A dead duck and the SNP conference

by | 11 Oct 2022

How is anyone supposed to maintain the pretence that we're on our way to independence after this non-event conference and the shallowness of what is being discussed?

Two things have been going on in the last few days – one of our beloved ducks died and the SNP held a conference. I will cover these issues in declining order of national significance.

Chaos was always my favourite duck. She should never have made it in the first place – we raised her from egg upwards and one of the rules of duck-rearing is never help the duckling out the egg because the process of breaking the egg strengthens them for what is ahead. But Chaos was nearly out and we could hear her tiring and giving up. We couldn’t let her die, so we helped.

She was never quite right after that – bad eyesight (worse when she lost her right eye to an infection), slower than the others, less able to look after herself. Which is of course why I loved her so much – I always made sure she got a bit more food than the rest. She lived the best life she could have had, but on Monday she died peacefully.

And then there is the SNP conference, although really this was more like a staff meeting than a party political conference. Best I can tell outside the payroll attendance was, shall we say, modest. The result looked like Malcolm from accounts and Heather from marketing tying to out-clap each other, firm in their belief that clapping volume was key to promotion to become Executive Assistant to the Vice President for Regional Supply Chain Management.

(Just kidding – the SNP doesn’t have an accounts department.)

Coming back from Yestival on Saturday I was stuck in the car park for 40 minutes (train strikes…) and someone sent me a wee panoramic video of the hall as Westminster leader Iain Blackford came on. With 40 minutes to spare I did a wee count and couldn’t identify as many as 300 people in the auditorium.

I’ve been at lots of SNP conferences over the years. There is no question that this one has shed all of the boom in participation in the party which came in the wake of indyref. But it’s worse than that; I was at the last two pre-referendum conferences and neither of them were as eerily empty as the cavernous Aberdeen Exhibition and Conference Centre.

That was with strenuous efforts made by the venue team, setting out seating in a manner best able to sort of disguise how empty the place was. It didn’t. Had this even been held in the municipal hall of a medium-sized town somewhere in Scotland, most of it would have fitted comfortably.

I was at the last two pre-referendum conferences and neither of them were as eerily empty as the cavernous Aberdeen Exhibition and Conference Centre

Not of course the attendant exhibition/money making scheme. I’m told that this year few organisations campaigning for any kind of social purpose see this as an investment in money and time worth making. It was apparently just a corporate-fest, a conversation between big business and the SNP’s elected politicians. That too is a big shift.

What of substance happened? Mainly the usual – the delegates pass progressive-going-on-radical policies while the SNP’s leadership team brief the media that none of this is binding. Not binding? This is the official policy-making body of the party. The leadership is contemptuous of its own party now.

Among all of this a motion on a ‘Code of Conduct’ for the independence movement passed. Predictably this pretence lasted for only a few hours before Cabinet Secretary Kevin Stewart was brawling with a man at the SNP LGBTQ ‘Drag Bingo Bash’ (???) requiring a bouncer to remove Mr Stewart from the venue.

One woman who contacted me said that she felt there was a hostile atmosphere at the event, with ‘young men shooting daggers at any woman over the age of 30’. I’ve been at or around SNP conferences since I was in my pram and it is quite difficult to stack up the idea that the SNP is becoming a nicer, pleasanter place to do your politics.

But in the end if ‘Smoke Detector Stewart’ is drunkenly slugging it out with people in his own party while older women feel intimidated, that’s of little real consequence to those not involved. I’m interested in the promises, the promises I’ve been fed by well-meaning loyalists for seven years now.

‘If you just stick with us for a little bit longer we’ll be independent and then you can vote for whomever you want’. What progress was made? Angus Robertson or Michael Russell (or whoever) said something about there being no shortcuts – despite the weekend being a promise of shortcuts to come.

John Swinney said something about how the membership can go and whistle, but only said that to journalists while telling the membership something about responsible fiscal something or other. Iain Blackford told his audience of 300 something. Obviously the person who sent me the video of the audience didn’t stay for the speech so who knows.

So let’s cut to the chase. Motions are non-binding, Codes of Conduct are permission for a public fist fight, audiences are optional, corporate sponsors are the real players and speeches contain nothing of any substance – or, seemingly, of any interest. SNP conferences are only about one thing.

The SNP is now like the painting of Dorian Gray – to keep its Leader looking young and attractive it absorbs damage after damage after damage

She kicked off the weekend talking about how much she detests political opponents, then tried to stretch credulity way past breaking point by suggesting that ‘the Tories and all they stand for’ wasn’t about Tories. Grammar and the meaning of words be damned!

(Why no-one points out how many time she voted with the Tories during her first term as leader or how much of her agenda was delivered via a coalition with the Tories remains a mystery to me.)

Then we get to the only part of conference over which any real care was taken – the Leader’s Speech. These now take place on Mondays and I’m told that the audience relied less on delegates from the party as on local supporters there to fill the space and give her the backdrop for her TV appearance.

She used that to tell us that independence means Sterlingisation, Growth Commission and a frankly crazy promise to invest a miserly one per cent of GDP per year on climate change over the first decade and neither borrow nor spend another penny. (Current thinking is minimum three per cent of GDP.)

So when she says that independence won’t fix Scotland’s problems overnight she really, really means it. Neither sensible economics, a high-school-level explanation of fiscal reality nor a hint of familiarity with the basics of monetary policy or theory infringe on her lecture about sound financial governance.

And then she promised her loyal followers that her plan for referendums and plebiscite elections was sound and proved it by saying so. Nothing but nothing is to infringe on this weird alternative reality where this was the last SNP conference before Scotland becomes an independent nation.

SNP conferences no longer make party policy. They are no longer even consultation events. They are purely cosmetic, marketing devices for their leader. The membership are walking away in droves. The idea this is a party fit to fight a referendum next year is silly.

The SNP is now like the painting of Dorian Gray – to keep its Leader looking young and attractive it absorbs damage after damage after damage. Will anything be left by the time she’s gone?

We brought Chaos into the house for her last hours, build her a wee bed out of old duvets and pillows and kept her with us as she died with gentleness and dignity.

The SNP is dying with neither.

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