Summing up party conference season

21 Oct 2015

Graeme Littlejohn, SWA head of external affairs

Conference Season, the caravan which rolls from city to city each autumn, has come to an end. As ever, the Scotch Whisky Association was in tow as Bournemouth, Brighton, Manchester and Aberdeen played host to MPs, MSPs and delegates from each of the major players in Westminster and Holyrood.

First up was the Liberal Democrats at a sunny Bournemouth. Given the party's electoral fortunes in May you would expect the mood to be the polar opposite of the weather which welcomed us to the south coast. The Liberal Democrats, however, remained upbeat despite their recent General Election performance.   Under new leader, Tim Farron, they are free from the burden of Government, though it remains to be seen how the party recovers from its Coalition experience.

Next up, the Labour Party Conference in Brighton was undoubtedly the hottest ticket in town for political anoraks. Newly elected leader 'Jezza', still cloaked in the #CorbynMania which accompanied his ascent to power over the summer, was greeted with curiosity by some, sheer delight by many and, it has to be said, horror by others. The 'what colour tie' debate which usually proceeds a leader's conference speech was replaced by the 'will he wear a tie' debate. He did.  But for all the trivia, it will be how Corbyn and his new Shadow team convey a serious political narrative to the country at large, especially on the economy, that will determine their future.

To the Conservatives in Manchester, where conference goers were welcomed by a wall of noise - some of it unpleasant, most of it indistinguishable, all of it pointless. When left-wing commentator Owen Jones is being called a Tory perhaps the protestors should be a little more targeted in their approach.  In the conference centre, economic issues and the EU referendum were centre stage but, just off to one side, all the talk was of leadership succession, with Boris, Theresa and George setting out their stalls (maybe) to take over from Dave.

Last but not least the SNP in Aberdeen. Buoyed by electoral success in the General Election, Nicola Sturgeon set her sights, and that of her party, on the Scottish elections next May, albeit there remained much froth and speculation about constitutional issues.  In a conference first for the SWA we held a very successful fringe meeting which catalysed varied and robust debate. You can read more on the fringe from our chief executive David Frost's recent blog on this website.

Party conferences can feel like a bit of a circus but they remain a useful opportunity for the SWA to remind politicians of all parties just how important Scotch Whisky is to the Scottish and UK economy.   We'll be back next year.