I'm writing this on the train back to Edinburgh from the SNP conference in Aberdeen. We have just had our biggest conference ever - indeed probably the biggest political conference in Scottish history.
And by any measure it was a huge success. The SNP is a big organisation now - over 114,000 members - and many people have speculated that size would bring division. Indeed, there are some sections of the press so desperate for an "SNP split" story that they will make one up. Yet the party seems more united and focussed than ever.
Of course, when you get to a point where most of the population support you it would be impossible for everyone to agree of everything all the time. There are differences of opinion but the interesting thing about the SNP - and I speak with experience of another party - is the way these are expressed. People genuinely have respect for others with whom they disagree and debate can be had and decisions taken without people breaking into factions and groups.
So, for example, with the debate of fracking, some people wanted to refer the resolution back because they felt it wasn't strong enough, but when that didn't happen everyone fell in behind the main position. So, we ended up with pretty much unanimous support for the Scottish Government's moratorium on fracking and underground coal gasification for now, and an understanding that this debate will continue. It's also very clear the direction of travel the party is taking with this with not a single person arguing for fracking in Scotland.
Conferences are always both exhilarating and exhausting in equal measure and there were times when I wondered if I'm getting a little old for this. But the adrenaline keeps you going. There's a real buzz you get from talking to people of like mind and, in particular, from speaking up for people in public.
I was privileged to get three chances to speak to the conference. The first was on the Scotland Bill right at the start on Thursday morning when I put the Tory Government on notice that if they continue to reject perfectly reasonable amendments to the proposed legislation they will fuel the demands for a second referendum and just increase our appetite for independence.
My second speech was as part of a panel of MPs which was designed to try to give delegates a flavour of what we were up to at Westminster. I was given a brief to try to make it lighter and entertaining so I had the idea of listing my top ten most ridiculous things about Westminster. I didn't write the speech out so I was glad when Andrew Sparrow from the Guardian did and you can see my top ten here.
My third speech was on the fracking debate when I spoke in support of the Leith branch's resolution calling for the current moratorium to be extended to UCG. As it happens the Scottish Government had already decided to do this anyway so in effect the conference was able to endorse their actions. There wasn't a motion to ban fracking on the agenda but if there had been my guess is it would have passed with a big majority. There's clearly very little support for fracking and UCG within the SNP.
As well as speaking I was very content to just sit and listen for large parts of the agenda. I expect the media will concentrate on Nicola's speech which was another tour de force but there were very many contributions which impressed. The quality of debate on land reform, on energy, on the economy and on foreign affairs was exceptional.
I was very pleased to be asked to chair a fringe meeting at the conference for the Living Rent Campaign which I support. It was well attended and energetic with a lot of comments from the floor. The great thing about the SNP on things like this is that you feel everyone instinctively wants to do the right thing. There's complete support for the principle of protecting private tenants and the campaign can focus on the mechanics of getting it done.
I also took a bit of time to visit the stalls at the sizeable exhibition which accompanied the conference, although my emphasis was on lending support to a number of campaigning organisation rather than the commercial exhibitors.
I put myself forward for election to the National Executive Committee (NEC) this year, which might seem presumptuous for someone whose only been in the party a year. But then, so have about 80% of the members! As I write I've no idea whether I've been successful as the votes are still being counted. There are two places for parliamentarians. Alex Salmond is standing too and my guess is he will top the poll so me and eight other hopefuls are chasing the second place.
As the three thousand delegates make their way home to every corner of the country they'll be in good shape. We are all part of the most united, focused and radical mass party in the UK, not just Scotland.
Tommy, absolutely spot on. As one of the folk pushing for a change of wording on the fracking resolution I had absolutely no issue with it not being remitted after a close vote and then supporting the resolution for moratorium. The key is the party having the guts to open the floor to input which it should be commended for. Instead of which we see the MSM try stir it into something it is not.
See you in spring. ;-)