SNP accused of '˜burying' Growth Commission at party conference

The SNP has been accused of burying its controversial Growth Commission by making no official plans to debate it on the floor of its party conference this weekend.

Independence supporters and the SNP’s opponents last night attacked the failure of the conference agenda to include a formal conference debate on the Nicola Sturgeon-commissioned independence blueprint.

Former SNP deputy leader Jim Fairlie said the issues thrown up by the Commission had to be faced while others said the party was “running scared” of its own report.

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But the SNP said the agenda had been drawn up before the publication of the report and claimed that there was still a chance it would be brought up at the last minute by means of a topical resolution. The party also pointed out that the Commission would be discussed at a series of National Assemblies over the summer.

Delegates look on during the SNP Spring Conference at the AECC in AberdeenDelegates look on during the SNP Spring Conference at the AECC in Aberdeen
Delegates look on during the SNP Spring Conference at the AECC in Aberdeen

The row over the treatment of the Commission erupted as Prime Minister Theresa May claimed the SNP was “out of touch” with the people of Scotland for continuing to pursue independence.

Mrs May made the remarks at Prime Minister’s Questions before SNP activists head to the Aberdeen Exhibition and Conference Centre for the two-day event beginning tomorrow. Mr Wilson’s 
354-page document has exposed divisions within the Yes movement with left-wingers complaining that its deficit cutting plans will expose Scotland to years of austerity.

“I think the conference should debate it. This is something that’s going to have to be faced,” said Mr Fairlie.

“But the difficulty is the divisions it is causing in the Yes movement. I suspect this decision was taken to make things as least controversial as possible. But in the past the conference was always where issues could be debated and the activists felt that they were making a contribution.”

The Growth Commission will be discussed at a fringe meeting organised by the Institute of Economic Affairs. But SNP delegate Paul Briggs from Moray said it should be debated “openly”.

He said: “It would be worthwhile to discuss it in the conference arena, but the agenda was drawn up quite a few weeks ago.”

Scottish Conservative chief whip Maurice Golden claimed the SNP was burying the report.

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He said “Given the reaction to the SNP’s independence blueprint from its own supporters, it’s no wonder they want to bury it at conference.

“Staging a debate on the widely-criticised document may cause open revolt on the conference floor.

“It underlines just how shambolic the SNP’s bid to break up Britain has become.”

Labour finance spokeswoman Jackie Baillie said: “Given how badly it has gone down with Yes supporters and the public, it is no surprise to see the SNP now running scared of discussing it at its conference.”

Scottish Liberal Democrat Leader Willie Rennie said: “The decision by the SNP leadership to shy away from this issue shows just how divisive it’s been.”

Ms Sturgeon used her agenda introduction to suggest that opening of the Aberdeen conference tomorrow marks a “new chapter” on the road to independence.

SNP MSP Ivan Mckee defended Mr Wilson’s document. Mr Mckee said: “The Growth Commission’s report explicitly rejects austerity, but both the Tories and Labour are clearly rattled by the boost it has given to the independence case – and they are also united in their utter hypocrisy.

“For the Tories to criticise the 2013 White Paper on the day it emerges Theresa May is too frightened to show her Brexit White Paper to even her own Cabinet almost beggars belief, while Labour have zero credibility given their backing at Westminster for Tory austerity and their support for Trident. It is no surprise that people are turning towards the immense economic opportunities of independence.”