As election day arrives, Nicola Sturgeon downplays Indyref2 plans

Nicola Sturgeon has downplayed her plans to hold a second independence referendum as she urged Scots to re-elect her based on her experience and leadership during the pandemic. In an election day message to voters, the First Minister claimed the SNP was the only party with a “serious programme for Government” and claimed her “overriding priority” if re-elected would be to keep people safe. On the final day of campaigning on Wednesday, she sought to exploit anger at the UK’s Brexit deal within the fishing industry during a trip to Aberdeen, and then travelled to Alford, in the Aberdeenshire West constituency, which the nationalists are hoping to win from the Tories. She also made trips to Dumbarton, where the SNP is vying to take Labour deputy leader Jackie Baillie’s seat, and her own Glasgow Southside constituency, where she is deafening a majority of more than 9,000 against Anas Sarwar. She said: “As First Minister I haven’t got everything right over this past desperately difficult year but I have worked my hardest every day and brought total commitment to the task of keeping Scotland safe. "If I am given the privilege of being re-elected as First Minister my promise to Scotland is to continue to bring all my experience and focus to the overriding priority of keeping you and your family safe. "Thanks to the people of Scotland who have given up so much to tackle the pandemic, the incredible work of our NHS, and the brilliant vaccination programme we can be optimistic that better times lie ahead. “In this election, only the SNP is offering a serious programme for government for these serious times.” She highlighted a string of SNP manifesto pledges, including free NHS dental care, before launching an attack on Boris Johnson and the Tories, warning that despite over the health service being fully devolved, "our NHS is definitely not safe in their hands". She only briefly mentioned her plan to hold a new independence referendum by 2023 in her plea to voters, saying Indyref2 would be held only “once the Covid crisis has passed”. Meanwhile, Alex Salmond made a final appeal to independence supporters to help him back to Holyrood to deliver a “supermajority” of MSPs in favour of separation. Polls have suggested that his new Alba Party may not win a single seat. However, he has claimed it is on course to win representation at Holyrood and has set a target of winning at least eight seats. He urged members of the “independence family” to back his party with their second votes, claiming supporting the SNP with regional ballots was a waste of time as Ms Sturgeon’s party would get “nothing at all on the regional list”. The SNP won four regional MSPs in 2016, with Holyrood’s voting system meaning the better a party does in constituencies the harder it is to win regional seats. He said: “An SNP vote is sometimes described as a wasted vote. It's actually worse than that, an SNP vote on the second ballot paper actually lets unionist Labour and Tory MSPs in by the back door.”

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Alan Cochrane: The SNP may need to work with Alex Salmond's Alba to keep a pro-independence majority

Nicola Sturgeon may have to go to Alex Salmond and his new political party Alba to hold onto a pro-independence government after this week's election says the former Scottish editor of the Telegraph, Alan Cochrane. Barring a major upset, it looks as though the Scottish National Party will emerge as the biggest party in the Scottish Parliament after Thursday's election. But what is at stake is whether they get the 65 seats they need to have an overall majority. Speaking on Chopper's Politics, which you can listen to on the player above, Mr Cochrane explained that he thought that the polls were missing potential votes for Alex Salmond's new Alba party. "The polls are suggesting he's not going to do at all well, but I suspect, as do many of the psephologists, that the polls are missing his votes. I think he'll get a couple of seats, I think he'll certainly be elected in the North East which is his old stamping ground." "I was talking to some strategists yesterday and he's more popular in the North East of Scotland than say Nicola Sturgeon with nationalists. So he'll get a seat there, and if he gets two or three others he could be in a position to influence the overall nationalist independence majority in the parliament." That would see Alba and Alex Salmond in talks with the SNP and Nicola Sturgeon about giving a majority to the independence cause, leading to the pair having to work together again. Together they led the campaign for Scotland to become independent from the UK, with Mr Salmond then head of the SNP and Ms Sturgeon his deputy. They then spectacularly fell out in 2018 after Ms Sturgeon refused to intervene in a Scottish Government probe into sexual harassment complaints against Mr Salmond. They further soured when he publicly accused the First Minister of lying to Parliament over her handling of the claims against him. On how the option of the pair joining forces again would go down, Alan Cochrane says "Nicola will absolutely hate that. She will hate having to deal with Alex, because they have been at daggers drawn now for years." Listen to Christopher Hope's full interview with Alan Cochrane, on Chopper's Politics podcast, along with author Kevin Meagher and electoral expert Martin Baxter, using the audio player at the top of this article or on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or your favourite podcast app.

