THAT WILL DO NICELY

Fancy hobnobbing with the SNP elite? A credit card will do just nicely… unless you’re a member

ALEX Bell says the business people will have breakfast, the members will
have none and, once all the fun of the political circus has died down,
no one will be any wiser as to what Nicola thinks.

Sturgeon at FMQs
ROLL up, roll up…the SNP circus is coming to town.
Get your tickets here – if you have £1979.74, you can join Nicola Sturgeon this Friday at Glasgow’s SECC.
As
the Scottish National Party annual conference begins, your money will
get you breakfast, some seminars and a drinks reception.
If you’d also like to have dinner with Nicola, then £253.19 buys a seat at the table the night before.
This
offer is pitched at business people. They cough up the cash and they
get to hobnob with the handful of people who count in the nationalist
elite: “Corporate Day offers the opportunity to meet SNP policy-makers
in a friendly, relaxed atmosphere.”

Maybe a bit over two grand is cheap if you get an answer to the question all of Scotland is asking: What’s happening next?
We
have entered a period of politics where confusion reigns. It is the
dominant feeling in SNP ranks – two years on from the referendum, the
troops are still loyal but confused.

Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images
SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon launching the party’s 2016 manifesto

They have been given no direction or new material to work from.
Nicola
still does the tour of party meetings and Business for Scotland dinners
but the message is getting tired and she’s beginning to sound evasive.
The party faithful leave these events slightly deflated – they go for answers and get cold chips.
Dare anyone say it – but it’s almost like she doesn’t know what’s happening either.
Maybe
the business types will get an answer for their money but it’s unlikely
the ordinary Joes in the conference hall will be informed.
They say it’s the waiting that gets you. A nation awaits, looking to one person, and she doesn’t know what to do.
All
around her, things are changing. Two years ago, we were in the EU – now
we’ll be out by early 2019. Two years ago, the Labour Party were
hopeless – now they have hope in abundance, even if they’re still
hopelessly split.

Back in 2014, the world looked fairly predictable – since then, Trump and Brexit suggest
everything is in flux.
The ground under Nicola’s feet is shifting and she doesn’t know which way is safe.
Yet
everything also looks pretty damn fine. Nicola leads a party bigger and
richer then ever before, who dominate Holyrood and hold all but three
of Scotland’s Westminster seats. The troops are utterly loyal and
patient, the ranks organised and ready for their commands.

Nicola Sturgeon

Ranged against her are a Union which mutates into something Scots probably don’t want and
comedy opposition parties.
Promised such gifts at just about any time in her life and she would have wept for her good fortune.
Most
of the time, it must still feel like success. After all, big business
doesn’t pay out two grand in cash for some rubber chicken and political
truisms if it doesn’t think it’s worth it.
Under Nicola, the SNP finally have a coherent grip on Scotland.
The
policy programme focuses on the genuine needs of the people – chronic
poverty, neglected young children, mothers discarded by the jobs market.

The Scottish Government’s pledge to tackle, over the long-term, some of the structural problems of our society is entirely good.
It’s another question as to whether they will succeed but at least the party are on the right track.
Nicola
has achieved this without a murmur of dissent – she has led a party
happy with right-wing policies (tax freezes) into genuine left-wing
territory of social reform.
But the prize is still beyond her
grip. It has become accepted that Scotland becoming free is inevitable –
but on what grounds I don’t know.
There is no sign of a solid majority in favour of independence.
Even
if there was, there are basic questions which remain not only
unanswered but actively ignored. How to make up a £15billion deficit on
public spending? What services would be cut, what taxes increased?
Who knows – ‘answer comes there none’ from a formidable political machine designed purely for fighting, not for thinking.

PA
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon delivers a speech during the Journalists' Charity lunch in Glasgow
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon delivers a speech during the Journalists’ Charity lunch in Glasgow

This conference will have policy debates but only because the leadership want to close that line of attack.
They discuss ideas to show they are discussing ideas, not to change their minds.
Instead, everyone looks to Nicola – she alone has the responsibility, the duty to lead.
And it is a lonely task. If she calls another referendum and loses, she is gone. If she doesn’t,
she becomes a joke.
But
what to do? She tried to draw lines in the sand over which Scotland
would not step in terms of Brexit and Theresa May just blew them away.
This
conference will happen, the business people will have breakfast, the
members will have none and, once all the fun of the political circus has
died down, no one will be any wiser as to what Nicola thinks.

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