I recently attended the second Cunninghame Graham Society dinner celebrating one of the most remarkable figures in Scottish political history. Robert Bontine Cunninghame Graham, along with Keir Hardie and others, founded the Scottish Labour Party, the Independent Labour Party in 1897 and later played an active part in the establishment of the National Party of Scotland in 1928 and was elected the first president of the Scottish National Party in 1934. It was wonderful to hear Angus Robertson MP make reference to him in his opening remarks at Conference this year.
How very different we are from the early days with a handful of founding members; in 1950 less than a thousand members to the 100,000 plus that we are today. There is a prescient black and white picture from a dreich 80’s Dunoon Conference showing the young rising stars of the movement, featuring amongst others very fresh faced Nicola Sturgeon, Eilidh Whiteford, Fiona Hyslop and Angus Robertson. I was at Rothesay Pavilion in 1997. Argyle and Bute Council say it can accommodate up to 1000. I can attest it wisnae full! After the weekend, with over 3000 delegates and growing, I wonder where other than Glasgow we will now fit!
There have been so many plaudits about Conference; by now you will have seen Nicola’s flawless address to Conference and an inspiring campaign update from Angus. Those Dunoon rising stars now leading our party in Government are set to return another tsunami, this time an unprecedented success at Westminster ( although, as Nicola said, 11+ is progress).
I want to focus on two significant Conference motions that demonstrate how far, and how mature our party has become. I wasn’t at Dunoon in 1989; I was a young graduate in the IT industry who would have railed against any positive discrimination for my gender. My gender hadn’t made me one of three graduates to receive a Distinction and it hadn’t helped secure a well paid job in IT. 15 years later I knew what discrimination meant. My own professional body, the BCS, proved the pay gap was present six months after graduation in my industry; I witnessed institutional bias that saw experienced female IT staff mentoring new male graduates whom I knew were being paid pro rata more than their mentors (funnily enough the difference disappeared when it came to charging the clients); and seeing equal pay for equal work claims in a new profession where this should not have been possible. As a councillor I saw the injustice of equal pay claims delayed years by Labour Councils who have only just settled.
Now my opinion on positive mechanisms for women has completely changed. I remember the zipping battles of the past and a failure just a few years ago to pass a motion on gender balance for NEC and I was delighted, at last, that we are removing positive discrimination for men! No solution will ever be perfect but the SNP is now in kilter with modern political parties across Europe who have recognised and addressed this bias.
My second highlight from Conference, one unlikely to have been given much press coverage in the heat of the election, was the excellent topical motion moved by former Party Secretary Willie Henderson. The motion pledged support for the Chagossian people’s fight for justice. This is the SNP at its international best, reaching out for justice in the World and demonstrating that we are a force not to be feared or treated with caution but one that will be a force for good. In our Council Chambers, in Holyrood and when elected with a massive increase in our numbers to Westminster, we are now a beacon of hope for Social Justice.