Our English girl in Aberdeen, Clare Coffey, reminsces about her time working for the SNP, and how things have changed
Arriving at SNP conference in Aberdeen I felt like a prodigal daughter returning home after a long period apart, uncertain of the welcome. You see, you could say that I cut my political teeth in the SNP. Whilst at university in Edinburgh I wrote a policy document for the 2003 election instead of a dissertation. Back then the party was grappling with the transition from fringe to front of centre as they took on the mantle as the main opposition in Holyrood. It has been twelve years since I have been in the bosom of the party. Would it still be the same? Would they still welcome this English girl into their Scottish arms? The answer is yes.
Everything is the same and yet everything is different. There is still the friendliness of the old party (getting in the door was like the line-up at a wedding with helloes and hugs flying everywhere). Yet this is coupled with the confidence that can only be achieved through electoral success. There are indeed thousands more members but many faces remain the same; their commitment to the party and its vision for Scotland are those that have galvanised, grown and inspired over the past decade. On reflection perhaps it is this core – this nucleus of determined leaders, members and activists that have made the difference electorally. The SNP are what they always were. They’ve just got better at sharing their story through consistently strong spokespeople. Nicola Sturgeon, Ales Salmond, John Swinney, Fiona Hislop, and Angus Robertson are just some names that trip off the tongue as politicians who have consistently been around and leading over the past decade. When compared with the other major parties, which one of these can boast the same levels of consistent leadership?
Catching up with Peter Murrell (SNP CEO), we reminisced about how it was when I was in HQ all those years ago. I asked him if he ever thought that it would all come to this. He replied that this was beyond even his imagining. Since last year’s conference, the exhibition space has tripled in size whilst the press centre has outgrown the space available at the Aberdeen Exhibition and Conference Centre (AECC). The result is a marquee on the side of the AECC to accommodate a press centre ten times bigger than last year.
If all of this is beyond the dreams of the party’s leaders, then it certainly looks like the SNP’s success will continue to be the stuff of nightmares to the other UK parties (bar Plaid Cymru). Given the confidence, optimism and unity present on this first day of conference, I’d say it is really nice to be ‘home’. I would also add that I would certainly not bet against this house, as everyone knows that the house always wins.