Party conferences are usually of minor passing interest to anyone beyond the party faithful. The stage-managing is drearily transparent; the debates are anything but; the set piece speeches by the Great Leader & His Loyal Lieutenants are usually just a succession of sound bites tossed to the seagulls who follow such political trawlers; and everyone (who is on message) gets drunk, swaps email addresses and goes home happy… only to wake up and read the morning papers wondering why their elation, pride and backslapping hasn’t translated to newspaper headlines nor column inches.
Should SNP delegates to Inverness feel any different? Possibly not. And yet, beyond the inevitable celebratory mood, and the legitimate gripes about fair coverage from the BBC, something significant happened in Inverness. The SNP big hitters not only talked about Scottish Independence but sent the clearest possible signal that the party, and the Scottish government, were firing the starting pistol in the Independence referendum campaign.
The SNP leadership over the last few years has, for tactical reasons, steered away from directly campaigning for Independence and concentrated instead on strengthening its hand at Holyrood. This approach has frustrated many pro-Independence fundamentalists, myself included.
But the proof of the pudding is always in the eating and no matter which way you look at it Alex Salmond and his campaign team have thus far got their tactics right and got the SNP exactly where they want them to be: in power, hugely popular among the Scottish people, and with a majority and a mandate to hold a decisive game-changing referendum.
Following the May election victory the conference in Inverness was as good a time as any to kick start a referendum campaign and up the Independence ante. And that’s exactly what they did. Nicola Sturgeon repeatedly hammered home the Independence message. John Swinney made the point that Scotland would be the sixth wealthiest nation in the world if we were Independent and in control of our North Sea assets. It was announced that the Edwin Morgan legacy of almost a million pounds would be ring-fenced to campaign in the referendum. And Alex Salmond’s key note speech emphasised that he and the SNP would be campaigning for full independence in the forthcoming referendum.
You would think this would be recognised for what it was. Yet it was predictable that the unionist media in Scotland would look the other way. The Scotland on Sunday even went as far as to run a bizarre front page story headlined “SALMOND FACES BACKLASH”. The jist of the story was that the First Minister was planning a second ballot box question on “Devo Max” or Full Fiscal Autonomy. Yet what Alex Salmond actually said was:
“In contrast fiscal responsibility, financial freedom, real economic powers is a legitimate proposal. It could allow us to control our own resources, introduce competitive business tax, and fair personal taxation.
All good, all necessary, but not good enough.
Delegates even with economic powers Trident nuclear missiles would still be on the River Clyde, we could still be forced to spill blood in illegal wars like Iraq, and Scotland would still be excluded from the Councils of Europe and the world.
THESE THINGS ONLY INDEPENDENCE CAN BRING WHICH IS WHY THIS PARTY WILL CAMPAIGN FULL SQUARE FOR INDEPENDENCE IN THE COMING REFERENDUM.”
Who, on the Independence side, could argue with that? There was no mention of Devo Max on the ballot paper except to imply that Full Fiscal Autonomy was “a legitimate proposal” but “not good enough”.
As one of those quoted in that SoS article – supposedly putting Alex Salmond “under fire” – I can only shake my head. In a telephone conversation I told the journalist from SoS that naturally I would prefer a straightforward Yes or No question but was very relaxed about Alex Salmond hedging his bets at this point as three years is a long time in politics and the political landscape could be very different in 2014 or 2015. I guess the second part didn’t fit the negative thrust of the article so was left out. I’m guessing that most of the others interviewed were also quoted out of context to try and sew division. No change there then.
That aside the gloves are off. The Independence referendum campaign has – at last – begun for real. The pro-union side are in disarray. For our part it’s now about getting organised and making sure we can deliver a Yes vote.
The SNP know they can’t win this on their own. A winning campaign will need to involve all the political parties who support Independence as well those who are in none. Civic Scotland holds the key to success and in this respect the Scottish Independence Convention is already up and running and ahead of the game. Bella Caledonia will continue to support and publicise such initiatives in the coming months.