‘Independent’ was the 27th word of Nicola Sturgeon’s conference speech and, in essence, the other 4,579 words too.
Addressing a bulging crowd at the Edinburgh International Conference Centre, she trilled that Auld Reekie was ‘soon to be, we hope — and how good does this sound? — the capital city of an independent Scotland’.
So, not Cumbernauld, then?
Although Edinburgh voted No in 2014, it is philosophically at home in the independence movement: all the Land Rover drivers have Green Party stickers in their back window.
Sticking to her theme, Sturgeon waxed lyrical about a recent council by-election victory in Leith: ‘With all due apologies to The Proclaimers — and don’t worry, I’m not about to sing — the result went something like this: My heart was broken for the Tories; sorrow, sorrow for Labour; and for the SNP and independence, it was Sunshine on Leith.’
If you would rather walk 500 miles then walk 500 more than hear another word about the constitution, now was the time to be on your way.
The mere mention of what she slyly called ‘legislation for a referendum’ (it is, in fact, a framework bill; not a referendum bill proper) drew a Tyrannosaurus roar.
It was, Sturgeon announced, ‘time for Scotland to become independent’, which begged the question: has there ever been a time in her adult life when it wasn’t?
There was a nod to those strange creatures, the voters, with this: ‘We must always make our case with the decency, respect and dignity that we want to be the hallmark of our independent country.’ She knows she’s leader of the SNP, right?
Where there was substance, it was slight. A new fund for first-time homebuyers ambitiously lowballed at £150million; handouts for nursery new-starts; and a hint at a crackdown on Airbnb.
To appease leftist critics of the Growth Commission, there would now be a Social Justice Commission — an idea lifted from John Smith’s 1994 endeavour of the same name.
Clinging for dear life and a few headlines to the bandwagon of teenage eco-warrior Greta Thunberg, Sturgeon announced that, by the power invested in her by the Bute House message grid, she was officially declaring a climate emergency.
Her urgent tone was somewhat undermined in the next breath when she promised to step up her efforts against emissions — as long as the next report from the Committee on Climate Change said so.
Otherwise, it was the same old formula: We are Scotland. Scotland is smashing. Our opponents are Westminster. Westminster’s a right state.
She had a go at Chris Grayling, the UK transport minister who awarded a ferry contract to a firm with no ferries. ‘In the not-too-distant past,’ she sighed, ‘any minister would have been sacked for such shocking ineptitude.’ Michael Matheson will either be feeling very lucky or very worried this morning.
Her next straw man was the Tory minister who said Brexit shouldn’t occasion Indyref 2 because ‘once you’ve hit the iceberg, you’re all on it together’.
‘So there you have it,’ she began, before being drowned in preemptive laughter, then: ‘We’ve gone from Project Fear to Project Iceberg.’
It’s almost worth another referendum for the inevitable SNP ad with Ruth Davidson and Willie Rennie, windswept on the bow of the Titanic, as Celine Dion croons on the soundtrack.
The rapt passengers of HMS Sturgeon aye-ayed their captain once more.
At the end, I slipped out amid the delegates. Whiter than a Saturday afternoon in Waitrose and, despite party organisers’ efforts to project a youthful image, distinctly middle-aged.
Outside the venue, rough draft reviews came in between drags on e-cigarettes. ‘Wasn’t she sensational,’ one gentleman declared to his yellow-lanyarded cluster.
A gaggle of ladies gabbed their way to the taxi rank. ‘Inspirational. She’s just so inspirational.’ Another woman caught up with them to enthuse: ‘It feels like we’re really going somewhere, doesn’t it?’
They were shrouded in a fug of strawberries-and-cream nicotine and a heady brew of Sturgeoncraft. She has an outrageous magic that bewitches her members and — what should worry Unionists — could yet charm wavering voters.
Would next year’s GERS figures forgo all mention of oil now there was a climate emergency in the offing? How was the Social Justice Commission going to get round the austerity promised by the Growth Commission?
Her sorcery turns these inconsistencies invisible, along with every stubborn fact-obstacle to separation. The delegates were entranced but how much longer will they be spellbound by that old black magic?