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Party Conference

Wur tearin’ the tartan - at the SNP conference

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Wur tearin’ the tartan - at the SNP conference

Atlas Director, Charlie Napier, reflects on his first ever SNP party conference.

Atlas Director, Charlie Napier, reflects on his first ever SNP party conference.

Since I first started in public affairs almost 20 years ago, I have been to the majority of Labour and Conservative party conferences. In recent years, I have sometimes dreaded the prospect, but, like many things in life, I come out the other side feeling pleased that I have been. Despite the hassle and expense, going to them normally feels worthwhile.

So with a certain amount of trepidation, this year I made my SNP debut. As it turns out, after the maelstrom of the ever growing Labour/Tory conferences it was almost a joy to be in a (very wet) Glasgow at a conference with a far more homespun feel to it. It felt much more relaxed and much less hectic than the other two. Despite the passionate rallying cries for independence and (mostly) against Brexit, it had the feel of a large family gathering, something which Nicola Sturgeon alluded to in her speech.

Non-political nerds will have to forgive me as I highlight the ‘interesting’ differences. For a start, as mentioned, the size. Official figures said 4,000 people attended – at times it felt more like 400 to me. The fringe programme was supremely modest (60 open ones) but no less engaging in subject matter. Needless to say the three Brexit fringes seemed to be by far the most popular. There were 40 exhibitors, most of whom were from the non-profit sector, and considering we had all the Scottish Government Ministers and Leader there, security was gloriously light. The relaxed one man bag checker, the lack of photo on the pass and all round low key security was a refreshing change from the scanners and endless queues at the Tory conference. Some may mock this light touch but it should be celebrated that Scotland seems to be generally immune to serious terrorist threats.

Other unusual things I noticed were: the one café in the conference area stopped serving tea or coffee during the speeches to make sure delegates didn’t dally around and actually went in to listen to the debates. The fringe meetings were strictly timetabled for three set periods during the day, so they too didn’t interrupt the main action. It really was empty outside the full hall when the key speeches were taking place.

And it seemed to work. Although the conference hall was big (so much so that I was easily able to get in to watch the Leader’s speech, which at the other two is a near impossibility unless you are a member and queue for ages), it was nearly always full. Contrast that with the Tory conference where the main hall was half empty and all the focus was on the fringe programme (one in particular).

To seasoned conference goers who, like me, believe all the action happens outside of the main hall, this was quite an extraordinary thing. I guess it is what conferences were like before the lobbyists and corporate interests over ran the two big ones. As a result though, anyone who did make the trek up north or across from Edinburgh was rewarded with decent conversations with MPs, MSPs and their staff.

The other aspect I found fascinating was the curious juxtaposition of the elected politicians when debating subjects. At an energy fringe I went to, we had Paul Wheelhouse, Scotland’s Energy Minister and Alan Brown, the SNP Westminster Energy spokesperson. Paul was full of the joys of the Scottish Government’s energy policy whereas Alan was bemoaning the situation in Westminster and how ineffective and full of hot air the Westminster Energy Ministers and their Shadows were.

It really brought home the contrast between SNP MPs and MSPs. To me, being an MP is the route to take if you want to make a serious change to the country – i.e. go on and get into Government and be actually running things. In Scotland, being an MSP is what fulfils this role. Being an SNP MP is like choosing a life of permanent rebellion, being a disrupter but never having any hope of actually holding the reigns of power. This stark difference was really brought home to me at the conference.

So although I have no strong feelings about Scottish matters (apart from some fishing ones), I really enjoyed the conference and from a professional point of view found it well worth the trip. It made me think perhaps I should join the London branch of the SNP…but then on my way back south I chatted to a delightful SNP member and realised that perhaps my views weren’t 100% aligned with their policies.

 

 

 

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The rise and rise of the female voice. Does anger = action?

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The rise and rise of the female voice. Does anger = action?

Senior Consultant, Nina Dohmel-Macdonald, writes about her first ever party political conference and the rise of the female voice.

Senior Consultant, Nina Dohmel-Macdonald, writes about her first ever party political conference and the rise of the female voice.

I’ve thought about female anger a lot in recent weeks, particularly in the wake of that US Open final.  Without it, there would be no #MeToo. Without it, there would be no Amika George, fighting to stop any girl in the UK from missing school simply because she can’t afford sanitary products. Without it, I wouldn’t be asking friends and colleagues to stop saying ‘I’m not sure whether that’s been helpful’ every time I hear them finish a sentence with those words. I can’t imagine the countless articles, thought pieces and books on the subject will die down any time soon - especially given this weekend’s news that Mr Kavanaugh has become the new Supreme Court Justice.  

It’s worth looking back to 1991 when Anita Hill, a reserved law professor, testified to the Senate about her former boss, Clarence Thomas.  Despite his confirmation, her testimony electrified women in the US. She sparked an unprecedented political movement that lead to an increase in the number of women serving in Congress. The year that followed was christened ‘Year of Women’. Sound familiar? And maybe history will repeat itself in more ways than one.

There are 60% more potential candidates than there were in 2016 for America’s upcoming midterms. Eleven female nominees are running for governor and at least 185 for the House of Representatives. Record breaking numbers. There are also five woman vs. woman races. Another record. Women have won more primaries than ever before. Yes, there’s an argument that a large part of this is just lip service, as nearly half of those standing may lose in 'likely' or 'safe' Republican seats.  However, even with this being the case, I believe a record breaking number of female candidates still represents a reaction…a reaction to the thousands of stories that have come out in the wake of the Weinstein scandal, and Trump’s anti-feminist stance.

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Anger was certainly something I witnessed when I attended my first Party Conference – the Women’s Equality Party Conference - at the beginning of September.

Over the course of two days, so many issues were deliberated, discussed and debated.  Motions were passed and pulled apart.  Some of these stopped me in my tracks. Did you know that Westminster is proposing to write off £2.5bn of historic child support payments – most of which is owed to single mothers – simply because the cost of maintaining the records is too high? Or that this year the failure of evidence collection in just four rape cases has resulted in the review of all live cases, whilst the failure to convict thousands of rapists has had no effect on the system, at all? No? Me neither. 

I saw the obscure functionality of a political party, and just how long debates about seemingly straightforward motions can go on for. I left feeling inspired too. Yet my main take away was much bigger. Yes, without anger, there will be no change - we know that from both the present and the past. But what I’d hadn’t considered until then is that anger needs to be collective, not personal. Yes, we can do small things on our own. But anger is better when it’s a collective act, when everyone is singing from the same hymn sheet and when it’s channelled in the right way. Only then can it be as galvanising and productive as we so desperately need it to be.

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