Alyn's thought-provoking summary of a National Conference
Published by Independence Magazine, November 2012
And, above all, we demonstrated how debates should be held in democratic parties. One of our sessions in particular showed how people with opinions on different sides of an issue can debate with passion and with eloquence and can disagree without rancour.
The NATO debate in Perth truly proved the SNP to be a mature, open and tolerant political party. Our opponents stage manage their conferences into vacuous pantomime: we still believe that our key policies should be made and reviewed honestly and in the public spotlight. I’m immensely proud of that.
Our session on NATO membership was a superb two and a half hours of impassioned, from-the-heart discourse displaying the very best of the debating skills of the members of Scotland’s Party. It was conducted with an intensity and raw honesty which saw the opinion in the hall move tangibly from one side to the other and back again.
In spite of that intensity, passion and the deeply held beliefs on both sides, the debate proceeded with good grace and with an understanding on both sides of the position of party colleagues who felt differently on this vitally important issue.
regrettably, there was one lapse from that good conduct, however. It was my own contribution, and I want to apologise for it.
Some of my own speech used language which wasn’t sufficiently well considered and I used some pejorative phrases which ran against the general tone of the debate. Delegates, party members and other colleagues were understandably upset by what they rightly saw as an ill-judged set of comments.
So let me now say to them and to others: I’m sorry. I apologise for falling below the standards which party members are entitled to expect from any speaker in a debate of this weight and magnitude.
I honestly believe we were right to change our NATO policy and at the same time to reaffirm our opposition to nuclear weapons. And I am strongly reassured by the fact that the removal of Trident is an absolute red line for us before we sign up to anything, anywhere.
But at the same time, I am hugely sorry there had to be losers in this debate. It’s hard to find words to describe the sadness I felt when my good friends Jean Urquhart and John Finnie felt that the way the vote went meant that they could no longer remain in the SNP.
They have been good servants to the cause of independence and I know that they will continue to campaign for it. I utterly respect their principles and hope they will reconsider their decision and rejoin the party in due course - their wisdom and hard work in other areas of policy are of huge value to the party and we need to be able to draw on them.
Jean’s work outwith Parliament on reimagining Scotland has been a beacon for new thinking on social issues, while John’s hinterland in the police has made him a considered and solid performer when it comes to justice policy. The voices of people like Jean and John are massively helpful as we build a new and invigorated Scotland. I would welcome them back into the SNP with open arms.
This party carries in its heart the hope and vision of a future Scotland where social justice is paramount, where aspirations can be realised, where we can watch future generations blossom and flourish. We have our independence referendum in 2014 and then the negotiations with the UK Government and others as we re-establish Scotland as a full member of the family of nations.
These will be exhausting discussions for all of us, with our already hard-working Cabinet Secretaries and Ministers pushing themselves to the limits. Our members of all three parliaments and their staff teams, too, will be stretched.
But these talks are critical to the new Scotland we all seek. Like my colleagues, I’m determined to be in the best shape to play my full part in the post-referendum efforts, to help ease the path in the European Union and elsewhere, and to make sure that no avenues are closed to us as we make the progress that any normal nation would expect.
We’re already doing the early work in Europe’s institutions and among the nations of Europe and the reception we’re already getting to the prospect of a new Scotland as an independent Member State of the European Union is - despite what you might read in some newspapers - gratifyingly warm and welcoming.
We can now build on that and we can carve for our nation a place in the European Union. And - let’s make absolutely no mistake about this - we will be full members of the EU from the outset.
We are already at the heart of Europe; our energy supplies both current and developing put us at the heart of European energy policy; our fishing grounds make us important players in this major EU policy area; our research in industry and universities pitches Scotland to the forefront as a world class innovator, and so on. For Heaven’s sake, why wouldn’t we be there at the top table?
The next European election is in referendum year, in June 2014. It provides us with a marvellous chance to send more SNP MEPs to the European Parliament and to help shape the future not just of Scotland, but of the entire continent.
As I’ve already said, there’s a lot of work to do. I’ll be standing in that election – provided you’ll do me the honour of selecting me, of course – and I’d also like you to send more friendly faces to Brussels with me to continue the work of Winnie Ewing, Allan Macartney, Neil MacCormick, Ian Hudghton and myself.
It would be good to see women joining us, too, bringing greater diversity to our group of MEPs. I want to see all strands of the party represented in Europe because this party is more than the cause it fights.
We’re a group of people with a sense of mission, but we’re far more than that. More than colleagues; more than fellow travellers; more than a club. On this long, near-80 year march to independence, we’ve developed our own history, heritage, icons and towering individuals.
In short, we’re a family. Family members don’t always agree with each other: we can have differences of opinion and have different ways of looking at things. But we’re stronger because we stand together, we’re more effective because we help each other; we’ve consoled each other in defeat and celebrated with each other in victory.
We share occasionally different facets of a common passion and, just now and then, our love of our country and its people and our belief in social justice means the heart can rule the head. We need to draw on both if we are truly to create the new Scotland we all need to see.
So let’s walk forward into the next two years together with real common purpose, working hard as one and without rancour. Then we’ll achieve bigger victories in the European election and the ultimate delivery of the goal we’ve all been working towards for so, so long – a Yes vote in the referendum and, finally, our independence.