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Friday, 2 March, 2001, 16:34 GMT
SNP playing for dream victory
SNP conference
The conference took place at the national stadium
By BBC News Online's Graeme Esson at Hampden

A message at the entrance to Scotland's national stadium set the tone for the Scottish National Party's spring conference.

The sign on the way in tells those visiting Hampden that they are entering "the field of Scottish dreams".

And that was a cue for leading figures of an already upbeat party to give its members a pre-election pep-talk as they gathered for the launch of its campaign.

Winnie Ewing
Winnie Ewing: "The field of Scottish dreams"
The party's message as it is placed on an election footing is encapsulated by the slogan "We Stand for Scotland".

So it was apt that this message should be ringing out in the conference rooms behind the stands at the national stadium.

And the location also gave the opening speakers a theme to work on.

The party's elder stateswoman, Winnie Ewing, opened the conference with the recollection that she had been brought up with the sound of the Hampden Roar.

"When I came into this splendid building it said this is the field of Scottish dreams," she said.

"It is very appropriate that we are here because we are the only party that can make Scotland's dreams come true.

'Big-name striker'

"The parliament we have isn't the fulfilment of our dreams, but it is a parliament we are using to make our dreams come true."

The footballing analogy was then neatly passed to former leader Alex Salmond, the 'big-name striker' who will be leading the party's attack in the general election.

"I want to use another well-known resounding phrase that I used to remember from Hampden in terms of describing our approach to the Westminster election," he said.

"Let's get stuck right into them."

The applause which greeted that rallying call was married to a real sense of optimism among the delegates packing the hall.

Alex Orr, from Edinburgh, preferred Clint Eastwood to the football terraces, hoping that Tony Blair would soon "make my day" by setting the election date.

SNP activists
Party activists were in upbeat mood
He demonstrated bullishness by suggesting that the SNP was looking to win no less than every Scottish seat.

He said the mood within the party was "extremely positive".

"We are the only party representing Scotland's interests rather than the other parties, whose strings are pulled from their London headquarters," he said.

Stewart Maxwell, the party's prospective candidate in Eastwood, was also pleased at the choice of Hampden as the location.

"There is an emotional tie with Scotland's field of dreams. I hope we can transfer some of that emotion into some hard votes," he said.

He admitted to being surprised at how bouyant the party was at this point.

Opinion polls

"People are very optimistic. Two years or 18 months ago people were thinking that Westminster would be difficult for us, but that isn't the case and it is not the feeling we are getting on the doorsteps."

He attributed the party's good heart to its healthy standing in the opinion polls.

Margaret Murray, an SNP councillor in Cumbernauld, said: "I feel eager to get on with the battle."

She said the party was winning local elections "all over the place" - including the recent Stonehouse success in South Lanarkshire, where the party won 73% of the vote.

SNP platform
The party is gearing up for the general election
And she added: "We are bouyant because Labour isn't doing anything for us. We speak to people all the time and they are fed up with Labour."

The attack on Labour was maintained by the speakers, with any criticism of Scottish Secretary Helen Liddell going down well with activists.

Malcolm Fleming, who will fight Galloway and Upper Nithsdale for the party, said people were "pretty scunnered" with the Labour Party.

"Our message of standing up for Scotland is one that has resonance for the voters."

He said that, despite the creation of the new Scottish Parliament, Westminster remained important because of the number of powers which were still controlled from London.

That message was echoed by Andy Bennet, a retired tax inspector, who is secretary of the party's Cathcart branch.

"The power and the real decisions are still made at Westminster, so we have to be there. That seems obvious to me," he said.

However, he added that independence would remain the main plank of the party's campaign.

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