BBC On The Record - Broadcast: 22.09.02

Film: SCOTTISH NATIONAL PARTY. Gloria De Piero looks at why the SNP has not made more headway in the opinion polls.

GLORIA DE PIERO: This is the future home of the Scottish Parliament. The Scottish Nationalists had hoped that devolution could become the foundation stone of an independent nation. But all the indications are that when members take their seats here some time after next year's Scottish elections, the SNP will remain in Opposition. The Party is losing the battle with Labour. PETER JONES: The SNP went into the last elections in 1999 at the same sort of period before the elections as we are now - about ten points ahead of the Labour Party. But now since the election the Lab.., the SNP have essentially stuck around about you know between five and ten points behind the Labour Party. DE PIERO: And they only have eight months to go till the Scottish elections to improve their position. John Swinney was elected as leader of the SNP to reach beyond the minority of Scottish voters who regard independence as a priority. Two years into his leadership and the Party has failed to make the expected breakthrough in the polls. Instead of being a Braveheart, has he turned into a faint heart when it comes to standing up to the die-hard supporters of independence within his own ranks? John Swinney's election victory was supposed to herald a new era of Party modernisation, but critics now claim he hasn't delivered. They say his failure to talk more about public services and less about independence has cost him dearly. JONES: Independence is at most supported by about a third of the population and that's a big problem because you know if the SNP go into the next election talking about domestic agendas - you know, poverty and the health service and the opposition parties will drag it back to the question of independence, they'll talk about splits, divorces, the expense etc. DE PIERO: Photo opportunities in a hospital may not be enough to convince the Scottish people that the SNP will put public services first, particularly when limited resources would be stretched by the process of moving to independence. JONES: There are a lot of costs associated with independence. Some of them are, can be dealt with, others are more difficult, such as the uncertainty costs that would be created by the process of moving to independence. So the SNP is always vulnerable to the charge that just the single act of moving towards independence will cause such disruption that people will think it not worthwhile. DE PIERO: If the SNP is ever to have any hope of building an independent Scotland they need to get control of this place first. But by giving independence such a high priority, the Scottish Nationalists may never be able to get the votes they need to close the gap with Labour.
NB. This transcript was typed from a transcription unit recording and not copied from an original script. Because of the possibility of mis-hearing and the difficulty, in some cases, of identifying individual speakers, the BBC cannot vouch for its accuracy.