Sketch: The dream lives on at the SNP conference

Written by Liam Kirkaldy on 15 June 2018 in Comment

Sketch: The SNP conference provides a chance to check up on the state of the campaign for Scottish independence

Image credit: Iain Green

Alex Salmond said the dream would never die, and maybe he was right. Maybe the dream is undead.

It certainly seems to be a recurring one. But what kind of dream are we talking about here? A good dream? A bad dream? Or one of those dreams where everything seems to be going well, until you look down and realise you’re naked and everyone’s staring at your currency.

Well, the SNP conference in Aberdeen was the place to find answers.

On stage, John Swinney was running through the history of the independence dream – if dreams can have histories – while paying tribute to the legacy of Winnie Ewing.

“Some of her words sum up exactly who we are,” he explained. “Stop the world: Scotland wants to get on. It is a message that we all know is as relevant today as it was back in 1968.

“In fact, the Tories’ hard-right, hard Brexit makes it all the more important. Hard Brexiteers want to stop the world and get off, and they want to drag Scotland with them.”

Hard Brexiteers want to help Scotland get off, according to the Deputy First Minister.

Vote Tory and get off: it’s a better slogan than ‘Brexit means Brexit’ anyway. In fact, it’s weird Euroscepticism isn’t more popular.

It was a confusing statement, not least because Scotland is almost certainly part of the world at the moment. But the key thing to understand is that Scotland leaving the UK would constitute it joining the world, while the UK leaving the EU would constitute it leaving it. Though it wasn’t clear why we have to keep stopping the world every time we want to get on or off it. It’s possible Swinney was confusing the world with a bus.

And so it was fortunate he moved to clarify. This time, hopefully, without recourse to baffling metaphors.

“I believe we all believe,” he believed, “that to be in the driving seat of our own destiny, and to shape our own future, is the natural thing to do.

“It is what we all hope for ourselves and it is what we believe is right for Scotland. It is that same drive, to put people in command of their own destiny, that powers your SNP government.”

Which is true, and that’s why the party is so keen to get Scots to vote again on independence. Indeed, Scots should keep getting to vote on independence until they vote for independence – at which point their destiny shall be decided, and the referendums can stop.

“Our vision is of a nation, equal from birth and through opportunities for all, equal in life,” he boasted. “That is the vision of radical independence at the very heart of the Scottish National Party.”

The crowd liked that a lot, with Swinney treated to a huge round of applause. But, to be honest, at times it’s not easy to identify what’s so radical about the SNP’s vision for independence. In fact, one of the enduring mysteries of Scottish politics is how worked up people can get about the SNP – whether in support or opposition – given it’s actually quite hard to think of a more boring, managerial form of nationalist movement than the one that was thundering applause in that hall.

People argue about it but the plan is more or less just based around being a bit more like Scandinavia. It’s not exactly Gamal Abdel Nasser seizing control of Suez.

If there were calls for revolution, the SNP would probably just ask a lobbyist to draw up a plan and then put it out to consultation. Do an analysis of the responses. Send the question of revolution out to an expert working group then start again.

And actually, they didn’t even talk about independence that much, with most business dedicated to internal party organisation. Which is not to say nothing happened. At one point, for example, a rumour swirled through the conference suggesting that an assistance dog had stolen someone’s lunch at a fringe.

But to be fair, the SNP has moved its argument forward by releasing the Growth Commission report – a document which does not actually reflect official SNP policy and may change at any given time. The report basically represents instructions which we could follow, if we wanted to, but may not. Leaving it with much the same status as most toilet graffiti.

Still, at least it’s something to talk about, and it was hard to miss the clear enthusiasm the coming debate generated in Nicola Sturgeon. As she put it, closing proceedings: “It will be a debate open to views and ideas from within and beyond our party. And it will focus on how to make the most of our potential as a country, not simply limit the damage Brexit will do.”

The revolution will not be disorganised. But why should Scots back the SNP on independence? The answer was familiar. “This UK government is a shambles. It is reckless. It is selfish. And the sooner it holds no sway over Scotland, the better for all of us,” Sturgeon said.

“Westminster wants to drag Scotland back,” she explained. “The Scottish Government is moving Scotland forward.”

Stop the world, Scotland wants to get on. Then move forward. Then, presumably, start it moving again. It was quite a surreal dream.

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