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5 talking points ahead of the SNP annual conference

SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon

The SNP annual conference kicks-off on Friday, taking place virtually once again because of the Covid pandemic.

Concepts like “independence” and “referendums” will be attached to near-enough every agenda item, fringe meeting and group chat over the next three days, but what else can be expected from Scotland’s largest political get-together?

Online attendees will be greeted by depute leader Keith Brown and will hear from Deputy First Minister John Swinney, Westminster leader Ian Blackford and of course First Minister Nicola Sturgeon over the course of the four-day event.

Oil and Gas

The largest elephant in the room — how the party which once hollered “it’s Scotland’s oil” comes to terms with the ensuing climate emergency, which scientists say will only be made worse by further fossil fuel extraction.

Agenda item seven, party members will debate the “climate and ecological emergency” on Monday.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon during a visit to BP headquarters in Aberdeen, Scotland, in 2016.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has faced claims recently she is “abandoning” the north east and the country’s oil and gas industry following comments she has made on drilling at Cambo in Shetland.

She said: “I don’t think Cambo should get the ‘green light’.”

The UK Government is set to approve new drilling operations despite commitments to “net zero”.

The resolution also calls for a nationalised, integrated public transport network and the recommendations of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report “in full”.

Coupled with the recent coalition with the Scottish Greens, expect the conversation to dominate the weekend.

Equality and safety for women

An item on financial equality for women launches the resolutions section on Friday, following Keith Brown’s opening remarks.

Conference will discuss the disparity for women in the Equality Act 2010, the unfair life experiences of older women in Scotland and the UK and how the Scottish Government tackles gender-based-violence — including the roll-out of the EmilyTest pink card scheme.

Named in memory of Aberdeen University student Emily Drouet, the EmilyTest is a charity working to improve prevention, intervention and support concerning gender-based violence (GBV) in further and higher education.

The 18-year-old suffered both harrowing mental and physical abuse from her boyfriend Angus Milligan while she was a student. She took her own life in 2016.

This will carry-over into Saturday, where members will debate the addressing of street harassment.


Obviously the SNP conference will focus independence front and centre.

Among the talking points this year — the expansion of Scotland’s civil service in the event of Scotland separating from the UK.

Currently, there are around 7,500 civil servants working for the Scottish Government.

Exterior of St Andrews House, Scottish Government building, Edinburgh.
Exterior of St Andrews House, Scottish Government building, Edinburgh.

The party proposes the country would need around 35,000 new positions “of which at least 10,000 cannot be filled by existing UK employees”.

The resolution wants the distribution of the new civil service done evenly across the 32 local authorities.

Quite what it makes of the vast majority of Scottish Government civil servants being based currently in Glasgow or Edinburgh remains to be seen.

Members will also discuss the creation of the Scottish Reserve Bank Establishment Bill — a key component needed if Scotland ever wishes to apply for EU membership.

A vote for independence, they say, would require the need for a Scottish Currency from “day one”.

Fringe events

No conference would be complete without fringe events, which in all honesty bring some of the more interesting (read: newsworthy) topics to light.

Often sponsored or organised by third parties, some of the more fanciful ideas spring from fringe meetings.

Of note: A net zero event hosted by Heathrow Airport. Increased use of planes and the aviation industry come only second to fossil fuels as words regarded negatively these days.

Arrivals at Heathrow, Heathrow Terminal 2, London, Feb 2021

The introduction of a third runway has even got the Conservative party tangled up, and like oil and gas flies in the face of previous SNP positions on opening accessibility to Scotland.

Friends of the Earth Scotland will host a discussion on carbon capture and hydrogen power, in the wake of top-level criticism by the organisation on the SNP government’s plan for climate change after COP26.

Education Institute of Scotland (EiS) will host a meeting with the cabinet secretary of education. It follows news members of another union (Unite) could strike in the midst of a restructure to the SQA.


Expect plenty of statements from the SNP, opposition and probably even Alex Salmond’s Alba party over the next few days.

Fortunately, those with eager press officers have sent on the following, which depending on your politics will either persuade or dissuade in equal measure.

Opening the SNP’s annual conference, SNP depute leader Keith Brown is expected to say: “The SNP gathers this weekend in great shape – but also with great resolve.

“The last couple of years have been challenging for all of us, and they have made us all think about what really matters in our lives.

“As a responsible government, the SNP’s first priority has been – and remains – steering Scotland safely through the pandemic.

Justice Secretary Keith Brown
Justice Secretary Keith Brown

“While the whole Westminster system is quite clearly broken beyond repair, we are focussed on delivering for the people in every corner of Scotland.

“And as we look to the future, we will urge the people of Scotland to think about what kind of country they want to live in when the pandemic is over.

“Who is best placed to make decisions affecting their lives. Who is most committed to making Scotland a fairer, more prosperous nation and tackling key issues like the climate emergency.

“We will not allow Scotland’s future to be limited by the relentless negativity, the can’t-do attitude and the complete lack of vision from the unionist parties.

“Our case for Scotland’s future is one based on optimism and ambition.

“A belief that our nation has what it takes to be a successful independent nation.

“And a belief that the people who live here can take better decisions about their lives rather than leaving Westminster in control.

“That is the case we will make in the months ahead – and that is the case which will lead us to independence.”

Pamela Nash, chief executive of Scotland in Union, said: “With a new opinion poll revealing that 59% of people in Scotland want to remain part of the UK, Keith Brown is hopelessly out of touch.

“He has nothing to offer but tired old rhetoric and the arguments of yesterday, while the country has moved on and is looking to the future.

“Rather than obsess about how to divide Scotland’s communities, we have a positive future ahead of us in the UK where nobody is left behind and we build a recovery for everyone.”