What hot topics will dominate the SNP party conference? It's not just Scottish independence

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The SNP's annual party conference will be held from this weekend with the fate of Brexit looming in the balance.

But just what will be the key topics debated by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and the rest of the party's heavyweights across three days in Aberdeen starting from Sunday?

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon

Here are the expected talking points:

The timing of an independence referendum

Ms Sturgeon issued a warning on the eve of the party conference to SNP rebels, ruling out a 'wildcat' Scottish independence referendum. With the clock ticking on Brexit negotiations, her stance will make the timing of indyref2 of utmost importance to party members.

Ms Sturgeon had previously wanted to hold indyref2 in the "second half of 2020", but has had to downplay that possibility as Brexit has dragged out.

Liberal Democrats leader Jo Swinson talks to younger students at the University of Strathclyde

Liberal Democrats leader Jo Swinson talks to younger students at the University of Strathclyde

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The SNP's hierarchy will be under pressure to set out some sort of achievable timeline for the referendum - and the conference looms as an ideal time for the party's leader to launch a game-changing strategy on both Brexit and indyref2.

Will Ms Sturgeon be that bold - or will she simply promise that independence will be "front and centre" of the SNP's manifesto for a general election. Watch this space.

The Jo Swinson challenge

Are the resurgent Liberal Democrats, under Scottish MP Jo Swinson as leader, a legitimate threat to the SNP north of the Border in an election? That will be a subject debated at the party conference.

READ MORE: SNP leader demands BBC 'rectify gross imbalance' towards Jo Swinson's Liberal Democrats

Ms Swinson has firmly thrown her hat into the pro-Remain camp on Brexit, much like the SNP, but has set herself at odds with the opposition party by being firmly against a second Scottish independence referendum.

SNP depute leader Keith Brown has already thrown down the gauntlet by pointing towards the high number of guest slots given to the LibDems by the BBC last month compared to the SNP.

Expect some strong language from Ms Sturgeon about her Scottish counterpart as they Nationalists go on the verbal attack against the LibDems - and for the First Minister to unleash on the leadership of Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

The climate emergency

The SNP have been branded "hypocrites" in some quarters for this week voted in favour of transport legislation that will allow Scottish councils to introduce a workplace parking tax.

The 'hypocrite' tag has been linked to the party's £1.3 million spend on ministerial limousines, while SNP and Scottish Green MSPs have claimed more than £300,000 in car-related costs and taxi journeys in the past three years.

The SNP have been separately accused of accepting a five-figure sum from Heathrow for a corporate lounge and advertisement at their conference in Aberdeen despite officially voicing their opposition to a third runway at the London transport hub.

It all adds up to a pressing need for the SNP to sell their green credentials at the party conference.

Expect Ms Sturgeon to follow up her 'climate emergency' declaration from April with more bold language on the climate change battle - and possibly even more announcements on how the party will tackle emissions and pollution.

Hospital and health woes

This is one that should be top of the SNP's agenda - but will it be swept under the carpet?

Health secretary Jeane Freeman was last month forced to announce a public inquiry into the scandals involving two of the country's flagship hospitals - the new Sick Kids in Edinburgh and Glasgow's Queen Elizabeth University Hospital.

She has vowed that patient safety is her "top priority", but the message has come against the backdrop of major question marks over the party's record on health.

Even Mr Johnson said last month: “They [the SNP] have the highest taxes anywhere in the UK. They are not doing a good job on health, they are not doing a good job on education."

Will the SNP attempt to meet the criticism head on at their party conference by unveiling or outlining a fresh strategy on health? The answer could be telling.

Drug deaths

The second item on the party conference's official agenda is about drug policy and could form a centrepiece of the SNP's message and pre-election pitch.

More than 1,000 people died from drug-related deaths in Scotland last year, but the UK Government have repeatedly blocked calls for drug consumption rooms to be opened in Glasgow and other parts of Scotland.

MP Tommy Sheppard will speak on the topic and will call for drug legislation to be devolved to the Scottish Government. Expect some tough talk on tackling what is viewed as a major health crisis.