MEMBERS had a “huge voice” at the SNP’s South Scotland regional assembly as they quizzed the First Minister on a variety of different issues following his speech.

Held at The Bridge in Dumfries, over 200 party members from across Dumfries and Galloway, the Scottish Borders, Ayrshire, and beyond joined politicians to express their views on the party's independence strategy ahead of the next General Election.

While media were not allowed into the venue until First Minister Humza Yousaf and Minister for Independence Jamie Hepburn addressed the audience, The National was told that the three-minute presentations by delegates during the morning session sparked plenty of debate.

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And, the FM was asked about a whole host of issues during a 30-minute Q&A section after his speech ranging from how members could put forward the economic case for independence on the doorstep, how the area could get better and more diverse media representation, and more details on the upcoming rebuttal unit set to tackle disinformation about independence.

Yousaf and Hepburn’s speeches also touched on local issues, while South Scotland MSP Emma Harper said the event had been “uplifting” for those in the region.

The First Minister told members during his speech it was the “duty” of those in the region to take the independence case to “every household in the South of Scotland” and get across what the SNP had done locally.

The National: SNP members outside of the South Scotland regional assemblySNP members outside of the South Scotland regional assembly (Image: NQ staff/The National)

He also said that independence support was "rock solid" and has "never been stronger".

Speaking to journalists after a meet and greet with delegates, the FM said that the “real driving force” of the SNP was its members.

He said: “They’re the ones who decide policy, who will decide strategies and of course I’ll implement that strategy and do what I can to drive it forward, but our members engaging on the issue of independence, we’ve talked about climate change, about poverty, we’ve talked about so many issues that are affecting people in their lives, including, of course, that golden thread of independence.

“So I’m here to listen to the membership, engage with them and we had really good conversations afterward.”

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Despite the odd interruption from seagulls circling over the venue, Yousaf gave a rousing speech to members and said that independence would be at the heart of the upcoming election campaign.

SNP depute leader Keith Brown, Net Zero Secretary Màiri McAllan, housing minister Paul McLennan, drugs minister Elena Whitham and community safety minister Siobhian Brown were also at the event speaking to party members.

“This has been an excellent occasion, it’s just what we need and want,” Ian Reid, from SNP Tweedale branch said.

The National:

“Possibly the biggest thing is that it's bringing members together, members have a huge voice and have had a huge part to play, with all sorts of different views, but it feels safe to be expressing those views.”

Reid added that some of the strong themes that emerged were how to bring other parts into the mix and widen out the independence case, adding that the Yes movement is “stronger together”.

Stewart Dickson, also a member of the Tweedale branch, added that members called for the reconvention of the Scottish Constitutional Convention, which allowed devolution to happen, to “drive and consolidate the grassroots movement”.

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Fay Sinclair, SNP councillor for Galashiels and District on Scottish Borders council, raised the issue during the Q&A with the FM, asking how to find “co-operation and pull together as a movement”.

The FM said the movement is “bigger than one party” but added there was “no point pretending” that the SNP wasn’t the “biggest vehicle for independence”.

“I’ll do everything I can to unite and work with other parts of the movement,” he added.

Local MSP Harper said that the event had left members feeling “upbeat, happy and glad” to be engaging in internal party democracy.

The National:

“They've had a long two and a half years of COVID, being shut down,” she said.

“I know how it feels when members go to conference because it's quite uplifting, and that is how I feel today and people have told me that this has been great.”

Harper added that members were “dead chuffed” to hear from depute leader Brown in the morning and enjoyed the session on how councillors can be “motivators and leaders” for Scottish independence in the south.

“And then the members [were] on their feet, suggesting what we need to do as a particular in the south, like educate people about the Common Travel Area,” she added.

The event closed with a panel where members could question ministers Whitham, McLennan and former local MSP Stewart Stevenson, with closing remarks made by Net Zero Secretary McAllan.