THE SNP's conference is to take place online once more when the party gathers next month.

It is the fourth time Nicola Sturgeon's party has held a party conference virtually since the start of the pandemic.

The decision may not be popular with some members wanting to push the party leadership on their strategy and timing for holding a second independence referendum.

"It's easier to silence dissent when conference is online," one SNP activist told The National.

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But the party said the decision was to "keep people safe, protect our NHS, reduce our carbon footprint and make the entire conference more accessible".

Earlier this month the Scottish Greens held their conference in person with the UK Conservatives and Labour doing likewise last month.

The SNP annual conference from November 26 to 29 also comes after the precedent of COP26 taking place in Glasgow from October 31 to November 12 when 30,000 delegates meet for the event in Scotland's largest city.

In September, the SNP held a conference online over the same weekend that Alex Salmond's Alba held its inaugural conference in person in Greenock Town Hall.

The SNP held its annual conference last November and this year's September conference online. It also held a campaign conference in  April this year online.

An SNP spokesman said: "For the time being, in order to keep everyone safe, protect our NHS, reduce our carbon footprint and make the entire conference more accessible, we will continue to host conference online."

The First Minister has warned that the NHS in Scotland is facing its worse winter as Covid infections continue to be high and as the service tries to catch up with a backlog of patient treatment paused earlier in the pandemic.

Over the weekend Humza Yousaf said that “of course” there will be an increase in coronavirus as a result of the COP26 climate change summit descending on Glasgow next month.

The Health Secretary said there was “absolutely a risk of Covid cases rising thereafter”, but said the Scottish Government would do all it could to keep them to a minimum.

Last week, the Government’s public health adviser Professor Devi Sridhar of Edinburgh University warned COP26 was likely to trigger a spike in infections.

She said the arrival of around 25,000 people from around the world would “make Covid worse for Scotland” and “increase the risk of further restrictions”.