The SNP Conference took place in the Granite City over the weekend and the most controversial aspect was the decision to hold a Spring conference in the middle of June. There was a slower-paced atmosphere to the gathering, possibly because of the presence of many “veteran” members. The first day started with Keith Brown being announced as Depute Leader after beating his two relatively unknown rivals, Cllr Chris McEleny and party activist Julie Hepburn. Much of the agenda was then focused on internal resolutions, giving members the chance to debate party processes and structures.
The Westminster delegation affirmed its commitment to defending Scotland’s interests away from home by voting in favour of the UK’s continued membership of the single market when the EU Withdrawal Bill returned to the House of Commons. Ian Blackford described Theresa May as a “failed leader” and Jeremy Corbyn as a colluder. Michael Russell did not hold back in his criticisms of the UK Government, firing shots at Boris Johnson, the Prime Minister, and including a reference to a “sleekit Gove”.
Despite a less-than-slick Channel 4 interview from Nicola Sturgeon on Growth Commission figures, members were positive the report could act as a “debating document” to explore what an independent Scotland’s economy would look like. At the Institute for Economic Affairs fringe on Friday, former SNP MP and journalist, George Kerevan, urged the Growth Commission to go even further than what was set out in the report. Another hot topic for the fringes was migration, with academics and politicians keen to emphasise its importance to the Scottish economy and the threat posed by Brexit.
The climax of the weekend came when Nicola Sturgeon addressed the conference on Saturday afternoon, throwing money in all directions as she announced funding for a £150m Building Scotland Fund, a £100 minimum school clothing grant, £1bn per year to double free childcare, £16m towards increasing college bursaries and university grants for students from low income families. Arguably the highlight of the weekend was the announcement that NHS staff earning under £80,000 would receive a 3% pay rise, effective immediately.
As you would expect, no SNP conference would be complete without reference to the party’s raison d'être: independence. However, it was more a means to get the crowd going rather than the focus of the gathering. More emphasis was placed on convincing those who remained sceptical, rather than setting out a commitment to tangible dates or timelines – a marked change to Nicola Sturgeon’s surprise announcement of last year that a second referendum could take place at the end of 2018. Next up for the SNP are the national assemblies that will take place over the summer. After providing the ‘why’ and the ‘how’ for independence, perhaps the ‘when’ will be established at the party’s next Autumn conference.
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