The National:

THE second day of the SNP’s (virtual) 2020 annual conference persevered despite a return of the internet gremlins.  The ever eloquent, and sadly soon to retire, Michael Russell MSP was temporarily muted when he attempted to introduce the morning resolution on “An independent future for Scotland”.  Fortunately, Mike was soon reconnected, which stopped several thousand delegates and watching party members hollering “press unmute” at their screens.

The first session began with an impassioned speech from the party’s Westminster leader, Ian Blackford, speaking against an extraordinarily beautiful Skye dawn.  Ian wore his trademark tweed jacket and waistcoat, looking only a little incongruous surrounded by his somnambulant sheep.

The debate on Scotland’s political future was a weird affair.  The gigantic composite motion did not actually specify any points of action, which (as a number of speakers were quick to point out) probably made it unconstitutional.  However, we are under standing orders especially written for a virtual conference, so the rules of debate are very elastic. Besides, the whole reason for the motion was to banish any mention of Plan B from the agenda. This proved a hopeless exercise as dissenting delegates simply spoke to the direct negative then argued for Plan B anyway – otherwise known as what to do if Boris denies a Section 30 and a referendum.

The official motion also mentioned dumping Trident but was silent on the UN Treaty on Prohibiting Nuclear weapons. Dissenters duly explained that some 14 branches had put down motions calling for said Treaty to be ratified by an independent Scotland.  So why was the topic missing from the agenda? Cockup or could the Treaty pose awkward questions for Scotland’s putative Nato membership? In the end, 262 delegates voted against the anodyne main motion, versus 1204 for.  That suggests around a fifth of the party are entrenched Plan B supporters.

READ MORE: Adam Price: Scotland and Wales must form our own Celtic Union

Meanwhile, behind the scenes, a battle royal surrounds voting for the various party placeholders.  Normally this is a geekish affair where branch activists hand out self-printed leaflets arguing why they should be deputy sub-committee convenor for this or that. But growing discontent with the way the party’s National Executive Committee and National Secretary have performed has turned this year’s elections into a contest between dissidents and leadership loyalists – with many of the party’s foot soldiers caught in the middle.  It does not help that the toxic issue of gender recognition and trans rights has raised its head in the internal voting process.

In many respects, this conference represents a coming of age for the new, mass member SNP that emerged after the 2014 referendum. As one of the largest parties in Europe, disparate currents were bound to emerge - divided over tactics and split between left, right and centre. That, after all, is the very stuff and stuffing of democratic, electoral politics. Just ask Labour or the Tories. I bet super calm, conference chair Kirstin Oswald wishes she could control the mute button.  Come to think of it…