Party division

Forbes to miss SNP conference amid more splits

Kate Forbes
Kate Forbes sitting on the backbenches

Kate Forbes, who was narrowly beaten to the leadership of the SNP, will miss the party’s conference for the first time since becoming an MSP.

Ms Forbes, the former Finance Secretary, said she will be attending “longstanding engagements” in the United States arranged before the conference dates were announced.

However, her absence will fuel talk of further division in the party and emerges after the crushing Rutherglen and Hamilton West byelection defeat and as SNP MP Lisa Cameron stunned Scottish politics by defecting to the Conservative party.

Ahead of what could be a fractious party conference, some SNP figures have called for Ms Forbes to be installed as Deputy First Minister in order to restore unity.

Alex Neil, the former health secretary, urged First Minister and party leader Humza Yousaf to appoint his leadership rival to the post, while Geoff Aberdein, a former adviser to Alex Salmond, said Mr Yousaf should move “heaven and earth” to bring her back into the cabinet.

Splits have also emerged over the SNP’s independence strategy and its power-sharing agreement with the Scottish Greens.

A spokesman for Ms Forbes, MSP for Skye, Lochaber & Badenoch in 2016, said: “She will be following the conference online and is looking forward to the first minister’s keynote address, along with other important contributions from members.”

Craig Hoy, the Scottish Conservative chairman, said: “Who can blame Kate Forbes for staying as far away as possible from the SNP conference when she looks at the chaos, division and scandal gripping the party? She must be counting her blessings she avoided the poisoned chalice Nicola Sturgeon handed to Humza Yousaf.”

A Labour spokeswoman said: “In common with many others within the SNP, Kate Forbes appears to be putting as much distance between herself and the party conference as she possibly can. The state they are in, can you blame them?”

Mr Yousaf is proposing a further revision of his terms for demanding talks on independence. Along with Westminster leader Stephen Flynn, the First Minister signed a motion declaring the party would begin independence negotiations if it won merely the “most” seats. This will now be changed ahead of the upcoming conference to the “majority” of seats.

Pamela Nash, chief executive of Scotland in Union, said: “Whether it’s most seats, the majority of seats, or just many seats, the SNP’s de facto referendum plan is downright dangerous.”

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