I can only suppose that those who chose ‘HOPE’ as the slogan for the 2020 SNP Conference did so with a sense of darkly ironic humour. For those of us who are both dedicated to the cause of restoring Scotland’s independence and fearfully conscious of the perilousness of our nation’s present predicament, there is little hope to be derived from this sham.
What hope is there for Scotland’s cause when the party that is the de facto political arm of the independence movement puts so much effort into stage-managing all but the merest hint of democratic participation out of what is supposed to be the governing forum of the party, precisely in order to conceal as far as possible the extent to which hope has been squandered by the failures and failings of the party’s leaders and managers?
I do not intend to catalogue the ways in which this event has fallen short of what an SNP conference should be and in my experience has tended to be even as electoral success brought with it the potentially corrupting influence of power. Numerous commentators have done this. I will mention only that at the heart of every conference I have witnessed or attended has been the resolution. Many of these resolutions were just for show. There were always the usual self-congratulatory motions listing the party’s achievements in government or in opposition. There were the customary grandiose expressions of principle intended to occupy the moral high ground. There were the necessary announcements of bold new policy initiatives as crowd-pleasers and fodder for the media. Always there were the cues for applause and the signals for standing ovations. But to offset the empty spectacle there was always something meaningful. There was always that one resolution that was the main topic of discussion among delegates. The real heart of the conference.
Not this time. Never in all the decades of SNP conference resolutions have so many words been used to so poorly disguise such a woeful lack of substance or effect.
Initially, I was disappointed and displeased that delegates were being denied the feedback on voting that the online platform provides. All we got was Business Convener Kirsten Oswald beamingly informing us that each resolution-like statement had been “passed overwhelmingly”. What information about actual voting numbers did become available suggested that the new standing orders formulated specifically for this virtual conference include a special definition of ‘overwhelming’. But Kirsten beams beautifully. So that’s OK.
My reading of this quite deliberate disabling of feedback feedback on voting may be coloured by innate cynicism calloused by many years of observing politics, but I got the distinct feeling that delegates were being denied the information because we were not considered worthy of it. Or trustworthy enough to be allowed it. Mostly, however, I was struck by how petty a measure it seemed. I mean, it’s not as if the voting even mattered. These were not real resolutions. They proposed no action. They neither created nor amended policy. They did nothing.
And there was no chance of any of them being voted down. There was a very real possibility that every single one of them might have been remitted back. But delegates were denied that option in a move much less petty and considerably more conspiratorial than the disabling of voting feedback. Without the option to remit the pretendy resolutions back to whatever party hack penned them even the most disgruntled delegates had no choice but to vote in favour. Or abstain – which many did. Or vote against – which not enough did.
Embarrassment for the party leadership was avoided. Which was everything the party leadership had hoped for. That delegates were effectively stripped of their power in the process is yet one more thing to be blamed on the pandemic. For some, that is rationalisation enough. Others are left wonder what is the point of having a conference which does not function as a conference. All too few question why it was not permitted to function as a conference. The capacity is there. The functionality exists. We have the technology. Why was it not used?
Yesterday, we had what The National has characterised as a “rousing speech” from the party’s Westminster leader Ian Blackford. I guess this was meant to be the “rousing” bit.
My message to all of us is this: keep heart, keep the heid and keep the faith. A new Scotland – fairer, greener and European – is now ours to win.
My message to Ian Blackford is this; I have held the ideal of independence in my heart for sixty years and in all that time my determination to see the ‘beautiful dream’ realised has never wavered. But that determination has never been more severely tested than by the pusillanimous procrastinations of this Scottish government. If my resolve survives it will be despite Mr Blackford’s words and not because of them.
My message to Ian Blackford is this; it does not become any politician to try and rationalise their tremulous inaction by accusing their supporters of having succumbed to intellect-sapping rage. Recognising the urgency of Scotland’s predicament does not betoken a loss of composure, as Mr Blackford presumes to insinuate, but the functioning a mind uncluttered by considerations of political expediency and unfettered by notions of British superiority.
My message to Ian Blackford is this; I do not do faith. Faith is belief against evidence. An appeal for faith is the resort of deceivers and beguilers and prevaricators. I put no trust whatever in those who seek to demand my faith because they have failed to win my confidence.
My heart and heid are precisely where they ought to be, Mr Blackford. Where are yours?
Today, we will have the conference climax – the address by the party leader. Nicola Sturgeon will speak not only to conference delegates and party members, but to the people of Scotland. The world will be listening in. Much hangs on what she says today. Excepting perhaps the results of the National Executive Committee (NEC) elections, her speech will surely be the last chance to squeeze something meaningful out of these proceedings. It will certainly be the last hope of creating something memorable – in the sense of something this delegate will want to remember. I don’t hold out much hope.
If one’s ear is tuned to these things then it is usually possible to deduce something of what will be in the leader’s address to conference from the content and tone of the preceding set-piece speeches. For example, that supposedly “rousing speech” from Ian Blackford. From this evidence I see little reason to hope that Nicola Sturgeon will have anything of import to say to Scotland’s independence movement. We’ll just have to wait and see. Let’s hope that last doesn’t turn out to be all Nicola Sturgeon has to say to us today.