IT IS one of the busiest times in the political calendar and a key time in which political parties across the UK can rally support and raise profiles by connecting with members.
This year, against the backdrop of the pandemic, climate change, Brexit and the fuel crisis, party leaders have stood up in the hopes of drawing support, discussing everything from independence and political alliances, to resignations and ‘bodily fluids’.
As autumn’s party conference season draws to a close we take a look back on some of the best bits from the SNP, Labour and Conservative conferences which have been closely followed the past few weeks.
This year’s SNP conference was held entirely virtually between September 10 and September 13.
The main topics discussed at the event were a renewed push for independence, the 2022 Council elections and climate change ahead of COP26 in Glasgow later this year.
At the conference, SNP members backed the Scottish Government’s draft plan for another referendum, supporting the party’s plans to hold a vote ‘at the earliest opportunity’.
Nicola Sturgeon said her preference would be to have another vote by 2023, but has stressed that she will put the country’s recovery from coronavirus before any such poll.
Delegates backed the timescale, supporting a motion by 535 votes to 10.
Chris Hanlon, the SNP’s policy development convener, insisted that the recent Holyrood election result, in which the SNP won 64 of the 129 seats, “clearly and unambiguously” gave an endorsement for another referendum.
- Green energy and Westminster jabs
At the SNP conference, Scotland’s finance Secretary Kate Forbes claimed that Holyrood is picking up the slack for Westminster, and challenged the UK government to provide funding for oil and gas transition.
She announced at least £3bn over the lifetime of the current parliament would be put towards creating a so-called “just transition” for the oil and gas sector, while millions would also be spent supporting workers.
She challenged Westminster to provide £500m to the Moray and North East Just Transition Fund, which will be spent over the next 10 years and added that one of the greatest threats to Scotland’s economy was the ” hostile” immigration policy introduced by the Home Secretary Priti Patel.
- “European” style of politics
The Deputy First Minister confirmed that the SNP are willing to work with others following the deal with the Scottish Greens.
John Swinney told the party conference that they were not “closing the door” on other parties, but warned those who continued to “oppose everything” were going to be left behind.
Mr Swinney said that the “door was open” to other parties who wanted to help deliver a more “European style” of politics.
He also warned of the impact of Brexit and said said the UK Government’s “draconian” action on immigration from the EU “has been a disaster for the economy” across the UK, continuing: “Perhaps the most obvious example is the empty shelves in our supermarkets.”
Held in Brighton, the lively Labour conference put focus on the future of the union and urging voters back to support the party as Sir Keir tried to show that the party was moving away from the Corbyn era.
It was Starmer’s first opportunity to set out his vision for Labour.
- Campaign of Unity
At the Labour conference, the Leader of Scottish Labour vowed to build a political campaign of unity rather than take an “us v them” approach.
Anas Sarwar said that Scotland was the “first red wall to fall” and emphasised the need for the party to win back Scottish voters in order to secure power in Westminster.
He explained: “Despite what Nicola Sturgeon and the Tories want us to believe, Boris isn’t Britain. Our vaccinators, our NHS staff, our social care staff, our postal workers, our retail workers, our key workers and all who pulled us through this pandemic – they are Britain.”
Mr Sarwar said that the SNP and the Tories should not be allowed to “define Englishness”.
After praising Mr Sawar’s speech, Keir Starmer was heckled by a number of people in the audience, who shouted “shame” and called for him to rethink his stance on adopting a £15 an hour minimum wage level during his keynote speech.
He hit back at hecklers, which was met with applause before continuing his speech. When he was interrupted again, he said: “You can chant all day,” before being applauded.
He echoed the need for the union and announced that Former Prime Minister Gordon Brown will be leading a new commission on the union.
- “Planned Sabotage”
Andy McDonald, who resigned as Labour’s shadow employment secretary, accused Keir Starmer’s office of attempting to force him to argue against minimum wage levels of £15 and increasing sick pay levels to minimum wage.
However, his resignation was seen as an attack from the left side of the party.
The party’s Shadow Scottish Secretary has described the resignation of a member of the party’s front bench as an act of “planned sabotage”.
Ian Murray, Scottish Labour MP for Edinburgh South, said the timing of Mr McDonald’s departure appeared planned as days earlier the same MP had been advocating for the policy.
The Conservatives are gathered in Manchester for their first in-person party conference in two years, giving the Prime Minister an opportunity to set out his vision for how he wants to change and improve the country as it emerges from the pandemic.
The Tories took aim at Holyrood, announced further crackdowns on illegal immigrants and stood their ground on not cutting taxes as the UK recovers from the pandemic.
- “Bodily fluids” and independence
The Prime Minister spoke at a raucous reception for Scottish Conservatives at the party’s conference and praised the Scottish Conservatives for depriving the SNP and ‘twinkle toes’ of a majority in Holyrood.
He said he was delighted to finally be able to attend an event in person where delegates could “shake hands and exchange bodily fluids”, while congratulating Douglas Ross and his Holyrood colleagues of a “heroic act” in May’s elections.
Asked by reporters who he was referring to, the Prime Minister laughed before saying twinkle toes was a reference to former First minister Alex Salmond.
Mr Johnson also lashed out at Labour, saying the only way Keir Starmer’s party could get in to power would be through a “crackpot coalition” with the “Scottish Nationalist Party”.
- No tax cuts until country is “stable”
In his keynote speech, Rishi Sunak refused to put a timeframe on when taxes will be cut.
Mr Sunak said Brexit – “despite the challenges” – meant that in the long term the UK would have “agility, flexibility and freedom” and help create “a renewed culture of enterprise”.
He acknowledged that tax rises, such as the planned rise in National Insurance were “unpopular, some will even say un-Conservative” but added: “I’ll tell you what is un-Conservative: unfunded pledges, reckless borrowing and soaring debt.”
He also used his speech to announce an extension to the Kickstart scheme, a new fund to create jobs in Artificial Intelligence
- Crackdown on immigration
The Home Secretary told Tory supporters there is “no reason” for an asylum seeker to come to the UK from France as it is not a war-torn country.
Priti Patel renewed her pledge to control the flow of small boats crossing the channel as part of the UK Government’s New Plan for Immigration.
Ms Patel argued that clamping down on cross-Channel crossings will tackle the “greed” of the people smugglers who enable the migrants to make their journeys.