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Key seats which could prove pivotal in the 2021 Scottish Parliament election

Nicola Sturgeon is looking to extend her time as First Minister in this year's Scottish Parliament elections and is hoping to secure an outright majority to bolster her calls for a second independence referendum. The elections, which take place on Thursday May 6 following a year's postponement due to coronavirus, will see 129 MSPs voted in to sit in the Scottish Parliament, including 73 representing constituencies and 56 representing eight regions of the country - seven for each region. An SNP majority, requiring 65 seats, would give the party the mandate to push for a second independence referendum, which is expected to be called in 2023. However, the Scottish Conservatives have launched a campaign under their new leader, Douglas Ross, to prevent this, hoping to capitalise on the success of the 2016 election campaign under Ruth Davidson. Here are all the details you need to know about the seats which may determine the outcome of the election and why they matter. Key constituencies to watch Dumbarton Dumbarton, which is currently held by deputy Scottish Labour leader Jackie Baillie on a wafer-thin majority of just 103 votes, is a major SNP target seat. The seat has been held by Baillie since 1999 - one of a handful of constituencies which have been represented by the same MSP for the entire lifetime of the Scottish parliament. The most marginal seat in Scotland, the SNP have been creeping ever-closer in recent years, and the constituency is now a lonely red dot in a sea of yellow on the electoral map. Baillie has been reasonably high-profile of late due to her role in the Alex Salmond Holyrood inquiry committee and a stint in charge of Scottish Labour while the party sought a new leader, and whether or not she loses the seat to SNP opponent Toni Giugliano will speak to her party’s wider fortunes. Scottish Labour election manifesto Glasgow Southside Easily the SNP’s safest seat - which Nicola Sturgeon won in 2016 with a majority of over 9,500 and more votes than all other candidates combined - the constituency has become interesting because it is also being contested by Anas Sarwar, the Scottish Labour leader. The first time in British political history that two major party leaders have stood directly against one another, the result will shed early light on whether Sarwar has been successful in starting to turn Scottish Labour’s fortunes around. A high number of ethnic minority voters, who traditionally have backed the SNP in large numbers, has been seen by some as a wildcard in a race involving the first Muslim leader of a major UK party. Sarwar lives in Glasgow Southside and has repeatedly stated that while it may be Sturgeon’s constituency, it is his home. He is almost certain to be elected to Holyrood anyway because of his position on the Glasgow regional list, and has repeatedly criticised Sturgeon for dropping the ball in her own backyard. Almost half of children in the constituency live in poverty, he claims, and there are rampant issues with housing, crime and unemployment. With the SNP putting Sturgeon at the centre of their campaign and less than half of constituents turning out to vote in 2016, the result will show what voters make of her record.

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Key seats that could prove pivotal in the 2021 Scottish Parliament election

Nicola Sturgeon is looking to extend her time as First Minister in this year's Scottish Parliament elections and is hoping to secure an outright majority to bolster her calls for a second independence referendum. The elections, which take place on Thursday May 6 following a year's postponement due to coronavirus, will see 129 MSPs voted in to sit in the Scottish Parliament, including 73 representing constituencies and 56 representing eight regions of the country - seven for each region. An SNP majority, requiring 65 seats, would give the party the mandate to push for a second independence referendum, which is expected to be called in 2023. However, the Scottish Conservatives have launched a campaign under their new leader, Douglas Ross, to prevent this, hoping to capitalise on the success of the 2016 election campaign under Ruth Davidson. Here are all the details you need to know about the seats which may determine the outcome of the election and why they matter. Key constituencies to watch Dumbarton Dumbarton, which is currently held by deputy Scottish Labour leader Jackie Baillie on a wafer-thin majority of just 103 votes, is a major SNP target seat. The seat has been held by Baillie since 1999 - one of a handful of constituencies which have been represented by the same MSP for the entire lifetime of the Scottish parliament. The most marginal seat in Scotland, the SNP have been creeping ever-closer in recent years, and the constituency is now a lonely red dot in a sea of yellow on the electoral map. Baillie has been reasonably high-profile of late due to her role in the Alex Salmond Holyrood inquiry committee and a stint in charge of Scottish Labour while the party sought a new leader, and whether or not she loses the seat to SNP opponent Toni Giugliano will speak to her party’s wider fortunes. Scottish Labour election manifesto Glasgow Southside Easily the SNP’s safest seat - which Nicola Sturgeon won in 2016 with a majority of over 9,500 and more votes than all other candidates combined - the constituency has become interesting because it is also being contested by Anas Sarwar, the Scottish Labour leader. The first time in British political history that two major party leaders have stood directly against one another, the result will shed early light on whether Sarwar has been successful in starting to turn Scottish Labour’s fortunes around. A high number of ethnic minority voters, who traditionally have backed the SNP in large numbers, has been seen by some as a wildcard in a race involving the first Muslim leader of a major UK party. Sarwar lives in Glasgow Southside and has repeatedly stated that while it may be Sturgeon’s constituency, it is his home. He is almost certain to be elected to Holyrood anyway because of his position on the Glasgow regional list, and has repeatedly criticised Sturgeon for dropping the ball in her own backyard. Almost half of children in the constituency live in poverty, he claims, and there are rampant issues with housing, crime and unemployment. With the SNP putting Sturgeon at the centre of their campaign and less than half of constituents turning out to vote in 2016, the result will show what voters make of her record.

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