THE SNP's special conference will go ahead this year to thrash out the future independence strategy after it was postponed following Nicola Sturgeon's resignation, The National has been told. 

In the wake of the Supreme Court ruling that Scotland could not hold a referendum without Westminster's permission, and that Holyrood did not have the powers to legislate for one, the First Minister announced her preference would be a de facto referendum at the next General Election.

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At a press conference following the judgment, Sturgeon said she wanted to take the issue to the SNP membership, and a special one-day conference was set to be held in Edinburgh on March 19.

However, with just over four weeks to go before it was due to take place, Sturgeon announced her intention to stand down as party leader and FM, sparking a leadership contest set to last five weeks. 

We told how insiders in the party feared any postponement would kill the de facto referendum plan, while others said it was "mad" to hold the summit while a leadership race was underway.

And now, The National has been told that the special conference has been pushed back and will be held instead in late Spring or early summer. 

The National: Giugliano said the SNP's focus should be on the leadership electionGiugliano said the SNP's focus should be on the leadership election

SNP policy development convener Tony Giugliano confirmed the news this afternoon and it is understood SNP members were due to be informed of the details via email on Friday. 

Speaking to The National, Giugliano said the decision was a "matter of sequencing" following a meeting of the party's National Executive Committee (NEC) on Thursday night. 

He said: “We need to allow the leadership contests to take place in a full and comprehensive manner.

“I think that is where the party's focus right now is, electing a new leader. 

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“And actually, I'm not convinced that's been a lot of people's focus quite yet because I don't think that people have really processed the fact that Nicola’s stood down.”

The policy convener pointed out that SNP leaders have been “dominating figures” in Scottish politics and the sudden stepping down of Sturgeon has “huge implications for the party and movement”. 

He said: “We need to get this right in terms of who comes next, who succeeds Nicola and I'm not sure that everyone has quite processed that reality. 

“The leadership contest has to be a priority right now and we need to find the leader that will take us on to independence.”

“With all sincerity, we need to get this right,” he added. 

Giugliano pointed out that the NEC motion the special conference was due to consider was driven by former party leader Sturgeon, and written with deputy leader Keith Brown and SNP President Mike Russell.

He explained: “Inevitably there would be a fresh NEC resolution proposed by the new leadership to be fully debated and amended by the membership.

“I would urge members to hold on to the amendments and contributions they have worked so hard on over the past few months because we shouldn’t lose that, we shouldn’t lose that energy.

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“There will be opportunities for branches to present their resolutions and amendments again, it’s a matter of just putting that work aside for a couple of months, it won’t be lost.”

Postponing the summit until after the leadership election concluded will also give the party and the candidates a bit of space to work out the details of how to move forward with independence, an issue likely to be “front and centre” of the contest, Giugliano added. 

He explained: “Can you imagine that you had both things happening at the same time? The Unionist press would have an absolute field day with a situation where you could have a candidate proposing a strategy that is in direct contrast with what the conference has agreed.

The National: Nicola Sturgeon announced her resignation on Wednesday triggering a leadership contestNicola Sturgeon announced her resignation on Wednesday triggering a leadership contest

“It would not be helpful in the slightest and that's why it's a matter of sequencing.”

He insisted the leadership contest should be a priority for the party and command its “utmost attention”.

Giugliano added: “Then the party can have a full debate once we have a leader in place.

“It's also in respect of the candidates that are coming forward. 

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“We've just had the First Minister talking about the brutality of politics and why we would want to make life incredibly difficult for our candidates coming forward on that basis is beyond me.

“Let's do this properly.”

It is understood the special conference will likely be a one-day event as previously planned, with further details set to come.