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Barr-built Olympic basketball arena <em>Picture: Pplfichi</em>

Barr-built Olympic basketball arena Picture: Pplfichi

There are few more depressing sights than Scottish politicians living up to their national stereotype of griping, gurning and complaining that they have been – yet again – hard done by.

The “whit aboot me?” attitude is at best unsavoury and, at worst, simply laughable – but oblivious to the impression it generates outside Scotland, a parade of SNP politicians have whinged on about the Olympics from the very moment that London was awarded the 2012 Games.

It took the SNP’s Alex Neil just one minute to get the first moan in. The official announcement that London had been awarded the 2012 Olympics was made at 12:46pm on 5 July 2005. Despite the fact that most of the country was whooping with joy and celebrating the news, Mr Neil sent out a press release at 12:47pm warning that Scotland might lose out.

This has been the party line ever since. In fact, it has never stopped – and the SNP was at it again this week. SNP MP Pete Wishart seems to have been given the job of being the party’s whiner-in-chief and he appears to relish it, trotting out the now-familiar line this week that Scottish businesses have missed out and are continuing to miss out because the weight of contracts are being awarded to companies south of the border.

Thankfully, there are still enough sceptical journalists around in Scotland not to take everything the SNP – or indeed the UK government – says at face value.

Today’s Press and Journal contains an interesting story giving a fuller picture of the contracts awarded to Scottish businesses for the London Olympics.

Rather than the £24.5 million worth of contracts which had been stated as the paltry amount won by Scottish companies, the P&J found that the figure is considerably higher than that.

For example, that £24.5 million obviously doesn’t include the £43 million contract for the basketball arena won by Glasgow-based Barr Construction, which the company will own and rent back to the Olympics.

There are other examples of Scottish companies winning major contracts: Nord Architecture was sub-contracted by EDF Energy to design the electricity sub-station at the Olympic Park, Stagecoach will be taking athletes from the Olympic Village to sporting venues and Weldex, an Inverness company, has been providing cranes and equipment for the aquatics centre and the main stadium.

On the surface, it appears as if 111 Scottish business have won 146 contracts for the Olympics – but there are many more who have won subcontracts and these are impossible to quantify at this stage because only the names of the main contractors have been released.

Scottish companies are doing well on the main contracts, they are doing even better on the subcontracts and – with many more subcontracts still be handed out – there is plenty of work out there for go-getting Scottish companies to secure.

And, even if Scottish companies weren’t doing well (which they are), what does the SNP want the organisers to do – hand out contracts to Scottish companies just because they are Scottish? Ignore best value, ignore value for money and all the normal tendering rules and just give out contracts to a part of the country that may not be doing as well as others? That is frankly absurd.

The other main SNP line is that Scotland is losing out because it is not getting its rightful Barnett consequential share from the Olympics. Well, so what? These Olympics are being held in London and London is benefitting but, on a financial level, probably no more than is London’s due given the proportion of the country’s wealth generated by London in the first place.

But these are also Britain’s Olympics and, yes, we are all paying for them. Although Scotland may not be getting exactly its share of the money allocated to London, this is something the whole country is investing in and will benefit from.

And that’s the rub. These are British Olympics and they celebrate Britishness in a way never seen before in this country – and, deep down, that’s why many Scottish Nationalists don’t care for them. Cut through the financial gripes and grumbles over Scottish businesses losing out and underneath there is a general negativity about these Games because they are British.

If there are SNP politicians out there who don’t like the Olympics because they just don’t want to be involved in that whole Britishness thing, then they should say no. What they shouldn’t do is hide behind some spurious and nitpicking financial arguments designed to cover up their general disdain for the whole project.

Yes, the whole operation is costing billions (£9 billion if you take the highest estimate), but – as David Aaronovitch pointed out in the Times yesterday, that is the same amount that banks could have to pay out in compensation for mis-selling payment protection, or the same (according to a 2008 study) as the cost of a generation of British mathematicians.

And, as Aaronovitch says, “none of these appear on the moaners’ list”.

It would be fine if the Scottish Nationalist gripes had no effect, but they have an impact in the worst possible place – on our athletes.

How must it feel to be a leading Scottish athlete looking forward to the pinnacle of your sporting life, to the day when all those hard yards and early mornings will pay off, and you feel you have little or – at best – only the grudging support of your governmental leaders?

Scottish athletes are going to the Games to represent themselves, their families and friends, their clubs and their country – Great Britain.

