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.