I thought I would give you the high and low points of the SNP Conference for me on Thursday. The high point was the debate on nuclear weapons, and the unanimous vote on show of cards for unilateral nuclear disarmament. That was all heartwarming enough. But what really made my day was watching at close quarters the facial expression of arch Blairite Andrew Rawnsley of the Observer during the debate. He went from incomprehension, as though everyone were speaking Gaelic, to a kind of rictus of disgust, and then his corded neck and cheek muscles started positively twitching in hatred. I feared for a moment it was apoplexy. Priceless, and well worth the cost of the rail ticket.
To say something nice about the media for a change, after that debate I saw Jon Snow helping his crew by carrying some of their very heavy equipment the considerable distance from the hall. Can’t imagine Gavin Esler, Laura Kuenssberg or any of the “stars” at the BBC doing that.
My next highlight was listening to Phillippa Whitford talking about the NHS. She radiates confidence and competence, and it is sadly unusual to hear a politician who really does know the subject on which they are talking.
I greatly enjoyed a chat over a Guinness with the new Ecuadorean Ambassador, Carlos Abad. We discussed the prospects for Scottish Independence and, both being diplomats by profession, agreed heartily with each other that the key to eventually achieving Independence is recognition by other states.
The SNP really could and should do more in promoting the cause to the wider international community. The group of broadly socialist countries of Latin America (Ecuador, Venezuela, Cuba, Bolivia and Nicaragua) is called ALBA, an acronym of the Spanish name of the group. We should definitely cooperate with ALBA!
Which brings me to the low points of the day. The Ambassador had never been to Scotland before, and he had come straight from Aberdeen airport to the conference centre. I was ashamed and desperate to convince him what a lovely country Scotland is. The AECC is the ugliest building in Scotland – genuinely world class in the ugly buildings league. It is even more horrible inside than out. Whoever designed a conference centre with no bar is exceeded in stupidity only by whoever decided to hold the SNP conference in a centre with no bar. There is a bar in the adjoining Holiday Inn, itself as drab and dispiriting as a cheaply built hotel can be, but the hotel bar is far too small to serve as a social hub for the conference. And as the conference centre is outside the city in the middle of nowhere, there are no nearby bars to pile into – the conference lacks any kind of social heart.
Equally annoying, the rooms available for fringe meetings are too small. I tried to attend fringe meetings on TTIP and on excessive executive pay, but simply could not get into either.
The fringe meeting on the timing of a second referendum was cancelled, without explanation. There can be no doubt whatsoever that Nicola Sturgeon has moved decisively in the last 48 hours to kick the next referendum further into the long grass. She was ten minutes ago on BBC Breakfast doing precisely that and positioning the SNP as a party of governance within the Union. Delegates here including me, have no opportunity at all to express our opinions on this. That is not a good feeling, and I suspect in the long term not good party management, however smart it may feel to the leadership at the moment.