A view from the conference floor by Margaret Anne Devenney
As a relatively new member to the SNP I was delighted to be able to attend the 81st Conference of the SNP at Aberdeen last week which was billed as the biggest ever conference. I have to admit I was a little apprehensive having never attended a political conference in my life. However, from the moment I stepped through the doors of the A.E.C.C I felt very relaxed as I could see that this was a very well organized event. Firstly, everyone gets their little yellow SNP drawstring bag on entry with the all important Conference Agenda and Guide. Secondly it was then just a case of going with the flow and following the crowd as we made our way first to the exhibitors hall where there was about 80 stands with exhibitors from many different factions from the media, charities, local and national authorities even a campaign for real ale! Then on to the arena where all the main speakers and business took place. The First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon opened the event with a rousing speech encouraging us forward towards the 2016 election.
The arena area had constant speakers throughout the day, each one given a 3 minute limit on the mike with the threat that if they took longer and didn’t heed the ‘time to finish’ warning they would be cut off! Most speakers therefore stuck to the 3 minutes. I was impressed by the quality of the speakers many of whom were first time speakers at conference. Each day there were 8 or 9 items to be discussed and I felt I learned a lot from listening to the debate. Topics included Fair Work and Living Wage, Tory Welfare Benefit Cuts, Elimination of Nuclear Weapons, TTIP, Scotland Bill, BBC Charter Review and many more including, of course, SNP business.
There were also fringe events taking place in venues throughout the building at breakfast time, during lunchtime and after 5pm. These smaller gatherings had speakers from a variety of disciplines with question and answer sessions and many included free food and refreshements. I attended several of these informal sessions and found them very informative. In fact there were so many great subjects that it made it difficult to decide which to attend. One session on the refugee crisis during which refugees spoke gave a clear insight into their plight and helped me personally believe that we as a nation should do the right thing and accept as many as we can. One speaker said these refugees do not leave there homes, their families, their work, all that they own, risk the lives, suffer terrible hardship, risk abuse and violence just to come to the UK for £35 pounds a week Housing Benefit!
I was delighted to see people of all ages from all over Scotland, people of the same mind come together. However, I was particularly heartened to see so many young people who feel this is important enough to give their time and energy to this cause.
I didn’t see or hear a great deal of the media coverage of the conference – I was too busy being there but I can tell you that if you have the chance to go to the next conference I would seriously recommend that you do. As we go towards the next election we need to keep so many subjects at the top of the agenda and be informed as we take the important issues to the doorsteps. The conference closed with the First Minister and Party Leader Nicola Sturgeon giving her address to a packed arena which I am sure many of you seen the highlights of on the news. But being there was so much better as we collectively cheered for our party leader, for our party but most of all – for Scotland!