It would have been reasonable for the SNP to hide away and lick their wounds after the defeat in the independence referendum on September 18th. Yet just two months later, at their autumn conference in Perth, there was an air of triumphalism as Nicola Sturgeon took up her new position as leader of the SNP ahead of being sworn in as First Minister next week.
This is most certainly not a party in defeat, as speaker after speaker talked of the political awakening of Scotland and praised the grassroots campaigning that led to an unprecedented voter turnout of 84.6%. In her inaugural speech, Sturgeon stated that one in 50 of Scots adults is now an SNP member – making them the third largest party in the UK and therefore a credible player in the Westminster elections next year.
In fact, for a party which is rooted in Scotland, it is clear that the focus on Westminster is very much a priority. The conference programme leaves delegates with no doubt that the party aim to install as many MPs in Westminster from across Scottish constituencies as they possibly can and position themselves as potential coalition partners in May 2015.
Until then their focus is to hold the unionist parties to account on ‘the vow’ that was promised in the final days of campaigning ahead of the historic vote on independence. As part of the talks they will push for as much control to be devolved to Holyrood as possible and have a particular focus on welfare and the benefits system as they believe that will give them they powers to make Scotland a more fair and equal society.
In his final address to the party faithful Alex Salmond made clear that the feet of the unionist parties will be held firmly to the fire in their promise of more powers and that the Westminster election provides the opportunity to put the SNP in the driving seat to secure more powers for Scotland going forward.
It was a speech that looked forward to the opportunities of new membership and continued party growth and reflected on successes to date. Of course the opportunity to lambast the unionist parties for working together to prevent a yes vote was not missed and his warning to them on his prediction of the continued strength of the SNP was fierce.
As she introduced him Nicola Sturgeon confidently predicted that we had not heard the last of Alex Salmond, hinting that perhaps his confirmation on standing once again at Westminster is imminent. In turn Mr Salmond concluded his ten years as leader by praising his successor and predicting that she will have her place in history.