Alex Salmond has invoked Scotland’s “divine legacy” as a springboard to independence, saying separation was “closer than ever before” as he addressed the faithful at the start of the party’s autumn conference.
As the First Minister took the stage for the first time since the SNP’s landslide victory in May, triumphalism was not in short supply.
It was an opening day quite unlike any other. Rock music blared out of the speakers as a packed theatre was shown video highlights of election night.
Slogans such as “free prescriptions helps the medicine go down” were emblazoned on as enormous screen above the stage. Edited highlights from a party political broadcast were followed by TV footage of Kenny MacAskill on election night basking in Labour’s “Portillo moment”.
Then SNP MSPs were called to the stage and announced as the “team that made history”, to a rapturous welcome.
Not all 68 were present, but there were enough to fill the stage. The applause reached a peak as Nicola Sturgeon appeared, closely followed by Mr Salmond. The First Minister put his arm around his deputy as the duo walked through the middle of their team. It was like the finale of a Broadway musical, except the principal boy and girl were taking their curtain call before the show began.
“We thank the people of Scotland for the faith and trust they have placed in the SNP in government,” Mr Salmond told those gathered. “A change is coming, and the people are eager for progress for Scotland – something that none of the unionist parties acknowledge or allow for.
“And Scotland’s vast energy reserves can power our future as an independent nation.”
But the bright future was paved with old themes, as he reminded delegates that North Sea oil would be here for 50 years and that is was “imperative” the country gained control of its massive energy potential through independence.
The Scots, he seemed to suggest, were a “chosen people”, such was the Almighty’s largesse when dishing out oil and gas supplies. “We want to see these resources mobilised for the Scottish people,” Mr Salmond told delegates. “We believe that the natural resources of the nation bestowed on us by the creator of the universe that these natural resources should be at the disposal of this nation.”
He went on: “It’s imperative that, through independence, we gain control of our own natural resources.
“Oil and gas we now know will last for the next 50 years. We know it because the Prime Minister has finally realised it and admitted it.
“We know, and its now accepted, that oil and gas will be around for the next 50 years – oil and gas and tidal power, wave power and wind power and years and years of coal reserves.
“All of that energy resource that this energy rich country has – there and available.
“It is imperative that we gain control of it. But there is one imperative that matters perhaps above all, because it is simply unacceptable to have fuel poverty amid that energy plenty – simply unacceptable.”
Just before the conference got under way, the sale of the former Nigg fabrication yard in the Highlands was announced. Global Energy Group has bought the yard on the Cromarty Firth from owners KBR and the Wakelyn Trust. About 2,000 people are expected to be employed by the company by 2015 as the site is redeveloped, with the help of a £1.8 million support package from the Scottish Government.
Mr Salmond compared this with the confirmation from the coalition yesterday that a pioneering carbon capture and storage scheme was to be scrapped, amid concerns over escalating costs.
Mr Salmond said it was a “tale of two governments”, adding: “What a contrast between a Scottish Government investing in the future of our resources and a Westminster government yet again turning its back on Scotland.”
The Nationalists won an overall majority at the Scottish Parliament elections in May, and Mr Salmond will make his main conference speech on Saturday.
But he told delegates in his opening remarks yesterday that backing for the party was at an all-time high.
“We meet on an unprecedented high for this party,” he said. “We meet with our dream of independence nearer than ever before.”
He went on: “The SNP has the momentum, all of the momentum, in Scottish politics as we move towards the independence referendum.”
The Scottish Government has faced calls from opposition parties to hold the referendum now, but ministers say they will stick to their promise going into the election that it will be held in the latter half of this parliament, probably in 2015.
The First Minister has spoken of an “independence generation”, however, Labour MSP Jenny Marra said: . “Instead of obsessing about his mythical ‘indy generation’, Alex Salmond should focus on the ‘wasted generation’. Youth unemployment has doubled under the Nationalists since 2007, and that is something to be ashamed of.”