Aberdeen Exhibition and Conference Centre
I can’t say I ever look forward to an SNP conference but I think I’m going to feel less hostile about this week’s bash in Aberdeen than I have about recent versions. They’ll be at it in Aberdeen’s exhibition and conference centre, sandwiched between the A90 and the deep blue sea. The outlook’s a bit bleak whichever way you gaze longingly at the outside world from the venue’s few windows. But for once in recent times, the view inside might be a wee bitty bleak too.
I’m not daft enough to think the party’s on an irreversible decline. No doubt they’ll up their tally of seats at next year’s Holyrood election – but not as much as they might have expected even a few months ago. We talk in Aberdeen about ‘peak oil’ and you have to wonder whether we’ve just passed peak SNP too.
No doubt the leadership will be talking up the positives (I’ll be interested to hear exactly what they are) but a whole swathe of niggles will be worrying the brighter delegates. Here’s what I think it’ll include. Deep breath now. It’s a long list.
The Michelle Thomson affair, whatever it turns out to be. It’s no good saying it’s not about her, otherwise she wouldn’t have stepped down meantime from the SNP parliamentary group, although I notice yesterday she was still sitting in the midst of them at PMQs.
T in The Park and the sense that we’ve not heard the last of the unlucky coincidence of public money, a lobbyist for a profitable private company who also happens to be an SNP member, their Westminster leader’s partner and ex-advisor to Alex Salmond, and a cabinet secretary who’s married to the Westminster deputy leader. As I say, all unlucky coincidence.
The recently revealed possibility that the relationships during the referendum campaign between Business for Scotland (Ms Thomson involved again), the Yes campaign and the SNP (P Murrell in particular, the first minister’s husband) may have been too close, if not for comfort then for the electoral rules. Remember, possibility. But the speculation and some of the circumstantial evidence is already out there.
A whole guddle of issues around education and children – a coasting (or declining?) school system; a tightening grip on higher education governance unwanted by many university principals; a lower proportion than England of children from poorer families going on to higher education; problems with some of the merged FE colleges; the mainly publicly-funded Scottish Language Centre that seems to have promoted partisan material inappropriate for a charity; and the named person scheme, reviled by many.
Police Scotland, its bodged merger from the nine previous regional forces, the Strathclyde-ification of policing; a demoralised workforce; unfortunate incidents like the couple whose car left the M9 and lay undiscovered for three days; and the early departure of the chief constable.
The whole social justice agenda, moved to the top of the SNP’s list of priorities as they realised where all those new members came from after the referendum, but for which they can show precious little achievement after eight years in government.
The conference itself – no debate on independence/indyref2, if I read correctly; and a cancelled fringe event around that subject that would have been hosted by the Law Society, at which point you could loop back to the first item in this list and some of the issues that have emerged there.
There is also the interesting irony that the conference takes place in Aberdeen (referendum result – 59% for No) and right next to what has been one of the SNP’s heartlands recently, Aberdeenshire (although the referendum result there was even starker than Aberdeen at 60% for No). It’s not so long ago that the typical North East SNP member was male, in their 50s or 60s, probably wore a tweed jacket, was socially conservative, and in slightly different circumstance would have been conservative with a big ‘C.’ Not quite your Mhairi Black or Freedom Square crowd. Some interesting tensions there that won’t lessen over time.
Of course, the SNP might claim that this only shows that they’re a true national movement, not a run of the mill political party. Au contraire, I would claim that they are only too like an ordinary political party and will soon learn the painful lesson that some of their leading figures are flawed human beings and what goes up must come down.
Anyone know what bars the delegates are likely to frequent in the Granite City over the next few days? I might just pop out for a quiet pint to gauge how downbeat the mood really is.