THIS time last week, the SNP’s annual conference brought around 4,000 visitors to this city, providing a huge boost to hotels, restaurants and bars. 

The estimated total benefit of the conference to the local economy was a massive £3.95 million.

The conference also shone a spotlight on the SNP’s achievements in government and the work we’re doing to boost the economy, protect the most vulnerable and deliver the very best public services.

In those few days alone, we announced a range of new policies like Fair Work First, which will see criteria, including payment of the real living wage, investment in skills, action on gender pay and zero-hours contracts, extended to as many government contracts and business support grants as possible.

We also set out more measures to end homelessness, with a £6.5 million investment in Social Bite’s Housing First Scheme which will help them to lift around 800 people out of homelessness.

And, whilst in England the Tories have scrapped the student nurse bursary, we confirmed that, in Scotland, the SNP will retain and increase it from just over £6,500 to £10,000 a year by 2020/21.

As we work hard to improve the lives of everyone in Scotland, the UK government is actively pursuing policies which are damaging lives across the country. In particular, we have seen growing evidence over recent weeks that their welfare reforms are causing real misery.

By the end of this decade people in Scotland will have lost £3 billion through UK government cuts to welfare spending – that is money taken out of the pockets of the lowest income families in Scotland.

As well as attacks on disability support and sanctions that leave people destitute, Universal Credit is causing rent arrears and increased reliance on foodbanks – that is the experience of people in Dundee, the Highlands, East Lothian and South Lanarkshire where Universal Credit is already implemented. Next in the firing line is Glasgow.

The Prime Minister claims her government is ending austerity when in reality the callous policies of her government are inflicting misery on the most vulnerable people in our society.

The SNP is determined to stand up to these Tory policies each and every day, and do everything we can in government to build a better Scotland for everyone who lives here.

In everything we do as a devolved government – from the baby box, to increased payments for carers and low income families, to building a social security system based on dignity and respect – we demonstrate the difference between the Tories at Westminster and the SNP in Scotland.

Just think of the difference we could make if we were independent – free from the chaos and incompetence of Westminster and able to use every resource at our disposal to build a fairer, more prosperous country.

In my last column I wrote about the UK government’s woeful mishandling of the Brexit negotiations – a fiasco which has brought nothing but chaos and confusion. 

Two weeks on and nothing has changed. Time really is now running out, and with the latest EU Council meeting taking place later this week, we may now have reached a critical and decisive point in these negotiations.
We are determined to protect Scotland from a damaging Brexit. Scotland voted 62 per cent to remain in the EU, but we have always recognised the outcome of the referendum across the UK as a whole.

This is why over the past two years we have published a series of papers suggesting compromise proposals that represent the least worst options for leaving the EU.

However, every attempt by the Scottish government at a compromise has been dismissed by the UK government, without any meaningful discussion and consultation. Indeed, their claims of a partnership of equals with devolved governments have proven to be empty. Theresa May’s government has even taken the Scottish government to court for our attempts to prevent Westminster from removing powers from the Scottish Parliament.

There is no doubt Brexit has brought into sharp focus a serious democratic deficit in the way Scotland is governed – moreover, it has also shown the difference in status between Scotland and independent members of the EU. Independent Ireland has had nothing but solidarity from its EU partners as it confronts the challenges posed by Brexit – by contrast, Westminster has shown Scotland nothing but contempt.

However, we are determined to put forward constructive proposals to protect Scotland’s interests. 

That is why we published a further document this week, setting out the case for compromise and common sense. 

We believe the UK should stay in the European single market and customs union – that is the option that would best protect jobs, living standards, investment and trade.