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Holding pattern

Brian Taylor | 16:43 UK time, Friday, 15 October 2010

There is frequently a slightly surreal atmosphere at party conferences. A blend, perhaps, of proximity, intensity and sociability.

Through no fault of their own, that atmosphere appears somewhat enhanced here in Perth for the SNP gathering.

The cause, of course, is the impending round of cuts in public expenditure. There is much talk, much apprehension: but, so far, no precise detail.

Hence the atmosphere. Delegates seem like passengers in a flight holding pattern, uncertain when or even where they will land.

Into that mix, John Swinney attempted to offer a modicum of certainty.

You will not be surprised to hear that this derived from his views as to Scotland's future.
Mr Swinney averred that the economic crisis with its concomitant impact upon public spending meant that Scotland could "no longer afford the Union."

Now, it has occasionally been the case in the past that the SNP has believed that folk would look more kindly upon independence during times of confidence, times of relative certainty.

'Simple arithmetic'

Such a diagnosis would appear to run contrary to the current climate where confidence is relatively low.

Nevertheless, Mr Swinney argued that it was a matter of simple arithmetic as well as politics.

Unionists, he insisted, could no longer credibly argue that the UK provided a solid economic foundation for Scotland.

Never again, he said, must Scotland be "a victim of London's economic mismanagement."

Again though, as I have noted many times in the past, be alert to the SNP's dual strategy.

Even as he condemns the impact of the Union, Mr Swinney stresses that, as Finance Secretary, he will do his best to balance the books within the devolved structure, within the block grant due to be set down by the Chancellor next Wednesday.

In essence, Mr Swinney is arguing that he will seek to manage Scotland's finances sensibly within the current constraints - but he is simultaneously inviting the people of Scotland to infer that things would be much better under fiscal autonomy and independence.

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