Scottish political parties made final election-eve pleas to undecided voters on Wednesday as the latest opinion polls suggested the Scottish National party's lead over Labour was narrowing
Most polls during the campaign have given the SNP a lead sufficient to make the Nationalists the biggest single party but well short of the 65 needed to deliver an overall majority at Holyrood.
But the two polls published on Wednesday suggested the outcome of the bitterly contested campaign was finely balanced.
A Populus poll for the Times said the SNP was on course to win 45 seats, with 43 for Labour, 23 for the Liberal Democrats, 17 for the Conservatives and one for the Greens. This would make a coalition possible between the SNP and the Liberal Democrats – and just about achievable for Labour and the Liberal Democrats. An ICM poll for the Guardian and Scotsman also showed signs that Labour’s all-out assault on the SNP had begun to bear fruit.
It suggested the SNP would have 43 seats – just one more than Labour – while the Liberal Democrats would take 23, the Tories 17, the Greens one, and others three.
Jack McConnell, Labour's first minister, thought the race was now “neck and neck, very close, with thousands of people still to make up their minds”. He urged voters to come home to Labour and not to put their families’ future at risk. “The risk to Scotland and the cost to families are too great for people to let the SNP win," he said. “I don't want people to wake up on Friday wishing that they voted Labour and having to live with the consequences of the SNP and their plans for separation.”
In Edinburgh, Gordon Brown said the night before John Smith, the Labour leader, died in 1994, he had told the British people that all he asked for was the opportunity to serve.
Mr Brown said: “As Scotland goes to the polls, all I ask is the opportunity to serve the Scottish people, with a Labour government in Westminster working with a Labour-led Scottish parliament.”
Alex Salmond, SNP leader, said this was the first time in Scottish political history that the SNP had led Labour on the eve of an election. It was also the first time in 50 years that Labour’s hegemony had been seriously challenged in Scotland.
He said: “What we have seen over the last few weeks and months is that the SNP’s overwhelmingly positive campaign is succeeding over Labour's unremittingly negative campaign. That’s why we are maintaining our lead in this final and crucial stage of the election.”
Nicol Stephen leader of the Lib Dems, visited Dunfermline, scene of a sensational victory by his party over Labour last year in a by-election to Westminster. He then travelled on to Gordon in north-east Scotland where Mr Salmond is hoping to unseat the Lib Dems.