"I feel I've been liberated," says Jack McConnell. "Away from the desk, away from the chamber, out and meeting people."

But the Scottish Labour leader complains it is "unfortunate and a frustration" that the positive case for backing his party has often been crowded out by its attacks on the SNP.

Mr McConnell defended the attack strategy and said the repeated visits by Tony Blair were because he "is still the great communicator of British politics, he's able to crystallise an argument far clearer than anyone else".

With Chancellor Gordon Brown, they are "probably more significant than any other contemporary politicians anywhere".

He also conceded many voters were undecided, "some thinking is it time for a change?', some objecting to a decision the government has made either in London or Edinburgh, and some "genuinely looking for reassurance".

He was using the opportunity of a conversation at Glasgow's Mitchell Library to expand on some of the key themes he wants to develop if he returns to Bute House after next Thursday's vote.

The Scotland Decides event - organised by The Herald and supported by the Scottish Chambers of Commerce - saw him talk extensively about his plans for education and skills, making a risky suggestion about the future of council taxation and tackling Herald readers' questions, which ranged from an independence referendum (easier to support, but disruptive) to the future of rural post offices (he would work to ensure local services work with them to keep them open).

He said his priorities for the last parliamentary term were crime and economic growth, claiming recent economic indicators on manufacturers' confidence, economic growth and population growth are showing progress.

"A certain percentage of people seem to want a change of government," he conceded. "One of the reasons I think that's the case is that people don't necessarily associate the change that's been taking place in Scotland with the Scottish Parliament."

For the future, education dominates, with a rise in the school leaving age to 18, more vocational education and a push to greater numbers of young people going into higher education. He said this responds to "a big mistake" made in Scottish education in the 1990s, when the school curriculum changed, with everyone doing Standard grades and academic work. "We all know that was a disaster for modern languages, when youngsters were crammed into classes when they were struggling to write in English. And it's been a disaster for the practical trades as well, and led to increased indiscipline in school."

Links between schools and colleges could have young people taking apprenticeship credits while still at school, with an incentive to attend linked to getting a job sooner after they leave. Having met teachers who were unhappy about having to handle reluctant teenagers, he said compulsion would "set a standard" and there would be opportunities for practical learning.

Asked about drug addicts keeping shoppers away from Coatbridge, he said rehabilitation services had to be in better shape, to stop money going to administration: "If I get re-elected, that system will change, money will go straight to rehab services and we will make sure they're increased."

Having faced hostile media questioning about his modest plans to reform council tax, he explained yesterday a review of local government finance had been resisted by his predecessor, Donald Dewar. "I thought it was the right thing to do. We've got a real problem with this issue. The council tax is controversial, it's unpopular, as most taxes are, it's so immediate because it's paid every month."

He warned if Labour lost, the introduction of a local income tax would be a disincentive for people to live and work in Scotland, and problems with it would make it unpopular within five or six years, leading to further upheaval.

"You should only replace the council tax if you have a sustainable system that raises the £2bn it raises now, on which there is some consensus. I would like to find a way of making the system of property tax, whether it's called council tax or anything else, partly property based and partly more related to people's income."

Mr McConnell made clear yesterday he would make the next government depend on his education priority: "If I was still First Minister after next Thursday, my choice about whether you try and work with different parties on different issues or with one party in a coalition will be determined by whether or not I can implement these education changes. I wouldn't want to be First Minister if I couldn't make those change."