Some of more curmudgeonly politicians may not like the idea of a British Olympics, but they should think about the effect their bellyaching has on this country’s finest young athletes before they open their mouths once again to carp on about the unfairness of it all.

But, for those of us Scots who are looking forward to the Olympics, there is one little ray of sunshine which we can revel in – and that is the outstanding success that the Games have been so far.

The venues have been delivered on time and on budget and, in many cases ahead of time and under budget – imagine that.

There have been complaints over the ticketing, but only because demand has outstripped supply and the Games have virtually sold out a year ahead – an achievement that is unprecedented in the history of the Olympic story.

How annoying must that be if you are a critic of the Games? All those predictions of cost over-runs and disastrous building projects have come to nought. But, more than that, this success has been astonishing.

In 1948, Britain held the Olympics because, in the aftermath of the war, no one else could really do it. In 2012, with the world struggling under unprecedented financial problems, London has once again managed to deliver in a way that few other cities could.

There is clear evidence to suggest that most people in the country are either fully behind the Games or will be when they start in a year’s time.

I will be going to the Games. I will be taking my children from Scotland to London to cheer on Scottish athletes and English athletes and Welsh and Northern Irish athletes. But I shall also be cheering on Zambians and Madagascans and Brazilians and Fijians and everybody else who embodies the Olympic spirit.

One reason for that is because I shall be going to a wide and eclectic mix of sports and have no idea who will be competing on any day – but also because that is what the Olympics is all about.

It is about celebrating sporting excellence. It is about embracing global diversity and the highs of competition. Deep down, it is not about meanness or churlishness or demanding a fair share of add-ons or financial advantage.

And until those who criticise the Games realise that, they will be on the outside, sipping at their sour grapes while the rest of the country celebrates.

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libdem1Scottish Liberal Democrats

Leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats Tavish Scott launched the party’s Sports Action Plan after joining Spartans FC for a youth training session in Edinburgh. At the session, Mr Scott also expressed his support for Scottish sport by signing the “Vote for Sport” pledge, an initiative organised by the Scottish Sports Alliance which is encouraging MSPs to act as Scottish Sporting Champions during their time at Holyrood.

The Scottish Liberal Democrats have announced plans for a Scotland-wide school Olympics along with changes that would allow community organisations and co-operatives a greater say in the running of football and other sports.

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Commenting, Mr Scott said: “Sport is more than taking pride in the achievements of Scotland’s elite athletes. Sport should genuinely be for all. Our policies would provide people of all ages with more chances to get involved at both the local and national level. We would support the immense contribution volunteers make towards making sport accessible for as many people of all ages as is possible.

“Sport can bring people together in a way that few other things can and we need to be doing everything we can to ensure that we maximise the benefits it brings to Scotland.

“The training session I participated in this morning was what sport should be all about – people coming together to play their game in the right spirit and enjoy themselves.”

Brian McKelvie, chair of the Scottish Sports Association, said: “The campaign has been received very positively and it’s great to see such a demonstration of support for sport here at the Spartans Football Club with the Liberal Democrats.”

Commenting on Shelter Scotland’s analysis of the parties’ manifestos, Liberal Democrat election chair George Lyon said:

“We recognise the need for serious, long-term investment in Scotland’s housing stock, which is why we”ve identified £250 million for insulation of homes and buildings, cutting household energy bills and creating jobs. We”re pleased that Shelter recognises this substantial investment.

“We will also take steps to bring back into use the 70,000 homes lying empty in Scotland, with grants to homeowners who take this on, provided they allow housing associations to rent them out for 10 years. And we”ll extend programmes to help people who are struggling to get on the housing ladder, afford their first home.

“These are ambitious plans that will make a real difference to people in Scotland. “Providing decent housing is essential if we”re to meet our long-term ambitions for the economy, health and social well-being.”

greens2Scottish Greens

The Greens welcomed an Ipsos MORI poll showing the party on 6 per cent on the second vote, a result which would see a significantly larger group of Green MSPs elected to the Scottish parliament, and noted an additional question which asked Scots who they would like to see the next first minister work with. This second question shows that the Greens are the preferred post-election partners for both SNP and Labour voters.

Patrick Harvie said: “This election will answer two questions: who will be first minister, and who will they have to work with at Holyrood. Today’s poll indicates that both Labour or SNP voters would prefer to see their candidate for first minister working with Greens to deliver a fairer and more sustainable Scotland.

