Sketch: The SNP conference sees dreams of a nation reborn
Image credit: Iain Green
Pity whoever was made to drive Scotland in Union’s anti-independence protest van around the SNP conference. Up and down the road it went, outside the Aberdeen Exhibition and Conference Centre, over and over, for two days. The trailer on the back carried a massive picture of Nicola Sturgeon, next to the words “REFERENDUMB”. The back made a more philosophical point, pleading “Indyref22? Where will it end?”
Indeed, and won’t somebody think of the children? And where will it all end? Death, probably. Most things do. But this wasn’t the moment to wander around an isolated conference centre on the edge of Bridge of Don surrounded by nationalists and wonder when you’re going to die. No, if anything, this was the time to consider the possibility of a nation reborn.
Looking around the delegates, you would certainly believe as much. A sign in the toilets warned them not to flush away items which could damage the sewage system. “Please do not flush paper towels, tissues and wipes, sanitary products, or hopes and dreams,” it requested, and it seemed fair. The dream shall never flush.
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And birth certainly dominated the early proceedings, with Dr Eilidh Whiteford using her speech to highlight the need to address Scotland’s ageing population. “If we look at our demography, we all know what we have to do…” she told the hall, somehow restraining herself from rubbing her hands together and winking. Derek Mackay looked a bit surprised, chuckling and telling delegates, “well, you’ve had your instructions…”
Oh god. A horrifying sense of realisation dawned. With polls showing young people more likely to lean towards Yes, the party’s logic was inescapable. This wasn’t a spring conference, it was an orgy, aimed at producing enough young people to tip the balance for independence.
But there was no time to find somewhere to hide, because John Swinney was soon on stage talking the conference through his party’s towering achievements in education. “This government makes the tough choices in the best interests of the people of Scotland,” he said.
“But if you listen to the opposition parties, you would have heard none of that,” Swinney lamented, shaking his head sadly to himself. “At no point do the opposition recognise or acknowledge the efforts of everyone in education to make success happen for children and young people.”
Poor John Swinney. He works so hard, and never gets a thank you. And what do the opposition do? They oppose him. It was outrageous, but he wasn’t finished. Continuing his analysis of the dangers of political tribalism, Swinney began to run through some of the specific failings of the Scottish Conservatives. Eventually, he concluded: “The Tories still are bad for Scotland.”
Bad for Scotland? That didn’t sound good for Scotland. So what would be? The answer, clearly, was Stewart Stevenson. Now, as the party’s anecdote spokesperson, Stevenson has a wide-ranging brief.
On conference day, after presumably spinning some sort of mystery wheel and seeing where it landed, he arrived on stage and asked the audience: who is to blame if a train hits a bird?
“It depends,” he said. “If the bird the train collides with is a migratory bird with a predictable path then it’s Network Rail’s fault, because the predictability of that bird’s path was something they could reasonably be held to manage. If, on the other hand, the bird was not a migratory bird with a predictable path then the cost of the incident would be borne by the train operator.”
As a consequence, he suggested: “All the drivers carry a little plastic bag with the right feathers in it, so that if such an incident occurs, the existence of these feathers makes sure the responsibility is transferred to the right people.”
It’s worth highlighting that around 2,500 people were crammed into the hall to listen to this speech. But despite the obvious draw of watching Stewart Stevenson speculate at length about smashing a train into a migratory bird, he wasn’t the only attraction. It was left to Nicola Sturgeon, the main act, to close things.
Fresh from announcing plans for a second referendum, as an attempt to offer a post-Brexit “lifeboat” to Scotland, the FM began by accusing the Tories of wanting to “go back in time” by “deluding themselves about rebuilding the empire and re-floating the Royal Yacht Britannia”.
“The Prime Minister’s attitude should worry all of us hoping that negotiations with Europe will not be a disaster,” she said, “because if she shows the same condescension and inflexibility, the same tin ear to other EU countries as she has to Scotland, then the Brexit process will hit the rocks.”
It was somewhat surprising to hear Sturgeon didn’t want her opposite number to “hit the rocks” in negotiations. But by this point, with the FM having covered life boats, royal yachts, and the Brexit ship hitting the rocks, a clear theme was emerging. Nicola Sturgeon is not obsessed with independence, she is obsessed with shipping.
Still, it went down well. Looking around the packed hall, she announced: “We must stand up for our country and always trust the people… Let this message ring out today – Scotland’s future will be in Scotland’s hands.”
The crowd erupted, delighted. The dream shall never die. Or sink, capsize, or flush. It shall be reborn.
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