Politics: Anti-bombing Salmond hits an all-time low with voters

New Assemblies: Scotland and Wales manifestos unveiled
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The Independent Online
LEADERSHIP was a key issue in the Scottish Parliament elections yesterday as Alex Salmond, leader of the SNP, struggled to put a brave face on an ICM poll showing his personal standing with the electorate has hit an all-time low.

Mr Salmond has learnt the hard way that the public does not like party leaders criticising a war effort when our forces are involved. A quarter of Scots polled said Mr Salmond's condemnation of the Nato bombing of Yugoslavia made them less likely to vote SNP.

In a choice of best First Minister of the home rule government, 55 per cent of respondents picked Donald Dewar, the Scottish Secretary, and only 25 per cent opted for Mr Salmond. Last year the two were level.

Mr Salmond brushed aside suggestions that his Kosovo broadcast had rebounded and dismissed claims of a rift with his closest adviser, Mike Russell, party chief executive. "There have been some daft stories but that was the daftest I have seen so far," he said.

Mr Dewar has unveiled Labour's manifesto for the 6 May election. Last week Tony Blair and Gordon Brown hogged the stage in Scotland. "Scotland leading Britain" is the party's Unionist message. The manifesto was largely a rehash of promises already made, focusing on education, and could have been implemented without a devolved parliament.

Mr Dewar's initial act as First Minister would be an "education for a nation" Act, introducing community schools, more computers, a nursery place for all children aged three and four, with "proper rewards" for the best teachers.

He announced a new statutory duty on ministers and local authorities to meet targets for school performances, warning: "If the Education Minister doesn't make the grade, he or she won't be the Education Minister."

Labour was believed to have brought its manifesto launch forward by 24 hours so it would not overshadowed by grim news for Glasgow today.

The Norwegian conglomerate Kvaerner is expected to close its Govan shipyard and Clydebank engineering company with the probable loss of up to 2,000 jobs. Mr Dewar said "far more" jobs had been created than lost since Labour came to power and the claimant count in Scotland was at its lowest since 1977.

The poll, for The Scotsman, showed Labour winning 60 seats in the 129- member parliament, the SNP 42, Liberal Democrats 16 and Tories 11.

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