THE BLOG
02/03/2015 07:54 GMT | Updated 02/05/2015 06:59 BST

The SNP Offers the Only Real Alternative This Election

This Friday marked my 100th day in office as first minister. Despite seven years serving as deputy to Alex Salmond, the job is throwing up new tests and challenges all the time, but it is an enormous privilege and honour. And the challenges are ones I relish, with my sights now fixed on the next hundred days and far beyond.

Making Scotland a fairer, more equal and more prosperous country is at the heart of everything my government is engaged in, and that agenda will take another important step forward this coming week when we publish our refreshed economic strategy.

But the economic debate at the moment centres on the looming Westminster election and plans there for continued austerity. And those are not just Tory plans. Whatever their protestations to the contrary, Labour are firmly wedded to the same depressing cuts agenda as George Osborne and David Cameron - an agenda which is not helping the vast majority of people secure a better standard of living.

That is because - whatever the cold, hard economic data may say - this doesn't feel like a sustained recovery for most households and families. Yes, jobs are being created and that is to be welcomed. But the flip side of that is that far too many of those are low-paid positions - so we need to do more to sustain long-term growth and insulate people from living costs which remain high despite near flat-lining inflation.

The SNP goes into this Westminster election in as strong a position as we have ever been, and it is perhaps no coincidence that that is because we are offering a real alternative to the drab Tory-Labour cuts consensus.

With the SNP holding the balance of power at Westminster we will back an additional £180 billion in investment across the UK over the next parliament to boost the economy and create jobs - which is possible while still reducing debt as a share of national income. We also propose measures to protect the least well off from cuts by requiring all UK budgets and welfare policy to be subject to the same standards of equality assessment that already apply in the Scottish Parliament, because for the last five years the punitive Westminster cuts agenda has hit the poorest hardest - with women and disabled people consistently bearing the brunt.

The simple fact is the SNP is seen as relevant in a Westminster election as never before, and you only need to look to the behaviour and language of the Westminster establishment parties to see that.

Ed Balls came north to Scotland last week proclaiming that if people didn't vote Labour they'd get the Tories. That is a line that, to a greater or lesser extent, has been seen to work for Labour in the past - even though it is demonstrably untrue. Scotland voted Labour in 1979, 1983, 1987, 1992 and 2010 and still got Tory governments.

And while Mr Balls was keen to reaffirm Labour's commitment to cuts when he visited Scotland earlier this week, he was silent on what his party would do to boost the economy. That is why SNP votes and MPs are essential to achieve change.

Labour have not recovered from their toxic alliance with the Tories in the referendum campaign - and their behaviour since September has done nothing to help them. We recently saw both parties voting to spend £100billion on Trident renewal in the next Parliament, while Labour MPs also marched through the voting lobbies with the Tories to approve further cuts of £30billion. We know that left to their own devices both parties will continue with the same policies that are letting people down and hitting family budgets hard.

The problem for Mr Balls and his party is that the Scottish electorate appears to be seeing through that well-worn con trick of saying: "If you don't vote Labour, you'll get the Tories."

A simple glance at the opinion polls suggests that people north of the border are simply refusing to buy that line. We take absolutely nothing for granted, and will fight hard for every vote, but the polling evidence remains extremely positive for us, with perhaps even more of that to come in the days ahead.

And it is not just the headline polling that should have the Westminster parties worried. Our own private polling backs up what so many of the published surveys are saying.

It shows that people don't believe Labour and its current leadership are the answer - or that they have the answers.

And it shows that the SNP is now seen in communities the length and breadth of Scotland as trustworthy, sincere and by many people as the only party capable of standing up for Scotland's interests at Westminster.

This private polling is qualitative rather than quantitative - in other words, it is based on detailed conversations and feedback from individuals on how they feel about the parties and protagonists ahead of the election.

If the Westminster establishment has been spooked by the public polls, they have good reason to be - because our private work is telling us exactly the same story.

In some ways, these findings should surprise no one. Published polls show that most people in Scotland are not in favour of the idea of a Labour government left to its own devices and would much rather see a strong SNP influence on Labour. And at a time when there is a Labour leader in Ed Miliband who, polls tell us, is actually less popular in Scotland than a deeply unpopular Tory Prime Minister, then it is hardly a shock that Labour support appears to be going nowhere fast.

Another clue this week to the Westminster establishment's nervousness about the strength of the SNP and what it could mean, not just for Scottish but for UK politics as a whole, came from Tory frontbencher William Hague.

In a lunch for Commons lobby journalists, Hague was reported to have said he was concerned about the impact of a large bloc of SNP MPs and their ability to exert a "leftward drift" on any Labour administration. If by "leftward drift" he meant the ability to halt the austerity consensus in its tracks and bring pressure to bear which results in more progressive, fairer policies, then a large majority of people in Scotland would regard that as a very good thing.

Hague's comments show the anxiety on both sides of the Commons aisle about the SNP surge and what it could mean - but for his own party in particular it betrayed a real fear among Tories that the SNP's possible strength after 7 May will be enough to keep them out of office, given our rock solid pledge never to support or prop up a Conservative government. The Conservatives know and understand the danger to them of an SNP advance every bit as much as Labour appreciate its significance.

With less than 10 weeks to go to polling day, the SNP is poised to make Scotland's voice heard at Westminster as never before.