After a mixed bag of performances in a series of by-election clashes, the Scottish National party are shaping up for a big clash with Labour north of the border in the 2010 general election. Alex Salmond wants to increase his party’s Westminster standing to 20 seats. Will his party slip up as the campaign intensifies?

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February 11th: Sturgeon in trouble – Deputy first minister Nicola Sturgeon found herself at the centre of a political storm after she gave a character reference at the trial of a convicted benefit fraudster. Salmond said he backed her “110%” after the criminal – Abdul Rauf – escaped without a custodial sentence. She later admitted she was “sorry” for the move.

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February 12th: Courted by the Tories – David Cameron’s speech to the Scottish Conservative party conference contained a passage making clear his enthusiasm for better relations between Edinburgh and London. He said he hoped for “the beginning of a new relationship” based on “mutual respect“.

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February 27th: Bad poll news – A YouGov poll for the Scotland on Sunday put the SNP on 21%, 17 points behind Labour on 38% as the general election approached.

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March 6th: Campaign launch boost – Salmond called for Scottish MPs to work as “champions” for Scotland in Westminster as the party launched its general election campaign. “At this election the message is simple – more Nats means less cuts,” he argued.

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April 6th: Campaign launched – Salmond launched the SNP’s general election campaign by urging voters to reject Labour’s “metropolitan political machines” – and pointed out Gordon Brown had chosen to call the election on the anniversary of the Declaration of Arbroath.

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April 9th: A two-horse race – Scottish Labour encapsulated the argument it believes is likely to hit the SNP hardest in the launch of its campaign poster, showing a red and blue horse racing. ‘It’s a two-horse race’ pointed out the Westminster election is about whether Labour or the Tories will form the next government.

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April 15th: Scrubber Salmond – The first minister and a Glasgow candidate posed with bottles of kitchen cleaner urging voters to ‘clean up Glasgow’, in a stunt aimed at Labour’s council leader. His ‘cocaine scandal’ was reported by the Daily Record newspaper.

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April 20th: Manifesto launched – Jobs and the recovery were placed centre-stage at the nationalists’ manifesto launch. Alex Salmond hit the headlines with his enthusiasm for a “balanced parliament”.

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April 22nd: BBC debate appeal defeat – Plaid and the SNP lost their appeal to the BBC Trust against the decision to exclude their leaders from the televised debates. Further legal action seems unlikely – as the nationalists can’t afford it.