Our thoughts on an unusual conference for the SNP in Glasgow this week.
How do you take a movement that passionately supports independence and make sure they don’t talk about independence when they get together for a big knees up? With careful and precise stage management, that’s how.
For us this conference has been shaped more by what HASNT been said, than what has. Yes there’s been policy commitments and new funding announcements you’d expect from conference season.
But, going into this conference, Nicola Sturgeon’s SNP knew it had to shape a narrative that was about progress at home – progress on domestic policy, progress in the polls, just PROGRESS! But not the distraction of another independence referendum. Not yet, anyway.
In major speeches by the leading figures in the SNP, the word ‘independence’ has been mentioned less than half a dozen times at this conference, and seeing the reaction of party delegates, they wanted more. Yes, in 3 days of speeches addressing their party faithful in Glasgow this week, senior figures have been keen to discuss any other policy area, other than indyref.
In fact, SNP Deputy First Minister John Swinney MSP mentioned it only once in his address to conference, with ‘independence’ completely missing from the speeches of Westminster SNP Leader Ian Blackford MP and Finance Minister, Derek Mackay MSP.
With issues like Brexit, Catalonia and a left resurgence at Westminster, you’d be forgiven to think at times this was a party who didn’t have a keen interest for Scotland to govern itself. At least that’s how it might look through the TV cameras.
But when sitting in the hall with SNP members, there was a tension, an eager, breath-holding anticipation for someone to talk passionately about the cause of Scottish independence. Even in Nicola Sturgeon’s address, there was little reference to ‘the I word’ – mentioned 7 times over a few short minutes in a speech which lasted almost an hour.
The word, with all its meaning and questions and uncertainties has been more of a T-Rex in the room, rather than the usual dainty elephant! But it was Mhairi Black MP who came to the rescue, with no script but a fire in her belly, tearing into Jeremy Corbyn and restating the commitment to independence at the earliest opportunity that seemed to switch on the delegates from their slumber.
Party bosses will continue to push a message about competency at home in order to win another term managing Scotland’s public services in 2021. Between now and then, it seems the focus is squarely with Brexit and domestic policy here in Scotland, but at what cost to those eager members keen to see an independent Scotland sooner rather than later.