THE SNP’s spring conference in Glasgow this weekend will provide the first real insight into the nature of the party’s expanded 100,000-strong membership.
Party conferences in the weeks leading up to an election are usually little more than rallies. But, unusually, this conference will include a real debate on an issue that genuinely has the potential to split the party.
Nicola Sturgeon has put her reputation on the line with her plans for all-women shortlists in some candidate selection battles.
It is a policy that has been rebuffed by the party before, and within the older and more socially conservative sections of the membership there is undoubtedly a resistance to positive discrimination.
But these veterans are now massively outnumbered by new members who have joined the SNP on the back of a referendum campaign in which issues of equality and women’s representation played a significant part, particularly in the broadly-based Yes campaign.
Will the new members – who massively outnumber the older members – really stop their leader getting her own way in her first major internal party test? This must be unlikely.
The smart money is therefore on Ms Sturgeon winning a victory on equality, and starting a process to address the Nationalists’ poor record on gender balance among their parliamentarians.
Ms Sturgeon’s keynote speech today will be scoured for clues as to the SNP’s strategy for a hung parliament, which has become one of the most hotly debated topics in British politics.
Will the Nationalists set conditions for supporting a Labour Queen’s Speech? Would Ms Sturgeon rebuff a Tory offer of Home Rule? Is Trident a red line, as initially suggested by the SNP leadership, or just a campaign line?
Trails suggest the SNP leader will use her speech to reach out to voters in England and Wales, to try to reassure them about Nationalist motives in this election and its aftermath.
This has been made necessary by an irresponsible Tory propaganda campaign that has painted the SNP as an illegitimate political force meddling where it does not belong.
Ms Sturgeon’s speech today will attempt to cool the increasingly hysterical mood about the SNP’s role at Westminster. And she will try to convince English voters that the SNP offers “friendship and solidarity”, as well as being a force for reform and renewal in progressive politics.
Scottish Labour counters that Ms Sturgeon has already advised the English to vote against Ed Miliband on 7 May – in an uncharacteristic slip earlier this month, she advocated a vote for the Greens, south of the Border.
They say the SNP’s favoured outcome is another Tory-led government, which would sharpen demands for a second referendum on independence.
All eyes will be on Ms Sturgeon today.
Technology is the solution
TECHNOLOGY kills. That is the uncompromising message of a new study that adds to the evidence that insists modern life is bad for us.
There is a grim irony in the fact that while life expectancy increases – the result of better healthcare, safer occupations and better housing – our lifestyle becomes increasingly dangerous.
Obesity is a national epidemic, and young people are far more likely to spend their time on their phones than they are kicking a football around in the street, or playing on their bikes. A study this week said the average 14-year-old spends eight hours every day in front of screens of various types.
And yet blaming technology for our health ills may be premature. Could it be that technology could also be a crucial part of the solution?
Smartphone apps that allow you to keep track of your diet are already common, but the real breakthrough is likely to be in wearable technology.
Products such as Fitbit and the new Apple Watch promise a revolution in people’s ability to monitor what their body is doing — or not doing, as the case may be. This is just the start. Prototypes of clothes that can monitor your health are also being developed, including a “smartbra” for women.
What all these innovations provide is data, and this could prove to be the secret weapon in the health wars.
We forgive ourselves our treats and binges, promising to be good tomorrow. But is this so easy to do when you have an immediate read-out of how much your calorie intake has exceeded calories used up through exercise?
Truly, self-knowledge is a powerful thing.