It's about time that I got round to doing a write up of last week's SNP conference in Aviemore.
As has been widely noted, it was the first one to be held under an SNP government. Accordingly, there were a lot more people there, and not just the 1000 or so delegates. The place was teaming with various lobbyists who have suddenly noticed we exist. I remember just two years ago at the same venue I organised a fringe meeting and I was the only person leafleting delegates that afternoon. Times have changed very quickly, and there were even some protesters standing outside.
It may also be obligatory now for 'serious' parties to avoid robust debate on the conference floor. Certainly some of the motions this year were fairly uncontroversial, such as the one calling for broadcasting to cease being a reserved issue for Westminster. There were no cards in to speak against.
This is understandable. Those high up in the party will be concerned that hotly debated topics be portrayed as divisions in the camp by the hostile elements of the mainstream media. Nonetheless, there needs to be a method found whereby issues can be properly discussed, perhaps even at a forum different from national conference. It's not so pressing just now where we are embarking on government and the creative juices are overflowing after so many years in opposition. There will come a time years down the line though where a good consultative process will be essential to the health of the party. Just look at Labour, where the intellectual stagnation is down in no small part to members playing no meaningful role in the party process at all.
Despite this small caveat, the mood at conference was understandably upbeat. It was a surprising sight to see SNP members clutching copies of a London based newspaper. Sales of the Independent, with their Scotland 10 England 0 front page, were unusually high in Aviemore that Saturday.
My own favourite speech was Nicola Sturgeon's with this decent piece of comedy:
"As you know, our government has been credited with hitting the ground running after the election.
"What we have in Labour is an opposition that hit the ground moaning and, believe me, they haven’t stopped since."
And this astute observation about Kelvin Mackenzie's racist rant a few weeks ago:
"The former editor of the Sun, Mr Kelvin Mackenzie, treated us recently to an idiotic diatribe, telling us Scotland couldn’t survive without English subsidies.
"Now, I couldn’t care less what he thinks.
"What was intriguing was the reaction of the other parties.
"“I couldn’t disagree more” said Wendy Alexander.
"He was talking “nonsense” said the Tories.
"He should apologise, said the Liberal Democrats.
"But aren’t these are the very same parties that spent the entire election campaign saying exactly what he had said?"