The SNP’s 81st Annual National Conference starts today (October 15) in Aberdeen.
Predictably, Scotland’s predominantly British Unionist media has been telling us that the whole event is stage-managed and delegates are not being allowed to debate any contentious issues. Those with Unionist leanings will no doubt be happy to believe such assertions, but anyone with an inquisitive mind might wonder why a social democratic political party would want to stifle debate on important matters affecting the people of Scotland.
The line Unionists want us to believe is that the SNP is undemocratic, with the membership cowed into uncritical submission by an autocratic leadership. Some of us can remember a time when the leadership of the SNP really was out-of-touch and remote from rank-and-file members, but that charge cannot be legitimately laid against today’s leadership.
Nicola Sturgeon is, by far, the most popular politician, not just in Scotland but across the UK. SNP membership has surged by 300% since the Independence Referendum in September of last year: it currently stands at 114,121.
Nicola, and most of the people around her in the SNP leadership, came through the ranks: I’ve leafletted, canvassed and carried out street-work with many of them. They are party activists who fought the good fight during days when being a member of the SNP was certainly not the path to take if you wanted a political career. The current SNP leadership have been ‘ordinary’ members. They truly value the surge in party support and they know the SNP’s success relies on the strength and commitment of its membership.
If members want to debate particular issues at conference, they submit resolutions to a democratically-elected internal party committee, which produces the agenda for the annual meeting. There are always resolutions that don’t make the final agenda, but my experience is that this is usually down to a lack of conference time, rather than an attempt to stifle debate.
So, given the British Unionist media is telling us the SNP Conference has been kept non-contentious to prevent any real debate and discussion, let’s have a look at some of the resolutions that did make it onto the agenda:
the Scotland Bill; Protecting Public Services; Climate Talks and Treaty; Elimination of Nuclear Weapons; Support for Carers; the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Treaty (TTIP); Tory Welfare Benefit Cuts; Moratorium on Fracking; Empowering Communities and the Road to Radical Land Reform; Fair Work and the Living Wage; the EU Referendum; Restrictions on Trade Union Rights; Support for Families; the BBC Charter Review; An End to Food Poverty; Support for Women; Autism and the Justice System; Marine Tourism.
Hardly an agenda to prevent discussion and debate.
Of course, British Unionists will look at that long list and say, “Aye but, where are the debates on independence or a second referendum?”
Well, I’ve got some earth-shattering news for the Unionists: the SNP supports independence. It’s been agreed. The party is for it.
Of course, conference-time could be scheduled for a ‘debate’ on independence and members could all contribute their personal reasons for supporting the policy that will see Scotland re-take the status of a normal nation, but then the British media would run stories condemning the party for ‘wasting time’ on an issue everyone knows the SNP supports, rather than debating real issues, such as Protecting Public Services; Nuclear Weapons; Support for Carers; the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Treaty (TTIP); Tory Welfare Benefit Cuts; Moratorium on Fracking; Empowering Communities and the Road to Radical Land Reform; Fair Work and the Living Wage; the EU Referendum; Restrictions on Trade Union Rights; Support for Families; an End to Food Poverty; Support for Women; Autism and the Justice System; Marine Tourism.
As for the issue of a second Independence Referendum: the SNP Conference should not, and will not dictate a timescale to the people of Scotland. A second referendum and independence will happen when the Scottish public demands them.
A second referendum can only be held if the SNP goes into an election promising to hold one – explaining the circumstances that would trigger such a move – and only if the people of Scotland elect an SNP Government on the basis of a manifesto containing that commitment. The matter could not be simpler: if you want the opportunity to have your say in a second Independence Referendum, then vote SNP. If, however, you oppose a second referendum, then vote for one of the British Unionist political parties.
Nicola Sturgeon has already made clear the SNP will not seek to hold a second Independence Referendum simply because the party favours this position. There would have to be a material change affecting the people of Scotland, such as a referendum on membership of the European Union, in which England voted to leave and Scotland voted to remain. If Scots were to be dragged out of the EU against their will, then this would be a trigger for a second referendum on Scottish independence.
Again, conference could set-aside time for the issue to be debated, but imagine the screaming front-page headlines in British Unionist newspapers about ‘Nats obsessing on constitution’ instead of bringing forward policies on the social and economic ‘bread and butter’ issues affecting the people of Scotland.
The SNP Conference will reflect on a remarkable year for the party – in terms of soaring membership and its record-breaking performance in the UK Election, taking 56 of Scotland’s 59 seats. Delegates will also debate crucial issues in policy-areas that impact on the lives of all of us living in Scotland: and when they leave Aberdeen to head back home, SNP members will be buoyed by the knowledge that the party is heading for another landslide victory and majority government at next May’s Scottish Parliament Election.
Meanwhile, British Unionist newspapers will continue to publish distortions and outright lies believed only by a rapidly-dwindling number of readers.