Here’s what you WON’T hear in Nicola’s speech to the party faithful
By Graham Grant
YOU might have seen the BBC reporting on a mass rally of independence supporters in Edinburgh earlier this month.
As for how many turned out, including the woad-painted ranks shuffling through the drizzle, well, it’s frankly anyone’s guess.
Ambitiously, organisers claim it was about 200,000, but police and council chiefs no longer produce attendance figures – though they won’t say why not.
It’s possible they don’t want a scrap over numbers, angering one side or the other, and that life is too short – a sentiment that also reflects many people’s view of the ongoing SNP annual conference.
Posted missing at that flag-bedecked parade in the capital was one Nicola Sturgeon, who is due to make her keynote address to delegates in Aberdeen today.
A lot of grassroots activists were angry that she didn’t join them on the march, leaving SNP MP Joanna Cherry, a potential leadership rival, to steal the glory by making an appearance.
On the day, Miss Sturgeon tweeted: ‘I will be with you in spirit’, and later tweeted pictures from a constituency party to celebrate her 20th anniversary as an MSP – complete with a cake bearing a Saltire decoration.
Memories may still be fresh for Miss Sturgeon of previous marches where a placard proclaimed ‘Tory scum out!’, and other charmingly inclusive messages designed to win over No voters.
Today, SNP members will see her in the flesh, and there can be little doubt she will repeat her mantra that ‘independence is coming’.
Among the footsoldiers itching for another referendum, genuine disillusionment with the Sturgeon reign, which they see as a series of missed opportunities, is growing by the day.
The notion that Nationalists should be holding back from a second attempt at Scexit makes no sense to them: Brexit chaos provides the perfect backdrop for it, they argue, and that won’t last forever (or will it?)
So today Miss Sturgeon, who condemns the prospect of No Deal despite her party having voted against Theresa May’s withdrawal agreement, will have to launch a reassurance exercise on the indy front.
It’s familiar terrain for a First Minister who is accustomed to marching her troops to the top of the hill and promptly marching them back down again, at pace, trapped in an endless loop of forward attack and urgent retreat.
She may judge that this is the best opportunity to demand the right from the UK Government to hold a second plebiscite on independence now, having wisely dismissed the proposal from the wilder fringes of her party for a unilateral declaration of independence.
This might be good news for Unionists, as the idea that a party of devolved government should pick a moment of maximum vulnerability for the UK state, in the midst of political crisis, to inflict even greater turmoil, is bound to convince some wavering voters to shun the SNP.
Most of us have had enough uncertainty, volatility, and constitutional warfare to last a lifetime, and of course the polls, barring the odd outlier, remain stubbornly against independence.
You can look out your dog-eared SNP conference bingo card to tick off the worn-out phrases Miss Sturgeon will deploy in her speech: Tory austerity, Brexit Britain, taking Scotland out of the EU against its will…
But it’s an equally worthwhile exercise, if you have a masochistic streak, to anticipate what Miss Sturgeon will leave out of her speech.
It’s unlikely that a checklist of policies that failed to make the grade will be rehearsed in such a public forum, despite offering a rich seam that would bolster the word-count of the speech.
They include the belatedly scrapped Named Person scheme and the now-rescinded ban on sectarian singing at football matches.
There’s barely enough room in the wastepaper basket for more of the SNP’s failures.
Then there are those initiatives that never seemed to stand much of a chance of coming to fruition – such as the Education Bill, unceremoniously dumped when it became clear that relying on Tory votes for its approval would be the only way of keeping it alive.
The spin machine went into overdrive as John Swinney and his colleagues insisted the Bill wasn’t needed, as enough progress on improving schools had been made already – despite Miss Sturgeon staking her tenure in office on what was billed as radical reform of state education.
As she recaps on her recent achievements today, can Miss Sturgeon expect a round of applause for the desperately hypocritical parking levy, which threatens to slap punitive charges on anyone with the temerity to drive to work?
It may be that, as she was ferried between vital engagements, such as book festivals and self-congratulatory social gatherings, in a chauffeur-driven limousine, funded by the taxpayer, she thought better of raising the subject.
Even in the context of the ‘climate emergency’ (another one to mark off on the bingo card), it might be a kamizake manoeuvre, in the run-up to a probable general election, to highlight another barmy tax-grab on hard-pressed motorists.
Or if it is cited, it will be heavily camouflaged amid talk of the SNP’s green crusade, including the ban on fracking for shale gas.
Actually, scratch that – Miss Sturgeon’s advisers would veto any talk of bans: a court established last year that the fracking moratorium instigated by the SNP does not constitute a ban in legal terms.
A placard proudly shown off by independence-supporting broadcaster Lesley Riddoch at the independence march which Miss Sturgeon missed snappily read: ‘No smacking, no fracking, no Union Jacking’ – a reasonable summation of the SNP’s accomplishments over the last 12 years.
Multiple inquiries focusing on NHS scandals, including a major children’s hospital unfit for use, won’t merit a mention either.
While she is talking to the party faithful (or faithful for now anyway), Miss Sturgeon will be conscious of a wider audience, and aware of poll results showing a majority of Scots oppose the ban on parental smacking – so maybe that will be left out, too.
Tax is presumably another area that won’t make it to the final draft, given that Scotland now labours under the UK’s most onerous personal taxation regime – reminding the nation of the battering pay-packets have taken doesn’t sound much like a vote-winner.
Bear in mind that £135million of taxpayers’ cash has been written off by the Scottish Government following a series of ‘failed investments’: a powerful illustration of where all those taxes are going.
As for the SNP’s post-independence plans to ditch sterling in favour of a home-grown currency, using the pound without Treasury consent in the meantime, that might be another topic to exclude – unless Miss Sturgeon wants to risk a media grilling about Panama-style ‘dollarisation’ once she’s left the podium.
Next month, Miss Sturgeon will mark five years as First Minister – but her track record has oscillated between the unworthy, the unworkable, and the unmentionable.
And when that milestone is passed, assuming she is still in post, it’s debatable whether anyone will bother to bake another celebratory Saltire cake.
*This column appeared in the Scottish Daily Mail on October 15, 2019.