I went to the SECC in Glasgow for the Spring Conference; it was my intention to go on the Saturday and Sunday, and as I do not like driving in Glasgow I took the bus. Edinburgh to Buchanan Street, Glasgow no problem. Hike down to Central Station – 20 minutes at least – never timed it. Train to the SECC 5 minutes, then the walkway, no idea of how long but I was humphing a briefcase.
Coming back was worse as I bought three books to fill the briefcase. By the time I got back to Buchanan Street I decided that I could not do it again the next day.
I contrasted this with attendance at the Aberdeen Conference in October. We stayed in Ellon, maybe 15 miles out. We left the hotel, crossed the road and caught the bus; 20 minutes later we got off at the Aberdeen Conference Centre. What a difference.
All this because the SNP is so popular. No more Inverness, no more Perth no more Aberdeen, and over the years, Oban, Rothesay, Dundee, Elgin, Edinburgh, Motherwell, Ayr, Stirling; on the front cover of Jimmy Halliday’s book “Yours for Scotland” we published a picture of all but half a dozen of the delegates at the SNP Conference in Bridge of Allan in 1956 on the steps of the Allan Water Hotel ,between 40 and 50. Changed days indeed.
I had some sympathy with a claim by one delegate that most of the resolutions and amendments were from either MSPs or MPs. I have forgotten how many Agenda Committees I served on in my days but my recollection is- what a trachle they always were! We got piles of resolutions, and I always started by matching the Branches and the CAs to the usual suspects. There was always hot rivalry because if you got a resolution on the Agenda you had a fighting chance of speaking at Conference, and if there was a resolution from your Branch you protected it. (I know because I did it.) Some Branches would try to hog it, so we needed to be alert, and not have the same speakers time and again.
It is true that Conferences are now becoming rallies, and that the most MPs we had in my time was 11. Now with 68 MSPs and 54 MPs things are different, and there is enough bad publicity being generated in the media without us offering more. Having said that it is only a few short years since we had a major debate on membership of NATO, which I thought the Executive were going to lose. The contribution from Kenney MacAskill pulled that iron from the fire. The media are not there for adulation but to look for splits and divisions.
I have to confess that I am not a natural optimist when it comes to elections, since over the years I and my generation of Nationalists were inured to seeing advances which vanished as the ballot boxes loomed. In the late days of 2010 and the early days of 2011 the Labour Party was positively strutting in the Scottish Parliament, as the opinion polls showed them in the lead, and I watched in despair to see how our fragile advance was being stopped. I went to the Manifesto Launch in Glasgow and was amazed at how upbeat everyone was. When I got home my wife asked how it had gone and I replied “I have never seen so many cases of candidate’s disease in my life. They are all going to win!” I did not get a firm inkling until Polling Day, when a Labour Polling Agent told me he had voted for the Labour candidate, and given Alex his Regional Vote!
And we did – an outright majority in a system designed to stop us.
I also did not believe the Opinion Polls last year and was truly astounded as the Unionists were routed in a truly breath taking election, the result of the Yes Campaign not winning the Referendum, and the Prime Minister David Cameron’s imposition of English Votes for English Laws the morning after the vote. This was, for me, the James Connolly moment I had been waiting for.
It is also in line with a comment I read in Andrew Marr’s book “The Battle for Scotland” 2013 edition. He quotes from Andro Linklater’s biography of Compton MacKenzie concerning Robert Cunninghame Graham’s performance in the 1928 election for the Rectorship of Glasgow University. The Conservative candidate was Stanley Baldwin the British Prime Minister, and he sent up various party bigwigs and even ministers to speak on his behalf. To the amazement of Baldwin and everybody else Cunninghame Graham came within sixty six votes of beating him. Linklater wrote “Suddenly it seemed as though nationalism must exist, like a huge artesian well beneath the crust of existing politics, waiting to be tapped.”
Robert McIntyre found that well in 1945, Winnie Ewing tapped it in 1967; it started to gush with Alex Salmond and it is in full flow with Nicola Sturgeon.
