There’s nothing like arriving fashionably late to a party.  Though I don’t suppose making it here for teatime and managing to miss not just one Ministerial speech, but three constitutes anything but rude.  It wasn’t deliberate, honest.

Welcome, dear BN readers, to our outpost from Inverness and the SNP Conference for the weekend, where the enterprising Burd has secured blogging accreditation rights and will be posting all the highlights from speeches and resolutions.  Almost as they happen.

It’s a bit of a first in that the SNP has never deigned to allow official blogging and I have promised to behave myself.  And tomorrow, ensure that I am here on time for all the big speeches.

So if it wasn’t for the small mercy of transcripts, what might I have missed today?  A rather defensive display from Justice Secretary, Kenny MacAskill MSP and a barnstormer from Nicola Sturgeon MSP, Depute First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport (outposts on both to follow later).  But the opening Ministerial speech was a real crowd-pleaser from Cabinet Secretary for Capital and Infrastructure, Alex Neil MSP.

As well as taunting the other parties in Scotland – “the Tories are fighting like cats and dogs with some of them even wondering if Murdo Fraser is even in the blue corner….Labour is scurrying around its third and fourth divisions looking for its new leader in Scotland…”, Alex Neil also made time to have a square go at the UK Government and in particular, its perceived interference in the proposed independence referendum.  He suggested we might like to “ask David Cameron why he thinks he can come to Scotland where he has no democratic mandate and try to dictate the terms of the independence referendum to the Scottish people and their democratically elected Parliament”.  Methinks we will be hearing more of this refrain over the weekend and indeed, over the winter.

Interestingly, the failed 79 devolution referendum was referenced too:  “this Conference and the Scottish Government should send out a loud and clear message to David Cameron that the days when the Unionist parties at Westminster can rig a referendum, on Scotland’s constitutional future are over.  There will be no 40% rule in this referendum.”  I can practically hear the spontaneous, rapturous applause Alex Neil got at this point.

But it suggests, or rather confirms, following the First Minister’s intervention with the Scottish Affairs Committee at Westminster last week, that the current approach to the independence referendum is one of deflection.  No one practises the politics of grievance with the London lot as effortlessly or as skilfully as the SNP.  The tactics are of course correct, even if they are a tad obvious, and allow the SNP to avoid answering calls to set the date and determine the questions for the referendum by implying that it’s bugger all to do with Westminster and they should keep their noses out.

For all that, most of the Cabinet Secretary’s speech was given over to his day job and the focus was very much on fuel poverty, including an announcement that the Boiler Scrappage Scheme would be extended and increased by £1.5 million “a 60% rise in its budget despite the Westminster cuts”.  The scheme will cover over 10,000 houses in Scotland.  Other actions highlighted include extending the central heating programme and other energy assistance measures to carers from 30 November this year and the initiation of a universal insulation programme to cover over 200,000 houses throughout Scotland in its early years.

Concentrating on fuel poverty also allowed the Cabinet Secretary to point up the difference that could be made in independent Scotland.  “If Scotland had control over all of our energy resources we could:  bring every house in Scotland up to the standard in Scandinavia and eliminate fuel poverty in Scotland.”

Again, expect to hear more on these lines – hints and tints of the brave new world that can be delivered with independence – throughout the weekend.  Indeed, the Depute First Minister continued to develop this theme in her speech – which suggests that while the other parties are caught up in the process, the SNP is already whirring away in the backrooms working out its narrative to sell independence and its merits to the nation.