Tom Peterkin: SNP conference is platform for unity

The SNP conference is a platform for a show of unity by Alex Salmond’s faithful, finds Tom Peterkin

Alex Salmond with fellow MSP's. Picture: Lesley Martin
Alex Salmond with fellow MSP's. Picture: Lesley Martin

The 170 representatives of domestic and foreign media heading to Aberdeen this week for the SNP conference can expect more rallying than a Wimbledon final. The last conference before the referendum will be a tub-thumping affair, which will see little in the way of internal party politics or potentially divisive policy debates.

In any case, there is little chance of any SNP member doing anything to compromise party unity as the most important day in the party’s 80-year history approaches fast.

The party faithful’s pilgrimage to the North-east is all about putting on a show that will resonate with the public beyond the 1,200 people expected at the event.

There is little point in preaching to the converted, so the messages coming from the conference stage will be about capturing the imagination of the television viewing public.

Pre-conference briefings suggest that the keynote speakers, leader Alex Salmond and deputy Nicola Sturgeon, will be hammering home common themes around independence that their strategists believe will present a convincing argument to undecided voters.

To close followers of the political scene, they are a familiar mantra – Scotland “can”, “should” and “must” be independent.

Now the SNP has the challenge of taking the message into voters’ homes via doorsteps or through the television.

The posters currently springing up around Scotland are concerned with Scotland “can” be independent.

This is a strategy to persuade voters attracted to the idea of independence, but have doubts about the affordability of the case. So those tuning into Aberdeen can expect a blizzard of economic statistics – no doubt hotly disputed by the No campaign – that are designed to demonstrate that Scotland can go it alone.

Once the affordability hurdle has been negotiated, the SNP will move on to the “should” strand of the strategy, focusing on their argument that Holyrood is better placed to make Scottish decisions than Westminster.

Finally, the argument that Scotland “must” be independent could be characterised as the SNP’s equivalent of Better Together’s Project Fear. It will concentrate on the “damaging” consequences of a No vote – a new generation of nuclear weapons on the Clyde, the European Union referendum, austerity and threats of cuts to the Barnett Formula.

To those inside the hall, this rhetoric will be compelling, but for it to succeed it has to persuade those outside the Aberdeen Exhibition and Conference Centre – a task that is far more challenging.