It’s no secret that the SNP has an extraordinary number of paid-up members. But until you’ve seen them stretch for almost a quarter of a mile down Mill Street in Perth city centre, it’s hard to visualise such a mass of independence supporters.
The faithful were in town to see Nicola Sturgeon launch the party’s 2017 election manifesto. Once the yellow-wearing masses neared the concert hall they were greeted by around 40 blue-coated Conservative activists. Relations remained cordial between the two tribes - despite one press snapper ushering an EU-flag waving man to pose in front of Ruth Davidson’s crack team.
Pete Wishart kicked off proceedings with a promise that Perth was “a line in the sand that the Tories will not cross”. The candidate for the local constituency quipped the Conservatives had viewed the area as a target ever since he was first elected. Only a cynic would suggest that Mr Wishart may be slightly concerned about a Tory revival across Perthshire and north-east Scotland, with those in attendance urged to go out campaigning on his behalf once the launch was over.
Wishart and party deputy Angus Robertson first won election to Westminster in 2001, making them the longest serving MPs in Scotland. “They call us the faithers of the hoose,” said Wishart. “And we’re only 35.” Robertson used his short speech to welcome everyone to the launch “of the real opposition”. In case we didn’t get this first time, a whole page of the manifesto was reserved for tweets from various political reporters who have written much the same thing over the last two years.
The First Minister walked up purposefully to the podium to the cheers of supporters. Much has been written about waning Nationalist enthusiasm in certain seats during this campaign but there was none on display here. “This manifesto sets out a clear plan to end Tory cuts,” said Sturgeon. “It is a manifesto that reflects our belief in the infinite possibility open to the people of Scotland if we work together to build the kind of country we know we can be.” More thunderous applause.
Following the obligatory standing ovation, one attendee hollered ‘We love you Nicola!’ from the upper balcony. But the feel-good vibe in the room was quickly swapped for a hushed sense of expectation when the First Minister asked for questions from the assembled media. Colin Mackay of STV asked that if the SNP was looking to win the election in Scotland to reinforce its case for a second referendum, would losing seats weaken its case? Audible groans and more than a few boos. Although dressed in a sober dark blue suit rather than a black cape, and lacking a thunder sound effect when he spoke, Mackay was suddenly the pantomime villain.
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The First Minister came to the rescue. “Journalists are here to do a job. It’s their job to hold us to account.” More applause. The political editor of the Courier stood up. “I hear it’s your birthday” Sturgeon - always on top of her brief - observed. A few people dutifully started to sing Happy Birthday. “I think we might have went from one extreme to the other with the media,” the FM quipped. Even the most dour-faced journalists raised a smile at this.
Winning the second biggest ovation of the day - far louder than even the one offered to Angus Robertson - was a Kathleen Nutt, a reporter from The National. The very mention of the independence-supporting newspaper’s name prompted a huge roar of appreciation.
Questions taken, manifestos handed out, pictures posed for. With the job done, the SNP top team went off to campaign in Perth. Followed closely by a team in blue anoraks.