"Independence Works": SNP Conference Sails Into Aberdeen Amidst a Sea of Uncertainty
Updated: Nov 7
Can the First Minister Avoid Steering the Party Into the Rocks?
By Josh Pizzuto-Pomaco
Photos by Miles Rothoerl
Hundreds of delegates gathered in Aberdeen last week, as SNP elites met to plot the course forward after a tumultuous year.
In a rousing speech to party members on Tuesday, First Minister Humza Yousaf made a slew of policy announcements.
Perhaps most important was his proclamation that the Scottish Government would scrap a proposed rise in council tax.
The First Minister also announced plans to invest an additional £100 million pounds in arts and culture funding over the next five years.
Mr Yousaf pulled no punches about the challenges the party faces, in the wake of the SNP's embarrassing loss in the Rutherglen by-election in early October.
"We roll up our sleeves and work harder than ever before for Scotland."
"This is how I will lead the party forward," he added.
Mr Yousaf hit out at his Tory and Labour opponents, much to the delight of the assembled crowd.
Speaking about Home Secretary Suella Braverman's comments at the recent Conservative Party Conference, he quipped: "[Her] most compassionate moment came when standing on the tail of a guide dog."
Earlier in the week, former SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon created a massive buzz when she arrived at P&J Live on Monday afternoon.
The former First Minister greeted members and activists before entering the delegate hall to rapturous applause.
Asked whether her presence overshadowed that of Mr Yousaf, she replied:
“I think Humza’s doing a fantastic job leading the party as the First Minister, and I don’t think there’s any doubt, from what I’ve seen, about who’s in charge of this conference.”
Ms Sturgeon’s point was perhaps underscored by her dramatic entrance, as she descended a set of stairs emblazoned with policy achievements to a waiting crowd of journalists and well wishers.
Speaking to reporters, Ms Sturgeon answered questions about her June arrest, among other topics.
She defended her time in office, telling the media: “My record as SNP leader speaks for itself. It’s up to other people to judge that of course.”
In the eight months since Ms Sturgeon resigned as leader, the SNP has been plagued by an ongoing police investigation into the handling of party coffers, a bitter leadership contest, and a recent defeat at the Rutherglen by-election.
Ms Sturgeon did not stay for the First Minister’s speech.
However, according to a pair of SNP students, the party remains the best choice for those at university.
Zack Niven, the National Convenor of SNP Students, told The Gaudie: “It’s quite clear that the SNP’s policies are not only Scotland-led, but student-led as well. The fact we are able to get free university tuition while other parties in the UK would detract from that and say we don’t even need to help students fund their university degree, is something that the SNP should be proud about.”
Cameron Greer, Vice President of Aberdeen Uni SNP, added: “The SNP is the party of radical change and students are demanding radical change. We’re the only ones that are going to implement it.
“We don’t have the powers to implement the radical change that we need, which is why we campaign for independence, because we will then have those powers.”
These themes were echoed throughout the week, most prominently in Mr Yousaf's speech.
He told delegates: "Scotland has a lot more to offer tomorrow than it did yesterday.
"All of us will have a stake in our new country and we all deserve to enjoy the fruits of that success.
"There is no greater gift we can leave our children than a country that is theirs to create in their own image."