Salmond predicts crushing victory

ALEX Salmond yesterday declared the SNP was heading for victory in the Glenrothes by-election and preparing to deliver a crushing blow to Labour.

Four days before polling day and with the vote on a knife-edge, the First Minister made his most confident prediction of the campaign to date, saying the SNP had done enough to see off a resurgent Labour.

"I think we will be there on Thursday," Salmond said.

He based his analysis on the SNP's superior organisation, claiming Labour lacked a similar strength on the ground.

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"We are nearly there. Our support is mobilised and motivated," he said. "We never regarded this as a push-over. A majority of over 10,000 is always a tough nut to crack. It was always going to be close, but in these last few days we have motivated our support and we have pulled away from Labour.

"They really don't have the strength on the ground that we have got. This is the difference between having an organised and motivated support and relying on a spin machine in London."

The SNP leader dismissed reports of a "Brown bounce" resulting from the Prime Minister's handling of the financial crisis as "Labour spin".

Although Labour are defending a 10,664 majority, the SNP won the similar Central Fife seat with a swing of 7.6% in last year's Scottish elections. In the summer the SNP overcame a 13,500 majority to claim Glasgow East, a result that sent shockwaves through Labour.

"We got our reward last year when we won the equivalent seat in the Scottish Parliament," the First Minister said after speaking to voters who had switched to the SNP in the Carlton Bakeries in Markinch.

Salmond stuck his neck out as bookmakers said the SNP and Labour were now neck-and-neck. Ladbrokes offered odds of 5/6 on both parties, despite the SNP having been the early 1/4 favourites.

A Ladbrokes spokesman appeared to take issue with the First Minister's remarks, saying: "It's been one-way traffic for Labour. The momentum is with the Government and our latest price change caps a remarkable turnaround in the betting."

Two high-profile visits from Gordon Brown as well as Alistair Darling would suggest that Labour is confident of catching up with the SNP.

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But Salmond said the Glenrothes seat had been an SNP target for many years, long before it came up for grabs with the untimely death of sitting Labour MP John MacDougall.

The SNP's formidable machine has canvassed over 40,000 people, delivered 12 leaflets to all 36,000 households, and despatched 4,300 activists on visits before this weekend.

Meanwhile, Salmond has made 11 visits and intends to return to the constituency every day until the polls close.

Peter Grant, the SNP candidate, was sent a message of support by the party's most famous member, Sir Sean Connery.

The actor urged Grant to "keep showing the people of Glenrothes the SNP is on their side and I have every confidence that they will send a strong message on November 6."

Lindsay Roy, the Labour candidate, appeared unfazed by Salmond's remarks as he campaigned at the Club 3000 Bingo Hall in Glenrothes.

"I'm confident we can win this election, if we continue to work hard for the next few days. We are seeing a change in fortune and I detect that the tide is turning in our favour."