Sketch: Disorder at the SNP conference

Written by Liam Kirkaldy on 19 October 2018 in Comment

Sketch: Liam Kirkaldy goes on a search for hope at the SNP conference

Image credit: Iain Green

Massive banners, hanging down from the ceiling of the SECC to greet delegates on arrival, boomed the word ‘HOPE’. It looked quite nice, even if it was unclear whether it was an instruction or a deposit point.

Inside, the conference continued its traditional ‘dystopian aircraft hangar’ theme – a peculiar favourite of the party – with huge black curtains surrounding a room made up of wires and exposed black steel, in front of a giant, flashing screen. It was like a gritty, film noir version of the Wizard of Oz, except no one was behind the curtain.

Not that there weren’t some exciting developments. MEP Alyn Smith’s eyebrow, for example, drew a rapturous response from the audience.

It’s not known when exactly Smith’s left eyebrow took control of his body, but it is clear the process began some time ago, given the level of power with which it seems to operate. Of course, some less-informed media will have reported that Smith made a speech at conference, though strictly speaking, that’s not true. Sure, Smith was there, but only as a spectator. It was his eyebrow doing the talking. As his spokes-brow put it: “We don’t know what’s in Scotland’s future, we don’t know what’s in Brexit’s future, I rule nothing out, up to and including alien invasion, though you look at Jacob Rees-Mogg and wonder, perhaps the body-snatchers are already here.”

That made a reasonable amount of sense, actually, though it’s questionable if there’s any party conference in the world where it’s safe to start throwing around accusations of rivals being dominated by body-snatchers.

Otherwise it was more or less what you’d expect. Fiona Hyslop unveiled a raft of progressive new policies on areas upon which the Scottish Government has no power. Humza Yousaf suggested Theresa May would do better on Robot Wars than Strictly Come Dancing. Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh attacked UK visa requirements, suggesting “the Tories should not be turning up their noses at so-called low skilled workers. Frankly, some of their parliamentarians are much more deserving of that classification”.

The crowd liked that a lot, and it certainly sounded good, until you gave even the briefest consideration to how Jeremy Hunt working as a hospital cleaner would be likely to end. Or how horrific it would be for seasonal fruit pickers to see Michael Gove trundling towards them, armed only with a twee wicker basket, a smile, and his provocative views on agricultural reform. Or Chris Grayling running a care home, like the Addams Family had sacked Lurch and sent him packing to the DWP.

But where was the hope? To Derek Mackay, this represented his last conference as convener, and he clearly wanted it to run smoothly. As it transpired, that may have been too much to hope for.

Now, it’s probably worth acknowledging that there are a variety of reasons people oppose motions at party conference. Sometimes they openly object to the idea at hand. Sometimes they agree too much, and feel the need to reject the plan to ‘strengthen’ it. Sometimes, though, the reason is that the person in question is Gerry Fisher.

For anyone who has never been to SNP conference, Gerry Fisher is something of a legend. Not necessarily a legend in a good way, like King Arthur. Probably more like Dracula. Though, unlike a vampire, he doesn’t need to be invited on stage – sometimes he just appears at random. He has been a member for decades, and his heckled interventions have become a conference tradition, like Labour singing the ‘Red Flag’, or the Lib Dems claiming they have a route back to power.

But given it was Mackay’s last conference as convener, Fisher had obviously cooked up something special. This was Mackay vs Fisher: the Final Showdown.

And to be honest, Mackay looked vaguely traumatised from the moment Fisher made it on stage. In fact, the Finance Secretary looked pretty much like anyone would upon finding themselves trapped as an elderly man abused them on stage, in front of thousands of people, while they were trying to run a party conference.

Things started off with the traditional ritual.

“Gerry, that’s not a point of order,” Mackay argued. “It is a point of order,” Fisher responded.

“It’s not a point of order, Gerry, it has to relate to the business before us,” Mackay countered.

Watching it unfold, it was tempting to wonder if this is what hell would be like. An eternity of Derek Mackay and Gerry Fisher repeating the words ‘point of order’ back-and-forward until they lost all meaning.

This is a battle that has been running for years. Mackay must see it coming now. Maybe when Fisher’s not even there. Mackay probably wakes up in the middle of the night, a cold sweat running down his face, wondering if that noise he can hear represents the slow, methodical shuffling of Gerry Fisher, approaching like the world’s most belligerent, procedurally-obsessed tortoise.

Meanwhile, the debate continued back in the hall, with Fisher arguing, “It is a point of order”.

“It’s not, Gerry,” Mackay argued back, before boasting, somewhat pathetically, “You know I can rule from the chair.”

This was weak and everyone knew it. There is probably no one in the world who holds less regard for Mackay’s ability to ‘rule from the chair’ than Fisher. It meant nothing to him. Nothing at all. A thousand times no.

He was Gerry Fisher and he was ruling from his feet. Developing his argument, he explained, “It is a point of order”, before suggesting the resolution had been put on the agenda, despite there being “at least 37 violations of the constitutional rules”.

“Gerry,” pleaded Mackay. “Gerry, that’s not a point of order.”

It wasn’t a point of order. But unfortunately for Mackay, it was that point in the order that Fisher decided to outline his concerns over “an allegation that you yourself contributed to this by lying to the June conference”.

The fact that almost this exact scene unfolds at every single SNP conference should go without saying. But the audience seemed to find something objectionable about Fisher calling the Finance Secretary a liar on national TV, and a murmur went around the hall. This provoked Fisher to repeat the word ‘liar’ more clearly.

“This is out of order,” said Mackay. Which was true, though no one had yet established whether it was also a point of order. That was when they cut off the TV and removed the media from the room.

But it all seemed to work out, and by the end, Mackay could be spotted sitting next to Fisher, with the two having apparently ceased hostilities, at least temporarily. Hope for us all.

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