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Governer and upstart – SNP treads a careful line to appeal to North and South

Sturgeon unveils her plan. Danny Lawson/PA

In launching the SNP manifesto, Nicola Sturgeon stated that the document is “first and foremost for Scotland” but that it also had “real relevance” for, and could bring benefits to the “whole of the UK”.

There is no doubt that Scotland remains the focal point for a party whose whole raison d'être is independence for Scotland, but the SNP has taken great pains to state that it is not seeking independence in this election and that it would take a significant change of circumstances to bring about another referendum.

Of course, opponents have pointed out that the party leadership and Nicola Sturgeon in particular, have not identified what this phrase actually means. The will of the Scottish people is a popular phrase north of the border and often gets bandied about, but it is not important at this point in time. As the manifesto clearly states, independence is “not what this election is about – it is about making Scotland stronger”.

But if this not a manifesto for independence, then what is it a manifesto for? Sturgeon declared that it aims to inform a “new, better and more progressive politics at Westminster for everyone”.

Well, not everyone, and especially not the Tories. In fact the SNP has clearly stated, time and again that the goal is to lock the Tories out of Downing Street. The manifesto reminds us of this plan with a huge graphic of a padlock on the door of Number 10.

In case the message wasn’t clear. SNP manifesto

This is the main message of the manifesto. The SNP is not seeking support as a party of government in Scotland for the last eight years (although that maybe helps), it is standing for Westminster, by standing against Westminster.

It is, in many ways, borrowing a classic approach from the US politics playbook – the scrappy outsiders have come to clean up the grubby, old-boy network at the political centre. Because, (as the SNP manifesto states) “everyone agrees Westminster needs to change”.

The SNP has positioned itself in Scotland, and in the UK-wide debates, as the anti-party. It is anti-Tory, anti-austerity, anti-trident, anti-bedroom tax and anti-EU referendum. This is classic anti-politics, even though the SNP has been the party of government in Scotland for the past eight years.

Since 2007, the SNP, first under Alex Salmond, and more recently under Sturgeon, has governed as a minority and a majority. Although a number of policies have been contentious, such as creating a single police force, the SNP has presented a generally positive image, and maintained the support of about 45% of the Scottish electorate.

It has become not only the favoured party in Scotland, but the favoured party of Scotland. Even after three years of SNP minority government, Scotland still supported Labour in overwhelming numbers in the 2010 General Election.

But, after another five years of Tory-led coalition government in Westminster, Scots seem to be taking a different view. They were helped on their way by the SNP, which consistently derided Sottish Labour as little more than a branch office of London Labour. And Labour did its part by siding with the Conservatives on the referendum – even if it had no other option.

The idea of the SNP as some sort of bogeyman that would harm Scotland is long gone, and the party has, for some time, been able to present itself as a responsible, governing party. Now it has become, for many, the best party to represent Scotland’s interests in Westminster. It is a party that would keep the Tories out of power and maybe even a party that could pull Labour back to the left (where many Scottish voters like to place themselves – whatever the reality of their position).

The SNP seems to be about to claim the mantle of Scotland’s Party by, perhaps paradoxically, presenting itself as the progressive choice to the politics of old. It has governed for years but is now the alternative to the traditional governing parties – although it does so partly by showing its ability to be a responsible governing party.

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