Despite being barely able to walk, I am determined that I will attend the SNP Conference in Aberdeen as a Branch Delegate. I opted out of Spring Conference because, to be frank, I didn’t feel I could cope with the crushing disappointment of another rousing speech from Nicola Sturgeon that offered absolutely nothing to the Yes movement. Not hope. Not encouragement. Perhaps not even acknowledgement.
Given all that’s going on, I should be anticipating a lively event. But I’m not. All party conferences are tightly stage-managed these days and, as in so many ways, the SNP is rather better at this than the others. I’m not complaining. I understand that conferences put political parties under such an intense media spotlight that control is necessary. I also understand that the SNP’s conferences are now such huge occasions, with upwards of 2,000 delegates, that they simply couldn’t happen were they not quite strictly regimented.
That doesn’t stop me regretting the lack of vigour this entails. Where these events used to have vitality and political electricity, they now have video and disco lighting. The latter can be switched on and off at will. The former have to be generated in the moment. What if the generator fails?
For the past week or so, I’ve been having this recurring nightmare in which Nicola Sturgeon delivers her main address to conference with all her customary professionalism and practised panache, only to be met with total silence. Rather than the expected standing ovation, her speech provokes only some muted grumbling and uncomfortable fidgeting around the packed auditorium.
It’s only a bad dream. Nicola Sturgeon will get her standing ovation. Depending on what she says, that standing ovation may be more dutiful than delirious. But I doubt if that will be picked up by the cameras. The dream is not real. But the worry which may have prompted it is quite genuine and valid. The concern that this could all go so very, very wrong so very, very easily.
Lesley Riddoch is right. This is the perfect time for Nicola Sturgeon to do something bold and decisive. But it is far from being the first such occasion. The difference now is that, where previously she had considerable leeway – people across the independence movement were prepared to cut her some slack and trust her judgement – this is no longer the case. or, at least, it is no longer as true as it once was.
If it is fair for Lesley to speculate about what Nicola Sturgeon might do in terms of seizing the moment, then it is surely legitimate to consider the consequences of failing to do so. One would certainly hope that she and her advisers are looking at things from all angles. My own sense of the the mood within the Yes movement is that, should Nicola Sturgeon fail to deliver something meaningful in terms of progressing Scotland’s cause, she stands to lose more than just her audience.
It is the perfect time for Nicola Sturgeon to seize the initiative and become the leader that the independence movement urgently requires. As with all such critical moments resting on the capability and courage of one person, it could all go horribly wrong.
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