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Final campaign mission

Brian Taylor | 15:25 UK time, Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Polls and party intelligence both suggest that the SNP maintains a lead as we approach polling day in the Holyrood elections.

There is, of course, contention about the extent of that lead - and still greater contention about whether any such lead can be overturned.

Few, if any, believe that the gap is as wide as represented in the STV poll, broadcast last night in tandem with their debate.

But the general view is that the Nationalists have contrived to turn round a Labour advantage since the outset of the campaign.

The Tory response to this apparent eventuality has been to posit the likely return of Alex Salmond as FM - and their leader, Annabel Goldie, as his resident chaperone.

In the final days of the campaign, they have modified this somewhat to encompass more of a "plague on both your houses" message: arguing that they would counter "both Nationalism and Socialism" at Holyrood.

Perhaps they felt the original line was a little too concessionary towards the SNP. Perhaps they felt they needed to stress their Conservative roots as well as their Unionist ones.

Intriguingly, the Liberal Democrats have taken of late to mirroring the Labour argument: to the effect that the SNP in office would jeopardise economic recovery by their focus upon an independence referendum.

Nationalists acknowledge that the independence issue has been raised with them a mite more frequently - by those with potential concerns - since Labour began to focus upon it at the start of last week.

But they insist they counter this with the referendum, stressing that the issue of independence is not settled at this election but only determined by a subsequent plebiscite: one that the SNP would not seek to call early in the next parliament.

In short, they argue, folk are not frightened by the association of the SNP with independence - or they can be assuaged.

They point further to the newspaper advertisement listing endorsements from business folk. Not, they freely acknowledge, backing independence: rather backing the economic competence of the SNP ministerial team and their leader.

Labour strategists insist that they are doing better on the ground than the nationwide polls suggest. They liken the response more to 2010 than 2007.

They say their constant focus upon jobs is matching the prevailing mood.

One concern they acknowledge features seats where there is a pre-existing LibDem vote. If that drifts, will it disperse to other parties evenly - or mainly shift to the SNP?

Answers after tomorrow.

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