Trip to the Labour conference

Written by Liam Kirkaldy on 13 November 2015 in Comment

Sketch: The Scottish Labour conference gave the party a chance to assert its identity

At the Green Party conference, the media had been left to roam free. At the SNP, they were put in a specially heated tent out the back – it was like The Great British Bake Off but the smell was worse.

The Labour Party conference in Perth took a different tack though, sending press up to the balcony, through a door explicitly marked ‘no drinks’. This suggested a fairly low opinion of the media.

But drinks or no drinks, the mood was surprisingly upbeat.  Downstairs, delegates milled around in front of a poster urging them to ‘think Green’. Was this a message about recycling, or another example of entryism in the party? Next to it hung a blank frame, inviting the audience to pay to put a message in it, if indeed they had one to present.


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Meanwhile the head of public affairs for the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations wandered around in a suit patterned like bricks. He works in housing so he dressed as a house. With a matching tie. 

Grahame Smith from the STUC appeared, dressed like a normal person, and not the physical embodiment of a trade union, having spoken at every conference so far - like a cat that eats at every house on the street.

Inside the hall, Labour’s Jackie Baillie stood attacking the SNP. The lectern was dubbed ‘take a fresh look’.

“When you strip away the politics from this SNP Government,” she warned, “you find there is little left behind it.” That’s governments for you. Obsessed with politics.

After Baillie the conference switched to something more uplifting, or at least less soul destroying. It was time for good luck video messages, sent by different social democratic parties from around the world.

Next there was a session called ‘the Keir Hardie section’, which included a short talk on Keir Hardie’s life, then a video about Keir Hardie’s life, then some quotes from his life.

After that the Scottish Labour Party started giving each other awards.

For her speech Kezia Dugdale took to the stage in front of a giant screen saying ‘CHANGE’, promising to invest in young people so they can “take up jobs that haven’t even been invented yet”. That sounded good, even if the idea of training people for jobs that don’t actually exist could equally be a criticism. 

She said: “Let me tell you what I’ll put in our universities. Every youngster from our poorest families who has the potential to get there.”

Presumably to study. But it was a pretty good speech, moving from the injustice of the attainment gap to the continued relevance of feminism, with a weird bit in the middle about the need for more rural broadband.

Ending, she told the audience, “Let’s walk into the future”.

It was hard to say what it all meant. Journalists should be trying to get to grips with the facts in a situation like this, but it was unclear what was happening. Why was the man dressed as a house? Was this a sign of growing concern among Scotland’s public affairs community that these conferences, and indeed sketches, aren’t strange enough already?

The giants outside the centre would suggest so. There were two 12-foot-tall mannequins, a male and a female – Cindy and Sandy – with massive, terrifying papier-mâché hands, protesting against Trident.

The female giant claimed to be the vice-chair of CND Scotland. She pointed over at a figure behind the male mannequin. “That’s the chair over there,” she said. Apparently they created a second nuclear giant because having just one on its own looked weird.

What were they doing? “We are trying to change the party’s policy on Trident.”

No. Why are you dressed as a giant terrifying puppet? Was this what nuclear weapons would do to us?

“We tend to find it is young people that are the most frightened,” she explained.

Still, regardless of how horrifying the experience may or may not have been, the strategy was apparently a success, with Labour passing a motion the next day to oppose the weapon system’s renewal.

Jeremy Corbyn will have been pleased. He had arrived, normal sized, to a packed hall in the afternoon.  Ian Murray introduced him by telling the audience about his own backstory, which he said proved that “no matter who you are, where you are from, or what you believe, you can succeed”.

Even if what you believe is vague and confusing, you can still become an MP. But is that a good thing? Some would find it worrying that ‘no matter what you believe’ you can still get in the Labour shadow cabinet.

But there was no time to worry, because Corbyn was on his way.

The audience gave him a standing ovation. He just stood clapping back at them. They clapped. He stood. He clapped, they stood. Blair would never have done this. It was fast turning into a game of chicken. Who would blink first? It ended by consensus.

And it was something of a lecture, but the substance was interesting enough, covering Scotland’s history of solidarity with workers aound the world. He said: “Let us keep going ‘until’, as Keir Hardie said, ‘the sunshine of socialism and human freedom break forth upon our land’”.

The next day, it rained.

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