Nicola Sturgeon has addressed SNP members during the party’s annual conference in Aberdeen.
The Scottish First Minister and the SNP leader gave a keynote speech at The Event Complex in Aberdeen, touching on topics such as independence and net zero. She also took the opportunity to criticise her political opponents.
We break down the key parts of the First Minister’s speech and everything you might have missed from her address in Aberdeen.
On the Conservatives: ‘My dream is very different’
Sturgeon spent much of the speech directing criticism at the institution of Westminster. However, she didn’t shy away from pointing out where she differs from specific politicians.
A case in point was the Home Secretary. Suella Braverman caused controversy last week after proclaiming that it would be her “dream” to have a front page in The Telegraph with an image of asylum seekers on a flight to Rwanda. She was referencing the contentious policy in which asylum seekers would be sent to the African country while awaiting decision on their application. The policy has so far been blocked by the courts.
Sturgeon made a point to insist just how unhappy she was with Braverman’s comments. She told the conference: “Even as I quote her, I struggle to comprehend that she actually said these words…
“Conference, my dream is very different. I am sure it is shared in this hall and by the vast majority across Scotland. My dream is that we live in a world where those fleeing violence and oppression are shown compassion and treated like human beings… not shown the door and bundled on to planes like unwanted cargo.”
By referencing “the vast majority of Scotland”, Sturgeon not only positioned her party in opposition to the Conservatives, but also built the argument that Scotland is politically separate from Westminster and Tory policy.
On Labour: ‘Just as committed to Brexit as the Tories’
The Tories weren’t the only party under fire in Sturgeon’s speech. Sir Keir Starmer’s Labour Party was also criticised.
She said: “Take Brexit. Imposed on Scotland against our will – and doing real, lasting damage to our interests, our economy and our young people.
“Labour is now just as committed to Brexit – a hard Brexit – as the Tories. At least the Tories believe in it, Labour doesn’t. Yet, rather than make the principled argument – which they could now win in England – they cower away from it.”
Sturgeon added that the Labour party was “chuck[ing] Scotland under Boris Johnson’s Brexit bus to get the keys to Downing Street.” The SNP has used Brexit as one of its main arguments for Scottish Independence in the campaign for Indyref2.
During the 2016 Brexit referendum, the Leave campaign gained the majority of its support and votes in England and Wales. In contrast to this, every council area in Scotland voted to remain. This has caused political friction for some, who believe that Scotland’s political mindset is completely different to that of the rest of the UK.
Sturgeon has strengthened her argument for independence by lumping Labour into the pro-Brexit camp. The SNP has said that as an independent country, Scotland would seek to rejoin the European Union.
However, Labour’s camp in Westminster has said that the party will not seek to overturn the decision, and will proceed with the current post-Brexit plans and build the UK economy around this after the Tories left negotiations without a deal.
Therefore, Sturgeon is trying to appeal those in the remain majority in Scotland who may have been on the fence about independence, letting them know that no matter which main party is in power in Westminster, the SNP will still campaign for an independent Scotland back in the EU.
On the indyref legal case: ‘We believe in the letter of the law’
In the middle of her speech, Sturgeon addressed the ongoing Supreme Court battle currently being fought between the UK and Scottish Governments. The latter has argued that it should be able to legally hold a referendum on independence, but the UK Government has so far refused to devolve the power needed to make this happen. The decision on whether a referendum can be legally held will be down to the Supreme Court.
The SNP leader announced in June 2022 that the party would be seeking to hold a referendum on 19 October 2023. However, with the ongoing legal situation, the question was up in the air over whether the SNP would still hold a vote next year.
So what’s the SNP’s strategy? “If the Court decides in the way we hope it does, on 19 October next year, there will be an independence referendum,” Sturgeon said. “And if the court doesn’t decide that way? First, and obviously, we will respect that judgement. We believe in the rule of law.”
Instead, the party will seek to gain a mandate in the next general election. However, this throws up some complications for the SNP - do they campaign in the next election on a single-issue, negating important topics such as the cost of living and environmental issues?
The SNP may find that running on a single-issue campaign alienates more people than in previous years. And especially in a post-pandemic world with economic insecurity, how will the Scottish electorate respond to this choice?
On the flip side, if the SNP is able to pick up enough votes to give the party a mandate, it will strengthen its claim to hold a second referendum. This could position the UK Government as denying the democratic will of the Scottish people.