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Last Updated: Saturday, 11 August 2007, 23:53 GMT 00:53 UK
The SNP's first 100 days in power
By Iain MacWhirter
Presenter of BBC Radio 4's The SNP in Power: The First 100 Days

Alex Salmond
Mr Salmond was elected 'by the narrowest of margins'
The astonishing thing is that they are in government at all.

One hundred days ago the Scottish National Party (SNP) won only 47 out of 129 seats in 3 May's elections to the Scottish Parliament - well short of an absolute majority.

When Alex Salmond, the SNP leader, succeeded in getting himself elected first minister by the narrowest of margins, most of Scotland's chattering classes agreed that Scotland's experiment in minority government, and the SNP's first taste of power, would be short-lived.

The Liberal Democrats refused even to discuss a coalition. Labour went off to the backbenches to prepare for government, convinced that the Nationalists would disintegrate under the pressures of office.

In fact they have thrived on it. In its first 100 days, this SNP administration has astonished Scotland with its energy and confidence.

Even the leading Daily Telegraph columnist Alan Cochrane has declared that "Alex Salmond is walking on water".

'Champion Scotland'

But now the mood has changed. There seems to be a new energy to Scottish public life.

The commentator Joyce MacMillan has declared "Scotland has had its revolution" - and the way the SNP have set about governing Scotland certainly seems revolutionary.

There have been mass public meetings and consultations on issues like wind farms and rural affairs.

Alex Salmond has been to Brussels to champion Scotland's case in Europe.

He's even been photographed with another powerful Scot who lives in Downing Street. (Quite a contrast with the last prime minister - Tony Blair refused to phone Alex Salmond to congratulate him after the election).

Gordon Brown meets Alex Salmond
Mr Brown and Mr Salmond met at talks in Belfast

And the Nationalist administration has embarked on a blizzard of activity - repealing unpopular bridge tolls and making noises about reforming Scotland's broadcasting system.

In the wake of the terrorist attacks at Glasgow Airport at the end of June, Alex Salmond has been statesman-like in his desire to work alongside the British government to safeguard Scotland's security.

This willingness to seek consensus rather than confrontation has taken just about everyone in Scotland by surprise. Alex Salmond has never been regarded as one of nature's conciliators.

His reputation has been more as a guerrilla oppositionist, skirmishing from the backbenches in Westminster.

This new statesman-like Salmond, charming to his enemies and delighting his supporters, is new. So what's happened?

Have the SNP gone soft on their goal of independence or are they playing a long game?

SNP insiders scoff at the idea that independence is off the agenda, but for the moment they seem content to show that they can run Scotland's devolved government better than Labour.

'Independence lite'

There's plenty of room for conflict up ahead of course. It could come over nuclear power, which the Nationalists have ruled out and nuclear submarines based in the Clyde.

And with oil back at over $70 a barrel, the North Sea is beginning to look like valuable real estate again, and the SNP claim 95% of the black stuff is Scottish.

For the moment, Scotland seems to be enjoying itself, exploring what it feels like to be a nation once again, even if it isn't really any more independent than it was before May.

But while Scotland falls in love with this independence lite, and Alex Salmond walks on water, there is the small matter of who pays the bills for the new policies.

More money for nurses, 1,000 police on the beat, scrapping residual university fees, freezing council tax, doubling support for the arts, affordable housing, renewable energy?

Even before the election, many English voters believed that Scotland was already treated over-generously by the Barnett Formula, and that Scots had too great a say in Westminster over English legislation.

How long will the English put up with all this? Or could Scotland's charming first minister win them over too?

You can listen to The SNP in Power: The First 100 Days presented by Iain MacWhirter on BBC Radio 4 at 2245 BST on Sunday, 12 August. Iain MacWhirter is a columnist with The Herald.

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