Our round-up of all the stories from the Holyrood election campaign trail, plus the picture of the day and political cartoon.
PIC OF THE DAY: Alex Salmond met protester Sean Clerkin in Edinburgh's Fruitmarket Gallery yesterday. Labour has accused the SNP of trying to "buy him off" ahead of their manifesto launch today. Pic: Greg Macvean
ON THE CAMPAIGN TRAIL...
• The SNP has pledged to extend the council tax freeze for the full five years of the next Scottish Parliament. The promise was set out in the party's manifesto for the May 5 Holyrood election, unveiled in Glasgow today. Expected to run for the next two years under a re-elected SNP Government, the flagship tax policy would eventually be replaced by a local income tax.
• Labour has pledged to introduce a series of initiatives to encourage Scots to exercise more. Launching the party's sports manifesto this morning, Scottish Labour leader Iain Gray said he wanted to reduce the 2,500 annual deaths in Scotland which are associated with a lack of physical exercise.
He also said Labour would create a lasting legacy from the 2014 Commonwealth Games. The manifesto pledges free access to swimming pools, along with free lessons for children, and the creation of a Commonwealth Legacy Schools scheme.
• The Conservatives have pledged to create two cabinet-level ministerial positions to help grow Scotland's economy. Tory enterprise spokesman Gavin Brown said today: "We will create a new cabinet-level position of Minister for Finance and Reform, replacing the existing Finance and Sustainable Growth portfolio, and provide a dedicated member of cabinet with responsibility for decisions on taxation and spending, and for driving public sector reform."
IN THE PAPERS...
SNP gains ground in 'poll of polls'
The battle between Labour and the SNP to win the Scottish election is "too close to call", according to a new 'poll of polls'. Scottish Labour leader Iain Gray is still ahead in the race to become First Minister, but Alex Salmond has closed the gap and is not far behind. The five most recent polls were analysed by the ScotlandVotes.com website, run by PR firm Weber Shandwick. (Various)
Teachers and lawyers mock Labour policies
Labour's policies came under attack from teaching unions and lawyers yesterday, with one top Scottish advocate describing Iain Gray's proposal to drop the need for corroboration in rape cases as "the most bizarre criminal justice proposal I have ever heard from a Scottish politician". Teaching unions claimed Labour's plan to parachute 1,000 new graduates into schools to improve literacy and numeracy as unworkable. (The Times)
Hollywood comic writer backs Salmond
Mark Millar, the Hollywood comic book writer behind hits like Kick-Ass, has backed Alex Salmond and the SNP in the Holyrood election. Millar, 40, from Coatbridge, Lanarkshire, said: "He is the best in the country - and I am including Westminster. He is a guy you want in charge." (The Sun)
BBC 'biased' over Salmond invitation
The BBC was accused of bias today after it emerged SNP leader Alex Salmond is to appear on its flagship politics programme Question Time.
Labour has already submitted formal complaints to both the broadcaster and independent regulator Ofcom, claiming Mr Salmond's appearance gives his party unfair airtime during an election campaign. (Daily Mail)
SNP fears anti-Tory vote may boost Labour
ALEX Salmond will today seek to haul voters' attention away from events at Westminster and on to their choice in the Holyrood election, amid warnings within the SNP that Labour's claim to be Scotland's anti-Tory party of choice could puncture his hopes of a second term in office. (The Scotsman)
Salmond put on spot over manifesto pledges
THE SNP has been accused of "desperate evasion" after it failed to publish the 84 out of 94 headline manifesto commitments it claims to have met in government. Scottish Labour's deputy leader, Johann Lamont, challenged the SNP to publish the full list of the pledges. (The Scotsman)
SNP 'double standards' over protest group talks
ALEX Salmond has faced claims of double standards, after holding talks with a group of protesters who ambushed Labour leader Iain Gray last week. Mr Salmond agreed to intervene in a series of campaigns highlighted by the protesters, led by former SNP candidate Sean Clerkin, after meeting them in an Edinburgh caf yesterday. (The Scotsman)
SSP issues 'no cuts' rallying cry
The SSP has launched its manifesto, with a rallying cry of "no cuts, not now, not ever". The party is pro-independence and wants the council tax replaced with a graduated income tax, which it says will raise 1.5 billion a year. Co-convener Colin Fox said clear blue water separated the SSP from the anti-cuts message of Respect's George Galloway and the pro-independence and local tax messages promoted by the SNP. (The Scotsman)
• The Scottish Tories want to award a quarter of all local and national government contracts to small and medium-sized firms. They say the party secured a 10 million package for small business in the Budget that will create 5,000 Scottish jobs.
By Iain Green
While the SNP's manifesto site was launched online today at manifesto.votesnp.com, if you click on the Manifesto link at the top of the SNP homepage, you'll be greeted with the message: "We couldn't find the page you were looking for." Not even one of them?
• Leader of the Scottish Greens Patrick Harvey will be taking part in a live webchat on scotsman.com on Monday, April 18 at 12pm.
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