The SNP is preparing for a potential role in a post-election coalition by introducing tough new rules requiring rigid loyalty to the party line from its Westminster MPs, according to documents leaked to BuzzFeed News.
Under the proposed changes to internal rules, all of the party's MPs would be required to sign up to a code of conduct pledging they would not "publicly criticise a decision, policy or another member" of the SNP's Westminster group, either in parliament or in other venues such as the media.
The proposed rule changes also introduce strict new disciplinary procedures for SNP MPs, as well as extra measures giving the party leadership the power to introduce all-women shortlists for Scottish parliament elections.
The current SNP cohort in Westminster consists of just six MPs, but they could be swamped by new arrivals if – as polls suggest – dozens of Scottish Labour seats fall to the nationalists in May. Many of the new nationalist MPs will be holding elected office for the very first time, and the SNP appears keen to ensure these new politicians understand that they must toe the party line or face expulsion.
One section of the proposed rules would hand a range of new powers to the SNP's Westminster whipping operation. The chief whip would be able to discipline SNP MPs who stray from the party line in a number of ways, including expulsion. The existing rules for the SNP's Westminster group make no mention of formal whipping arrangements for MPs.
The proposals were drafted by the party's current Westminster group leader, Angus Robertson MP, and fellow nationalist MP Pete Wishart, and are included in the draft list of motions for the party's spring conference in Glasgow next month. The proposed rule changes are included in a draft of the conference agenda handed to BuzzFeed News.
The draft agenda also reveals the SNP's plan to exert more control of candidate selection in a bid to ensure more women are elected to the Scottish parliament.
Delegates at the SNP's conference will vote on a second set of internal reforms that would hand the party's powerful National Executive Committee (NEC) the ability to exercise some control over both constituency and regional MSP candidate selection for the 2016 Scottish parliament elections, taking some autonomy away from local SNP branches.
The NEC says it would use its new powers to increase the number of female candidates, partly by copying the all-women shortlists introduced by Labour under Tony Blair in the mid-1990s.
The proposed rules state that in the event of an incumbent constituency MSP stepping down, the NEC "may direct that an all-women shortlist should be submitted" to the local party.
In addition to this, the proposed rules require that if a selection contest is set to take place without a female candidate, then the NEC "will have authority to add candidates to shortlists to achieve this". This could allow the SNP hierarchy to parachute candidates into contests without the local party's backing.
There is no guarantee that the rule changes will be passed by ordinary members. The SNP has historically resisted proposals to introduce all-women shortlists.
However, Nicola Sturgeon's time as party leader has already seen attempts to balance the gender. Her first cabinet reshuffle brought about a gender-balanced cabinet, and last week she endorsed the "Women 50/50 campaign" which seeks to introduce 50% quotas on Scottish public boards and councils and in the Scottish parliament by 2020.
Party members will vote on a range of new policies at the conference.
These include proposals to curtail fracking, to reduce the minimum income requirement for immigrants coming to Scotland, and to push forward with land reform by allowing all "secure agricultural tenants the statutory right to buy their holding".
The party will also vote on a motion from SNP Westminster leader Angus Robertson committing the party to "never put the Tories into government" and saying that any deal with Labour would require Ed Miliband's party "to think again on austerity and the renewal of Trident nuclear weapons".
These are the proposed rules requiring SNP MPs to not criticise party policy:
These are the new powers giving the SNP leadership the power to introduce all-women shortlists:
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Jim Waterson is a politics editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.
Contact Jim Waterson at email@example.com.
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