I HAVE, literally, lost count of the number of SNP conferences I have attended.

I have missed only one of the autumn events – which used to be held in September – since my first in Rothesay in 1983. So, that makes 36.

However, I cannot remember when the spring conferences started, though I do recall that they were invented to ensure that we got as much coverage as the other parties – which could always count on both UK and Scottish bites at the guaranteed media exposure.

Whenever that was I can, I think, safely claim to have been at more than 50 SNP conferences, but they have changed greatly over the years,

At one time they could be held in the function room of a small hotel, as that famous photograph of the 1956 SNP conference in Bridge of Allan tellingly demonstrates.

By the time I was first elected as a party office bearer in the Caird Hall in Dundee in 1987, the annual gathering was being held in moderate-sized municipal venues, the one the previous year taking place in Paisley Town Hall. Neither of those would hold a quarter of a modern SNP conference.

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Annual internal elections were – and for some still are – as big a draw as the debates, the set speeches and the many social events. They were always hard fought and at a time when there was no Holyrood parliament they were a means by

which the mood and progress of the party could be measured by media and members alike.

In my first successful contest (and almost everyone had a number of unsuccessful attempts) I scraped into the position of vice-convener for publicity by a single vote, succeeding Alex Salmond.

I was re-elected each year until I stood down in 1991 to start my own production company and I last served on the NEC in 2003, though I do hold what I think is the unique distinction of having once failed to be elected because some votes were lost between the ballot box and the counting table, with my defeat being reversed when they were found 24 hours later.

When I was chief executive I became familiar with the necessity for the party to earn as much as possible from conference, given the cost of staging it and the uncertainties of political financing.

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Before the parliament was established, exhibitors who paid for stalls and fringe meetings had to be vigorously wooed and as much space as possible provided for them. In Rothesay in 1997 we even managed to squeeze a marquee into the tiny car park outside the pavilion in order to secure a bit more cash, though the main challenge that year was the shortage of bed spaces. The local tourist office was vastly over optimistic, but thank goodness it was a week of wonderful autumn weather and Bute has a camp site.

Dealing with Brexit for the last three years has blunted my ability to be fazed and made me dismissive about the more minor worries I used to have. But I do recall the major press headaches of successive conferences (there was always one), including what happened in 1996 after Alex Neil called George Robertson “Lord Haw Haw” from the stage in Inverness, apologised and

then withdrew the apology, all in the course of a couple of hours. That incident also included – a story for another time I think – party press wizard Kevin Prince dressed as a ninja turtle emerging from the props cupboard of Eden Court Theatre.

The history of the SNP is written in what has happened year after year when we get together as friends and colleagues to plan our future and reflect on our past.

Bashir Ahmed electrified and unified the party when he declared, in Perth in 1995, that it did not matter where we came from because we knew where we were going together.

Alex Salmond ushered in a new era when he became leader with a massive majority in Perth in 1990.

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The 2011 conference in Inverness was a joyous occasion as we got accustomed to the fact that we had a parliamentary majority which would deliver an independence referendum.

Nicola’s leadership has been marked by an exponential growth in membership reflected in the massive venues that we have packed to hear her conference speeches since 2014.

But there is more to come. For example, the first party conference after a successful independence referendum is, I am sure, not far off – and that will be our best and most memorable ever.