Scottish independence off agenda at SNP conference

SNP members will not have a chance to debate the issue of Scottish independence at the party's forthcoming conference, after Nicola Sturgeon shelved her plans for a referendum earlier this year.

Picture: John Devlin

The agenda shows that while there will be debates on policies such as increasing the age at which people can join the Armed Forces to 18, independence will not be discussed in the main hall.

Holyrood’s opposition parties claimed that the omission was “deeply embarrassing” for the First Minister and accused the SNP of trying to “rewrite history”.

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The full agenda for the party’s autumn conference, which is due to be held in Glasgow between Sunday and Tuesday, has been published on the SNP’s website.

Debates will be held on the decriminalisation of drugs, a ban on nuclear weapons and funding for the royal family, but not the economy, taxes, schools or the NHS.

In her foreword, Ms Sturgeon also makes no reference to either Brexit or independence, despite saying in the wake of the EU referendum result that a re-run of 2014’s vote was “highly likely”.

In June the First Minister announced a “reset” of her plans for a referendum by spring 2019, acknowledging that public anger over the issue was partly what caused the SNP to lose 21 seats at the general election.

Independence will still be discussed on the fringes of the conference, with the Institute of Economic Affairs hosting a meeting entitled “economic myths and opportunities for an independent Scotland”.

The agenda also confirms that Angus Robertson is staying on as depute leader of the SNP despite losing his seat to the Conservatives at the general election.

Mr Robertson, who was defeated by Douglas Ross in Moray, is set to give an address before the First Minister. A party spokesman said he “remains the depute leader”, pointing out that the SNP constitution says the role can be held by any member.

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Scottish Labour MSP James Kelly said the lack of any debate on independence was “deeply embarrassing” for the SNP.

He added: “Nicola Sturgeon’s doomed drive for a divisive second independence referendum has been killed stone dead by the people of Scotland. Now the SNP seems determined to rewrite history and pretend that never happened.

“Perhaps the nationalists should discuss how the SNP has left our NHS on life-support, our schools below the grade and our economy flat-lining instead.”

Scottish Liberal Democrat MSP Alex Cole-Hamilton added: “Just as Momentum saved Jeremy Corbyn’s blushes by keeping Brexit off the agenda, the SNP have stage-managed this conference to avoid embarrassing Nicola Sturgeon over the loss of seats brought about by her insistence on an unwanted and unwelcome second independence referendum.”

But SNP MSP Clare Haughey hit back, saying the SNP’s members understood that it “is and will always be” the party of independence for Scotland.

She added: “This is laughable stuff from Labour, who ducked a debate on Brexit, the biggest issue facing the country, at their own conference – and from the Lib Dems, whose hypocrisy on referendums is jaw-dropping.

“We’ll get on with making progress while our opponents continue to implode in bitter infighting and embarrass themselves with carping from the sidelines.”