a happy outcome …’. Were you being wholly serious when you wrote this? ‘Affordable space’? Perhaps your party now exists in that rarefied financial atmosphere which Labour and Conservative parties inhabit? ‘Happy outcome’? You posted this on the Commonweal site, not an SNP one. What is ‘best’ for the SNP is not necessarily important to or good for the rest of us. Getting sizeable sums of money into SNP coffers from corporate interests et al to pay for tightly managed conferences seems to come under the latter category. Many of us are well wishers - at least where Independence is concerned - but I think you can take it as read that we do not share your Panglossian view of the SNP.

Finally, from what I’ve read, people expressed genuine concerns in a reasonably, polite manner. These concerns were addressed by you, but this could have been done without needlessly antagonistic terms like ‘whining’, ‘graceless complaining’, ‘petty’, ‘pointless’ and ‘tiresome’. When Indyref 2 starts many of the people so described will probably be on the same side as the SNP. But it won’t be thanks to insults like these.

peterabell

Thu, 09/01/2016 - 08:36

I scoured your comment looking for an answer to the question of what criteria should be used in allocating a commodity for which demand outstrips supply by a considerable margin. It would seem to be a choice between market forces and party patronage. My suspicion is that people with an excess of righteous indignation and hair-trigger knees would see either as an opportunity for a bit of vacuous venting.

Bidge

Thu, 09/01/2016 - 08:49

This I am VERY unhappy about.

The SNP is awash with more money that it has ever had. Whether it be from the massive influx of new members taking it to the 3rd largest party in the UK in terms of membership or whether it be from the huge cash injection in "Short Money" that comes out of Westminster with all the new MP's. Either way theyare more financially capable than ever.

What do they do? They price the poor out politics. Because that is exactly what this is.

1st: By massively inflating the cost to get space at the fringe meetings and/or table space meaning only the financially powerful can afford a voice,
2nd: When an alternative fringe is set-up in an attempt to facilitate those can't afford the main venue, Parliamentarians and party officials are banned form attending.

The reeks of the old claim of "Tartan Tories" that had all been put to bed, except by the die hard Unionist press. This reeks of "Cash for Access". Yes the groups who "can't afford access, can get access at any other time of the year". However this is the most important time to speak to the mass membership and too the party officials. On this one SNPBad is actually true.

peterabell

Thu, 09/01/2016 - 09:06

Again! Lot's of whining; but not a single suggestion as to the criteria that should be used in allocating this commodity if not market forces. Complaining is easy. Coming up with solutions appears to be too much of an effort.

Bidge

Thu, 09/01/2016 - 09:08

There are many ways it could be done without pricing the poor out politics.

One simple and arguably the fairest way would be to have a ballot and draw names out a hat to fill the spaces if they are oversubscribed.

Or they could just leave it as but "not prohibit their party officials" from attending and speaking at extra events that have set up to run concurrently with the "main show".

If it is as you state all about market forces, then surely the same such market forces should be used to determine whether conference attendees (including parliamentarians and officials) who wish to visit the secondary fringe exhibitors are able to do so. Or are market forces only allowed to operate whilst under the strict guidelines of the SNP officialdom and thus create a closed market where only the powerful and monied can operate.

After all if it is about "supply and demand" then let everyone see where the demand actually lies instead of rigging the market. If parliamentarians remain banned from visiting/talking at this extra fringe then its no longer about "demand" but about who can buy access.

peterabell

Thu, 09/01/2016 - 09:21

You forgot to ask the important question. Have parliamentarians actually been "banned" from attending the alternative event? Just because it says so in a headline doesn't necessarily make it true.

As to the ballot idea, at least you tried. But you failed to address the issue of cost. Suppose those drawn in the ballot are unwilling or unable to pay? We're then back to a choice between market forces and party patronage. (And the same carping from those with a weakness for having their buttons pressed by the media.) Alternatively, we are faced with interminable re-draws of the lottery until we are left with... what? The same as we would have had if we'd let market forces sort it out! Except that the ballot risks excluding some of the organisations whose presence would be valued, just because they're unlucky!

Maybe not your best work.

Bidge

Thu, 09/01/2016 - 09:42

And you fail to address the fact the that the SNP is awash with more money thats its ever had. You also skirt over one of your key arguments that the price was increased artificially through "supply and demand" to actually reduce the numbers of organisations that gain access to the space available.

Therefore the price doesn't need to be that high in the first place and its purely about a cash grab.

Secondly not everything should be determined by "How much can we make out of it?" approach to life. If the SNP wish to be truly progressive like they claim, then working out solutions that do not bow to market pressure surely has to be a priority. Particularly when it comes to access of ideas at party conference. This is the place where ideas should be born, not bought.

Good attempt to sow doubt there as to whether they have banned representatives from speaking. However, I have no reason to doubt the veracity of the reporting at Common Space and see them as a "trusted Source". If they tell me that they seen have seen an email to elected representatives saying “politely decline” any invitations “to speak at dinners, fringe events or receptions” which fall outside of the SNP conference “secure zone”, which includes the SECC and three nearby hotels; Crowne Plaza Hotel, the Village Hotel and the Hilton Garden Inn.", then I'll take them at their word as I have I have no reason to doubt them
https://www.commonspace.scot/articles/9190/exclusive-snp-hq-instructs-po...

