Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon will appeal for the support of voters opposed to breaking away from the U.K. when she opens her Scottish National Party’s biggest ever conference in Aberdeen on Thursday.
While she will restate the SNP’s continuing desire for Scottish independence after its failure in last year’s referendum, Sturgeon will say voters who want to stay in the U.K. should also back its “radical, ambitious and progressive policies” in elections to the Scottish Parliament next May.
“For those who want Scotland to be independent, there is only one vote next year that makes sense, and that is a vote for the SNP,” Sturgeon will say, according to extracts of her speech released by her office. “But I don’t just want to win the votes of independence supporters, I want to inspire people who voted ‘No’ last year to vote SNP too. I want them to vote SNP because they know we are the best party, with the best ideas and the best people to lead Scotland forward.”
The SNP is seeking to build on its success in May’s U.K. general election, when it won 56 of the 59 Scottish House of Commons seats, by taking greater control of the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh. The party has half of the legislature’s 128 lawmakers and Sturgeon is aiming to increase that number, especially given the collapse in support for the Labour Party, which won the second largest number of seats in the 2011 Scottish election.
A TNS poll published this month showed support for the SNP at 56 percent for the Scottish Parliament elections, with Labour at 21 percent. The Conservatives were at 12 percent and the Liberal Democrats 6 percent, according to the poll of 1,037 voters interviewed between Sept. 9 and Sept. 30.
“Next May, we are determined to win a historic third term as Scotland’s government,” Sturgeon, 45, will say. “I am putting this party firmly on election footing. Over these next few days, we will begin to set out our claim to lead Scotland confidently into the next decade.”
An earlier survey for Ipsos Mori found 53 percent saying they would vote in favor of independence and 44 percent against if another referendum is held. Polling of 1,002 voters by phone was carried out between Aug. 24 and Aug. 30. As with the TNS survey, no margin of error was specified.
The SNP’s success is reflected in the growth of its annual conference. There will be 3,500 delegates, Sturgeon said, 2,300 more than there were seats at its conference in Perth last year. The growth in interest will also see 102 “fringe” meetings on the sidelines of the conference, compared with 32 last year, and more than 500 members of the media have been accredited to attend, the party said in an e-mailed statement.
“In the general election in 2010, fewer than half a million people voted SNP. In the Scottish election a year later, our support grew to just over 900,000 votes,” Sturgeon will say. “And in the general election this year, almost 1.5 million people chose our party. That’s almost 1 million more people, in just five years and across all parts of our country, persuaded to put their trust in the SNP to lead Scotland forward.”
In spite of the triumphalism, not everything is going Sturgeon’s way. House of Commons lawmaker Michelle Thomson, who was also the SNP’s business spokeswoman, was suspended by the party last month after police started an investigation into her property dealings.
And the opposition parties in Scotland have stepped up their criticism of the SNP’s time in office, and particularly its record on education, health and policing.
“It is time for the SNP government to be judged on their record of running our schools and hospitals; the truth is that in our schools the gap between the richest and the rest is growing, and our hospitals are struggling,” Labour’s spokesman on Scotland in the House of Commons, Ian Murray, said in an e-mailed statement. “The SNP have been in government for eight years now, they are starting to look like the establishment in Scotland, an establishment that is running out of ideas.”