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Two Days in Inverness – a Plaid member’s view of the SNP Conference

28/10/2021

By Elin Jones AM

It’s clear that the SNP is on a roll. But this is not an out-of-control rollercoaster ride leading to an Independence Referendum sometime around 2015. This is a disciplined, professional Party wholly focussed on the combined aims of gaining independence for Scotland and promoting the interests of Scotland in Government. The two aims are closely inter-linked and formed the basis of Alex Salmond’s speech to conference. I was at the Conference in Inverness last weekend and I was most impressed by Alex Salmond’s speech. I must admit to having relatively low expectations of the speech – imagining a rabble-rousing Braveheart-esque speech, which would not have worked well for a pragmatic politician like me. Instead, we got a measured and determined speech. A National Leader’s speech – outlining how much was being achieved by a SNP Government, with a considerable emphasis on the economy and energy, and articulating how much more could be achieved with Independence. It was a speech setting Scotland in the international context – as a country amongst equals and gaining ever-increasing international recognition. It began with Alex Salmond being awarded an International Leader Prize for Actions on Climate Change. The speech drew attention to Scotland’s international position, hosting both the Commonwealth Games and the Ryder Cup in 2014 – what a backdrop to an Independence Referendum sometime around 2015!

 

The SNP will campaign for Independence in that Referendum. Alex Salmond said so clearly in his speech to Conference last Saturday. However, Alex Salmond is a horse-racing fan and is offering an each-way bet, rather than a Winner Takes All option. People will therefore be asked to vote for or against a DevoMax option, as well as asked their view on Independence. Although undefined as yet, it is probable that a DevoMax option would mean full fiscal autonomy for the Scottish Government. In tactical terms, having two propositions makes life very difficult for the other political parties, especially Labour, who already have leading members supporting the notion of Devo Max. However, Alex Salmond does not need to worry too much about the other political parties in Scotland at the moment. All 3 are in disarray. As he described in his speech – the Tories and Labour are political parties without a Leader, and the Lib Dems have a Leader, but no party.

Many factors are therefore in place to point towards a Yes vote for Independence. The SNP forms a majority Scottish Government. It has a strong, popular Leader, surrounded by a team of very able Ministers and tacticians. A million-pound financial bequest has been received to kick-start the Independence campaign. And there currently is no opposition.

However, the SNP is not complacent. It knows it has to win the hard economic arguments with the Scottish people. That’s why the Scottish Government is wholly focussed on creating economic strength and energy sustainability. Companies are investing heavily in renewables in Scotland and the Government is leading the way on cutting-edge marine renewable technology. Coupled with this is the recent indication that oil revenues will continue to flow from the North Sea for the next 40 years. And, according to the SNP, that revenue should be bound for Scottish coffers, not UK Treasury-bound.

With so many ducks in a row for the SNP, the Leadership is determined that no ducks are knocked over by party members. There is a new discipline being instilled within the Party and it feels as if the members are keen to accept discipline, because the long-time aspiration of an independent Scotland has become a plausible reality. No-one wants to be the Party member whose ill-advised media interview or website comment jeopardises a Yes vote.

The Party itself is keen to present Independence as a positive vote for Scotland. Many well-loved British institutions would be retained beyond a Yes vote. The monarchy, the currency, the military and the BBC would be retained. There is no doubt that the opponents of Independence would have played heavily on the Scottish people’s social attachment to those British institutions in seeking a No vote. The SNP has identified and quashed this threat. Although many Party members are republican or Europhile, they have clearly been persuaded that those arguments can be fought again in a free Scotland.

By now, back in Wales, how do I view the SNP’s situation and its relevance to Plaid Cymru? I feel excited for them and inspired by them. There is, of course, no direct read-across from Scotland’s politics to Wales, or from the SNP to Plaid Cymru. Our political fortunes feel very different at this time. However, to quote Maya Angelou, we are more alike than we are unalike. If we get the basics right with strong leadership and a positive, attractive message, then our fortunes could change very suddenly. The winds of change could be blowing from a northerly direction over the coming years and we need to be ready to catch those winds.

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