The Scottish National Party’s Conference took place in Glasgow between the 8th and 10th of October. The atmosphere was one of reflection after some of the party’s recent setbacks: including having lost 21 of their 56 seats in June, including former First Minister of Scotland Alex Salmond. This has also corresponded with a marked fall in Nicola Sturgeon’s personal ratings demonstrating the SNP’s honeymoon is well and truly over.

The Scottish National Party Conference

The official theme of the conference was “Progress.” However, the party was united by a feeling that the development of their country is being hindered by Brexit. This of course a difficult time while the negotiations to leave the European Union continue to promote uncertainty over our future. Sturgeon said in an interview during the time of the conference that it is a “failure of our government” that fifteen months on from the Brexit vote, the outcome of Brexit is less clear than ever. In the EU referendum, Scotland voted overwhelmingly to remain in the European Union, so what they, amongst many others, regard as poor performance from the government in Brexit negotiations is simply rubbing salt in the wound. However, some argue that SNP are using Brexit as a convenient way of not committing to when a second referendum might be held. This is less of a cynical position than an outsider might imagine; the SNP has clearly not given up on their intention of leaving Great Britain and clearly views Brexit as perhaps another way to gain what they desire.

A particularly poignant speech made during the conference was that of Paisley MP Mhairi Black, in which she spoke a lot about the need for Scottish independence. She criticised leading politicians in Westminster, particularly Jeremy Corbyn, who she called a disappointment, and Boris Johnson, referring to him as an “embarrassment” to the UK. Urging her party not to lose heart and put independence “on the backburner”, Black described the UK as “economically selfish, increasing xenophobic, cruel and reckless” and a “sinking ship”. Many Scottish people feel uncertain about what an independent Scotland would look like, and these were the fears she was trying to quell. One line that will have stuck with many in the audience was this: “I tell you what, we may not know what we’re stepping into, we might not know where we’re going, but we sure as hell know what we’re walking away from.” Maybe people have reason to fear the unknown, but can it be worse than the alternative?

Although independence was naturally a huge focus during the conference, the SNP are determined not to be seen as a one-policy party. The conference had thirty policy debates, involving issues ranging from Brexit, to public sector pay and mental health. Nicola Sturgeon speech on the last day addressed several issues concerning young people. She said that she plans to “close the attainment gap in [Scottish] schools” by investing more in education, and that the SNP’s “mission” is to give young people from poorer backgrounds “not just a better chance of going to university but an equal chance of going to university”. She also pledged that her party would build 50,000 more affordable homes, setting aside £3 billion for council housing, to help people, especially young people, get on the housing ladder. And, of course, she appealed to young people to support independence, reminding them that it is their future that is being decided.

By Lucy Higginbotham