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GEORGE KEREVAN gives Scot-Buzz readers the low-down on the SNP conference in Perth…

Every party has its annual conference. Once these were for discussing policy. Now they are rally of the faithful, which serve as a backdrop for televised speeches by the party leaders.

The novelty in this year’s SNP event, held in a rainy Perth, was the handover of the party’s leadership from Alex Salmond to Nicola Sturgeon.

Bowing out, Alex made one of his better speeches – witty, analytical and emotional plus some superb rapier thrusts at Labour. I’ve been in the back room when overwrought advisors have been making last-minute changes to the draft of a leader’s conference speech – it is not a happy sight.

Often the result is too clever by half, and something of a ragbag. But this speech was pure Alex. They loved it. If Alex had announced he was changing his mind – the subject of a few jokes – he would have been welcomed back by acclamation.

As it is, the various hints and nudges suggest that restless Mr Salmond really will go back to Westminster next year. If here is a hung parliament and the SNP turns up with an increased posse of MPs, the result could be fireworks. Cue jokes from Alex that he is as much a threat to the Palace of Westminster as Guy Fawkes.

I know it’s a fantasy, but the vision of Alex Salmond sitting around the Cabinet table with Ed Miliband would be something to behold.



You might ask why people go to party conferences if they are nothing but extended rallies? That is a silly question which proves you know nothing about the political mind. The explanation is obvious: is to pick up political gossip, do deals, and lobby support to win the constituency nomination of your choice (or, in truth, any nomination at all).

Above all, conference is the great chance to meet the party leadership face to face. They can also be unexpected.

There I was on Friday night in the Salutation Hotel, the traditional conference hub. I was dashing out of one fringe meeting – to launch the new book by former SNP leader Gordon Wilson – to get to my next appointment. At the bottom of the stairs who should be coming the other way, entourage in his wake, but the First Minister [at least till Nicola takes over formally this week].

Mr Salmond – for it was he – paused to have his photo taken with some delegates, at their request. I expect he submits to these “selfies” several hundred times during conference. He does it with good grace and always stays to chat - which explains why he is a notoriously bad time-keeper.

Then Alex advanced towards me. I felt like the character transfixed by the Ancient Mariner’s “glittering eye” in Coleridge’s poem. The First Minister wanted to take up my article on corporation tax which appeared in a recent Scot-Buzz.

I mention this incident not out of ego but to reassure regular Scot-Buzz readers that they are in good company. Whether I convinced Alex Salmond is another story...



I don’t do a conference speech very often. It is a practiced art and not for the faint-hearted. Successfully addressing the annual conference of any party successfully requires the skills of an actor, stand-up comedian, orator and politician.

Also, at SNP conferences, you have only 3 minutes to make your point before the red light starts flashing in front of you. That isn’t long - especially if there have been encouraging bursts of applause or laughter along the way. Of course you can try and overstay your welcome, but that can end in public humiliation if the chair cuts off your microphone. Worse, habitual offenders are unlikely ever again to be called to the podium.

I spoke during the economic debate on the Saturday morning, figuring that my humble contributions to the Dismal Science might improve my chances of being called to the microphone. My bet paid off.

The audience in the hall or in TV land never appreciates the view had from the speaker’s lectern. Perth Concert Hall, while cool and modern, is also cavernous when viewed outwards from the stage. I felt distinctly like I was the accused in Kafka’s The Trial.

Happily, conference laughed in the right places and applauded the result. My speech was reported by the Dundee Courier, the Aberdeen Press and Journal, the Guardian, and even the Belfast Telegraph.

I’ll quote just the P&J: Mr Kerevan told delegates at the SNP conference in Perth: “I don’t think we actually won the economic argument during the referendum. I think we had the best case but I think many people, particularly the professional middle-classes, didn’t quite get it.

“And I’m going to say this very gently – I think the party may have to revisit its position on the common currency.”



I have decided not to mention which hotel I stayed in. Suffice to say it cost twice as much as the designer boutique extravaganza I enjoyed in Barcelona the previous weekend, when observing the Catalan independence referendum. In Barcelona, the hotel food was wonderful, fresh and inventive. I immediately went out and bought a Catalan cookbook.

In my Perth hotel, where I was consigned to a dingy attic room with no phone and intermittent wifi reception, the breakfast cuisine was predictable, unhealthy and a slur on the wonderful food ingredients that Scotland offers the world.

However, that is not to say that Perth is lacking in good places to eat. Quite the contrary. We stumbled on the Everest Inn, in South Methvan Street. This is a genuine Nepalese restaurant run by a genuine son of Kathmandu and with a genuine (and inventive) Nepalese chef.

We had real Momo meat dumplings and succulent marinated fish. This was eaten underneath a large painting of Mount Everest, first flown over by two Scotsmen in 1933.



And what of the politics?

Nicola Sturgeon is now the SNP leader. She made an accomplished and confident closing speech to conference.

In contrast to Alex Salmond, who is above all a master tactician, Sturgeon is a strategist. She reiterated the SNP’s avowed commitment to being pro-business. She underlined it by announcing the SNP would maintain the freeze on rates for small businesses – the so-called Small Business Bonus – if the party wins the 2016 Holyrood election.

The Small Business Bonus is not to be sniffed at, as a policy. The Scottish Government claims that small businesses in Scotland are saving up to £4,620 with the Business Bonus Scheme. It is reasonable to suppose that this has helped company formation.

Figures produced by the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) indicate that over 30,000 Scottish new businesses were registered with Companies House in 2013, up from 25,500 in 2012. This makes the total number of businesses operating in Scotland in 2013 to over 340,000 – the highest since records began.

However, a word of caution: continuing to freeze company taxes – even for our vital small business sector – brings problems.

Mathematically, it reduces the share of business taxes as a proportion of GDP in a time of austerity. Alternatively, raising business taxes in line with GDP growth adds no increased burden, but does yield increased revenue. Such revenue could be recycled as focused business support or added infrastructure investment.

I have similar worries about the long freeze on council tax. Certainly, there is a benefit to consumers - including me.

However, after an eight year freeze, the share of taxation raised by local authorities is being squeezed tightly. Not only does this make councils more dependent on Holyrood, it reduces local accountability and room for local economic initiative.

That is not good.