Rumours abound that Nicola Sturgeon’s conference speech next month will include the announcement of a second independence referendum. With the SNP event taking place in Aberdeen on Friday 17th and Saturday 18th March, it is customary for the Leader to deliver two speeches – one to open and one to close. Will she use a referendum planned for August 2018 as an opening gambit or will it provide a strong note to end on?
But we are getting ahead of ourselves. There are four other party conferences taking place before then.
Scottish Labour’s event, in just two weeks, will have an equally strong focus on the independence question. The first debate on the first day will be on ‘Scotland in the UK’, while a debate on ‘Scotland in the World’ will take place that afternoon. Perhaps unsurprising, given the Party has been criticised for floundering in its support for the union of late.
Kezia Dugdale will address delegates on Saturday afternoon, while Jeremy Corbyn will speak on Sunday afternoon. In addition, Shadow Scottish Secretary, Dave Anderson, will deliver a speech on Sunday morning. Expect all three to have a heavy element of pro-UK chat and how, as the UK Government looks towards a hard Brexit, Scotland and the rest of the union must come together to face the new world order.
The following week will see Scottish Conservatives converge on Glasgow. No agenda is available as yet, but we can all but guarantee the union will find itself at the top once again. As it is also the Party’s main conference, expect a fair amount of discussion on policy and day-to-day issues – no doubt littered with speeches imploring Scottish ministers to “get back to the day job”. Ruth Davidson will don her costume as Defender of the Union, and will likely also celebrate her Party becoming the second largest group at Holyrood – they have not had a conference since before the election.
A double whammy comes the week after, with the Liberal Democrats meeting on Friday 10th in Perth and Saturday 11th March, and the Greens also holding their conference on the Saturday in Glasgow.
For the Liberal Democrats, a debate on Scotland’s place in the UK and Europe will not take place until the second day, with discussions consumer advocacy, drug-related deaths, speed limits and education all coming before it. That is not to say there will be no mention of the constitution. Speeches from Alistair Carmichael and Nick Clegg, emergency motions and topical motions on day one increase the chances of discussion, particularly given the Party’s repeated calls for a second EU referendum.
A slightly quieter conference will bookend the last of the opposition parties, since the Greens main conferences are customarily held in Autumn. The agenda has not been finalised yet, but much of the focus will be on encouraging members to get involved in local authority campaigns, including several training sessions. No votes on policy are anticipated. Where independence is mentioned, it will probably be simply to reconfirm support for Yes (they agreed a motion on this in October) and to criticise the UK Government around Brexit. Celebrations for helping the Scottish Government pass its Budget will also feature.
That brings us, lastly, to the SNP. A day shorter than usual for the Party, this conference will probably focus on criticising the UK Government for its Brexit position, the upcoming council elections (the party is expected to win big) and its first year back in minority government.
And maybe, just maybe, there’ll be a small announcement on the minor detail of a second independence referendum. Certainty, there will be no rest for political monitoring companies.
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