I read somewhere about the stance of Dugdale, Davidson and Rennie, and I was struck by the initials, as DDR was a familiar acronym.
It took a while for the penny to drop, DDR was the Deutsch Demokratic Republic, which was the old East Germany before they passed into history; “Unwept, unhonoured and unsung” . This trio are on their way there.
However I was amused to read that Ms Dugdale does not want Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn at their pre election conference, and that Ms Davidson does not wish Chancellor George Osborne at hers, and I am sure that Mr Rennie would do the same for whomsoever might be their leader. They could try (not legally) Alastair Carmichael – prominent Liberal and former Secretary of State for Scotland?
On the day that Prime Minister David Cameron and First Minister Alex Salmond signed the agreement to hold the Referendum I was at the Press Conference afterwards. The place was mobbed with press from just about everywhere in the free world, I managed to get in a question (?) at the end of what was a torrid joint attack by the British media. What I said was roughly this, as the editor of the only newspaper in Scotland supporting Scottish Independence I congratulate Alex and Nicola for taking us this far on the road, not a popular point for the audience. At the end of the conference I was approached by a young lady journalist, who was intrigued by the statement “the only newspaper in Scotland”. She asked if I could do an interview, which I duly did. After we were done I asked what station she was from and she said “Russia Today”; it was not something I had ever seen but much later I heard from someone who had watched it.
On Tuesday this week I read a piece in the Herald from David Leask, stating that Russia Today was a part of the Russian state media. Apparently, Moscow brands those interviewees as “useful idiots”! Ah well I was useful for something –but I had only told the truth. Mr Leask would be totally unaware of my intervention, but did report that Mr Corbyn had appeared a lot, and Alex Salmond at least once.
I am very pleased with the SNP attitude, policy if you like on second votes, even putting “Both Votes SNP” on the Conference passes. It is not our duty to attempt to assist other parties standing against us. We stand for independence – it is our ultimate, and only aim in politics. Policies we adopt along the way may change, and we have had some pretty fundamental ones even in my time, were first in favour of the EEC as it was then but came out against it and changed it to “Not on anybody else’s terms” at the 1975 referendum. This lasted a few years then it became a touchstone to favour the EU as a means of helping us to stop Westminster’s calling us isolated in the world. This latter view was promoted by Gordon Wilson when he was SNP leader; it was hijacked by Jim Sillars, who is now calling for us to support Brexit! He is also supporting RISE, who will be campaigning against the SNP.
The point of this is that we stand for Independence, and once that is attained the other parties will help create the new Scotland. If people wish to support them just now that is their democratic right, but is not for us to shoot ourselves in the foot.
I was delighted that the SNP’s John Swinney stuck to his guns and got a favourable fiscal framework, or as Nicola Sturgeon so eloquently put it “We gubbed them”. The Treasury is used to getting its own way because it calls the shots as it suits the government. To be faced with an adamant and determined Scottish Finance Secretary was a new experience. In the Scottish Parliament I always knew that we had a triumvirate, Alex Salmond the Leader, Nicola a gifted and innovative Minister, and John Swinney, Finance Secretary, the engine who made it all work. Alex is now creating havoc in Westminster, and Nicola by making John Swinney the Deputy First Minister has pulled off a master stroke. We are so fortunate in our Party Leaders- they are welcome at any time and every occasionJ
Last week I watched Colin Mackay of STV interviewing Mervyn King, the former Bank of England Governor, now Lord King, and then Alex Salmond, former First Minister – separately. Lord King has just published a book about how we are approaching another financial crash, as they have not sorted the last one. In his book he has a chapter on sterlingisation, and he said there was no need to change the currency at the Referendum, we could just have carried on using sterling; the Bank of England would have just accepted this. In his interview Alex pointed that it was Osborne who had come up and said we could not use the pound, and although Alex had forced this out of Alastair Darling at their second debate the damage had been done.
We will remember that next time.