WITH the latest Ipsos poll signalling a tight electoral race in Scotland and Labour’s newly published manifesto indicating no intention to reverse £20 billion worth of Tory austerity cuts in non-protected public services, the SNP have the biggest opportunity yet to offer a real alternative to the Scottish electorate.

So far the governing choice being presented through Westminster on July 4 is between a Conservative Party marooned dangerously on the hard right and a Labour Party promising nothing more than stabilisation on the back of years of failure.

Something they laughably call “change”.

How the SNP respond over the final three weeks of this campaign will determine whether they can retain a significant group of MPs to provide determined opposition to London-based decline.

It will also show whether they grasp the essential need to forge a strong bridge between effective delivery of progressive policies in Scotland (which has been lacking recently) and the case for securing the full powers of independence to make change transformative rather than merely ameliorative.

With the Tories dead in the water, the key task before election day is to convince the huge number of potential Labour voters sceptical of Keir Starmer’s visionless ramblings that the SNP still represent the best opportunity to elect MPs who will stand by the values that once-great party used to herald.

Labour do not need Scottish seats to win power in the UK, and if they get them, they will largely ignore Scotland’s interests. Their support of Brexit is a prime example. We need far better than that.

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In response, the SNP must do more than tinker with slogans and repeat the word “independence”.

The party must spell out – in governing actions as well as campaigning words – a steady and hopeful path towards anti-austerity economics, a sustainable and worker-led green energy transition, more redistributive taxation, the protection of public services, and investment in health and wellbeing.

In addition, the party should be seeking to enhance and refinance local democracy, reconnect with Europe, redirect the obscene waste of spending on nuclear weapons and press the right of the people of Scotland to choose their own future – something trade unions and other civic bodies support, even if their members have different views on the outcome.

Those are some of the strong signals of difference that the SNP manifesto needs to send out. It has to offer real substance, and an indication of the willingness to acknowledge and learn from serious recent failings. Its attitude and commitment need to stand in clear contrast to Labour’s pusillanimity and the Tories’ toxicity.

The seeds of such an approach actually already exist in strong policies crafted by the party which the Scottish Government has been too timid to take up of late.

These include a public and asset-based renewable energy company (in contrast to Labour’s private GB Energy scam), a proper public national care service (not the private commissioning service currently going through parliament) and the SNP Trade Union Group’s championing of purposeful proposals from the STUC on the economy, taxation and local government finance.

What SNP trade unionists – whose affiliate body is the SNP’s largest – have been asking for in the Westminster campaign are the following key commitments – investment in a real Green New Deal of the kind that Labour have abandoned; protection of specific existing devolved powers and the demand for more (particularly on tax, borrowing and workers’ rights); a strong presumption that all utilities should be publicly owned and resolute opposition to anti-strike, anti-trade union and anti-protest legislation.

These are the kind of demands that show how Scotland deserves the chance to make different choices which benefit the great majority of the population – and especially those at the rough end of a continuing cost of living crisis.

They also illustrate the limits of devolution and the need for more powers, enabling people to see more clearly the potential for transformation under independence and the blockages to deeper change that exist.

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Westminster elections are traditionally tough for the SNP because they are asking for their candidates to be elected to an institution they ultimately wish to leave in favour of a sovereign Scottish parliament and people.

The party’s extraordinary results since 2015 are partly a sign of the thirst for change in Scotland following the 2014 referendum, and partly exaggerated benefits from a distorted first-past-the-post voting system – one which may this time work against it in the context of close constituency votes and a wider Labour surge.

That is why a strong finish to this SNP Westminster campaign needs to be linked to a renewed commitment to bolder, more progressive policies at Holyrood (showing what can be done when Scotland is more in control of its own destiny), substantial reform of inner-party governance and democracy, and a genuinely collaborative and civic approach to independence.

The overall aim should be to build public support and confidence in Scottish self-determination to a sustainable and politically convincing level of 55% or more through and beyond the 2026 Holyrood elections.

If that looks a tall order, it only illustrates just how much this needs to begin now, and how the current Westminster campaign must be seen as the beginning of a new phase of political renewal, not an end in itself.

Simon Barrow is national secretary of the SNP Trade Union Group. He has co-edited and co-authored five books on Scottish politics, and he is also involved on a cross-party basis with Democratic Left Scotland.