We've seen an enormous growth in SNP membership since the referendum - we have more than 80,000 members now - and we have to change the party to take account of that. I'll be laying out some ideas for those changes here during the campaign and describing how I see the party changing. The Depute Leader has responsibility for policy development as well, and I'll include proposals for new policy-making mechanisms here as well. This page will be added to throughout the campaign.
Six months after the new Depute Leader is announced we'll have a UK General Election and then we have to refresh our policy platform to prepare for the Scottish Parliament election in 2016. We'll have to take into account the changes that will be introduced by the Smith Commission so we'll need to link the work done by the Scottish Government to the work we do in policy development; we'll have to create hybrid policies that take into account where we are now, where we'll be when the new responsibilities come to Scotland and policies for after independence as well. We'll need all of the enthusiasm, drive and imagination of all of our members and I believe that I'm the ideal candidate to take that forward.
I want to introduce regional policy forums to give all of our members a say in creating new policy and policy development meetings around the country to make sure we take account of local concerns. Those forums will contribute to the agenda items for Annual Conference and National Council where the decisions on policy are taken.
I also want to set up a policy discussion board on the members' section of the party website to let every member join in and I want to use the expertise of all of our members by bringing those with specialist knowledge into policy working groups to inform the debates. This process should feed into policy portfolio areas and party structures, but the membership must always have the right to create policy and adjust existing policies.
Councillors are responsible for delivering many of the services that our communities rely on and I want to offer them central support by having political staff based at SNP HQ to assist them in their work. I also want to give councillors a bigger say in developing policy that directly concerns them so I want to set up a policy development forum within the national framework of the Association of Nationalist Councillors to make sure that the local aspects of of our policies are properly considered.
The influx of new members who joined the party means that we have to change the party structures and some rules. There is, in particular, one rule that I think has to be suspended on a one-off basis. For very good reasons we restrict candidate selection to those members who are in their second year of membership. Our new members, however, joined in good faith and that should be respected; we should, in my view, amend the rules on selection to allow all of our members, including the new members, to vote in the selection of our candidates for the Westminster election and for the Holyrood election a year later. We simply can not tell those huge numbers of enthusiastic new members that they will be excluded from these fundamental democratic processes.
The policies that the party puts in place will be a matter for members to decide but you'll want to know where I stand on some of the issues -
On rail you may have seen recently that, as Transport Minister, I awarded the new Scotrail franchise to a public sector company from the Netherlands. It's a ridiculous situation that public sector bids from Scotland are not allowed for the franchise to run Scotland's trains - I want to change that and I want to see a public sector bid next time the franchise comes up for renewal but we'll need the power to do that transferred from Westminster to our Parliament.
Our NHS has been well supported and enhanced by the Scottish Government in recent years and we need to protect it. Keeping prescriptions free and the NHS in public hands is essential and that has been threatened by the coming of the TTiP and the reductions in Scottish spending thanks to George Osborne's cuts.
These policies are essential bulwarks against the inequities of what I believe is the "asymmetric austerity' of the Westminster parties, that focus cuts on those least able to afford them, while providing tax cuts for the wealthiest.