It's Party Time - And The Knives Are Out.

There are a number of reasons why explosions are detonated on the eve of party conferences. One is to sell a book whose newspaper deal is contingent on the extracts being used at a time of maximum embarrassment to the party involved - step forward the Sunday Times' Tim Shipman whose revelations about who promised what to whom the morning after the disastrous election result got his new tome  lots of very useful publicity.

One is force of habit, when the agitator in question serially feels the need to argue with party policy - hello Jim Sillars who attacks the SNP so regularly these days it's difficult to remember he was once its deputy leader. His latest pro-fracking outburst was gleefully picked up by the Daily Mail, which was bad enough, but rather worse when he felt obliged to tweet a copy of the article apparently delighted at its inclusion.  I remember Jim well when he was in his oratorical pomp, and he was a devoted husband and carer to the late Margo MacDonald. But I do wonder if he has mislaid the plot more than somewhat recently. And it's worth remembering that his strategic nous is quesrtionable given that he was the insistent author of the Free By '93 election slogan. How's that going, comrade?

And then there is naked personal ambition - hello Boris!  Not content with penning a mammoth article in The Telegraph basically re-writing the agreed policy of the cabinet of which he is nominally a member, just in case anyone was sleeping through the resultant media firestorm, he then gave an eve of conference interview to The Sun explaining where the Brexit red lines should be. A minor detail here is the fact that he is not in the negotiating team for reasons we can readily appreciate.  Not that this suggests that Messrs Davis and Fox are paragons of joined up thought.

People in the Tory party have adopted a tedious serial alibi for the hapless Foreign Secretary along the lines of "Oh Boris is just being Boris".  The problem for which is that being Boris is making the UK an international laughing stock. Being Boris means taking the most serious foreign policy  issue facing the UK and turning it into cheap soundbites to score cheap laughs with a conference audience hitherto in danger of death by a thousand cliches. And Boris being Boris means being extraordinarily crass as in his jibe about Libya. People intone that May is not strong enough to sack him.  Arguably she's not strong enough to risk keeping him.

The Labour Conference which had preceded the Manchester muggings had clearly spooked the Tory brass.  They knew full well they were not in for a week of the sub 40's waving football scarves adorned with scarves shrieking Oh Theresa May. In fact they knew that the current age profile of the faithful could mean many of them meeting their Maker before the electoral cycle rolled round to the next poll. Labour, being Labour, managed to arrange its own post conference drama as the two contenders for the leadership of the Scottish party checked out the Ferrets' Guide to harmonious living.  Whether the Corbyn effect will hold and build on the north side of Hadrian's Wall despite these shenanigans we shall find out in due course.

Which brings us to the final knees up in Glasgow today where the SNP hold their 3 day event. The political pundits lined up this morning to ask Nicola Sturgeon whatever happened to IndyRef2 and did the loss of 21 seats mean her party was on the road to electoral ruin? Both the Marr and Preston shows featured the same double bill of Sturgeon and Davidson, the latter basking in the adoration of a party grateful  to the point of delirium to find someone apparently simultaneously able to join up sentences, and avoid untimely chest infections. The fact that she is not an MP seems to have escaped their collective notice. 

From a Scottish perspective a more interesting question is whatever happened to the other troops Davidson was so proud of getting into the Commons on a Tory ticket. Thus far the silence from a group which could hold the balance of voting power has been utterly deafening.  Ms Davidson herself has been adroitly deploying a fast delivery allied to verbal obfuscation in order to prevent her interlocutors getting to the bottom of why a dyed in the wool Remainer and single market supporter is apparently now fully behind the Brexiteers. 

It is often said that party leaders - in their conference address - are speaking to two audiences, those in the hall, and those in the wider world.  The First Minister has an even more daunting trick to pull off.  She has to persuade many of the faithful in and out of the hall that she still has the fire of independence in her belly.  She has to tell the wider world that her governmenr recognises that there are other more immediate jobs to be done. And she has to signal to Europe that the Scots, who voted 2 to 1 to stay European, are still in the market for a discrete deal if the means can be found.

Which brings us back, of course, to the timing of Indyref2.  It is no more than the truth to say that's a call which can't be made until the small print of a Brexit deal becomes visible. And it's no more than the truth to record that Scotland, far from having a seat at the negotiating table, hasn't even been allowed in the building. Brexit - as with almost everything these days - will determine the mood of several nations.

And when, and whether, Scotland becomes a nation state again.