Trip to the SNP conference
Sketch: SNP delegates were full of enthusiasm. Just don't talk Scotland down...
In her first SNP conference speech since the General Election, Plaid Cymru leader Leanne Wood had remarked that it seemed like every second person she met was an elected politician. It was easy to see what she meant. The party is an eclectic bunch – really only held together by support for independence – yet everyone seemed to be elected to somewhere.
MSPs, MPs and MEPs were everywhere. Mark McDonald went through the fringe area practising Monty Python-style silly walks, while debating if he should enter the stage with a “sashay or a shimmy”.
Chic Brodie lurked, greased, like a used car salesman with pretensions of owning a Vegas-themed Kilmarnock nightclub. And delagates continually mistook Holyrood’s Tom Freeman for Alyn Smith, passing matters of great European import onto him to sort.
There were over 3,500 people there. It was huge. Stewart Hosie was the highlight of day one, boasting: “We are not simply a principled opposition to the Tories – right now, we are the only opposition to the Tories.”
He said: “When our opponents trot out their tired old lines about crises in the NHS, education and justice, they are simply wrong.”
Echoing across the arena – which resembled an aircraft hangar in both size and shape – he said: “So if Labour’s new mantra about straight talking and honest politics is to be believed, let me say to them – start telling the truth and stop talking Scotland down.”
Stop talking Scotland down. There are no crises. Indeed, everything is fine. Hide the media pass and nod along. The speech was a triumph. Stewart Hosie was giving the best speech, at the best conference, in the best of all possible worlds.
Looking back, some of it does seem implausible. Had there really been a gang wandering around in pink berets and sunglasses, dressed as ‘Angry Salmond’, a parody account on Twitter? Is that Scottish politics now?
Had Humza Yousaf and Derek Mackay really been introduced as the ‘Chuckle Brothers of Scottish politics’, before doing a short comedy double act routine?
It seems so, with the two ministers bringing out other members of the Scottish Government, to engage them in a banter-filled chat about policy.
Michael Matheson was questioned by Mackay – in true Carry On style – about his work with ‘men in uniform’. Apparently taken aback, Matheson replied flatly: “This isn’t the time to talk about your uniform fetish, Derek.”
Well, probably not, no. Why was this happening? It certainly seemed a pretty tough ask to segue from light-hearted humour into crime statistics – a fact Matheson set about proving – but no one seemed to question it. In fact the crowd loved it, whooping it up as Yousaf reminded Richard Lochhead about the time he lost a bet.
Angela Constance was received like she was Eva Perón. A while back, the Education Secretary had raised a few eyebrows after wearing a pair of bambi-themed heels, leading Yousaf and Mackay to crack a few jokes about her taste in shoes. Replying, she warned, “a woman who can walk on Bambi’s head can smash any glass ceiling”.
Summing up, Yousaf warmly congratulated the audience, saying, “we couldn’t do any of this without you”. Oh dear. Everyone was implicated now. Responsible for the banter. Not in our name, Yousaf.
By the third day, though, with exhaustion setting in, events became more confused. “Both votes SNP!” a woman shrieked. Was that message really necessary? Were there really members there who had chosen to spend time and money travelling to a conference on the outskirts of Bridge of Don but weren’t planning on voting for the SNP?
Even the gentleman protesting outside, demanding the return of the Stone of Destiny, looked tired. It later turned out the stone wasn’t in the conference centre.
There were signs of fatigue everywhere. Inside, someone had given up on handing out their nationalist confectionary, leaving a pile of “HS2 sucks” sweets dumped on a table. People seemed reluctant to eat them.
Everyone, clearly, needed something to boost their spirits. They needed Nicola Sturgeon. The FM took to the stage mid-afternoon on day three, announcing: “We won the General Election.”
Now, this might be a bit questionable. The SNP sort of won the General Election. Well, it won in Scotland. Though of course, the election is UK-wide. As a claim it is almost true, in the sense it is false.
It was a wide-ranging speech, covering childcare, Jeremy Corbyn, Trident, another referendum, Syria and more.
Still, she returned to a familiar theme. “We are not just the real opposition. We are now the only effective opposition to the Tories at Westminster.”
The crowd loved it. The only downside was that, finishing with the mandatory waves and selfies, Sturgeon more or less brought three days of unrelenting enthusiasm to an end. The fire doors on all sides of the hangar were flung open. Light streamed in and the crowd streamed out.
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