Scotland

Tours and T-shirts: Nicola Sturgeon sells out the Hydro

Nicola warming up for SNPTour at The SSE Hydro Image copyright SNP
Image caption Nicola warming up for SNPTour at The SSE Hydro

Last weekend Nicola Sturgeon made her first speech as leader to the SNP faithful at the annual party conference. On Saturday afternoon she will be on stage at Glasgow's Hydro arena in front of 12,000 keen new recruits to the party's cause.

Think of a word or phrase you might associate with politicians. Election, maybe. Party. Policy. Expenses?

Whatever springs to mind, it probably won't be "sell-out tour".

But it is another item that new First Minister Nicola Sturgeon can cross off her 2014 bucket list.

She's been touring the country for the past month, addressing crowds more akin to those of pop concerts than your average political speech.

The endeavour was her idea.

"She wants to get out there and meet people," says Shirley-Anne Somerville, deputy chief executive of the SNP and one of the main forces behind organising the tour.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Nicola Sturgeon made her first speech as SNP leader at the annual party conference last weekend

'Taken aback'

You might think putting together a good night at "exceptionally short notice" for the thousands of expectant Scots who signed up to see Ms Sturgeon might cause a few sleepless nights for a four-person events team.

But Ms Somerville says that the sheer enthusiasm of thousands of Scots took the pressure off.

Every single venue sold out - from Edinburgh's Corn Exchange to Dumfries's Easterbrook Hall, from Dundee's Caird Hall to Inverness's Eden Court Theatre and finally the 12,000-strong crowd at Glasgow's SSE Hydro (hot on the heels of Lady Gaga, who played the venue last weekend).

The new first minister will not be the only performer on the huge Hydro stage. She will be supported by samba band Bloco Yes, traditional Scottish band Trybe, Lou Hickey and friends, Scottish hip-hop act Stanley Odd, singer Eddi Reader, the Red Hot Chilli Pipers, Edinburgh indie band Blank Canvas and Caldedonia singer Dougie MacLean.

Image caption The SSE Hydro in Glasgow has a seated capacity of 12,000

The SNP's new deputy leader Stewart Hosie MP and former First Minister Alex Salmond will also address the crowd.

This will be by far the biggest night of Ms Sturgeon's tour, which has seen 18,000 people give up their evenings to see her speak - and more were on the waiting list.

"The speed that we sold out the Hydro was utterly remarkable. I think we've all been really taken aback and humbled," said Ms Somerville.

"The only disappointment was we couldn't allow everyone to come and see her. We could have added an extra night like some of the big stars do, but it just wasn't practical."

Practicality might put an end to the rock star comparisons - until you catch a glimpse of the merchandised "Nicola Sturgeon: The Tour" T-shirts (sales figure: unknown).

Ms Somerville organised the tour at the same time as the party conference. In years with a lighter schedule than 2014, the conference would be the highlight of their calendar.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The atmosphere at the party's 80th annual conference was jubilant

A week ago, Ms Sturgeon was being handed the SNP's reins by Alex Salmond in Perth. A leader resigning after a failed bid for independence might spell a sombre mood for some party conferences. Not this one.

The Guardian's Kevin McKenna told BBC Scotland's political editor Brian Taylor: "One would have expected the conference to have the atmosphere of a wake, given the 55-45 defeat, but it was like a victory rally."

And the feel-good factor was coming from the party's newfound members - the same group around which the tour was geared.

Serenading Salmond

In fact, though the two events may seem different - one internal party conference, one outward-facing event compete with branded T-shirts and musical interludes - the tone of the whole week is one of celebration: of the 60,000 new SNP members, of Alex Salmond's leadership, and of hope for the future under a new first minister.

Last weekend, hundreds crowded the Perth streets to serenade Mr Salmond with the tones of "For He's A Jolly Good Fellow". This weekend, thousands of members new and old will crowd into the Hydro to hear Ms Sturgeon's view for the future.

Image caption Crowds lined the streets in Perth to serenade Alex Salmond with "For He's A Jolly Good Fellow"

For someone promising to be Scotland's "most accessible first minister ever", perhaps it is not surprising she decided on the tour. She will also doing a monthly Facebook question and answer session, for those who didn't manage to get tickets.

As thousands of "Yes" supporters decide how to channel their political enthusiasm in the wake of a no vote, for many a turn to the SNP is natural. It remains to be seen whether the party will rise to Alex Salmond's parting challenge: to win a majority of Scottish seats in May's Westminster election.

This week at least, one thing is for certain: the SNP are continuing to galvanise post-referendum hearts and minds.

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