AS we step gaily among spring’s early daffodils, there’s no indication the SNP are planning an annual conference to call the faithful to action. In normal circumstances this would be regarded as a little curious. That the important local authority elections are now less than two months away, it seems to be either a sign of supreme confidence or outright arrogance.

Perhaps the leadership are planning a kind of flash mob conference. Selected individuals who fancy themselves to be among the party demi-monde will be contacted by stealth and told to locate a Facebook page set up especially for this purpose.

Or, perhaps a code will be made available on that dark web and they’ll be instructed to gather at midnight in a disused factory in a breeze-block business park on the outskirts of Glasgow where they used to have raves in the late 1980s.

Who knows? Not many, and they appear to be keeping it to themselves. Perhaps it’s only for those who have agreed to sign a written guarantee that they won’t ask any gnarly questions.

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You might think that a local authority election isn’t sufficiently important to justify a campaign conference, especially one that comes so soon after last year’s landslide victory in the Holyrood election. Others might disagree.

A lot has happened in Scotland – and the world beyond – that surely affects any strategy the party might actually possess about fighting an independence referendum. That, of course, depends on whether or not you think the SNP leadership are actually serious about setting forth legislation for a referendum before the end of 2023. I’m not saying that time is necessarily running out to organise this, but if this was a tavern, the staff would be just about to call last orders and we’d be scrambling for triples at the bar.

With the Scottish Greens having been successfully bought off, getting the referendum bill through Holyrood won’t be a problem. It’s just that, well … opposition to it will be fierce, and there’s nothing to suggest that the Supreme Court will prioritise their deliberations over any legal challenge.

And then what? Has there been any work done on the currency issue? Anything about the cross-border arrangements with England once independence has been gained? Will there be a referendum about seeking membership of the European Union? And how’s that going to work if an independent Scotland doesn’t have its own currency anyway? And how long will it take? And let’s not kid ourselves that this will happen much before the end of the current decade.

Of course, if there was an actual in-person conference being planned, the local branches would be discussing these issues with the intention of mandating delegates to ask questions about them. At least, that’s what used to happen in the SNP, a party which once prided itself on openness and its eagerness to debate when all the other grown-up party conferences were moving towards more micro-managed events.

In recent years, though, the SNP conferences have been tightly managed to ensure that very little dissension makes it on to the main business agenda. Last year, for reasons not yet adequately explained, the SNP was the only UK party to insist on a virtual conference. If there is to be any kind of national conference this year, Nicola Sturgeon will have difficulty justifying another restricted event after re-opening the country for business post-Covid.

There are sure to be other questions. Most notably, why are the party leadership spending so much time and energy rushing through the GRA bill with its controversial self-ID proposal? And why have they given licence to social media hate mobs to howl down feminists and many other authentic equality campaigners simply for asking why some women’s rights are being jettisoned to make way for this act?

THERE’S also reasonable concern at how the party has been prepared to position itself on the wrong side of the globally respected Equality and Human Rights Commission over this issue. And a suspicion that the leadership has been hollowed out by Stonewall activists at a time when many national organisations are beating a hasty retreat from it over accusations of bullying, intimidation and manipulation.

Are they hoping that by the time people realise they can be prosecuted for a hate crime for asking such questions, that the cost-of-living crisis and the ongoing war in Ukraine will simply overtake it?

In the time since the SNP last held a serious national conference, the Nato question has also become much more important. Alarmingly, the party seems to have intensified its support for this sprawling, Western military alliance – even as others are beginning to question the apparent failure of Western diplomacy in failing to thwart Vladimir Putin’s war-mongering. A tiny cadre of Nato fetishists appears now to hold sway in the party, yet there has been no real debate among the SNP’s rank-and-file members about this.

There’s also increasing dissatisfaction even among the most committed party loyalists about the SNP’s Grand Old Duke of York posturing on the referendum itself. This has been manifest in some MSPs and MPs being met with profound apathy among activists who were once eager to go canvassing.

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In the recent past, SNP conferences had become so fully subscribed that only the large venues in Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen could accommodate them. Is there a fear that the prospect of half-empty or smaller venues would signal that all is far from well in a party that’s become secretive and paranoid?

Close scrutiny of last week’s bizarre episode regarding the future of Ian Blackford threw up other troubling questions. Blackford indicated that the Ukraine crisis would keep the referendum question at bay for a while yet. Perhaps it was the backlash by members growing resentful at these endless postponements which compelled Nicola Sturgeon to throw her Westminster leader under a bus by repeating her commitment to a 2023 referendum.

So, who exactly was doing all the briefing against Blackford by suggesting that he was about to quit? I’m told that two names in particular are being mentioned. So many questions and, it would seem, no sign of any party forum to have any of them aired. And if you’re a party loyalist expecting answers to written concerns then forget it. Like all those complaints about bullying and harassment which have been ignored by party headquarters very few answers have been forthcoming from the leadership.

So, keep an eye out for the small ads in your local paper for any details of nocturnal SNP manoeuvres in an old carpet factory. And be sure to let the rest of us know.