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Analysis - SNP Conference Review: Drama, Independence, and Gerry Fisher

Jack Boag attended the SNP conference in Aberdeen and gives his analysis on the issues

Photo courtesy of Getty

by Jack Boag

Between the 13th and 15th October, delegates from every corner of Scotland, and some from beyond, descended upon Aberdeen for three days of debate and discussion, as well as to hear some of the SNPs big wigs deliver rallying calls about independence in front of a large hall of enthusiasts.


The start of the conference was very dramatic, with so-called independence rebels, headed up by Inverclyde councillor and two-time Deputy Leader candidate Chris McEleny and backbench MP Angus Brendan MacNeil, attempting to hijack the agenda to allow their resolution about ‘Independence Plan B’ (regarding a majority of Scottish seats in the House of Commons as a mandate to pursue independence negotiations) to be debated, despite the fact the party’s Conference Committee had deemed it incompetent prior. McEleny had produced a media storm prior to the opening session, but Angus MacLeod (the party’s national secretary), was a match for him in rhetoric. In SNP Conference terms, the remit back of the agenda fell overwhelmingly.


This conference was also notable for being the first National Annual Conference with Kirsten Oswald as the Business Convener (who chairs party NEC and Conference), after 7 years of rule by Derek Mackay. Oswald had been trained in the ways of Mackay, for striking the right balance between internal election candidates, elected members and the ordinary delegates having a shot at the stage, and for the procedural battles with the eternal disruptor of Oban and Lorn, Gerry Fisher. Oswald commanded the chair with similar authority to her predecessor.


There was a fairly large Joanna Cherry-sized elephant in the room. One of the biggest battles of conference didn’t actually take place in the hall; but in fringes, and online. Two competing pledges for internal candidates on GRA reform were afoot, the pro-GRA and trans rights pledge from Out for Independence (the LGBT+ wing of the party) and the Women’s Pledge, led by Joan McAlpine and Joanna Cherry. Naturally, the most contentious of these fights was for National Women’s Convener.

Rhiannon Spear, a councillor in Glasgow and former National Convener of Young Scots for Independence (the party’s youth wing), of the OFI pledge, pipped Colette Walker, an ordinary activist in Eastwood, to the post with 412 votes against 380. In other elections, Out for Independence pledge candidates generally overcame the Women’s Pledge ones, although the West of Scotland ordinary NEC women’s list contest also going down to the wire between Amy Callaghan (the party’s candidate against Jo Swinson in East Dunbartonshire) just beating Walker again. Only one women’s pledge candidate won a national post, with Denise Findlay of Broughty Ferry branch being elected to the Member Conduct (Disciplinary) committee.


The other major internal race was for the post of National Secretary, with the incumbent Dr Angus MacLeod facing two challengers, his now perennial rival in the form of Morgwn Davies of the Trade Union Group, and the now infamous Cllr Chris McEleny. MacLeod won very comfortably, with 776 votes compared to 199 for McEleny in second place.


There were big wins for both the youth and student wings (Young Scots for Independence and the Federation of Student Nationalists) the YSI managed to get a motion passed by acclaim on the creation of a Board for the Scots Language/Board fir the Scots Leid. The FSNs win by the same measure was on the abolition of graduation fees, with a nod to the University of Aberdeen in the discussion.


 The speeches were uncontroversial, and independence and preparing for it a major theme. That being said, the big hitters were preaching to the converted in their thousands. Nicola Sturgeon’s closing speech was designed to calm the punters eager for an independence referendum, talking of the road to independence, and that a referendum will happen in 2020. That being said, she also announced major policies too, such as a fund for people fleeing abusive relationships. Overall, this SNP Conference was SNP Conference on steroids, with the main themes (as always) being drama, independence, and Gerry Fisher of Oban and Lorn branch.

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