It's time for optimism ahead of the SNP's conference

  • First published in : Visit Website
  • First published on: 07th Oct 2022

There can be no doubt that this weekend’s SNP Conference takes place at an auspicious time both for the party and the cause of independence.

This is the first time the party conference has met in person since October 2019. The first conference since our December 2019 General Election win, our third in a row, and the first time since the Holyrood election win in May 2021, which was our fourth win in a row.

The conference also takes place on the eve of the Lord Advocate’s Supreme Court reference which could lead to a decision paving the way to a second independence referendum next October.

The Tories are on their knees across the UK. Polls published this week predict that in the event of a snap General Election they would face an electoral wipe out in Scotland with the SNP taking all their seats. One poll shows that if a Holyrood election was held tomorrow the SNP would win an outright majority and puts support for independence up 5 points.

This is not an outlier. Last month the British Social Attitudes Survey, showed 52% support for independence in Scotland, the highest figure it has ever recorded. What is so significant about these polls and the survey is that they show the difference between Scotland and the rest of the UK. While the Tories implosion has led to Labour riding high in England and Wales, in Scotland it is the SNP who benefit. Labour are taking votes from the Tories and Liberal democrats in Scotland but they are not taking them from the SNP. Scotland and England continue to travel on very different political trajectories.

There is much to be positive about, but we must avoid the temptation for complacency at all costs. The Tories fall from grace since their spectacular victory in England at the end of 2019 demonstrates how unexpected events can turn the tide. As ever it is important for us to have all our ducks in a row for the forthcoming independence campaign and to continue to strive to get support up to 60% and beyond.

I was pleased by the response from activists to my column last week. Many people have been in touch to express support for my argument that, particularly as Sterling tanks after years of losing value, it is time to bite the bullet of addressing a world that has changed hugely since the publication of the Growth Commission. I enjoyed a lively lunch with Business for Scotland supporters last Friday where this approach also received a lot of support. It is time to reboot the vision for independence and flesh it out. I am hopeful that some topical conference motions framed in the light of the fallout from the Tories disastrous mini-budget might focus matters. It helps that we are back to in person conferences. Nothing beats the opportunities afforded for party members and activists from across the country to meet and chat. I am really looking forward to doing that again so please if you are there come up and say hello.

Earlier this week I attended the funeral of a dedicated independence campaigner who supported my election campaigns come rain or shine. A true internationalist, Ann Jamieson lived and travelled all over the world. One of the songs she chose for her funeral was Sheena Wellington singing ‘A Man’s a Man”. I am moved to tears by this rendition at the best of times and Ann’s funeral was all the more moving for it. It was a very sad day made sadder when at the afters we heard the news of the death of Ian Hamilton KC.

The celebrant at Ann’s funeral read out as her epitaph some words Ann had written recently;-

“I do not see myself as ‘lucky’. Rather I see myself as a product of the fantastic Scottish education system and culture, which gave me not only a Fife County Council house in Glencraig to grow in, Lochgelly Equitable Cooperative Society, Edinburgh University, Stirling University, Europe and Africa but also a decent income and the capacity to let my own kids flourish. My passion, to reach for the inevitable cliché, is to see all of Scotland flourish forever.”

I don’t see those last few words as a cliché at all. It should be the passion of all independence supporters to see all of Scotland flourish forever. But here’s the thing. I suspect that it is also the passion of many unionists. And people on both sides will have different views of what a flourishing Scotland might look like.

Burn’s poem, sung so poignantly by Sheena at the reconvening of the Scottish parliament in 1999, extols the virtues of honesty, integrity, and independence of mind. My late friend Ann and the late Ian Hamilton had these virtues in spades.

If we want to be an independent nation, then we need to be independent of mind. This means listening to those with whom we disagree and reaching decisions on policy direction after considering matters carefully, having listened to all stakeholders, rather than on the basis of soundbites or what is perceived to be fashionable.

When Professor John Curtice won the lifetime achievement award at the recent Holyrood Magazine Political Awards, he posed this question to the watching politicos and lobbyists – How do you propose to heal the wounds after the resolution of the constitutional question?  I believe that work on paving the way to doing so can start now if we take steps to ensure that the debate about independence is always measured and respectful.

To achieve this goal, we must always be tolerant and listen to the concerns of those who disagree with our vision for Scotland. Attempts to control and police the debate and who can participate in it should be resisted. Sometimes when words of caution are sounded about a particular policy which are at first unwelcome the passage of time and events can prove them to be vindicated. We don’t have to look too far to see examples of this recently. If our passion is, like my friend Ann’s, for all of Scotland to flourish, then all voices must be heard not just those who are fashionable or acceptable to certain factions.  
 

Joanna Cherry KC MP

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