SNP conference 'will give message of inclusion and hope'

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SNP leaders have pledged their party conference will give voters a stark contrast to the "narrow-minded xenophobia" of the Tories and "rank incompetence and feuding" within Labour.

Nationalist business convener Derek Mackay said the conference would send out a "message of inclusion and hope in troubling times".

It comes after almost two-thirds of Scots who voted in June's referendum backed remaining part of the European Union, putting the country at odds with the UK result.

The vote for Brexit prompted First Minister Nicola Sturgeon to warn a second independence referendum was "highly likely".

Ms Sturgeon is expected to focus on Scotland's relationship with the EU when she gives her keynote address to the conference in Glasgow on Saturday 15.

She will also outline her policy priorities at Holyrood, where the SNP has been in power for almost a decade.

The conference comes after the annual gatherings of the UK Labour and Conservative parties.

Mr Mackay said: "Following Theresa May's Ukip-style rally and Labour, astonishingly, choosing to ignore Brexit, the SNP conference will counter the nasty, divisive rhetoric from the Tories.

"Scotland is an open, tolerant and welcoming nation, and our priority is making this a better country for everyone who lives here, regardless of where they come from.

"This party's conference will be a message of inclusion and hope in troubling times, following a Tory conference marked by narrow-minded xenophobia and a Labour one mired in rank incompetence and feuding."

Mr Mackay, the Scottish Government's Finance Secretary, said: "Our number one priority remains improving our schools and delivering more opportunities for Scotland's young people - and we have an ambitious programme to tackle the attainment gap while also keeping our economy and public services moving forward."

He continued: "On the EU, Scotland voted overwhelmingly to remain in Europe and the Tories have no mandate to pursue the hardest of hard Brexits - something which their manifesto pledged would not happen and a promise which they should now be held to.

"They should also, without any further delay, guarantee the rights of EU citizens living in Scotland and the rest of the UK, and end the disgraceful use of human beings as bargaining chips.

"We will not let the Tories ride roughshod over Scotland's democratic will on Europe.

"Scotland's voice will be heard louder than ever before - and only the SNP are capable of standing up to the most reactionary right-wing Tory government in modern times."

The SNP conference will also see the announcement of the party's new depute leader after Stewart Hosie quit the role following allegations about his private life.

Four candidates are in the running to replace him - SNP Westminster leader Angus Robertson, fellow MP Tommy Sheppard, MEP Alyn Smith and Inverclyde councillor Chris McEleny.