VOTING FOR A NEW BRITAIN`Paying more tax than England is silly'

Voters' Panel: Linlithgow

Margaret Kean, 53, runs bakery

Leaning towards Labour. "I would not like a separate Scotland, because I'm Scottish first but British second. In our history we have fought too long to unite our country to break it up now. I have not been happy with SNP policies. The idea of paying more tax than in England is silly."

Ronald Mcleod, 70, lollipop man

SNP. "Labour has never done anything for us. Maybe the SNP can do something now. The politician who impressed me most until a couple of weeks ago was Alex Salmond. But I don't like his policy on troops in Kosovo."

Margaret Mary Stevenson, 30, accountant for US bank

SNP. "I support independence within Europe, because countries of a similar size, like Denmark have benefited. Alex Salmond has most impressed me, except for his remarks over Kosovo. I'm happy to pay more tax if it improves local services."

Stephen Chambers, 22, chef

May not vote. "The least impressive leader has been Alex Salmond, whose comments on Kosovo were a wee bit out of order. I don't think it would be fair to have to pay more tax here than in England."

Fiona Kearns, 31, interior designer

Undecided. "I have never had any interest in politics before and I have no idea who I will vote for. I'm not sure on tax or independence, but I hope the parliament will be able to focus more on Scottish issues like health and welfare."

Edwin Morton, 59, runs small construction firm

Conservative. "I always vote Conservative, because they do most for small business. I support a Scottish Parliament and I voted for it. On tax, I would be quite happy to pay an extra penny if we got what Alex Salmond promises. But I was very disappointed in what he said about the war."

Julie Tierney, 18, trainee hairdresser

Probably Labour. "I don't want us to be linked to England anymore. We should be able to decide what we want. But I wouldn't vote SNP because one of the SNP people here is in the Orange Lodge. None of my Catholic friends could vote for them."

Sheena Woodhouse, 57, runs bookshop

Probably Liberal Democrat.

"It's time that things were seen from a Scottish point of view. I don't support New Labour - if it were a bit more Old Labour, then perhaps. They seem to be Conservatives in disguise."

John Brownlie, 26, textile company supervisor

SNP, but may change. "I'm glad we have a parliament if it means bringing jobs to Scotland. Independence is all very well, but I'm worried about tax. Salmond shouldn't have said what he said about Kosovo."

Jennifer Morgan, 30, accountant

Conservative. "If I could see some way of voting tactically I would do it to stop the SNP because independence is bad for Scotland. Also my husband is English and the current mood of nationalism makes it more difficult for him to fit in."

Jack O'Sullivan

IF THE SNP is to have any chance of gaining control of the Scottish Parliament on 6 May, it must win Linlithgow. This birthplace of Mary, Queen of Scots, and home of the SNP leader, Alex Salmond, is full of political symbolism and also provides a parliamentary seat for maverick Labour MP Tam Dalyell, long-time opponent of devolution.

The Independent interviewed a group of voters, chosen at random, and will return as the campaign progresses to see if the voters' views change. A close race between Labour and the SNP is in prospect.

This is commuter land, half-way between Edinburgh and Glasgow. Unemployment is low. It appears safe Labour territory - Mr Dalyell collected 54 per cent of the votes in the 1997 general election. However, the local West Lothian council was until recently SNP-controlled and voters are well- versed in switching preferences.

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