“Perhaps the worst outcome of this election would be a Scottish government dependent on one of the coalition parties driving the cuts agenda from Westminster. That way lies a continued assault on public services and an administration which pours cold water on Scotland’s economy. The only alternative to this bleak scenario is a strong second vote for the Scottish Greens.

“Overall this result shows the Greens as one of only two parties heading upwards in the polls. We’re running a positive campaign to defend public services, to guarantee the funding which can keep tuition free, and to insulate every home in Scotland, and we’re delighted to see this approach getting such a warm response.”

Scottish Greens also announced their plans for a true zero-waste Scotland, pledging to back communities across the regions fighting plans for a generation of mass-burn waste incinerators, and to scale-up support for local reuse and recycling initiatives. The Greens are the only party that consistently opposes these incinerators, and Greens are committed to revising the Scottish government’s waste strategy to bring in a moratorium on new facilities. The party argues that burning waste will significantly undermine recycling efforts by creating a built-in demand for waste.

The party will make the case in the next parliament for a strategy that reduces overall levels of waste at source, conserving valuable resources and creating more jobs in community reuse and repair projects, as well as supporting the local provision of recycling facilities. Greens would also pilot a packaging “deposit and return” scheme, which has resulted in very high recycling rates in countries such as Denmark and has long been pioneered with glass bottles by Barrs in Scotland.

Kirsten Robb, the Scottish Greens’ top candidate in Central region, announced the policy ahead of a public meeting on incineration organised by Greens in Stonehouse, a Lanarkshire community threatened by proposals for an incinerator.

Kirsten Robb said: “Scottish Greens have been on the side of local communities across Scotland who simply want a better solution when it comes to waste. Whether in Newton Mearns or Dunbar and from here in Stonehouse or Carnbroe right up to Invergordon, Greens support campaigners who are worried about the health of their families and who just want a safe and sustainable system for reducing waste. Incineration is part of the same old thinking, it’s ‘landfill in the sky’ for local authorities who are running out of space and facing millions of pounds in fines for not tackling the root causes of this problem.

“We want a Scotland that starts by reducing waste in the first place, not just burning it or sending it to landfill. There are hundreds of examples out there of community projects leading the way in sharing, repairing and reusing items, often saving people money in the process. We think that most people who shop in a supermarket would also agree that big retailers and manufacturers have got a long way to go to reduce packaging and stop pushing offers that increase food waste. Voters who want a party that is ambitious about a more sustainable and less wasteful Scotland should use their second vote to elect a strong group of Green MSPs to the next parliament.”

The Greens launched a mini-manifesto on issues relating to children, with policies including: the provision of free nursery education for all children aged from three upwards, commitments on universal free school meals and outdoor education, the introduction of a new School Grounds Enhancement Fund, support for the Active Schools and Eco-Schools programmes, support for home learning, and the introduction of child safety legislation with the aim of making Scotland the safest place to grow up in Europe.

Alison Johnstone, the Greens’ education spokesperson and top candidate in the Lothian region, said: “These policies are designed to give Scotland’s children the best start in life that we can possibly give them, by keeping them active, feeding them well, protecting them from harm and ensuring that they live, learn and grow up in a safe and sustainable society. The Scottish Greens recognise that today’s young people are tomorrow’s citizens and leaders, and that early interventions to make them as fit, healthy and happy as possible are important in helping them to become well-rounded and active members of Scottish society.

“Our children must not be wrapped up in cotton wool – we must give them the opportunity to explore and learn, and recognise their rights, as well as teaching them about their own responsibilities, to society and to the environment in which they live. If we get it right at the start, the rest just falls into place – active, healthy, happy children are far more likely to steer clear of crime, and to become happy and fulfilled members of society, so investing in them at an early age brings benefits and savings for the whole of society.”

labour3 Scottish Labour

Scottish Labour has reacted to an analysis of the Scottish Tories’ manifesto costings by NUS Scotland which has unearthed a black hole of between £500m and £1.5billion in their university spending plans.

Scottish Labour’s candidate for Eastwood, Ken Macintosh, said: “This revelation blows apart any plans the Tories had to balance their budget on the backs of students. Not only are the Tory plans to hit students in the pockets deeply unfair, their sums just don’t add up.

“The Tories must come clean on exactly how they are going to pay not only for their higher education polices, but their entire manifesto promises.

“Only yesterday an independent evaluation of the manifesto costings found that Labour’s was the only party that had balanced it budget. Now the Tories are back, Labour will not only balance the books, we ensure no price tag is attached to those who want to go onto university.”

