NICOLA Sturgeon is to emphasise the democratic need for Scots to have another referendum when she addresses the SNP conference today.

The First Minister is expected to tell delegates that “democracy must prevail”, and that Westminster should not have the power to decide Scotland’s constitutional future.

The SNP leader will speak to delegates online on the final day of the party’s virtual conference, where she is anticipated to set out her plan to hold another vote.

Ms Sturgeon has already said she aims to hold a referendum by the end of 2023, provided the country has recovered from the pandemic.

Yesterday her former adviser Andrew Wilson said the First Minsiter’s timeline for another vote was “ideal” but acknowledged it would be “hard work”.

Ms Sturgeon will tell her conference today: “My approach to government and to politics will be, as far as possible, co-operation not confrontation.

“The experience of the pandemic and the challenges we face as a result reinforces my view that this is the right approach.

“So it is in that spirit of co-operation that I hope the Scottish and UK governments can reach agreement - as we did in 2014 - to allow the democratic wishes of the people of Scotland to be heard and respected.”

She is then expected to tell those attending: “But, this much is clear. Democracy must - and will - prevail.

“The United Kingdom is after all a voluntary union of nations. Until recently no-one seriously challenged the right of the people in Scotland to choose whether or not they wished to become independent.

“Frankly it is not up to a Westminster government which has just six MPs in Scotland to decide our future without the consent of the people who live here.

“As an independent country, co-operation between Scotland and our friends across the rest of the UK will continue, but it will be on a better basis: Scotland will be an equal partner.”

It comes after her predecessor Alex Salmond was highly critical of Ms Sturgeon and the SNP during his conference speech yesterday.

Mr Salmond was addressing the first Alba party conference, when he suggested Ms Sturgeon had made “no progress” on another referendum.

He received a standing ovation at the end of his 30 minute speech, during which he mocked the SNP and his successor repeatedly while also telling Alba members not to attack the nationalist party.

He said that Brexit and the pandemic were no excuse to delay a vote, and said Scotland was in “groundhog day” under Ms Sturgeon.

Referencing the 1993 Bill Murray film, he said: “Bill Murray was only trapped for a few months. Scotland’s Referendum Groundhog Day has lasted six years.

“And now in the run up to the SNP virtual Conference we have the announcement this week that a reduced civil service team are going to be asked to start preparations for an independence White Paper… Wow, haud me back.”

The former First Minister mocked remarks made by Ms Sturgeon and her senior colleagues on the timeline of a referendum over the past five years.

Mr Salmond said: “These are not headlines drawn from the remarks of some overheated backbencher but from the First Minister, her Deputy, the SNP President and the leader of the Westminster Group.

“Is it any wonder that Westminster Tory politicians now seem pretty relaxed about any political challenge from Scotland?”

He has vowed to produce 100,000 copies of a new pamphlet in support of independence, and told members the party would be fundraising to pay for the new publication, called the ‘Alba wee book’.

Pamela Nash, head of the pro-union group Scotland in Union, agreed with Mr Salmond's comparions to the Groundhog Day film.

She said: "This is Groundhog Day yet again at SNP conference, with nationalist politicians only interested in talking about the constitution.

"The First Minister has clearly run out of ideas.

"If Nicola Sturgeon was serious about believing in co-operation, she would focus on making devolution work and using Holyrood’s powers to build a recovery for everyone.

"Instead, she is blindsided by her obsession with breaking up our country.

"Scotland deserves better than a government that prioritises division ahead of devolution."