Voting for a new Britain: Polls show SNP gaining on Labour

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The Independent Online
A SHIVER ran through Labour's Glasgow headquarters yesterday as, with just four days to go before Scotland's home-rule elections, polls showed the Nationalists closing the gap. By the end of the week history will be in the making as political parties begin horse-trading to form the first coalition government in Britain since the Second World War.

Labour remains anxious that the proportional representation voting system it devised will rebound against the party. Donald Dewar, the Scottish Secretary, yesterday emphasised the importance of supporters casting both their votes for Labour.

Opposition parties have had some success in persuading Scots that in Labour strongholds a second vote for the party is "wasted".

Two polls published yesterday showed the SNP gaining support after its mid-campaign slump, but one showed Labour just three seats away from an overall majority in the 129-seat Edinburgh parliament.

The closing 72 hours of the campaign will see Alex Salmond, the SNP leader, continuing the meet-the-people drive he thinks has restored the party's popularity. Mr Dewar will follow suit with a whirlwind tour of 30 constituencies.

Mr Dewar's personal rating has soared as Mr Salmond's has fallen. After weeks of tearing into the SNP over tax and the cost of independence, Labour is keen to accentuate the positive - portraying Mr Dewar as decent, trustful, and committed to public services.

"Nat bashing" remains the preserve of Gordon Brown, the Chancellor, who said Labour's "agenda for change" would bring substantial reforms by Christmas, whereas the SNP wanted "divorce" by Christmas. In its first 200 days, Labour would reduce NHS waiting lists by 10,000, set up a drugs enforcement agency, introduce a Scottish education Act, establish a labour market unit to cut jobless figures and begin the First Steps initiative to tackle child poverty, he said. "Our campaign, therefore, is not against the Union, it is against unemployment. Our first priority is not an attack on Westminster, it is an attack on poverty. Our main concern is not a separate Scotland, it is a socially just Scotland."

Mr Salmond said the "mood music" was of growing support for the SNP. Tonight the party's star asset, Sean Connery, will appeal to patriotic sentiment in an election broadcast. He will tell his countrymen they are voting for their future. "The only thing left to do is to vote and vote again, and I will be right with you," says the Bahamas-based actor.

The likelihood remains that Scotland's new administration will be a coalition led by Mr Dewar, with a couple of Liberal Democrats in his Cabinet. The polls suggest Jim Wallace, the Liberal Democrat leader, will not hit his target of 16 seats in the parliament but will hold the balance of power.

Abolition of tuition fees for Scots students in all UK universities will be at the top of Mr Wallace's negotiating list.

An ICM poll for Scotland on Sunday predicted Labour winning 57 seats, with the SNP 41, Tories 17, the Liberal Democrats 13 and the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP) one. But a Mori poll for the Sunday Herald found support for Labour translating into 62 seats, SNP 45, Lib Dems 12, Tories nine and others - probably the SSP - with one.