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With Just a Hundred Days to Go, the SNP Still Have a Mountain of Public Scepticism to Climb

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It wasn't supposed to be like this for Alex Salmond.

Over the past two years most of the SNP's campaign twists and turns have ended up in a dead end. A year ago SNP strategists confidently boasted that by the end of 2013 support for independence was going to be over 40% and by now they would be neck and neck. Instead the latest Ipsos Mori poll this week has the yes vote at 34%. This is three points lower than when the nationalist campaign was launched two years ago. Incidentally, the same pollster has Better Together up two points on the already-strong lead we started with.

The Yes campaign and Alex Salmond's support amongst women is truly dismal. Of course polls will come and go but it is increasingly difficult for the nationalists to claim that they speak for Scotland - certainly not for those with a female voice.

Even the SNP's fabled fundraising prowess has so far proven to be lacklustre. Almost 80% of all of the official Yes campaign has come from one couple. It's hard to imagine where the Yes campaign would be languishing if it wasn't for that one winning ticket of the Weir's £161million lottery luck.

The truth is that after two years of campaigning the SNP haven't managed to move the ball forward in any game changing way at all. Having failed to become the 'momentum campaign' the SNP went in search of elusive big moments. But to those who have been following events closely the SNP's campaign has been a series of false starts and stumbled half answers. So far there have been four moments that the SNP really had to win to be ahead.

Firstly, they told us that a Tory government would drive Scots towards independence. This was both a prediction and a hope on their part. Whenever David Cameron makes the wrong decisions, everyone in the Labour Party puts their heads in their hands while the nationalists rub their hands. But the problem for the nationalists is threefold. First, Labour have retained our persistent lead in opinion polls. Second, everyone knows Alex Salmond's commitment to independence has nothing to do with the political colour of the UK government. When we had a UK Labour Prime Minister from Fife and a UK Labour Chancellor from Edinburgh, the SNP still wanted to leave the UK. Finally most Scots know that David Cameron is temporary while independence is forever.

Next, the Yes camp told us that the campaign for Scotland in the UK would fail to offer more decision making in Scotland - but first Labour and the Lib Dems brought forward radical proposals to bring more decision making to Scotland. The Tories also then counter-intuitively proposed an extension of powers for the Scottish Parliament. The varying offers of further devolution from Labour, the Tories and Lib Dems now makes it impossible for the nationalists to claim that a No vote is the No change vote.

Thirdly, they told us that the European elections would show that politics in Scotland and the rest of the UK had irreversibly diverged - but the fears that drove people to vote for UKIP in parts of England and Wales were shared by too many people in Scotland. Scotland, like Wales, London, and the North East of England elected a single UKIP MEP.

Finally, for all of the Nats bluff and bluster what still amazes me, given that this is the moment they have waited eighty years for, that they have done so little preparation on how a separate Scotland would work. We were promised that their White Paper would "answer all the questions." But six months on and the SNP are paying a heavy price for failing to answer even the easiest of questions. In the last few days we have seen John Swinney re-write the entire economic basis for the White Paper after his oil predictions fell to pieces. We have heard Alex Salmond admit, extraordinarily, that he has no idea how much setting up a separate Scottish state would cost. And we have had Nicola Sturgeon personally criticised by the IFS for her cavalier costings at the centre-piece of the White Paper, the supposedly self-funding childcare offer.

People are left with far more questions than answers. You hear them on the doorstep every day. "If we are so rich why wouldn't we have our own currency?" "If they aren't going to transfer me to universal credit, what state support will I be on?" "What happens when the oil runs out?"

At the start of the campaign many undecided voters were asking themselves a different question to the one that will appear on the September ballot paper. They were asking themselves "Are there things about being part of the UK that frustrate me from time to time?' And with a Tory government there's always reason for most Scots to be annoyed. But the question that those same people are now asking has changed and so has their answer. In quiet conversations with friends and family they're asking "Do I really want to leave the UK forever when so many of the SNP's answers about what would happen seem so unconvincing?" The mainstream non-nationalist patriotic majority love our country and just want to do what is best for Scotland.

The reason Better Together are ahead and can win is that our argument is a provable truth. In Scotland we can be both proud and strong. We can make decisions in Scotland about the NHS, schools, universities, transport and tax. To do this we don't need to lose the back-up of being part of one of the biggest economies in the world. We can say to voters that they don't have to make the love it or leave it, all or nothing choice that the Yes campaign has tried to put before them. That is what we mean about having the best of both worlds.

Of course there will still be bumps in the road for both campaigns but with just a hundred days to go the SNP still have a mountain of public scepticism to climb. But they've confounded the polls before and we are determined that they won't do so again. The next hundred days are the most important in our peacetime history since Scotland's union with England more than three hundred years ago.

Now, with a hundred days to go, the business end of the campaign is upon us.