"It's good to talk", went the advertising slogan, which was probably the next one BT did after they had run out of ideas for Maureen Lipman's granny character, Beattie, and just before they did that whole saga with the romance between the previously married woman with two kids and the frustrated boyfriend struggling to get connected when he slept over. Corny as hell and yes, cynically thought up to rack up the billable minutes, but the sentiment is pretty sound. Most things can be solved by talking. And in our case debating.
Like many of you I sported a "Frack Off" badge throughout the Westminster campaign. I liked the sentiment behind that too and I quite liked the cheekiness of it almost being a sweary badge but not quite. Because the kids sniggering at the back of the class thing never quite leaves us. Well, I hope not anyway. We, at the SNP like to have a bit of a cheeky swagger about us, as those who witnessed my colleague Alex's entrance to the House of Commons on his first day back after a few years' break can testify.
This week I have a had a fair few of my pals and fellow campaigners more than a wee bit upset that one of the frackers in question has a stall at our conference this month. That company is INEOS. The fact of the matter is that companies can buy stall space at conferences. It has always been thus. They are pretty pricey and that helps us pay for the conference, which means membership money can be spent on other things like campaign materials to get us elected next year.
Allowing a company to have a stall at your conference is not an endorsement of any of their activities, past present or future. It is not an indication that lobbying is successful. And it is not an indication of the way any wind is blowing. Companies who rent stall space do so, I imagine, because they want to speak to politicians and membership about what matters to their company and to put their case forward. INEOS, I imagine would like the Scottish government to lift the moratorium on fracking . I would also imagine their representatives will be doing their level best to convince those in the anti camp ranging ona scale from nervousness to outright hostility on the issue is that our fears are unjustified. They may get sympathetic ears and they may not. I would imagine that those manning the stall in Aberdeen might have drawn short straws, but that's me just being cheeky as is my wont. I won't pre-suppose what might happen on the INEOS stall but given that a shed-load of members also wore the Frack Off badges this year and continue to do so, they might get some fairly mixed conversations going on. Enterprising folks might want to set up a popcorn stand right next door, in fact. INEOS also have interests and operations in the North Sea, so again, I would imagine that their presence at our conference also has a lot to do with that.
Should we get angry that there are potential frackers are at our conference? No. We should not for many reasons. Not least because this is also a chance for those of us against fracking to question them. This is something that I certainly will take the opportunity to do. We are also having a debate on the fracking moratorium at conference. It's a highly contentious issue. But we are not shirking it. We are opening up debate on it. That debate won't just happen in the hall but it will happen in the coffee areas and the fringe events and yes...at that INEOS stall. You bet it will.
Last week many of us had a right go at New-New-Yet-Quite-Retro-But-Not-Really-If-You-Take-A-Closer-Look Labour as led by Jeremy Corbyn for shutting down debate on Trident. They did so because it was contentious and nobody wants to frighten the horses. We mocked them for it. And rightly so. There are loads of contentious things I'd like to see debated at our conference too, some commentators have mentioned that we are playing it a bit safe. Mibbes aye..mibbes naw. I can see that point of view, and yet I also feel that hundreds of motions went in for debate at conference and ye cannae do them all, so you are bound to upset someone. Fracking made it on, and frackers are present. Ooof, that's going to be some debate.
When we do make up our minds on the fracking issue it will not be as a result of jumping on one side without considering all the arguments for the other. Last week I heard all the unionist parties try (unsuccessfully) to rattle Joan McAlpine MSP on Friday's BBC Big Debate by accusing the Scottish Government for not allowing scientists and farmers to put their case forward for allowing GM crops to be grown in Scotland. Not only is that not true, but it's interesting that those parties thought it of the utmost importance that the government speak to all stakeholders before making an informed decision. Ban fracking without having a debate involving all the stakeholders and the accusations will be shoveled in.
I am personally hoping that we will come down on the side of banning fracking in Scotland and will argue for that as a party member, but if and when we do, we need the folk of Scotland to be confident that we had the debate and that debate wasn't one sided and didn't take into account the views and research of those in favour of the enterprise. Because that's democracy. And in a democracy in particular, it's not just good to talk, it's vital.