Do you disbelieve what is written at Common Space? Do you disbelieve that they have had access to this "alleged" email?

You also fail address to the fact the every organisation can gain a bit a space to be heard by not blocking access or speaking privilege at the secondary event and this is a viable solution/workaround to the SNP themselves not making enough space available to cater to demand for it. Instead you seem to be of the opinion that only space bought and paid for by the SNP is viable and justified, as only that space will earn them a nickel. When it should be about taking on new ideas and opening up debate.

peterabell

Thu, 09/01/2016 - 12:39

The SNP is NOT a charity. Other organisations have absolutely no right to piggy-back on the SNP's success. They are not entitled to expect that SNP members will subsidise them.

I am a pensioner. I give what I can to the SNP because I recognise that it is the agency by which we will restore Scotland's independence. Like thousands of others, I support the SNP with such resources as I have at my disposal because it is only an SNP government that will defend Scotland's interests; and it is only with an SNP administration in place that we will get a second referendum.

Why the hell should I pay money to subsidise organisations that all too often serve as little more than echo-chambers for anti-SNP propaganda? Why, as a lifelong advocate of independence, should I help to finance organisations and groups which put narrow partisan interests before that great and noble objective?

If you value these campaign groups, then dip into your own pocket to finance them - just as SNP members and supporters do. If you think the work these organisation do is so important, stop whining, get off your arse and do a bit of fundraising.

Bidge

Thu, 09/01/2016 - 14:10

You demand answers from others, but dodge and refuse to answer direct questions when asked back. You slip and slide around, changing your argument, rather than engaging in debate, you talk as if from on high. You do not hold the patent on being correct.

1st it was market forces demanded it be done this way,
then it was the easiest way to select groups to get space,
now it a subsidy from the SNP membership.

Make up your mind!

Nor does invoking the "I'm a poor pensioner" line invoke any sympathy. We all have our money issues and we make our money go as far we can, whilst supporting groups and causes we believe in.

No-one is claiming the SNP is a charity, so lets take the members out the of the equation.The Short-Money that the comes out of Westminster (and my taxes) could have paid for this had some foresight been used. After all £1.2 million a year is not a figure to be sniffed at. The SNP if their planners are any good will have known the venue they were chasing and the costs involved a long time ago and how those costs would then effect groups looking for space.

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/george-osborne-quietly-cut...

However an alternative route has been set up that costs the SNP membership and the party NOTHING, but allows them to access others voices if THEY so choose to attend. Blocking parliamentarians from attending or speaking sends out the wrong message and too save you looking back for it. Do you disbelieve what was written at Common Space? Do you disbelieve that they have had access to this "alleged" email? Either way do you support blocking attendance or not?

Again I'll raise the "Progressive" label that the SNP, so like to hold close. Is raising the price to a level that obstructs groups from participating a progressive value?

Finally, for many people looking to visit a conference (any conference) who are on a low budget the more groups available on the day the better, because it lets them discover new ideas, new ways of thinking. Therefore someone on a budget that can't normally access such a plethora of ideas can get the best value for their money on the day.

Thus I hope the SNP actually see sense and throw their weight behind it.

Alistair

Thu, 09/01/2016 - 23:45

I am an individual, alongside others, that are bringing a topic to the Fringe event for discussion.
We are not a charity, I am currently unemployable and the cost of bringing this to a discussion is prohibitive.
So Peter, if you wish to contribute to the costs of the event, so that we can overcome those market forces, I'd be very grateful.

Link available upon request.

Ian Clark

Fri, 09/02/2016 - 01:40

I did not give any alternatives to the market or SNP patronage because I was not really that concerned with the binary choice you presented. But since you asked, here’s a possibility. A sort of ‘digital payment bucket’. I went to a meeting a few days ago on ‘land reform’ organised by Global Justice Now in which a bucket was left at the door for donations to cover costs. The SNP could surely look at organising a larger scale digital contribution system by charitable enterprises? Bidge later (in the course of your discussion) also gave an alternative i.e. a ballot. I’m sure SNP managers could think of other alternatives if they were genuinely concerned.

The reason I was not that concerned was because the false dilemma you presented seemed to be a quickly constructed smokescreen to cover a rather large elephant i.e. the ease with which the party of all the people of Scotland appeared to be willing to grant influence only to those who can pay for it.

The ‘request’ that your representatives do not mix with the unpaying plebs outside the secure zone is evidence that the issue really is about buying access to power. I can understand why you would choose to believe (pretend?) that the main issue is allocation criteria rather than cash for influence. If I was an apologist for the SNP I would not want to be in the position of defending a supposedly progressive party against such an apparently well substantiated charge.

Finally, having returned to writing this comment a lot later than I intended, I had the opportunity of following your exchange with the formidable Bidge. S/he has identified the weakness of your arguments. And done so without using insolent terms. I also noted your comment at 12.39 in response to said Bidge. Essentially, you angrily assert that you’ve devoted your whole life to the cause and you resent the idea of anyone taking advantage of your party. Can I suggest that this declaration fits the category of ‘righteous indignation’ or possibly - dare I say it? - ‘whining’?

Ian Clark

Fri, 09/02/2016 - 01:44

My last response was in reply to Peter Bell's response to me near the beginning of this thread. A gremlin in the works?

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