MORE than 50 international diplomats are to attend the SNP conference this week ahead of next year’s independence referendum.
Officials from embassies and consulates of major world powers such as the United States, Russia, Japan and Germany are among the guests, with the number of diplomats at the conference more than three times higher than those attending last year’s gathering. More than 20 nations are to be represented at the event in Perth, where the party is holding its last annual conference ahead of the referendum on 18 September next year.
Also represented at the event is Canada, where several referendums have been held on whether the French-speaking Quebec region should be an independent nation – all of which have been against separation.
Party chiefs have said the increase in diplomatic attendance at the four-day conference is a “reflection of the interest around the world in Scotland’s referendum”.
The SNP government has insisted that an independent Scotland would be a full members of international institutions such as the European Union and defence alliance Nato.
Alex Salmond sent a team of officials to meet Nato representatives at the Brussels HQ of the alliance earlier this year.
Nationalist officials revealed yesterday that three American diplomats would be at this week’s party conference, with the US embassy in London and the nation’s consulate in Edinburgh both represented.
The move comes after Robin Naysmith, Mr Salmond’s representative in North America, made visits to Washington to keep members of Congress and senators fully informed about the independence debate.
The 50 diplomats at the conference also include representatives from the China, Italy, Spain, Norway, Russia, France, Cyprus, Austria, Turkey, Australia, Malawi, Nigeria, Finland, Cuba, the Netherlands, Slovenia, Belgium, Poland and Qatar.
An SNP spokesman confirmed that the guestlist represented an increase of 35 on the 15 diplomats at the annual conference last year, when the party voted to scrap its opposition to Nato membership.
The party spokesman said: “We are delighted to be welcoming representatives from so many countries to our annual conference this week.
“The number of diplomats attending this year is a clear reflection of the interest around the world in Scotland’s referendum and the decision that people living here will make next year.”
AN SNP government in an independent Scotland is likely to face opposition from the US and other Nato members over its plans to remove the UK government’s nuclear missiles from Faslane.
Pro-Union campaigners insisted the increase in diplomats at SNP conference did not reflect backing for the party’s independence plans.
Conservative MSP Alex Johnstone said: “The SNP is playing at fantasy politics and is promoting a serious misrepresentation of the reasons for the high diplomatic attendance at the party’s conference.
“There is of course intense interest in Scotland’s future status ahead of next year’s referendum, but the idea the attendance of these diplomats implies support for independence is a fantasy.
“There will be a widespread feeling among the diplomats that they wish the independence issue would just go away.”
A spokesman from the anti-independence Better Together campaign said the SNP’s hosting of 50 diplomats would not boost support for a Yes vote in next year’s referendum.
The campaign’s spokesman said: “This is typical of the Nationalists.
“They get themselves all worked up into a frenzy because people from other parts of the world are interested in the referendum.
“Their problem is not interesting diplomats from overseas, it is convincing the people of Scotland that going it alone would be better for our jobs, our pensions and our taxes.
“This is something that cannot and will not be able to do. The truth is that we are better and stronger together with our friends, families and workmates from across the UK.”