Byline: by Hamish Macdonell
WHEN Alex Salmond stood on his stage yesterday, he gave the impression he was looking at the SNP candidates applauding from the auditorium - but he wasn't.
His gaze was much further away, fixed on Bute House, the First Minister's grand official residence.
Mr Salmond insisted the manifesto was all about the SNP's vision for the future of Scotland - but it wasn't. The real aim was not to fire the dream of independence. Rather, it was to reacquaint him with the sumptuous luxury of the office.
The scene carefully presented for the TV crews said it all: there was Alex Salmond, standing in front of a huge sign bearing the single word: 'Re-elect.' He spoke about 'vision' - but the document the SNP published yesterday was the least visionary publication ever produced by the party.
It wasn't so much a manifesto as an instruction manual on how to run an administration. It was as if the SNP, once an emotive and idealistic movement, had been swept away and replaced by a political party whose main aim is merely to stay in charge.
Compare it to how the SNP approached the 2007 election. Then, the Nationalists were bullish and direct. They produced a list of promises, not just for the four years of the parliament but for the first 100 days they were in office.
It was very, very ambitious - and at the heart of their campaign was independence.
They would produce a White Paper on an independence referendum in their first 100 days in charge - and they did. It is partly a measure of how much the SNP administration ran out of steam and partly a reflection of the corrupting influence of power - but yesterday's manifesto had nothing like that.
ALL those promises to which the SNP had apparently been wedded in 2007, but which it didn't manage to achieve - a local income tax, a class size limit of 18 in Primary 1-3, abolishing student debt - have all disappeared.
Even independence, supposedly the reason for the SNP's existence, was played down by Mr Salmond yesterday. Twice he was asked when he wanted to bring forward his Referendum Bill - and twice he knocked the question back, merely saying he would do so within the five-year term of the parliament.
When he was asked this in 2007, he declared his intention to bring forward proposals within 100 days. That is what the Nationalist movement expected - and that is what it got.
In its manifesto this year, the SNP has published a list of its top ten pledges - but most are simply loose extensions of policies already being pursued.
The top pledge is to continue the council tax freeze, which has been in place for four years. The second is to protect the NHS budget, which has been ring-fenced. The third is to keep the 1,000 extra police officers who have already been …