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1Scottish election: SNP profile 2 3By Andrew Black 4Political reporter, BBC Scotland 5Over the years, the world has seen the rise and fall of many single-issue groups and minor parties, yet only a handful go on to achieve their goals. 6The Scottish National Party is one of those. 7The story of the SNP is one of success and failure, highs and lows, rogues and visionaries - but, most of all, it's the story of a party which started life on the fringes and moved in to claim political success. 8Despite the party's turbulent history, it is now set to realise its vision for an independence referendum, after first emerging as the government of Scotland in 2007. 9The SNP's spring conference in March last year was a bittersweet one. 10The party was on a high, but it was also mourning the death, at 86, of one of its former leaders, Billy Wolfe. 11This was the man who finally transformed the SNP into a serious party, guiding it to its greatest Westminster electoral success in 1974. 12The case for Scottish home rule goes right back to its unification with England in 1707. 13The view that the Scots who put their names to the Act of Union had been bribed, famously spurred Robert Burns to write: "We are bought and sold for English gold. Such a parcel of rogues in a nation." 14Many years later, the realisation that a pro-independence, election-fighting party was the way to go eventually led to the creation in 1934 of the Scottish National Party, through the amalgamation of the Scottish Party and the National Party of Scotland. 15Election-fighting 16But for years the SNP struggled to make an impact, party due to the on-going debate between those who wanted to concentrate on independence - the fundamentalists - and those who wanted to achieve it through policies such as devolution - the gradualists. 17The young Nationalist party's other problem was that, put simply, it just was not any good at fighting elections, because of its lack of funding, organisation and policies beyond independence. 18In its first test, the 1935 General Election, the SNP contested eight seats and won none. 19It was not until a decade later and the Motherwell and Wishaw by-election when the party finally got a break. 20When the contest was announced following the death of sitting Labour MP James Walker, the Nationalists sent in one of their up-and-comers, Robert McIntyre, to fight the seat. 21After standing largely on a platform of Labour failures in post-war reconstruction, the SNP took the seat with 50% of the vote, but lost it months later in the election. 22Even though this brief victory provided much excitement over what the party could achieve, it failed to make progress in subsequent elections and disquiet set in. 23But it was this disquiet which forced the party to reorganise - a move which would help the SNP to one of its most famous achievements. 24The Hamilton by-election should have been a breeze for Labour, but, as the party's vote collapsed, the SNP's Winnie Ewing romped home on 46%, famously declaring: "Stop the world, Scotland wants to get on." 25The 1970s was the decade of boom and bust for the SNP. They failed to hang on in Hamilton, but 1970 brought the SNP its first UK election gain, in the Western Isles. 26That same decade also saw the beginnings of the party's "It's Scotland's Oil" strategy, which sought to demonstrate Scotland was seeing little direct benefit of the tax wealth brought by North Sea oil. 27More success followed in 1973, when Margo MacDonald, "the blonde bombshell" won the Glasgow Govan by-election and, the following year, an under-fire Tory government called an election, which it lost. 28The SNP gained six seats and retained the Western Isles, but lost Govan - however, there were to be further gains. 29With Labour in power as a minority government, the party had little choice but to call a second election in 1974 - but not before committing to support for a Scottish Assembly. 30Even so, the SNP gained a further four seats, hitting its all time Westminster high of 11. 31Despite the success, tensions began to develop between those in the SNP who were elected and those who were not. 32'Tartan Tories' 33Then came 1979 - the year which provided two killer blows to the SNP. 34Not only did Scots voters fail to support the establishment of a Scottish Assembly in a referendum, but Margaret Thatcher's Tories swept to power - meaning the constitutional issue was not only off the table, but had been completely blown out of the water. 35The SNP had also come under a period of heavy fire from rival parties, portrayed by Labour as the "Tartan Tories" and "Separatists" by the Conservatives. 36With a post-election SNP slashed back to two MPs, the party needed a serious jump-start - but that jump-start dragged the party into a period which could have finished it off for good. 37The start of the 80s was a torrid time for the SNP. Many in the party felt bitter that it had come so far but was now practically back at square one in terms of its performance and the independence argument. 38The deep divisions gave rise to two notorious splinter groups. 39One was the ultra-nationalist group Siol Nan Gaidheal - branded "proto fascists" by the then SNP leader Gordon Wilson - whose members used to march around in Highland dress. 40The other was the Interim Committee for Political Discussion - more commonly known as the '79 Group. 41Formed to sharpen the party's message and appeal to dissident Labour voters, the group also embarked on a campaign of civil disobedience, spearheaded by the former Labour MP Jim Sillars, who had founded the Scottish Labour Party before defecting to the SNP in 1980. 42The campaign took a radical turn when Sillars, with several other group members, broke into Edinburgh's old Royal High School building. 43Then, a leak of '79 Group minutes to the media raised the prospect of links with the Provisional Sinn Fein. 44Despite claims the leaked version was inaccurate, Mr Wilson had had enough. 