THE SNP today unveils a list of 100 members of the business community who are publicly backing Alex Salmond for First Minister.

As the Holyrood election campaign enters its last full week, with no sign of the Nationalists relinquishing their lead in the opinion polls, the list of names drawn from all sections of the business community and from all parts of the country shows how far they have travelled towards credibility power in the eight years since the creation of the Scottish Parliament.

On April 22, 1999 The Herald reported an opinion poll that put the SNP on 26%, 20 points behind Labour. The SNP campaign never recovered from that. It was also a time when Labour found it easy to garner 100 names for an advertisement claiming the Nationalists were a threat to jobs.

The weekend's YouGov poll for the Sunday Times gave the SNP a seven-point lead over Labour in both the regional list (35%) and constituency vote (37%), while in the Mail on Sunday Scottish Opinion had the SNP five points ahead on both counts.

A newspaper advert is published today carrying the list of 100 SNP supporters. It includes Sir Tom Farmer, who initially came out as a financial backer of the Nationalists because he felt they should have the opportunity to hold their own in debate.

Also on the list are others who have already endorsed Mr Salmond such as Crawford Beveridge, Sir George Mathewson and Brian Souter as well as new names such as the cook and food writer Lady Claire MacDonald.

The SNP claimed that Labour had been trying to mount a similar exercise for weeks but had been unable to secure enough support. Mr Salmond said: "The SNP are winning the debate on the Scottish economy, just as we earning the trust of the people to win the election."

Mr Salmond continued to trade insults over the weekend with Jack McConnell, claiming the First Minister's outbursts against SNP policy amounted to anti-Scottishness.

This prompted Mr McConnell to declare Mr Salmond "unfit for office".

The First Minister will follow this up today in a speech in Cumbernauld, claiming: "Today's new confident and prosperous Scotland has been built brick-by-brick though the hard work, grit and graft of Scotland's businesses and hardworking families.

"I will not let the SNP tear it all down. I will not let the SNP wreck our economy. I will not let them wreck the livelihoods of Scotland's hardworking families."

Meanwhile both the Greens and Scottish Socialists linked a softening of SNP policy on re-regulating buses with the donations from Brian Souter of the Stagecoach group.

The Sunday Herald claimed yesterday that the Nationalists were embroiled in a "cash for policies" row after dropping their reregulation pledge which would have hurt the commercial interests of Mr Souter, one of their main financial backers. However, a senior SNP official said: "The truth is our manifesto was completed before Mr Souter made his donation and we remain committee to a planned and integrated public transport network."

But Mark Ballard, Green speaker on Transport, said: "At best this is a downgrading of a vital policy. At worst it could be cash for policies."