Now is the time to resume the case for positive self-determination

The FM steers through the indyref debate

Derek Bateman analyses that Sturgeon conference speech

Leaders’ speeches are like personal grooming for the chief – teams of earnest-faced advisers sit around combing through the record and future plans for morsels to pick out while carefully massaging the ego with allusions to greatness. Daubs of glossy policy ideas are applied to her outstretched fingernails. Cancer prevention, ma’am? That sooo suits you…

Derek Bateman
Derek Bateman

She is like the bride on the morning of the wedding, pampered and reassured by the courtiers who thinks she’s never looked so beautiful. And, no, it isn’t any different for a man. This is the leader’s moment when the entire hall, every light and lens, points in one direction and will ruthlessly expose every word and even the smallest slip. Under this penetrating gaze, one can melt. Or have an out-of-body experience. One’s jokes can bomb.

Mind you, Nicola Sturgeon has developed a nicely understated and well-paced delivery that doesn’t rely on rising cadences and synthetic emotion for its high points – tricks that can backfire too easily if the speaker gets over excited and mangles the words. Her trigger points – when she wants her words to poke you in the chest – are always short and spoken in barely-concealed anger stabs: I. will. Make. This. Country. A. Better. Place.

She has a huge advantage over her rivals in that her people in the hall are all imbued with the mass fervour that success – and the certainty of more – brings to any group in any activity. If she’d sung We are the Champions, they would have sung along and swayed, arms aloft. How that makes the Unionist infidels spit. They forget it now but once the Scottish Tories rocked to Thatcher’s sermons and, if they never got evangelical about Kinnock or Blair, Scottish Labour wrapped themselves in the comfort blanket of pre-ordained electoral strength. They once were the glassy-eyed enthusiasts.


If Nicola had said she’d had her hair done, they would have stood to applaud. So more money for health, extra nursery places and school meals, living wage expansion and benefits were greeted like revelations rather than the fairly safe and mundane offers they were of future gems and held-back-for-conference goodies.

But, as they would discuss at the advisers’ nail bar, this conference marks the moment when Nicola receives the virgin’s blessing – her anointment as the betrothed. She has only made her promises so far. Now she needs the confirmation of a mandate. The nation must endorse her personally as leader. However sure of herself she may be, she would not be a born leader if she didn’t crave the people’s endorsement. Will the inevitable event embolden her? It’s possible. The booster thrust that an overwhelming win delivers to any government can be unpredictable and should certainly not be squandered. Yet, when her own pre-election talk and policy manifesto is to comparatively tame, how can she suddenly become a reforming dynamo when she didn’t put more radical ideas before the voters?

What we did get was what is really a statement of the bleedin’ obvious – the fight for independence goes on. Of course it does. It’s what the SNP is for. Isn’t that what Alistair Darling, the former socialist now a merchant banker and lord, spent two years telling us in the indyref?  And this is what terrifies the wilting Unionist establishment. Like people who know their boat is holed but have been valiantly bailing to just stay afloat, they now get the dread words…we are sinking.


The referendum was a democratic decision at a moment of time taken by the people of Scotland. That meant, based on the promises of the opposition, that we entered a new phase of enhanced devolution negotiations. We have completed that process. It is time for the independence campaign to move into a higher gear and make the case for national sovereignty all over again. That doesn’t mean an immediate demand for a referendum. It means resuming the case of our right to self-determination.

‘Patiently and respectfully, we will seek to convince you that independence really does offer the best future for Scotland…’ With those words, rather than a heroic rallying cry, Sturgeon warned Unionists of what is to come. Some may not be patient…