45His view that the party had to unite or die led to a ban on organised groups, but when the '79 Group refused to go quietly, seven of its members were briefly expelled from the party. 46They included Scotland's future justice secretary, Kenny MacAskill, and one Alex Salmond. 47The 1987 election saw another bad SNP performance. The party emerged with only three seats - but with the collapse in the Conservative vote, the constitutional issue was back. 48The SNP needed new blood at the top, and it came in the form of Alex Salmond. 49Despite previous form with the '79 Group, Mr Salmond had risen through the SNP ranks, becoming MP for Banff and Buchan and deputy leader of the party. 50Independence case 51Mr Salmond did not have his work to seek on becoming leader in 1990. 52As well as having to deal with on-going issues over the party's independence policy - future minister Alex Neil had declared Scotland would be "free by '93" - there was an election to fight. 53In 1992, the SNP increased its vote, but the party was only able to retain the three seats it already had, and lost Govan, which Mr Sillars re-took for the party in a 1988 by-election. 54Mr Salmond moved to modernise the SNP, repositioning the party as more socially democratic and pro-European and pushing the economic case for independence. 55Labour's commitment to a Scottish Parliament, delivered in 1999, was both a blessing and a curse for the Nationalists. 56Although devolution presented a great opportunity for the SNP, many questioned how relevant a pro-independence party would be - George Robertson famously quipped devolution would "kill nationalism stone dead". 57The SNP won 35 seats in the first election and also had two MEPs and six MPs. 58But the best it could manage in 1999 was becoming the main opposition to the Labour-Lib Dem coalition government. 59Mr Salmond's decision to quit as leader and an MSP came as a surprise. 60Despite much speculation over his reasons for returning to Westminster, ultimately, after a decade in the job, he decided it was time to step aside. 61His successor in 2000 was John Swinney, but, despite being among the party's brightest talent, his four-year tenure was plagued by dissenters from within. 62The party dropped a seat in 2001, and, despite a slick 2003 election campaign, the SNP once again ended up as the opposition. 63Later that year, a little-known SNP activist called Bill Wilson challenged Mr Swinney for the leadership, accusing him of ducking responsibility for a "plummeting" SNP vote. 64Mr Swinney won a decisive victory but was left weakened, and, at Holyrood, SNP MSPs Bruce McFee and Adam Ingram declared they would not support Mr Swinney in a leadership ballot. 65Another, Campbell Martin, was flung out of the party after bosses found his criticism of the Swinney leadership damaged its interests in the run-up to the SNP's poor European election showing in 2004, where it failed to overtake Labour. 66Mr Swinney quit as leader, accepting responsibility for failing to sell the party's message - but warned SNP members over the damage caused by "the loose and dangerous talk of the few". 67Close result 68When the leaderless party turned to Mr Salmond, he drew on a quote from US civil war leader General Sherman to declare: "If nominated I'll decline. If drafted I'll defer. And if elected I'll resign." 69Then, in a move almost as surprising as his decision to quit, Mr Salmond launched a successful leadership campaign on a joint ticket with Nicola Sturgeon, winning a decisive victory. 70Nobody thought the 2007 Scottish election result could be so close. 71In the end, the SNP won the election by one seat, while Mr Salmond returned to Holyrood as MSP for Gordon. 72With the SNP's pro-independence stance ruling out a coalition, the party forged ahead as a minority government. 73The SNP government had promised to seek consensus on an issue-by-issue basis, but when the opposition parties thought the government was being disingenuous, they converged to reject the Scottish budget in 2009. 74It was passed on the second attempt, but served as a reminder to the SNP the delicate position it was in. 75Other key manifesto commitments also ran into trouble - plans to replace council tax with local income tax were dropped due to lack of support, while ambitious plans to cut class sizes in the early primary school years ran into problems. 76Eventually, the bill on an independence referendum was dropped. 77Such is life in minority government. 78Although the SNP's focus had become the Scottish government, it was keen not to lose sight of its status beyond the Holyrood bubble and, in 2009, won the largest share of the Scottish vote in the European election for the first time. 79Continuing its knack for winning safe Labour seats in by-elections, the SNP delivered a crushing blow to Labour, winning Glasgow East by overturning a majority of 13,507 to win by just a few hundred votes. 80But the party failed to repeat this success a few months later in the Glenrothes by-election and, later, in Glasgow North East. 81In a story that bore echoes of the past for the SNP, the 2010 UK election saw Labour regain Glasgow East, while the Nationalists concluded that, with a resurgent Tory party on course for victory, Scots voters came out in their droves to back Labour. 82The 2011 Holyrood election was Labour's to lose. In the event, that is exactly what happened. 83Despite polls predicting a Labour lead over the SNP of up to 15 points, the Nationalists threw themselves into the campaign. 84They say their positive campaign, versus Labour's negativity, was what won it for them. 85The SNP's 2007 win was rightly described as a historic one - but, four years later, the has re-written the history books again. 86Its jaw-dropping victory means it will be Scotland's first majority government - and the independence referendum will happen. 87The SNP has truly come a long way since the fringes of 1934.