If you were in Aberdeen at the weekend, you may have seen quite a lot of people with SNP badges and lanyards, loudly talking about politics in our city’s bars and restaurants.
I’m sure it can’t have escaped the notice of most people that SNP conference was held in Aberdeen this year, at the AECC. Because of the massive growth of the party in recent years, Aberdeen and Glasgow are now the only two conference venues big enough to host our conference. There were about 3,500 delegates and 1,000 other visitors from the press, exhibitors and third sector organisations.
Party conferences are not just an opportunity for party leaders to make speeches and grandstand, they do serve a useful purpose in the political calendar. At conference, delegates from across the membership and from all over the country, get the chance to meet together to talk politics, share what works best when campaigning, and shape party policy. We discuss and debate resolutions, with those delegated from the branches voting and deciding on ways forward. We also vote to appoint our National Executive Committee and various other party office bearers.
The other thing that happens at conference are the fringe events. Organisations book rooms for times in between the main debates. Delegates can go along to hear about the future of the oil industry or the contribution councillors make to their local areas or the living rent campaign. The list is not quite endless, but there’s something for everyone.
At conference this year we had a free crèche, a fairly recent innovation which makes a huge difference to those families planning to attend. There has definitely been an increase in recent years in the number of children going to conference, as lone parents come along, or those sets of parents who have both joined the SNP and both want to shape party policy.
I’m a bit of an SNP conference veteran. I attended my first party conference in 2006 in Perth. 2006 was only 9 years ago, but it’s unbelievable how much things have changed for the SNP in that time. In 2006 we had 27 members of the Scottish Parliament and 6 MPs. We had no experience of Government. Yet in 2007 the Scottish people put their trust in the SNP to lead as a minority Government and we have been working hard to retain that trust ever since.
This was the best conference ever for me though. It was in my city, in my constituency. It was bigger and better attended than ever before. I was able to speak in favour of support for families and I was invited on stage for a selfie with Nicola Sturgeon, Callum McCaig and a few others. It was absolutely brilliant and I was very privileged to play a part in it.