Sketch: What does the SNP stand for?
The crowds arrived at the SECC on a crisp, cold day. This was the SNP autumn conference, but walking over the conference centre’s gangling metal centipede of a bridge, extending over the motorway to the event itself, winter did not seem far away.
Inside, a jolly-looking Peter Murrell, the SNP chief executive, fussed and bustled around in the centre of the SNP main stand – the central cog in a nationalist machine. Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh leafleted at the entrance. Stewart Stevenson stood, gravely studying a map. Alyn Smith glided past, looking somewhat furtive – like a man on the search for something. As indeed, we all were. This was a chance to find answers. Specifically, why would 3,000 people – plus hundreds of press, lobbyists and campaigners – give up three days of their lives to come here?
Taking to the stage, Derek Mackay, in charge of proceedings, ran through the intros with the forced air of a hostage attempting to affect an air of triumph. He said a sentence, everyone cheered. He said a sentence, everyone cheered.
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Angus Robertson looked absolutely delighted to learn he had won the deputy leadership contest. Referring back at the last six months or so, he boasted: “We promised we would be stronger for Scotland, and that is exactly what we have done.”
Stronger for Scotland. Coincidentally, the same words were emblazoned across the backdrop. And looking around the size of the spectacle, this wasn’t just stronger – this was a party on steroids.
Robertson criticised the Tories’ recent swerve to the right, promising: “The SNP will always stand up against prejudice and hatred, and stand by those EU nationals that do us the honour of making Scotland their home.”
This talk of standing continued. Over the next 36 hours, the SNP talked up the importance of standing with, standing against, standing by, not standing by, and standing for all manner of things. At one point, they even applauded a free-standing bridge.
Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh attacked the “disgusting” rhetoric emerging from the Tory conference. Speaking to immigrants, facing racist abuse post-Brexit, she promised: “We will not walk by you, we stand by you. We stand with you, and together we will stand tall.”
The SNP: the party lurking next to you. Rumour has it Nicola Sturgeon loves Scotland so much she sleeps standing up, in an effort to boost the national interest. Then the crowd cheered and Ahmed-Sheikh sat down.
The search for answers went on. Drew Hendry described Westminster as “like Groundhog Day at a ski village most days”. Stewart Stevenson told the audience about the time he saw a weasel dragging prey that was “ten times as big as the weasel” out of his garden. In his story the weasel represented perseverance.
Brendan O’Hara criticised Trident, arguing if scientists can detect stars millions of miles away they will soon be able to locate hidden submarines, which certainly seemed like the sort of thing that could be true.
He explained: “Trident is a political weapon. It is not a military weapon.” A man nearby nodded knowingly, even though Trident definitely is a military weapon.
Christina McKelvie also highlighted xenophobia in UK society. Quoting the author Michael Rosen, she said fascism does not arrive in fancy dress, as people may imagine. Instead, it promises to “restore your honour, make you feel proud, protect your house, give you a job, clean up the neighbourhood, remind you of how great you once were, clear out the venal and the corrupt”.
It was very powerful, though a cynic might point out that restoring Scotland’s honour, making you proud, protecting your house, giving you a job, cleaning up the neighbourhood, reminding the country of its greatness, and clearing out the corrupt were all things the SNP promised in the run-up to the last two elections.
But it wasn’t all doom and gloom. On the closing day, the crowd was treated to a display from some pro-independence motorcyclists, who simultaneously rode motorbikes while also displaying Scotland flags. The crowd clapped and cheered. Banners said “We are Scotland”, which seemed to make sense at the time. Broadcasters interviewed people wearing ‘Yes2’ T-shirts with Scotland flags as capes. At one point, a taxi came past and they cheered that too, before realising it was just a normal taxi, and held no explicit views on the constitution, so they stopped.
But still, there were no obvious conclusions. It was left to Nicola Sturgeon to close proceedings. Taking to the stage, she welcomed the delegates to Glasgow, telling them the city’s shift from Labour to SNP “stands as a lesson”.
“Labour lost because they took the voters for granted,” she explained. Painting her party as the “effective opposition” in Westminster, she promised: “The SNP will never stand by while a right-wing and intolerant Tory government undermines the very fabric of our society.”
More standing, but what did it all mean? What, apart from standing, does the SNP stand for? The answer, it seems, was “inclusion”. Inclusion, Sturgeon explained, “encapsulates what we stand for as a party”.
Inclusion. Great. The audience was delighted, and the FM was treated to an ovation. A standing ovation. A standing stronger ovation.