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Debate on approach to independence ends at SNP conference, Yousaf insists

The party will meet in Aberdeen this weekend, with its independence policy first on the agenda.

Scotland’s First Minister has urged his party to stop talking about the process of securing independence following its conference this weekend.

SNP delegates will meet in Aberdeen from Sunday, with the first priority being to decide the party’s approach to independence.

Members will debate the best way forward, with a motion tabled by Humza Yousaf and Westminster leader Stephen Flynn which would set a target of the SNP winning the most seats in Scotland at the next election being enough to trigger talks with the Westminster government about how to put that mandate into “democratic effect”.

Mr Yousaf has said he will be open to amendments to the motion and allow members to decide the best way forward.

But he urged the party to put an end to the argument after Sunday.

Speaking to the PA news agency, he said: “Let me be very frank about this, at conference once we’ve had that debate – and I’m sure in the best traditions of the SNP, it’ll be frank, it’ll be robust – that’s it. We’re done.

“You draw a line under that, I will fully accept whatever conference decides, even if it’s not my motion – I’m confident they will – but I will accept whatever conference decides.

“Everybody else must accept what conference decides.

“Once that is done, the talk about process is done.”

Despite support for independence hovering around 50% in the past few months, backing for the SNP has dropped, due in part to the party’s long-term discussions about how to achieve independence as opposed to the reasons for it, the First Minister said.

Humza Yousaf speaking at independence convention
The First Minister held an independence convention during the summer to invite views from members on the way forward (Jane Barlow/PA)

He added: “One of the things that is very clear to me why that link between independence supporters and the SNP is weakened, is because we are talking too much about process.

“People don’t understand why independence is relevant to their everyday lives; the cost-of-living crisis, the NHS and public services and the economy.

“We have to draw a line under it on Sunday, the party’s had the debate, it’s had its regional assemblies, it’s made a decision – let’s all get united behind it and let’s get on with talking about the policy, not the process.”

Mr Yousaf’s calls are aimed at a party struggling with internal divisions.

In recent months, senior party figures have hit out at the deal between the Scottish Government and the Scottish Greens, including Fergus Ewing, who was suspended from the party’s Holyrood group for a week following a series of rebellions.

Humza Yousaf
Humza Yousaf was speaking ahead of his first SNP conference as First Minister (Jane Barlow/PA)

Others have also rebelled on highly protected marine areas, gender reforms and the deposit return scheme.

Asked if he is setting himself up for more divisions after the debate on Sunday, the First Minister said: “I genuinely hope not.

“People can accuse me of a lot of things, but I can’t be accused of not letting the party have its say on the strategy.”

The First Minister pointed to the independence convention in Dundee during the summer as an example of allowing members to shape policy.

Ahead of his first conference since taking over the job from Nicola Sturgeon, the First Minister said he is both “excited” and “nervous”.

He added that conference is like a “very big family gathering”, although put to him that it could be considered a dysfunctional one given the ructions within the party, he said: “Every family has its awkward members.”

The conference comes as the Scottish Government also finds itself in a precarious financial position, with Deputy First Minister Shona Robison reporting earlier this year that the country faces a £1 billion black hole in its budget next year.

But even with the issues facing the country’s finances, Mr Yousaf said there will be some policy announcements in his keynote address to the conference on Tuesday, assuring members it will not be “just rhetoric”, and will include some “solid policy detail and vision”.

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