Following the announcement by FM Nicola Sturgeon on Monday that a second vote on Brexit would NOT set a precedent for another referendum on Scottish Independence, all eyes were on the SNP party conference today for their next policy move.
“Fair work” and the successful use of available powers was the prevailing theme. However, Ms. Sturgeon did not leave much room for nuance in her scathing critiques of Westminster policy saying, that it: “stumbled from disaster to disaster” and describing it as: “a shambles”.
It came in the form of a policy agenda which, far from statecraft, focussed on admittedly bold day-to-day policy, including the banning of zero hours contracts. The First Minister said in her speech that: “we may not yet have the constitutional power to make fair work a legal requirement-but we do have the financial power of government to make it a practical reality. We will make sure that count”.
The discussion and debate of the day was civil and lively. There was a tangible buzz in the membership, however, it can also be said that there was a steely look of determination in the eyes of many of them. If they needed any further prompting or galvanization of their beliefs, they certainly got in.
In her address, The First Minister said that the delegates were a: “much more privileged generation.” As for them, independence was apparently in sight. She then went through the normal party leader motions of acknowledging successes of sports teams, cultural icons and the like, and drawing comparisons between their success and the potential goals of the party. She definitely had successes of her own to draw on, citing that Scotland has the highest proportion of workers paid the living wage compared to any other UK country and that she would be extending the same approach which made Amazon pay its workers the living wage to other supply chains which rely on public money.
Sturgeon also made it clear that, under her leadership, the SNP will be supporting student nurses and helping to “improve lives now”. The SNP announced plans to raise the bursary given to student nurses from £6,578 to £8,100 by 2021; after that, it will increase to £10,000 per year. This is definitely a drastic increase from the current £6,578 from the current NHS bursary. It is an increase like this that would allow more prospectus students the opportunity to go into nursing. She also clarified her party’s position on a second Brexit vote, saying that her MPs would back it in Westminster.
Meanwhile, in a confident and teasing review of the Scottish government’s economic situation and policy, Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Economy and Fair Work, Derek MacKay said: “we are winning the argument on the economics of Independence.” He then went on to declare that confidence in the economy of an independent Scotland has soared in spite of the: “dismal future of an isolated, London centric, United Kingdom”. He also said that in his upcoming economic plan, he would lay out a policy wherein certain conditions of “fair work” must be met by business in order to receive government financial grants. However, it was not explicitly stated whether this would be defined by National Living Wage.
There would also be a massive investment of £7bn for infrastructure, led by a new commission which would research priorities for where it was to be spent. A new social security department will have offices in Dundee and Glasgow, creating 1500 new jobs between the two offices.
Industry was also revisited in a resolution from Stuart McMillan MSP, who wanted the UK government to match the Holyrood leadership’s commitment to nurture and re-develop shipbuilding on the Clyde. It carried overwhelmingly after a free-for-all like debate with emboldened, first time speakers at party conference.
In this year’s conference, the role of the youth wing could not be understated. With two resolutions in the agenda, the YSI were shown to be a massive influence on the leadership of the party.
Jack O’Neil, North East Convenor of YSI, said that young people were very welcome and involved in the policy making process. He told us: “our two resolutions and two huge fringe meetings, one of which the BBC filmed, show that we are massively influential in party policy”.
From the youth wing of the party, a resolution was fielded to overhaul consent education in Scottish schools. They wished to create a new working group that will provide recommendations on how to better educate young people about healthy and consensual sexual relationships. YSI member Morgan Ritchie delivered an impassioned delivery of the motion to conference, saying: “education is one of the greatest assets to tackling sexual violence at its core”. She went on to say that “75% of young girls say that anxiety about sexual harassment affects their daily lives.” The motion was also intended to be more inclusive and factor into education; sex for the purposes of pleasure, women’s experience of sex and the presence of non-verbal ques in relationships.
Gavin Lundy, convenor of the YSI, went on to second the motion saying: “We should be aiming from Scotland becoming the safest place in the world to be a young woman, or anyone”. The motion, they said, would create a “generational change” in attitudes towards sex and form a relationship which teaches consent from a young age. Although there was a remit back to the motion, it did not receive a seconder, so the motion passed without issue. Mr O’Neil put this down to people understanding that a complete overhaul of sexual education in Scotland was needed.
Young People also made it into the policy agenda when delegates passed a resolution to research and publish a study on Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and their impact on someone’s upbringing.
In obligatory Brexit news, the SNPs Westminster leader said that his MPs were willing to cause “Maximum disruption” to the UK government agenda if the concerns of Scotland were not taken seriously.
The Scottish Conservatives were not so enthusiastic about conference. Their Chief Whip, Maurice Golden said: “After more than a year milling around with no direction from the top, the SNP foot soldiers have used this conference for a group chat on whether and where to march next.”
Regardless, The First Minister finished up by saying that she does not view Scotland as a small country, but as a “big family”.
By Murray Glen and Sarah Jayne Duncan