The SNP met for their Spring Conference in Edinburgh over the weekend just days after the First Minister Nicola Sturgeon told the Scottish Parliament that she wanted a second referendum on Scottish independence by 2021 if the UK leaved the EU.
As conference opened, a very timely Yougov/Times poll showed that support for independence had increased to 49%, with the same poll illustrating the SNP had garnered a considerable lead across three legislatures (23pts at Westminster, 24pts at Holyrood, 25pts at the European Parliament), thereby providing an added boost for party activists.
Unsurprisingly, the conference was overshadowed by the earlier development at Holyrood on a second independence referendum. Related discussions included a contentious debate amongst delegates about the currency options for an independent Scotland, where delegates challenged the party hierarchy to vote in favour of fast-tracking preparations for a new Scottish currency, and a new drive to sell the economic benefits of independence to voters.
Notwithstanding the focus on constitutional issues, the conference did contain important domestic policy announcements from the First Minister, including on the environment, tourism and housing.
Key Announcements from the First Minister’s Speech
Here are the main takeaways from Nicola Sturgeon’s speech to conference.
- Framework Bill: The First Minister said that the legislation for the framework Bill on the rules and principles behind a second referendum would be introduced in May 2019. Responding to the fact that a Section 30 Order from the UK Government would be required, she stated that a “surge” in support for Scottish independence could force Westminster to change its stance on granting consent. However, she offered few details about the timescale for a second referendum, instead concentrating instead on measures to build the popular case for independence.
- Economics of independence: The SNP would undertake the “biggest campaign on the economics of independence”, culminating in a new drive distributing ‘An independent Scotland – a household guide’ to every home in Scotland. She did not explicitly mention the currency of an independent Scotland during her speech but instead called on delegates to push the “new economic plan” this summer. Nicola Sturgeon also touched upon the newly announced Citizens’ Assembly which would help to “guide the conversation” on independence.
- Social Justice and Fairness Commission: Looking ahead to a post-independent Scotland, the SNP would create a Social Justice and Fairness Commission, which she said would “set out how the proceeds of economic growth in an independent Scotland can be shared much more fairly”. No details on its remit, membership or timeframe for reporting were supplied.
- Short-Term Let Regulation: In response to local concerns reported in Edinburgh to the Isle of Arran, the First Minister announced a new consultation on regulations to control short-term lets in Scotland which will run until July 2019. The eventual system of regulation could involve registration of short-term lets and/or licensing and to enable local authorities to set an approach that meets local needs.
- Help for First Time Buyers: In tandem, in order to build a fairer housing market, the Scottish Government will introduce a new £150m scheme to provide loans to help first-time buyers put down a deposit.
- Climate Emergency: The First Minister declared a ‘Climate Emergency’ in Scotland, inspired by the international movement of school-age strikers (this was despite SNP MSPs voting against a Scottish Green motion calling a climate emergency last month at Holyrood). The Committee on Climate Change is due to publish new scientific advice on Scotland’s emissions targets this week and the First Minister added that, “if that advice says we can go further or go faster, we will do so”.
Scottish Spring Conference season will draw to a close next week in Aberdeen with the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Conference which will mark the return of Ruth Davidson. In parallel to the SNP Conference, it goes without saying that we can expect the issue of a second independence referendum to dominate proceedings once again.