Is now the SNP’s moment? - Key takeaways from the SNP Party Conference in Aberdeen
By Sam Boyle and James Cowling
In contrast to the chaos engulfing Westminster and the fall out following the Conservative party conference, the Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP) conference felt confident and controlled. A buoyant First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, set out her strategy for independence, pointing to finance reforms and renewable energy as the cornerstone of a post-UK Scotland. She promised Scotland “a steady and compassionate hand on the tiller” through the cost-of-living crisis, drawing a distinct line between her approach and Liz Truss’ bumpy premiership.
There were many key themes of focus during conference, including Scotland’s climate strategy and their goal of reaching net zero by 2045, as well as the effects in Scotland caused by Brexit. Deputy First Minister John Swinney, in an address to businesses in attendance, stated that there is a “lack of availability of people to deliver services” due to Brexit and the lack of free movement caused by the UK’s departure from the European Union.
As with every party conference, it wasn’t without controversy. In an interview with Laura Kuenssberg, Sturgeon said she “detests” the Tories which attracted criticism from her opponents and dominated the rest of Sunday and Monday’s headlines. She later stated that she hates Conservative policies and the effects they have in Scotland, a statement which was backed up by her second in command, Swinney.
The SNP has built its image as the best challenge to a Conservative government in Scotland, with independence framed as a vehicle to get away from Conservative rule. Now Labour looks like a viable alternative government, the party is drawing its sights on Labour to prevent a squeeze on their majority. However, Sturgeon hit back at claims made by the Scottish Labour Party that the SNP were “rattled” by polls that show a Labour resurgence in Scotland.
With supreme court judges preparing to consider this week whether the Scottish government has the legal power to stage a referendum without Westminster consent, Liz Truss could be facing another major crisis before too long. Sturgeon has thrown down the gauntlet by stating that it would be a blow to democracy in the UK if Scotland weren’t given a choice. The voluntary union of nations would become the forced union of nations, with “aggressive unionism” preventing the four nations being able to work collaboratively and effectively.
The First Ministers’ speech didn’t start by focusing on the issue of independence. Instead, following on from the speech before her by an Iranian national on the current situation regarding woman’s rights, Sturgeon reiterated that Scotland is a welcoming and understanding nation for those who have struggled to find a home in their home country. The words “we stand with you” were echoed multiple times in the arena, followed by multiple standing ovations. Her message was clear, Scotland and the SNP are there for the people.
During her speech, Sturgeon as confident as ever told attendees, “we are the independence generation.” In words not often heard from the First Minister, she addressed those who are never going to vote for independence. She stated that she respected their view in principle and told them “whatever happens in future, Scotland belongs to you as much as it does to us”, reminding everyone once again that Scotland is there for the people.
Next week, the SNP will announce their prospectus on how independence will work financially and how to address the fiscal issues. For many people in Scotland, this could be the decider between voting ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ on the ballot paper. The Supreme Court however will decide whether the direction of the next referendum is a matter for Holyrood or Westminster before it falls to the hands of the people of Scotland.