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banner Wednesday, 19 September, 2001, 09:09 GMT 10:09 UK
SNP conference to be muted affair
The Manhattan skyline in the wake of the WTC disaster
The WTC's destruction will overshadow the SNP conference
By BBC Scotland political editor Brian Taylor

There is a passage of verse by the war poet Wilfred Owen which reads: "What made fatuous sunbeams toil/To break earth's sleep at all?"

A comparable sense of futility, of unreality, has tended to pervade domestic politics since hijacked airliners ploughed into the World Trade Center.

All attention is focussed upon the casualties, the aftermath, the possible military response, the demand for Bin Laden, in the words of George Bush, "alive or dead", the impact upon the Middle East.

BBC Scotland political editor Brian Taylor
Brian Taylor looks ahead to the SNP conference

In ordinary circumstances, the autumn party conference round has a certain rhythm, a melody of platitudes, a cacophony of dissent.

But this season - which begins with the Scottish National Party gathering in Dundee - has a grim backing track of its own.

The events in New York and Washington have largely muted standard, partisan politics.

However, SNP leaders say they didn't seriously consider abandoning their conference.

Instead, they have chosen to tailor its content to emerging circumstances.

Delegates will be asked to drop controversial motions - on missile defence, the World Trade Organisation, Iraq.

In particular, they'll be advised to shelve a call for the SNP to back non-nuclear membership of Nato.

John Swinney
John Swinney has been forced to alter his speech

There's unlikely to be any serious grumbling.

Some internal observers say the leadership - which favoured the revised approach to Nato - was heading for defeat on the issue.

But the leadership says it would simply be crass to debate western defensive strategy while that military capability is under actual strain. That's very widely accepted.

The party leader John Swinney is completely redrafting his keynote speech for Friday.

He had intended to spell out new thinking on his independence strategy, his emerging ideas on strengthening the existing devolved parliament's powers, including external relationships, to provide "the best Scotland in the best world".

The focus would, understandably, have been upon the first part of that equation, Scotland.

But, inevitably, it's now that improved world vision which is somewhat clouded.

Alex Neil
Alex Neil will argue against the Euro

Mr Swinney will set out the circumstances in which his party would support a military response.

In the pantheon of responses, he tends towards the cautious rather than the gung-ho.

He would want any military retaliation to be evidence-based - and to be carefully targeted to avoid innocent casualties.

There are other issues at the Dundee conference.

A fringe lecture will offer a challenge to the party's existing European policy.

Alex Neil - who contested John Swinney for the leadership - will argue that the SNP should campaign for a No vote in any UK referendum on the single currency.

He argues, firstly, that the pound's high value means that entry at present would severely damage the Scottish economy.

Further and more fundamentally, he argues that Scotland would gain nothing by transferring economic sovereignty from London to Frankfurt.

SNP logo
The conference is being held in Dundee

Scotland, he says, would still lack a place at the top table.

Mr Neil believes his argument will resonate with those who want a more basic stress upon the cause of Scottish independence - and are innately uncomfortable with the "Euro-federalist" tone of the single currency advocates.

But John Swinney says the SNP should continue to support Euro membership when the conditions are right.

There will be other debates in Dundee - on health, on the economy, on energy, on independence.

But it is no insult to this conference to say that attention, even among delegates, will be elsewhere.

See also:

12 Sep 01 | Scotland
Scotland's leaders united in sorrow
26 Aug 01 | Scotland
SNP takes policy message on tour
23 Sep 00 | SNP
Emphatic SNP win for Swinney
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