Conference round-up: DUP hint at Stormont return and new SNP independence strategy announced

Mon 16 Oct 2023
Posted by: Phillip Adnett
Trade News

Palace of Westminister, UK Parliament

After Labour’s annual conference last week, we’re almost at the end of political party conference season.

However, it’s about more than just the traditional ‘big three’ of Westminster, as other groups have hosted their own conferences.

Here, the IOE&IT Daily Update rounds up the news you may have missed from some of the UK’s other political party gatherings.

DUP

At the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) conference (13-14 October), leader Jeffrey Donaldson used his speech to hint that power-sharing at Stormont could be restored, according to Sky News.

The DUP boycotted power sharing in Northern Ireland 18 months ago over its opposition to post-Brexit checks on goods moving from Britain.

While Donaldson reaffirmed that the DUP believes a customs border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK to be “unnecessary and unacceptable”, he said negotiations were continuing and that progress was being made:

“I am hopeful that remaining concerns can be addressed as quickly as possible.”

The long-time MP for Lagan Valley added:

“The default route for goods moving from Great Britain to Northern Ireland should be through the UK’s own internal market system. And within that system, goods should move smoothly.

“It is simply not right that within the UK, businesses and traders who pose no risk of criminality or smuggling or disease risk should have their goods subject to physical inspections.”

The DUP currently has eight seats in the UK parliament. In 2017, the party entered into a ‘confidence and supply’ agreement with the Conservatives under then-prime minister Theresa May, after she lost her majority in that year’s general election.

Sinn Fein president, Mary Lou McDonald, said the republican party will be “watching carefully” at the messaging from the DUP’s conference, according to the Irish News.

SNP

The Scottish National Party (SNP) is currently hosting its annual conference in Aberdeen (15-17 October).

First minister Humza Yousaf is expected to claim a mandate for independence negotiations with the UK government, if the SNP wins a majority of seats in the next general election.

The Guardian described the move as a “compromise” with internal party critics, after Yousaf promised to push for a fresh independence referendum if the SNP won more seats than the next-nearest Scottish party, even without securing a majority.

During the conference, Scottish net zero minister, Màiri McAllan, committed the party to continue investing in green energy, saying that the fight against climate change “may also be one of Scotland’s greatest socioeconomic opportunities”.

The SNP currently has 43 seats in Westminster parliament, having recently lost a in by-election Rutherglen and Hamilton West to Labour. Since the 2019 general election, the party has also experienced a series of defections to both the Conservatives and the Alba party, led by former SNP first minister Alex Salmond.

Plaid Cymru

Welsh independence party, Plaid Cymru (PC), held its conference in Aberystwyth (6-7 October).

Rhun ap Iorwerth, in his first conference speech as party leader after taking over from Adam Price in May 2023, set out his ‘Reform to Build’ agenda, promising to link Wales up with the world and boost Welsh exports and supply chains as part of his “vision” for independence from the UK.

He said: “In 2022, Wales was ranked last of the UK nations in terms of the profitability of its SMEs. A poor exporting record is just one symptom.

“Last year just 14% of these businesses sold their goods or services outside the UK – the lowest ‘export intensity’ of the entire UK SME sector.”

He also called for a Wales Development Agency to address “the long shadow of deindustrialisation” which he said has left Wales with “stubbornly low wages, meagre productivity levels and a shortage of high-skilled, well-paid jobs”.

PC currently has three seats in the Westminster Parliament, with ap Iorwerth standing in the Conservative-held marginal seat of Ynys Môn.

Green Party

Hosted in Brighton (6-8 October), the Green Party focused its fire on Labour and the Conservatives and committed to investment in renewable energy as a way to both decarbonise the UK’s energy system and support the economy.

Green Party co-leader Carla Denyer, speaking alongside fellow co-leader Adrian Ramsay, blamed the Conservative government for failing to invest in green energy. She said that energy “bills in the UK are nearly £2.5bn higher than they would have been if the government hadn’t dismissed climate policy over the last decade”.

Denyer also accused both the Conservatives and Labour of “climate vandalism”.

In addition, Green Party members approved motions calling for a four-day work week and an immediate ban on ‘high-carbon advertising’.

The party is reportedly targeting three new seats – Bristol Central, Waveney Valley and North Herefordshire – alongside keeping its sole seat in Brighton Pavilion, as long-time MP Caroline Lucas steps down.

Former co-leader Sian Berry is running to replace Lucas as the party’s only parliamentary representative.