Scotland politics

SNP conference: Keith Brown elected deputy leader

Nicola Sturgeon and Keith Brown Image copyright PA
Image caption Mr Brown was congratulated by SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon

Keith Brown has been elected as the SNP's new deputy leader as the party's conference opened in Aberdeen.

Mr Brown, who is currently the Scottish government's economy secretary, succeeds former MP Angus Robertson in the role.

He finished ahead of activist Julie Hepburn and Inverclyde councillor Chris McEleny in the contest.

The winner was elected by party members after a series of hustings events were held across the country.

Mr Brown won with 55% of the votes in the second round, with Ms Hepburn in second place. Mr McEleny was eliminated in the first round.

After being announced as the new deputy leader, Mr Brown told the party's supporters to "get ready" for a second independence referendum.

And he said the decision on when it might be held was in the "safest of hands" with Nicola Sturgeon - who has pledged to consider the timing this autumn, when more details about the UK's Brexit deal are known.

He Brown also told the conference that he would chair the SNP's "national assemblies" on Scotland's future over the summer.

The discussion groups were announced when the party unveiled its Grown Commission report on the potential economic options for an independent Scotland last month.

Mr Brown, who was congratulated by Ms Sturgeon on the conference stage, also said he would engage with trade unions, business groups and civic Scotland about how to move beyond the "damage and despair" caused by Brexit.

Image caption Mr Brown backs Ms Sturgeon's position of waiting for greater clarity over Brexit before deciding on the timing of a potential independence referendum

He told delegates: "This is the party I joined more than three decades ago, the party I have campaigned for and the party I have been honoured to represent in local government, in Holyrood and as a cabinet secretary.

"Today, as I take on this new responsibility, our party is in good heart - and the polls show us in a commanding position at both Holyrood and Westminster, 11 years into office.

"While other parties bicker and fight, we work hard to represent the people of Scotland and win their support."

'Road to independence'

The two-day SNP conference is being held at the Aberdeen Exhibition and Conference Centre.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, the party's leader, will speak on Saturday afternoon.

In her welcome notes in the conference guide, Ms Sturgeon says the event "marks the start of a new chapter in Scotland's road to independence".

She also praises the party's long-awaited Growth Commission report, which was published a fortnight ago and examines the economic options for an independent Scotland.

Image caption About 2,000 people are expected to attend the two-day SNP conference

The 354-page report has received a mixed reception from independence supporters, with some expressing doubts about proposals to keep the pound and embark on a major deficit reduction programme in the first years after leaving the UK.

Ms Sturgeon said the document was "packed full of new ideas for Scotland's future" and showed that "with our opponents stuck quibbling grievances of the past, we've moved on to a debate about how we fulfil the potential of our country."

The Growth Commission report is not expected to be debated on the main conference floor - but will feature at a fringe event hosted by the Institute of Economic Affairs think-tank.

Ms Sturgeon's speech is also not expected to reveal her thoughts on the timing of any new independence referendum.

She has previously said she will do so in the autumn, once the implications of Brexit become clearer.

Analysis by Sarah Smith, Scotland editor

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Tens of thousands of independence supporters marched through Glasgow last month

Nicola Sturgeon may be happy to bide her time until the circumstances are more favourable toward a second independence vote.

But many of her grassroots are getting restless. Huge rallies in recent weeks have attracted tens of thousands of enthusiastic supporters, many of whom march under the banner "Independence Now" and use the hashtag #readytogo.

Ms Sturgeon galvanised them into action last year with her call for another referendum. And having marched them halfway up the hill, the SNP leader isn't sure how to get them down again.

She would rather start a long and detailed conversation about the prospects and possibilities for an independent Scotland which is aimed at people who voted No in 2014.

The Growth Commission plans have already prompted No voters to look at the arguments afresh, argues the first minister.

Those same economic plans have also enraged many on the left of the Yes movement, who dismiss the emphasis on deficit reduction and tight public spending as "austerity lite".

It may prove impossible to simultaneously reassure nervous No voters that independence is safe - while also exciting more idealistic Yes supporters about how radical it could be.

Read more from Sarah

What should I look out for at the conference?

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Clara Ponsati will speak at the conference ahead of Ms Sturgeon on Saturday afternoon

Delegates will debate issues including paternity leave, limiting executive pay, the situation in Gaza and women in the justice system.

And there will be speeches from senior SNP figures including Deputy First Minister John Swinney, the party's Westminster leader, Ian Blackford. and Scotland's Brexit secretary, Michael Russell.

Clara Ponsati, the pro-independence Catalan politician who is fighting against being extradited from Scotland to Spain, will also address the conference ahead of Ms Sturgeon's speech on Saturday.

Mr Blackford used his speech on Friday to argue that it would be a "democratic outrage" if the UK government forces through the EU Withdrawal Bill next week against the wishes of Holyrood.

And he predicted the move would haunt the Tories for generations,

Mr Blackford also challenged Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn to ditch his "ludicrous" stance on Brexit and instead back keeping Britain in the single market.

MPs at the House of Commons will consider the key Brexit legislation next week.

However the Scottish Parliament has already voted against giving its formal consent to the bill, with Labour MSPs, Liberal Democrats and the Scottish Greens supporting the SNP's stance.

UK government sources have told BBC Scotland they are likely to push on with the devolution elements of the bill regardless.

  • There will be live coverage of the conference - including the deputy leadership result - on the BBC news website, with Ms Sturgeon's speech also being broadcast live on BBC2 Scotland from 15:15 on Saturday.

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