AS a new resident, I’m slowly learning to love Edinburgh. I bought a second hand bike and yesterday I was out winding through the city’s streets, and down towards Portobello beach. We cycled up around Arthur’s Seat and spoke of the nearby Radical Road – the pathway built through the forced labour of those who rose up in the 1820 Radical War.

It was a perfect metaphor, I thought, for how a journey shapes your ideas about the world – as well as a cautionary tale of those who bit off more than they could chew. Both were challenges for the SNP conference at the weekend.

Many expected that the rush of 100,000 new members into the party would lead to new policies and a more left-wing focused agenda. It hasn’t. In fact SNP loyalists and the party’s current leadership emerged with a fresh, commanding mandate – and largely unchallenged over their direction and strategy.

Angus Robertson’s landslide in the party’s depute leader contest (52 per cent in a contest of four candidates) epitomised this. It was a vote of confidence and loyalty in the current, cautious direction of the party.

Robertson, who led the SNP policy change to support the NATO military alliance, was the continuity candidate. Tommy Sheppard MP, who called for extra investment in grassroots organising, trailed a distant second place on 25 per cent

The same signals were clear on the conference floor, where motion after motion reaffirmed current SNP policies. The “Stronger for Scotland” slogan could equally have been “Steady as it goes”.

Some delegates at the SECC griped to me about the stale conference agenda, where there was no sign of ambitious policies to tackle wealth inequality. But they only have themselves to blame. Those who want a bolder approach to council and income tax, for instance, failed to get those issues through the party’s bureaucracy. If they want it, they have to win the arguments.

If anything, the conference was more orderly and stage-managed than ever before. A year ago members rejected the leadership’s land reform policy for not going far enough. This spring a policy for national rent controls was passed. There was nothing of that sort at the official conference this time around.

Instead open debates were hosted across the Clyde by the Common Weal campaign group, with 40 organisations that had been priced out by the £6,000 cost of an official conference stall. Tax, fracking, land reform, rent controls, a national investment bank, corporate trade deals like TTIP and CETA, and winning independence were all on the agenda.

This continuous pressure for the SNP to be bolder occasionally makes an impact. The government, for instance, expanded its moratorium on underground coal gasification to a full ban just a few weeks ago.

But the SNP, overall, have remained cautious with its devolved responsibilities for the past nine years. Despite theories of a new politics, the new membership has not changed this.

With organisation and political will, it could have been different. The party’s trade union and youth wings could have done more to challenge the party’s managerial tendencies, and create a healthy debate on going further to tackle inequality.

When this has happened – for example on rent controls and inclusive school education training – the party’s leadership ultimately came out on top. As a result, small groups at the centre of the SNP remain in charge of dictating policy decisions to the wider membership.

A new group, SNP Socialists, has formed to try and fulfil the role of promoting left-wing ideas within the party. But it remains too early to tell whether it will be effective, respected, or gain a broad enough range of supporters to make a real impact.

While the conference largely complied with a safe, consensual approach, there were some important announcements.

Nicola Sturgeon said Scottish Development International – the global trade promotion arm of the quango Scottish Enterprise – would see its staffing double, including a new office in Berlin. This is a smart move to mix extra economic investment with soft foreign policy engagement with the rest of Europe.

Sturgeon’s launch of a children in the care sector review also stood out. That commission now presents a significant opportunity to reform the system if those passionate about change – such as Who Cares? Scotland – are empowered to do so.

Children who grow up in care are twenty times more likely to die before the age of 25 than those brought up outside of the care system. Hopefully this fresh spotlight will lead to action.

This journey to independence that makes sensible, moderate process on isolated issues will satisfy many. It is likely that such a journey will influence a culture of continuity after independence as well.

For others, however, in a world of rapid climate change, vast inequalities, and global conflict, more concerted action will be demanded. This weekend SNP members endorsed the cautious path of its current leadership.

Will it pay off?

Michael Gray @GrayInGlasgow is a journalist with