Scott Macnab: Nicola Sturgeon at top of her game

A VAST climbing arena staged yesterday’s SNP manifesto launch. A nod perhaps to that final summit which the party of Scottish independence has yet to scale?

Nicola Sturgeon continues to earn praise. Picture: Gordon Fraser
Nicola Sturgeon continues to earn praise. Picture: Gordon Fraser

Well, Nicola Sturgeon was keen to keep the constitutional issue firmly off the agenda – but her 900 or so adoring supporters weren’t having a bit of it.

The SNP leader was attempting to assure viewers watching live on news channels UK-wide that this election is not about another referendum. “The SNP will always support independence, but this election . . .”

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At this point Ms Sturgeon found herself drowned out by a cacophonous cheer which rang out around the mock hollowed-out cavern of Edinburgh’s International Climbing Arena.

She could only chuckle as she attempted to convince the faithful that it was not about independence but “making Scotland stronger”.

It was a minor blip on a day which again illustrated the dominant grip the Nationalists currently have on Scottish politics.

While other parties launch their manifestos in cafes, the SNP must now hire out arena-style venues after membership surged to more than 100,000 following the referendum defeat. The car park was swamped yesterday and cars lined the mile or so of road up to the venue.

The prospect of the party gaining 40-50 seats next month and holding the balance of power at Westminster is now as real as it is remarkable.

At the centre of it all was Ms Sturgeon. Her seamless transition to figurehead of the Nationalist movement in Scotland was in clear evidence again. The less abrasive approach compared to her predecessor Alex Salmond showed when she appealed to the audience to respect the questions from journalists whether they liked them or not.

“But feel free to cheer me as loudly as you like,” she added

And cheer they did. It’s hard to believe now that there was a time when Ms Sturgeon’s supposedly “nippy” demeanour was seen as a potential barrier to her leadership.

She teased David Cameron yesterday over his reluctance to be photographed on the couch with her during a weekend TV appearance.

And her first meeting with Ed Miliband also provoked laughter as the First Minister revealed how it happened at the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony – but she was more interested in watching the dancing teacakes.

The next time Ms Sturgeon meets the Labour leader could be in post-election negotiations. The question is, who will be dancing to whose tune?