May 1, 2011 10:19 pm

Polls say SNP will beat Labour

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Alex Salmond on the campaign trail

In song: Alex Salmond, first minister, on the campaign trail in the Scottish election. He has fought a presidential-style campaign, visiting key constituencies by helicopter

Alex Salmond’s Scottish National party is on course for victory over Labour in Thursday’s elections to Holyrood, according to opinion polls, though the nationalists’ lead has narrowed over the past week.

If Mr Salmond does win a second term as first minister, it will be a significant setback for Ed Miliband, the Labour leader, who had hoped victory in Scotland would mark a milestone in his party’s recovery from last year’s general election defeat.

But failure to win would prove even more toxic for Iain Gray, Scottish Labour’s leader, who will be blamed for throwing away the double-digit lead in the opinion polls his party had enjoyed over the nationalists for most of the past year.

A slick and upbeat Holyrood campaign by the SNP – primarily focused on the leadership offered by Mr Salmond – has so far outgunned Labour’s appeal to its core vote.

A Progressive Scottish Opinion poll in the Mail on Sunday shows the SNP leading Labour by 45 to 35 per cent in the constituency vote and by 41 per cent to 36 per cent on the proportional regional list, ending in a projected 11-seat lead over Labour.

The YouGov poll in Scotland on Sunday shows the SNP leading Labour by 42 to 34 per cent in the constituency vote, and by 35 to 33 per cent on the regional list, with a projected seven-seat lead.

Since the first televised debate of the campaign, Mr Salmond has easily outshone Mr Gray, who has struggled to raise his profile since he took Labour’s helm at Holyrood in 2008.

Even when the SNP was trailing Labour in the polls, Mr Salmond remained more popular than Mr Gray – a factor the nationalists have exploited by asking voters Who would best stand up to David Cameron and the UK coalition government as cuts bite?

The latest YouGov survey shows that asked to choose between the two, 56 per cent thought Mr Salmond would make the best first minister, compared with 27 per cent who chose Mr Gray.

Mr Salmond has been conducting a presidential-style campaign, frequently using a helicopter to visit key constituencies. His party’s regional list candidates appear on ballot papers under the slogan “SNP – Alex Salmond for first minister”.

The SNP’s Nicola Sturgeon, deputy first minister, said on Sunday: “Labour’s campaign is unremittingly negative, which is why it is failing.”

But Labour, which has been emphasising the danger of breaking the union, seized on a narrowing of the gap in support for the two parties over the past week, as well as a drop in backing for independence, to insist it was now “game on”.

John Park, Scottish Labour’s election co-ordinator, said: “Regardless how much he tries to hide it, everybody knows a vote for Alex Salmond is a vote for separation, and a vote for Labour is the only way to stop them.”

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