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Last Updated: Friday, 13 October 2006, 15:03 GMT 16:03 UK
Nationalists optimistic in Perth
Andrew Black
BBC Scotland news website

SNP balloons
The SNP conference has been taking place in Perth
For many people, both inside and outside the SNP, the party's 2006 conference has been seen as a make-or-break event in its campaign to win next year's Scottish Parliament election.

Leader Alex Salmond has declared his party is on the verge of taking power, based on his claims that it has enjoyed a period of sustained success.

The mood among members of the party faithful at the conference venue in Perth on the day of Mr Salmond's speech was one of optimism.

Many activists attending the event praised the party's policies on health and the economy and said that the SNP had never been in a stronger position to win power.

The delegates really feel that the future is in their hands
Shirley Anne Somerville

One party supporter, Denis Dixon, said it was becoming apparent that there was a lot more to the Nationalists than the question of Scottish independence.

"This seems to be a very special conference and there is a real feeling that we are in a position where we will be in power or at least moving towards that," said the self-employed 54-year-old.

He added: "There is a lot of excitement about lots of little things. The big issue is the feeling that this is it."

The conference has also seen the anti-nuclear SNP unveil a green energy plan and condemnation for the British Olympic Association for planning to enter a UK football team at the 2008 and 2012 Olympic Games.

Bread and butter

Another hot topic of conversation among delegates has been whether Alex Salmond should return to Holyrood from Westminster, where some supporters say he has a much higher profile.

Steven Ferguson, 31, who until this week was a conference virgin, said he had picked up a positive mood at the event and said the party policies seemed to be going down well.

"I think the policy on electing people to health boards is quite important, as well as having local accountability, because many people in the country are not having their say and that's a bread-and-butter issue," he said.

Shirley Anne Somerville, 32, who works for the Royal College of Nursing, is contesting the Edinburgh Central seat for the SNP.

"There has been a great feeling at conference," she said.

"I think the delegates really feel that the future is in their hands."

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