So I went to the SNP manifesto launch today. Here’s how it went from my perspective.
The choice of venue for the SNP manifesto launch was a rather interesting one: a climbing arena buried deep in the Hills of Ratho, with great rock cliffs rising to a skylight, a big yellow “Stronger for Scotland” banner. Some went for Bond villain, others for Rebel Alliance base, but I’m happy to go with Alien Planet from Star Trek.
The problem, as it is for such planets, is actually getting there. The Edinburgh International Climbing Arena was outside of Edinburgh, and nominally easy enough to get to: unfortunately, my phone’s map betrayed us (several roads turned out to be closed, and one that we were supposed to be using wasn’t even built yet) and we had already been stuck in traffic in Glasgow. By the time we got there, there was no parking, to the point where we had to park on the country road a mile and a half away.
We feared we missed the First Minister’s opening speech, but it turns out we needn’t have worried: we were just in time. We got a good look at the massed crowd.
Given this was the Edinburgh International Climbing Arena, we were wondering if this would be another Hydro-esque rally, but as you can see, it was only a few hundred. Many were from the international press, and cameras were all over the place, with formidable but not intimidating security stationed at regular intervals. And then a couple of weans ran by. It was quite the juxtaposition: all these highly professional and regarded journalists, interpreters, politicians so forth, congregating in a climbing arena with a few small children scampering around.
So this seemed a rather more select and intimate gathering than we thought – at least by recent SNP standards. My mother and I felt tremendously privileged to attend: after all, we’re just grassroots activists, not councillors or MSPs or political correspondents. Yet we felt no less unwelcome, for all that. We certainly weren’t alone in that regard: we spotted a lot of people who we’d met before along the campaign trail, some from the referendum, and remarked how strange the past few months have been following what should have been the end of it all.
The Depute Leader Stewart Hosie came on stage first. Immediately the place was alive with activity, camera operators flicking their devices into life, all heads turning towards the stage. The last time I was in a room with this many international journalists was the UK premiere of Conan the Barbarian, and before today, I would’ve been happy if it was the last time. But while there were some of the usual suspects (having encountered Alan Cochrane in the flesh, I think I understand why he’s such a big grouch), most of the reporters were actually rather excited: even if they weren’t SNP sympathetic, they could tell that this was significant.
Mr Hosie then introduced the First Minister and her deputy. The entire crowd stood up as they entered the area (insert Star Trek reference) and much applause ensued. After everyone settled down, the FM made her speech. At this point, I realise that I never got a copy of the manifesto: they were all snapped up. Darnit.
Most SNP members will be thoroughly unsurprised by the contents of the FM’s speech, but it was quite thrilling to be in an international audience, knowing that we’re privy to something that was being, or would be, broadcast throughout the world. It felt, well, historic.
After the speech, the press were invited to ask questions. The FM very firmly asked the audience not to excoriate the journalists, as it was their job to scrutinise the manifesto. Unfortunately, this gracious gesture was rewarded with a strawman from James Cook. What has happened to that guy lately? He used to be cool. Following questions ran the gamut from reasonable to we-already-know-this-why-are-you-even-bothering, and the incomparable Alan Cochrane finished up with a weird rambling non-sequitur.
Afterwards, the press followed the FM out the arena like foam in the wake of a ship. We stayed behind for a bit, hoping to meet up and chat with friends. We met candidates John McNally, Natalie McGarry, Philippa Whitford, Mhairi Black and Tasmina Sheik, as well as indyref icons like Saffron Dickson. It would’ve been lovely for our candidate Ronnie Cowan to be there, but he was needed elsewhere: we were proud to represent him – even if I did have to fight down the urge to pretend I was Mr Cowan! We spent quite a lot of time talking with two activists for Clackmannanshire, commiserating about the referendum, and sharing campaign tales.
Sadly, it came time to leave. We passed by John Swinney as he was being interviewed – turns out it was one of Andrew Neil’s pompous fillibusters. The Wizard Was Undeterred. So we headed for the lift, only to be asked by some very large security chaps if we minded waiting for a certain someone to use it before us. We didn’t, and for our troubles, I got a wee candid camera moment.
Aye, that’s a day I’ll never forget.