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Independence debate will hinge on SNP's performance

12 August 2007

Gavin Yates (Edinburgh, GYmedia): As Neal Ascherson points out on OK, the first 80 days of the SNP administration has got off to a positive start. He also posts about the strong polling results that the party has achieved ahead of the independence white paper that its government is due to publish next week. This will have a series of options short of full independence in Europe. These will include bolstering the powers of Holyrood and starting to get responsibility at Holyrood for broadcasting, and other issues.

There is already a long and impressive list of SNP achievements in its first days as Neal sets out. Now the opposition is likely to push the Executive on more of its manifesto commitments. The SNP's strategy must be to show that they can run Scotland sustainably. Policy announcements are easy to make. Funding them is more difficult, a fact that the impressive Finance Secretary John Swinney will be more than aware of. SNP ministers and special advisors are already working on the potential outcomes of their spending review. But they will have a difficult task dampening claims on the budget from some of his colleagues.

For example, this week, Kenny MacAskill the Justice Secretary has announced some positive policies on victim impact statements and a notification scheme for victims of serious crime. But neither scheme is revenue neutral and when you add the cost of the 1,000 police officers that formed part of the SNP manifesto plus other pledges... then there will have to be cuts elsewhere.

Meanwhile, Labour find themselves still stuck in a post -electoral malaise with a lame-duck leader. Jack McConnell is expected to resign in the next week or so but the new leader will have to inject some positives into the party if it is to rise above its current 32 per cent..

The former Labour MSP and Health Minister, Susan Deacon, told the Herald that Labour had failed to develop any platform and said: "Labour has to develop a more positive narrative that defines it as a party and Scotland in a UK context. I fail to understand why it was thought an effective strategy during the election to take such a negative stance and scaremonger about what would happen if the SNP were elected."

There is no chance of Labour carrying out her advice soon. What the impact would be on a snap general election is hard to tell. Labour's core vote in Scotland seems to be holding (unlike the Tories and the Lib-Dems whose supporters are delighted with an effective alternative). Would Scotland vote SNP against Brown in a British election? At any rate, the SNP are riding high but the debate on independence is far from over. Public support for it is not there yet, and its economic realities will be judged in part on the economic viability and consequences of Salmond's vigorous start.

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