With a pledge to continue its Council Tax freeze for two years and a challenge to Westminster over the economy and jobs, the Scottish National Party (http://www.snp.org/) - which presides over a minority administration at Holyrood - has made a bid to reclaim the ground that it has lost to the Labour Party in Scotland in recent months.
Labour now holds a poll lead of 10 per cent, and the SNP has faced internal and external accusations of losing its way over its long-term 'independence within Europe' stance, having scrapped the vote on an independence referendum among MSPs.
But the party's election campaign manager, Angus Robertson MP, leading off a debate on jobs, economic growth and social justice at the SNP's annual conference, said that the opposition of "the London parties" to letting Scotland’s people choose their constitutional future showed that only the SNP offered a better way out of the cuts being imposed by the Westminster government.
He declared: “Independence is the means to allow Scotland to take decisions that will improve the lives of families, communities and individuals across Scotland. With independence this country will have the ability to solve our own problems and to make the most of the very many opportunities open to all of us. It will allow us to build a stronger nation and a better future for us all. To create jobs, grow the economy and deliver social justice."
Mr Robertson continued: "By failing to let Scotland’s people choose their own constitutional future the London-based parties have placed themselves on the side of the debate which leaves them as the harbingers of cuts, job losses and economic doom."
“On the one hand we have a Tory/LibDem pact which can only impose ‘savage’ cuts in the words of Nick Clegg; and on the other we have Labour proposing cuts ‘deeper and tougher’ than Thatcher," he told the SNP faithful meeting in Perth.
“Instead of this depressing view of a decade of Westminster cuts started by the Labour party, the SNP is setting out a vision where taking responsibility for our own money and resources from Westminster can offer us a better way out of the financial crisis.
“Independence will mean a strong, new relationship between Scotland and the rest of the UK. It will create a partnership of equals - a social union of peoples to replace the current politicians’ union.”
The SNP's South of Scotland MSP, Christine Grahame, talked about the potential to mitigate the cuts through Scotland having responsibility for the oil revenues off the coast of Scotland.
She said: “Why should oil rich Scotland suffer the indignity of London imposed cuts when we are providing so much revenue to the Treasury in North Sea oil revenues?
“The Norwegians have prudently ploughed oil revenues into an oil fund now worth hundreds of billions. Nobel Prize winner and former Chief Economist of the World Bank, Professor Josef Stiglitz, accused the UK government of ‘squandering’ our North Sea Oil wealth by failing to replicate this move.
“As we know, there is nearly as much oil wealth left in the seas off Scotland than has already been taken out. And with new oil discoveries there may be even more.
“That wealth can be used for the good of Scotland. To protect jobs and public services in Scotland against Westminster imposed cuts. But we need to have the responsibility to ensure we can do that and that independence offers us that better way.”
The other parties accuse the SNP of posturing, and say that poll after poll indicates that a majority of Scots want their country to remain part of the UK.
Critics also say that the party is strong on rhetoric but weak on concrete economic plans.
Until recently, the SNP Holyrood administration enjoyed strong public support and a lead in the polls.