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Positive message reaping rewards

THE clock was literally hanging over the SNP conference in Aberdeen this weekend.

High above the main stage, a digital countdown showed every vanishing second until the referendum.

As Alex Salmond finished speaking yesterday, he would have seen his date with destiny lay 158 days, 14 hours and 25 minutes ahead. That is a long time in politics, and much might change. But as delegates left to double their campaigning efforts, theirs seemed the side with most to cheer. It was also clear where they would focus their efforts.

The First Minister made direct appeals to two key groups needed for a Yes victory - Labour supporters and women. Polls suggest one in four of those who voted Labour in 2011 will back independence.

Salmond's pitch to the rest emphasised Labour-friendly policies such as expelling Trident and ending the bedroom tax, and framed independence as the gateway to a fairer, more equitable society.

He claimed independence would refresh Scottish Labour and free it to return it to its socialist roots.

It could be argued that this was wholly disingenuous, as after a Yes vote the SNP would most likely define itself as Scotland's main party of the left and seek to replace Labour.

However, the SNP has a good record in voter borrowing, having appealed directly to LibDem supporters in 2011.

Hoping to close the polling gap which shows women more resistant to a Yes vote than men, the First Minister also doubled the number of women in his Cabinet from two to four, and talked up his plans for a transformative change in childcare.

Given the promotions appeared little more than new titles for existing ministers, it is hoped that the changes run deeper than window-dressing. Nevertheless, it is a healthy signal to have a more gender-balanced team running Scotland. Besides bringing greater clarity to the Yes campaign, the last few days also illuminated the state of Better Together.

As the First Minister said, the absurd scare stories of the No campaign are now feeding support for a positive Yes campaign.

Better Together has become a prisoner of its own tactics and seems incapable of escape.

Lord George Robertson's recent prediction of "cataclysm" for the West after a Yes was laughable.

Yet Better Together did not distance itself from him. Unless it changes tactics, it will only sink further. Yes may not be leading the polls, but it looks as if it is starting to win the arguments.

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