Nicola’s speech could not have been clearer – a vote for the SNP is a vote for her to lead a strong government to stand up for Scotland over the next five years. Her pledge at conference – continued strong government for the many.
It took Nicola Sturgeon the best part of 35 minutes before she focused on the ‘i’ word. There is to be a renewed campaign in the summer to try and engage voters on independence. It got the largest applause from the gathered delegates and thankfully so for Nicola, as that there was her target audience. Keeping the party faithful busy and reassured, even if independence can’t be delivered in the near future, is a crucial job of this party leader. And, of course, there’s just the chance of a Brexit vote.
Yet Brexit was far from Nicola’s mind – she didn’t even mention that referendum. Instead, her focus was firmly on governance. She seemed almost embarrassed at the state of the opposition parties, but still spent much of her speech reminding the audience time and again that the Tories were the real enemy (not that they needed reminding). Of course, she argued, Labour couldn’t be trusted as a decent opposition, let alone in government.
Top priorities for the SNP were the old political favourites of the economy, NHS and education. More money will be pumped into schools and childcare to cut costs for the poorest and increase opportunity. Money will be pumped into the NHS, particularly to help meet the needs of the over 75s. And as if to highlight the very inclusiveness and nationwide approach of the SNP; she pledged that superfast broadband will be rolled out to100% of the nation.
In many ways Nicola’s speech felt almost presidential – “I am standing to be your First Minister” and her claim that she would “always fight for Scotland” was clearly aimed at reaching beyond the party, recognising and capitalising on her own personal appeal. Yet, she also seemed aware of her limitations. Tax policy would always be “reasonable and balanced” and she wouldn’t get everything right.
The SNP find themselves in a remarkable position. They have power and influence, but recognise that many challengers remain – not least how to achieve independence. Nicola set out a cautious but positive vision of the future, but as the latest GERS figures showed, there’s still some way to go to create the sustainable Scotland that can definitely stand on its own two feet.
Nicola says she will use the next five years to build that economy and make sure the benefits are for the many. She had 3000 hanging on her every word at conference, now they need to go out and try and deliver that vision ahead of May.