FORMER leadership candidate and finance minister Kate Forbes is to miss the SNP conference for the first time since becoming an MSP.

Forbes stated that “longstanding engagements” in the United States arranged before the conference dates were set would keep her away from Aberdeen, where the annual event is set to kick off on Sunday.

A spokesman for Forbes told The Times: “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.”

The veteran MSP Fergus Ewing – who was recently suspended from the SNP group at Holyrood for seven days – has also announced he will not be attending the event.

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He said the conference “isn’t really what it used to be” and warned the party faced a “very serious decline” if Humza Yousaf didn’t change direction.

Forbes was one of the nine SNP MSPs who voted against suspension for Ewing and stood by him as he spoke to reporters after the vote, where he claimed that he no longer believed the party were “putting the interests of the people of Scotland first”.

He has previously said that the decision to elect Humza Yousaf as leader and not Kate Forbes “was the biggest mistake the SNP have ever made”.

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Craig Hoy, the chairman of the Scottish Conservatives, 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.”

It comes after the MP Dr Lisa Cameron defected from the SNP to the Tories on Thursday.