By Peter Wozniak

The Scottish National Party (SNP) has gathered in Perth for its annual conference – with all focus on crucial Holyrood elections next year.

The party is considering extending its freeze on council tax as a key plank of its campaign strategy.

The move is designed to separate the SNP from their nearest rivals in Scotland, Labour, with a popular policy to “protect families”.

The nationalists begin their last annual conference in government at Holyrood before elections without the presence of their leader Alex Salmond, who is in Delhi visiting the Commonwealth Games.

The first minister will however deliver a video message to supporters highlighting the party’s achievements since forming a minority administration three years ago.

Mr Salmond said in a party political broadcast released today: “Over the past three years much has been achieved. Hospital waiting times are at a record low. Police numbers are at a record high.

“And we’ve frozen the council tax every year to protect family incomes. Labour want to put the council tax up again, we say protect family budgets instead.”

However the raison d’être of the SNP, severing Scotland from the UK, is of notable absence from that list.

The party’s repeated attempts to force a referendum on independence through the Scottish parliament have been frustrated by an alliance of all three other main Scottish parties – Labour, the Lib Dems and the Tories.

The devolved elections next May will be a key sign of how the public are reacting to the cuts programme emanating from Westminster.