Sunday, 29 March 2015

There's a first time...

I spent this weekend at the SNP Spring conference at the Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre (SECC) in Glasgow.  It's the first SNP conference I've ever been to, so I wasn't quite sure what to expect.

The venue itself is a bit soulless, but it's one of the few in Scotland that can hold the 3,000 delegates and member visitors who attended.  My branch is fairly large, so we sent a total of 29 delegates, each of whom were free to vote as they wished on thee many motions that were put before the conference.

The two days were split into various sessions, with intervals between each to allow you to visit the exhibitors' stalls attached to the conference and which represented various SNP branches as well as causes that wish to attract the attention of the SNP delegates.

In the morning on day 1 there was a welcome to Glasgow by Humza Yousaf, which was very amusing and went down well with the packed hall.  There were also quite a few ladies swooning, as Mr Yousaf appears to be regarded as a bit of a pin-up.  Various motions were then debated, which was interesting for me both for the various subjects and to learn about how the voting procedures work.  None of the motions were particularly contentious, and most were passed by acclaim.

The main event of day 1 took place in the afternoon, which was a 50 minute speech by Nicola Sturgeon.  It was not one of her best speeches - I would describe it as workmanlike - but it hit all the right notes with the crowd and was rapturously received.  Her speech was at pains to address the demonisation of the SNP by the mainstream newspapers by extending a reassuring hand of friendship to the rest of the UK, promising that, if successful in the General Election, they would be using whatever power they had to try to make things better for the whole of the UK, not just for Scotland.  There were also a few manifesto-like announcements, such as a pledge to raise the top rate of income tax to 50% for people earning more than £150,000 per year, to abolish zero-hour contracts and to halt the privatisation of the NHS in England.  She also pledged to abolish the House of Lords, which will send a shiver of dread down the spine of many of the current incumbents of the House of Commons, who seem to regard a Lordship as an entitlement at the end of their career.  Ms Sturgeon doesn't have the natural charisma of Alex Salmond, but she is held in great affection by the SNP membership.

 Day 1 ended with more debates on motions, a couple of which proved more contentious than those earlier in the day.  At the end I found myself felling very tired, as for each motion you have to take in all the information the speakers provide, both for and against, consider the facts and make a decision on how to vote.  The tiredness was something that I didn't expect.

Day 2 began with a closed session, where various matters relating to the party constitution were debated.  Pete Wishart produced a barnstorming speech on one of the motions, and received a standing ovation, something which apparently has never been seen before when debating constitutional matters.  The main debate was regarding action on equality in shortlists for elections and provoked passion from both proponents and opponents.  The motion was ultimately passed, but there was considerable discussion throughout the day on the subject even after the vote.

Again there were more debates on various motions, again not greatly contentious, which was probably a bit of a relief after the rigours of the closed session.  John Swinney then gave a speech regarding the finances of Scotland, and listed many projects which are being brought on on time and on budget, for example the new Queensferry crossing.  As might be expected the speech was interesting but somewhat dry, with its recitation of many facts and figures.

After these were complete Alex Salmond was due to do a Q&A session in one part of the hall while the main stage was prepared for the afternoon's programme.  However, after a standing ovation of several minutes he took to the main stage at the insistence of the crowd and was in very good form.  He was, of course, promoting his recent book (see my previous review elsewhere on this blog) but was happy to take questions from members on the audience on whatever topics they wished, which he answered with his trademark dry wit.

The afternoon session consisted of more debates and a speech by Stuart Hosie, in which he said that, in the case of a minority Labour government, the SNP would expect to be consulted on the Queen's speech before lending their support to it.  This has provoked uproar from representatives of the Labour party, who reject the notion of the SNP as 'kingmakers'.  It will be interesting to see how this plays out after May 7th.  The speakers at the conference were at pains to point out that nothing is being assumed by the party executive about the number of MPs the party might have after the general election, although any number greater than 11 would be the best result ever for them.  The message for the General Election is that there is a lot of hard work to be done in the next 39 days in persuading people to vote for the SNP.

All-in-all the conference was a great experience, although after two days I'm in need of a serious rest.  I'd certainly recommend it to anyone who gets the opportunity to go, whether as a delegate or a visitor.  The only letdown really was the food, which was mediocre at best and very, very expensive.

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