SNP conference: Nicola Sturgeon veers from the norm

Nicola Sturgeon Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Nicola Sturgeon said delegates should view critics as fellow citizens in her party conference speech

Party conferences are, by definition, partisan affairs. Opportunities to say how wonderful your own offer is and, by contrast, what a shower your opponents are.

Rival parties are to be condemned, to be lampooned, to be satirised. Their name is a hissing and a by-word.

At the SNP conference in Edinburgh, that rule has generally been obeyed. Today, for example, Nicola Sturgeon described the UK Conservative government as a "vacuum filled by incompetence."

But she made an exception to this rule on another occasion. And it was an exception pursued by several other speakers. In short, one detected a pattern.

Ms Sturgeon said it was wrong to view Scotland as "No voters or Yes voters". Wrong to consider fellow Scots as "Remainers or Leavers".

In a modern version of Jock Tamson's Bairns, she told delegates that they should view even those who are critical of the SNP as fellow citizens.

Strategy in humane politics

Perhaps especially those who are critical of the SNP. Nationalists, she said, should make their case with "decency, respect and dignity".

So far, so familiar. But there is more to this than the customary appeal for humane politics. This is also about strategy.

Image copyright Getty Images

It fits with the first minister's proposal to hold talks with other party leaders about devolved powers and to establish a Citizens' Assembly to take the public pulse.

SNP strategists look at the contemporary condition of politics. Febrile, brittle, divided. Fragmented by Brexit chaos.

They have concluded that, in such circumstances, it will not do to be too overtly partisan, even about the issue which motivates the SNP, independence.

Ultimately, of course, independence is a polarised, bi-partisan choice, to be decided in a referendum.

But, in these preparatory stages, the SNP wants to avoid the appearance of an overly partisan approach.

You can win a constituency election with a relatively small share of the vote, if your opponents split the votes which rival yours.

But you can only win a referendum if you get 50% of the vote plus one. That, for the SNP, means taking along with you people who are not currently convinced.

It means being more consensual. It means precisely the offers made this week in Nicola Sturgeon's Holyrood statement.

And in speeches here at the Edinburgh conference by Mike Russell, John Swinney and others.