The last thing David Cameron wants in Scotland is a Labour government, Scottish Labour said yesterday.

The comments come following a radio interview in which the prime minister neglected to encourage voters to vote the Tories on the constituency vote, despite the Tories fielding candidates in every constituency in Scotland.

The comments come following a radio interview in which the prime minister neglected to encourage voters to vote the Tories on the constituency vote, despite the Tories fielding candidates in every constituency in Scotland. In the Good Morning Scotland interview, the prime minister said: “…the more that the Conservatives get in terms of votes and seats in parliament the more influence Annabel will be able to bring to bear and because you have got this particular voting system where you’ve got your peach form as it were for the regional vote, I would urge people, whatever they do for the constituency vote to vote Conservative on the list vote because then we’ll get more Conservatives and more common sense in the parliament.”

Scottish Labour also pointed to one of its latest leaflets that highlight the fact that David Cameron secretly wants a SNP government.

Scottish Labour’s candidate in Dumfriesshire, Elaine Murray, said: “It is clear the last thing David Cameron wants in Scotland is a strong Labour government standing up to the Tories at Westminster. David Cameron has already arranged for the Tory’s favourite newspaper to back the SNP so it is hardly surprising than he even now even seems to be encouraging people to vote SNP.

“He seems to have given up.

“Now the Tories are back, it is only Labour that can fight Scotland’s corner and focus on the things that really matter like apprenticeships, jobs and getting Scotland back to work again.”

Scottish Labour leader Iain Gray has slammed the Tory and SNP campaigns as being “out of touch” with the lives of ordinary Scots, after David Cameron tried to play down the cuts that were being made in Scotland.

The prime minister’s comments came on the same morning that Alex Salmond was guest of honour at a breakfast banquet hosted by News International. Labour believe that News International are backing the SNP in Scotland because David Cameron fears a Labour win.

Speaking after campaigning with Gordon Brown in Fife yesterday, Iain Gray said: ”It is absolutely stunning that David Cameron has tried to downplay the impact of his cuts in Scotland. To try to make out that things are fine is just fantasy.

“10,000 Scots joined the dole queue this year, but Alex Salmond and David Cameron have a vested interest in pretending that everything is going fine. They are giving each other an easy ride, but it’s people in Scotland that will suffer as a result.

“The Tories and the SNP are out of touch. On the same morning that David Cameron was playing down the impact of the cuts, Alex Salmond was at a breakfast banquet with top Tory news executives. It’s clear that David Cameron wants the SNP to win in Scotland.

“The Tories and the SNP are out of touch. On the same morning that David Cameron was playing down the impact of the cuts, Alex Salmond was at a breakfast banquet with top Tory news executives. It’s clear that David Cameron wants the SNP to win in Scotland. “Meanwhile, I was in Fife campaigning with Gordon Brown and talking to people about the things that really matter. We were talking to people that were concerned about jobs and we explained how Labour would abolish youth unemployment and create a quarter of a million jobs.

“People in Scotland will be very suspicious of an out of touch SNP that seems to be getting closer and closer to David Cameron’s Tories as each day in this campaign goes by.”

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scotcon2 Scottish Conservatives

A poll in yesterday’s Scotsman has shown that two-thirds of Scots back a graduate contribution of up to £4,000 to the cost of their university education. The poll came on the on the same day that NUS Scotland attacked Scottish Conservative proposals for a graduate contribution towards the cost of their degree.

David McLetchie, Scottish Conservative campaign manager for the Scottish parliament election, said of the poll: “This is more evidence, after last year’s Scottish Social Attitudes Survey, that Scots are fair minded and accept that it is fair for graduates to make a contribution towards the cost of their university education. It is clear that, regardless of which party they support, people are in favour of this.

“In a perfect world everything would be free. But in the real world, voters accept that the costs have to be spread.

“Recent figures from the Office of National Statistics showed that, on average, a university graduate will earn £12,000 a year more than those who have not gone to university. Over a working life, that is a pay boost of half a million pounds.

“Despite all the evidence, Labour, Lib Dems and the SNP refuse to find the money needed to bridge the real funding gap. Scottish Conservative proposals for a graduate contribution, paid from future earning, at an affordable rate will mean that Scotland’s universities can retain their excellence, retain their student numbers and we can also boost bursary support for students from poorer backgrounds by £55 million a year.

