I first joined the Scottish National Party back in early 2016 (as the Brexit rhetoric was ramping up towards the referendum, and it became increasingly clear that the SNP was one of the few parties ready to reject the scapegoating of immigration for the damages of Tory austerity). However, I’ve never been a party-politically engaged member. No branch meetings or anything of that sort – I’ve always been a lone-wolf, sometimes to my detriment, often against my best instincts of wanting to do more. Unfortunately, it’s a case of allowing stupid social anxiety to get in the way of the stuff I want to do, although I’m working on that.
However, with this year’s Spring Conference taking place in my home turf of Edinburgh, and my political engagement at its most energetic, it proved itself to be a great opportunity to take a step outside my comfort zone and see for myself how these things work. And so I did.
Now, I don’t want to bore with you all the details, so I’ll try to be succinct.
The greatest pleasure of it all was meeting so many familiar names that I only knew from social media. And boy, did I realise the power of this medium – I was so overwhelmed with people popping up wanting to say hi, full of complimentary words about my social media antics or my blog. Some people brought up my first ever article for this blog, my love letter to Scotland, or even some of my non-political ramblings that resonated with them. Seriously, it was just lovely to be stopped every once in a while by someone starting a phrase with “Mr. Saraband, I just want to say hi…” (still feeling very pretentious about being addressed by a pseudonym, but hey).
A big shout out to the lovely Steven Campell, recently elected Vice-Convener of YSI Lothian, who was an absolute star during the karaoke party on Saturday night (excellently hosted by the MP Hannah Bardell) and made sure I met loads of the people involved. On top of it all, I had one of our front-bench MSPs actually tapping me on my shoulder because he wanted to say he loved my tweets (I screamed inside, whilst trying to remain very cool), and had the honour of witnessing a rendition of “Sunshine on Leith” by the one and only, Mr. Ian Blackford MP.
Witnessing the motions being put before Conference was also an obvious highlight, particularly the discussion around the Growth Commission. Even with fundamental disagreements between some of the participants, it was delightful to see debate conducted with mutual respect (notable exception for the guy who threw a tantrum on the second day, because he was the only person in the room against a Citizens’ Assembly, misreading the atmosphere to such a degree that he thought it wise to denigrate Joanna Cherry, who had minutes before rightfully received a standing ovation. It was a pleasure to boo him).
Needless to say, though, that Nicola Sturgeon’s speech was the perfect finale. Some stuff in there that I wasn’t expecting, like further help with a deposit for first-time buyers, which is much welcome. The reiteration that every Scot, new and old, should know that Scotland is our home and that we don’t need to leave, ever. The declaration of state of ecological emergency was interesting, but I’m curious to see how that’s followed up with some practical action before I say much more about it. And it was, of course, a joyful political punching session for both Tories and Labour, with Nicola delivering some much needed uppercuts to the empty rhetoric of the two biggest parties at Westminster.
On top of it all, I heard an overwhelming amount of inclusive speeches, the contribution to Scottish society by European citizens like myself was regularly celebrated, and almost everyone seemed to be absolutely buzzing at the prospect of our second, and finally successful, Indyref. The two fringe events I attended – one on EU Citizens’ rights, where I intervened at the Q&A, and another on Euthanasia – compounded the experience of a phenomenal event. There was also none of the gender debate hysteria that seems to engulf social media – everyone I spoke to about this, including women with perfectly valid questions, was perfectly reasonable and humane when talking about Trans issues. I’m so glad that extremism around this question is much less prevalent in real people, rather than the often two-dimensional characters of social media that peddle profoundly ignorant rhetoric against one group or another.
The lows – what lows?
The coffee was terrible. Seriously, that’s my biggest complaint about the whole event. I even mentioned it to one of the lovely venue workers’ on the second day, who nodded to me apologetically and simply whispered “We know.”
Of course, I was also really excited to put in a card on the motion for a Citizens’ Assembly, as I wanted to speak for it whilst making a passionate case that it should represent all sections of Scottish society, including immigrants. Alas, it’s always frustrating to not have a chance to say something you think it’s important, but others ended up conveying similar sentiments and I will look forward to other opportunities to make that case. Nonetheless, a big thank you goes out to the SNP European Parliamentary candidate, Christian Allard, who was the one who came up to me on the first day and convinced me that I should put in a speaking card, going through the trouble of explaining how it was done to a complete newbie like myself. A charming gentleman who will represent Scotland, and its values of openness and European solidarity, with utmost excellence, when he gets elected next month.
Finally, after getting a reply from Nicola Sturgeon on Friday, that resulted in my most popular tweet ever, I’m sad to say that I wasn’t able to get a picture with her. My mother would certainly have appreciated it – but we will have to wait for another opportunity.
I have a lot more I could say. For a political junkie like myself, a passionate believer in Scottish independence and in building a fairer society that is big enough for everyone, I was the happiest fish in the sea. I’m filled with hope and optimism, and, above all, a desperate desire to grab my coat and start doing the work on the ground needed to get a Yes result as big as we can. I will also be looking at participating in my local SNP & YES groups due to the encouragement of some of the folks at Conference.
And, Aberdeen, get ready – because I don’t think I can miss the October Conference now.