SNP Party Conference 2019 Round-up

Last week, Policy and Economic Analyst for the BPA, Phoebe Warneford-Thomson, attended the Scottish National Party’s 85th Annual Conference in Aberdeen. The event was held at The Event Complex Aberdeen, a brand new, expansive event complex just outside Aberdeen city centre; which, incidentally, is the site where the BPA 2020 Conference will be held. The key themes of the conference were not surprising; with much discussion of Britain’s exit from the European Union, the failings of the Westminster Parliament and the SNP’s continued pursuit of independence. Though it was welcome to see how Scotland’s maritime industry was often considered within the context of these themes; especially with regards to the resolution on Developing Maritime Trade.

Firstly, the main hall activity…


  • The main headline from the conference was the demands by First Minister and Leader of the SNP Nicola Sturgeon for Indy Ref2 in 2020. In accordance with Scotland’s finance secretary Derek Mackay said in his speech on Monday that the country can ‘more than afford’ to be independent.
  • The SNP also repeated their anti-Brexit stance. Though it was interesting to observe the mediation between these two key policies and to consider which they currently prioritise. It may not be in their best interest to call for a ‘People’s Vote’ before IndyRef2 because of the leverage the realisation of Brexit may give them in an independence campaign by proposing that independence will mean re-joining the EU, given that Scotland voted 62% to Remain in 2016.

Roseanna Cunningham’s Address: MSP & Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform

  • Cunningham emphasised that the Scottish government will pursue the establishment of a Scotland office for a Committee on Climate Change, with a team of people to focus purely on advice and analysis for Scotland.
  • She also reinforced that all in the Cabinet Office are working towards Net Zero emissions by 2045; including Derek Mackay (Finance Minister) to deliver a low carbon future, and Mairi Gougeon (Minister for Rural Affairs and Natural Environment), who is leading work to introduce more Marine Protected Areas and harness blue carbon.
  • Cunningham also announced a new climate change plan to be published next year and a blueprint for a network of Climate Action Towns with £1 million for Scotland’s small towns to get started on actions to tackle climate change.

Relevant Resolutions:

‘Developing Maritime Trade’ Motion passed to set up Maritime Policy Commission

  • Drew Hendry MP proposed the motion, with the motivation to form stronger social and trade links between Scotland and the world.
  • The Party notes that 3/4 of Scotland’s International Trade is routed via ports in the rest of the UK, which generates expensive haulage costs and adds road transport CO2 emissions.
  • SNP believe that there is an opportunity to realise the potential of Scotland’s natural assets and thus believes in the development of a maritime policy that will harness the opportunities of an independent Scotland as a maritime nation.
  • Projects mentioned as part of this focus on Scottish Maritime were the plans for Forsyth services to the Netherlands, the Creation of container transhipment site at Orkney’s Scapa Flow, as well as Clyde Ports’ great future and the possibility of Edinburgh becoming a cruise ship hub, which apparently would create 1000 jobs.
  • Also mentioned was Prestonpans, a site of a former power station, which has been identified as a possible new port and could serve as international ‘motorways of the sea’ hub for continental Europe.
  • The speakers reinforced that a boost to Scottish ports would mean a boost in connectivity in Scotland outer regions and that this could also mean a reduction in carbon emissions by maximising shipment of goods by efficient transport, rather than road hauling trade to and from the south of England for shipment.
  • Zara Pennington, who spoke in support of the motion, added that should there be a situation where Britain has left the EU and Scotland re-joins once independent, less emphasis on the border between England and Scotland would be better for Scotland.
  • The resolution was passed unanimously when voted on.

Fringe Events:

‘The Future for the Rural Economy’ hosted by the Holyrood Economy Hub. Attended by Kate Forbes MSP Minister for Public Finance and Digital Economy and Fergus Ewing MSP Cabinet Secretary for the Rural Economy.

Key Themes:

  • Digitalisation: Re-populate rural areas by encouraging people through the boosting of internet connectivity.
  • Fishing: Encourage people into the fishing industry by reaching out to children in schools and focusing on working standards and making it a safer industry to work in through regulation.
  • Roads: Forestry Vehicles use 30-40% more fuel on rural roads. Scotland, therefore, needs better road infrastructure to ensure both freight and passenger journeys more effective.
  • Alternative modes of travel also discussed; Investing in water freight and rail could also offer a solution to the connectivity of rural areas in Scotland.

‘Building a Faster, Greener, more successful Scotland – what does the future hold for Scotland’s transport and infrastructure plans?’ hosted by the Rail Delivery Group. Attended by Michael Matheson MSP, Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Infrastructure and Connectivity, Alex Hynes, Managing Director of Scotland’s Railway and Mari Tunby, Head of Policy, CBI Scotland.

Key Themes:

  • How transport networks and broader national infrastructure plans can drive economic growth that is ‘sustainable for the public purse and the planet’.
  • Passenger journeys formed the majority of discussion from the panel. Though, when asked about rail freight discussion diverted to emissions from road haulage vehicles and how this is particularly significant in the North of Scotland.
  • Alex Hynes reported that a Rail Freight Growth Plan has been launched in Scotland, in which government set a target to increase rail freight tonnage by 75% in the next 5 years. Network Rail has also just built a new rail connection at Blackford to serve Highland Spring’s base so it can take goods South; in this case, 1 freight train takes 76 lorries off the A9.

‘The Fishing Industry and the EU hosted by the Greens/EFA in the European Parliament, the Communities Inshore Fisheries Alliance and the Scottish Seafood Association. Attended by Christian Allard MEP, Elaine Whyte, The Communities Inshore Fishing Alliance, Jimmy Buchan, Scottish Seafood Association and Mairi Gougeon MSP, Minister for Rural Affairs and the Natural Environment.

Key Themes:
The event centred around discussing the future of Scotland’s fishing communities - in or out of the EU.
Despite Brexit, the SNP say they will continue to demand the scrapping or fundamental reform of the CFP and Scottish control of fisheries they and oppose any attempt to treat the fishing industry as a ‘Brexit bargaining chip’.
SNP Ministers note that fishing is a fully devolved matter and they expect that all powers over policy to be repatriated to Scotland when the UK leaves the EU.

The BPA also attended the 2019 Labour and Conservative conferences; you can find the round-ups of Labour’s here and the Conservative’s here.