“By contrast, the deficit deniers in the other parties threaten our universities’ standing, threaten up to 13,000 student places and are out of tune with public opinion.”

On the statement yesterday by the NUS Scotland, Mr Brownlee said: “This attack from NUS Scotland is just not credible. On this evidence, NUS Scotland appears happy to sit by and see student numbers reduced and Scottish universities enter into a spiral of decline. If we listen to NUS Scotland, then universities will face a black hole in their funding.

“We have made clear that for the lifetime of the parliament, we would cap the graduate contribution at £4,000. NUS Scotland has got so many assumptions wrong in their haste to attack Scottish Conservative plans to safeguard student numbers and increase bursary support, that their claims cannot be taken seriously.

“Only yesterday, the independent CPPR (Centre for Public Policy for Regions) report from Glasgow University said that alone of the parties only the Scottish Conservatives were looking at plans to secure the necessary support for higher and further education without ‘accepting a slow, gradual, decline in the standard of Scottish post school education and research’.”

snp1 SNP

First minister and Scottish National Party leader Alex Salmond attacked David Cameron over Scotland’s near-£200 million fossil fuel levy, in an article in the Courier during his visit north of the border, where he said that the UK government are giving Scotland £250 million of resources for the Green Investment Bank.

Mr Salmond pointed out that the UK government are refusing to hand over the Fossil Fuel Fund without deducting the same amount from the Scottish budget, and that Scotland would be due far more than £250 million from the Green Investment Bank given the advanced nature of our renewables industry in Scotland.

Mr Salmond said: “It is typically Tory to try to short-change Scotland with our own money.

“The Con/Dem coalition are refusing to hand over Scotland’s fossil fuel levy – worth nearly £200 million – without clawing the cash back from the Scottish budget. This money could and should be used to power forward the renewable energy sector in Scotland, helping to reindustrialise the nation, including developing ports around Scotland such as Dundee.

“Pro-rata, Scotland has ten times the renewable energy capacity as England, and we are due far more than £250 million from the Green Investment Bank – regardless of the fossil fuel levy, which should be wholly additional to the Scottish budget.

“The SNP will fight for Scotland’s resources – Labour failed to deliver the fossil fuel levy, the Con/Dems are also pauchling the money, and a re-elected SNP government would have a mandate to get it handed over at long last.”

The Scottish National Party welcomed an Ipsos MORI poll in the Times and the Scottish Sun which puts the SNP ahead on 45 per cent in the constituency vote to 34 per cent for Labour, and shows 42 per cent of Scots backing Alex Salmond for first minister on the list vote with only 32 per cent backing Labour.

The poll shows a 5 per cent swing to the SNP since the last Mori poll in February, and gives the SNP its highest poll rating in this campaign, whilst Labour’s rating is at its lowest since May 2010 (31 per cent, YouGov 3-4 May).

Commenting on the poll, SNP campaign director Angus Robertson said: “This is an excellent poll, and confirms that more and more people are considering voting SNP – many for the first time – because they want to re-elect the SNP government and Alex Salmond for first minister.

“We are taking nothing for granted, and will contest the remaining two weeks of the campaign as a close two-horse race. We will continue working hard to earn the trust and support of the people for the SNP’s record, team and vision for Scotland.”

The poll result comes as Tommy Brennan, one of Scotland’s trade union leaders, has endorsed Alex Salmond’s re-election as first minister – citing Mr Salmond’s “inspiring goal” to re-industrialise Scotland by leading the world in renewable energy technology.

Mr Brennan was works convener of the Ravenscraig shop stewards, and the man who led the fight to save the Scottish steel industry in the 1980s and 1990s. He worked at the Lanarkshire steel plant for 31 years until 1991.

Mr Brennan said: “Alex Salmond’s vision for Scotland is one all Scots should support. I’m delighted to endorse him for a second term as first minister.

“I remember only too well the pain caused by the de-industrialisation of Scotland under the Tories in the 1980s and 1990s, and believe that Alex Salmond’s ambition to re-industrialise Scotland by leading the renewables energy revolution is an insipring goal for young Scots and for jobs and industry in the 21st century.”

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Alex Salmond <em>Picture: Harris Morgan</em>

Alex Salmond Picture: Harris Morgan

Momentum is everything in politics, and right now it’s with the SNP.

Today’s Ipsos MORI poll for the Times gives the SNP a mighty lead over Labour, the sort of lead that could bring Alex Salmond within reach of an overall majority.

Of course the Scottish parliament’s electoral system wasn’t set up to make that easy. The then Scottish Secretary Donald Dewar made sure the voting system was so balanced as to make it very difficult for any party to achieve an overall majority.

It was suggested at the time that the system had been designed with exactly this scenario in mind: the SNP heading for a comfortable victory. If so, then Labour leaders have a lot to thank the late Mr Dewar for.

According to Ipsos MORI, the SNP is on 45 per cent on the first vote, 11 points ahead of Labour on 34 with the Conservatives on ten and the Liberal Democrats on nine.

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In the regional list vote, the SNP is on 42 per cent, ten points ahead of Labour on 32 with the Conservatives on ten, the Lib Dems on eight and the Greens on six.

Translated into seats, this would give the SNP 61 – four short of an overall majority – while Labour would be on 45, one fewer than it has now. The Conservatives would have slipped back to ten (from 17), the Liberal Democrats would be on nine (down seven) and the Greens would be on four (up two).

Given that the Greens are also in favour of a referendum on independence, such an outcome could offer Mr Salmond the chance to secure the referendum at long last, either as part of a formal coalition with the Greens (which is unlikely) or a confidence-and-supply arrangement.

But this does tend to highlight a strange twist of this election. It does appear from this and other polls that many Scots are voting on who they think is best placed to run the Scottish government.

Mr Salmond has consistently scored far higher on this aspect of the campaign than Labour leader Iain Gray. Mr Salmond is seen as the best first minister to help Scotland weather the cuts being imposed by Westminster, and he is attracting votes from many people who don’t believe in independence.

Because the SNP has already ruled for four years without threatening the breakup of the UK, many unionists feels safe voting SNP because they want Mr Salmond as first minister but know this will not necessarily lead to independence.

Yet, because so many are now turning to the SNP, Mr Salmond may at last be able to secure the referendum on independence he is so desperate to hold.

The Ipsos MORI poll suggests that the SNP got the timing right by holding its manifesto back until the campaign had been going for three weeks – not getting it launched so early, as the other parties did.

It suggests that, in a campaign as long as this one, the momentum the SNP has generated fairly late on may be crucial, and it has raised serious questions about Labour’s reliance on TV debates to swing the campaign its way.

Labour strategists knew that Mr Gray was always going suffer in a public-profile battle with Mr Salmond, but they were convinced that their man could do well in the TV debates and that that sort of exposure would be to their advantage.

But what has happened is that we had one television debate at the start of the campaign and Mr Gray did not perform well. There has then been a three-week gap, during which time Mr Salmond has consolidated his lead over Mr Gray.

Mr Gray may do well in the final TV debates, but so much time has elapsed since the first one that the gap might be too wide to make up by that stage.

In another odd twist, however, a poll in today’s Scotsman suggests that voters oppose the “free education” pledge being promoted with such enthusiasm by three of the main parties.

The SNP, Labour and the Liberal Democrats have all promised students that they will not have to pay any tuition fees or any sort of graduate contribution towards the cost of their degrees, despite evidence of a sizeable funding gap between universities north and south of the border and despite warnings from university leaders that such a policy is unsustainable.

Only the Tories have insisted that graduates must pay something. Now, it seems, the voting population agrees, largely, with the Tory position.

The YouGov poll found that a solid 65 per cent of adults supported the idea that students should make some sort of financial contribution.

Broken down by party, researchers found that 66 per cent of SNP voters felt students should make a contribution, as did 56 per cent of Labour voters and 70 per cent of Lib Dem voters.

With the huge rise in support for the SNP and Mr Salmond’s bid to be returned as first minister and this poll showing that most people oppose a central policy plank held by three of the main parties, it perhaps shows that most Scots vote on gut instinct.

They will support the person or party they believe is doing the best job or is capable of doing the best job in charge of the country, and are not too bothered by the minutiae of policy – even when it comes to such central issues as a referendum on independence.

Reacting to the Times poll, SNP campaign director Angus Robertson said: “This is an excellent poll, and confirms that more and more people are considering voting SNP – many for the first time – because they want to re-elect the SNP government and Alex Salmond for first minister.

“We are taking nothing for granted, and will contest the remaining two weeks of the campaign as a close two-horse race.

“We will continue working hard to earn the trust and support of the people for the SNP’s record, team and vision for Scotland.”

And, in response to the Scotsman poll on higher education, Conservative campaign manager David McLetchie said: “In a perfect world everything would be free. But in the real world, voters accept that the costs have to be spread.”

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