This is my personal view of at least part of the answer to that question.
Something seems to be afoot! I can smell it in the air Charlie! I'm based in Edinburgh Pentlands - for long a bit of a Con-Lab marginal. Could it be that the SNP overtake them both on the inside lane? I have had 4 SNP leaflets delivered by hand (ie not freepost leaflets) - that has never happened before! That is more than from either Labour or Tory! True Pentlands is interesting - the SNP were third but got a healthy enough vote. In the 80s Keith Smith made it a 3 way marginal for the SDP Alliance. This means to me, that if they can get organised there is scope for a third party - whether SNP or LibDem to do well in my seat and even take it!
But the SNP doing well in Edinburgh! Never really seen that before - although, on the back of the last Holyrood election, they showed signs of flickering into life. Edinburgh has seen a really strong Liberal Democrat vote before! At times it has seemed to me, in some rural and suburban parts, the Liberal Democrat vote and SNP vote seems interchangeable to some extent! Certainly with our four party system - five if you count the Greens - Scottish voters are highly tactical. Scots voters link up to keep Conservatives out! Scottish voters get behind whoever they think will do best for Scotland at different elections.
Hence the SNP do well at Holyrood elections and poorly at Westminster elections - kinda the other way around for the LibDems.
Certainly, as a LibDem, I feel the SNP at this election sound like a tartan SDP at times. The emphasis on the environment, a positive outlook on Europe, a pragmatic centre left agenda - free from Labour dogma and grand-standing. Apart from the discreet Independence bit, it could so easily be a Liberal Democrat agenda.
However, slightly different people seem to support the SNP and they seem able to have a more broad appeal across Scotland than the Liberal Democrats. They do well in traditional Labour areas and the west of Scotland - AND in rural and suburban areas too.
Someone once said to me the old tribal certainties are breaking down as the generations move on. Fewer and fewer people are Labour or Conservative as a birth-right. As we all become just a little middle class, so the SNP and the Liberal Democrats (and the Greens) do well, more often in Scotland.
If things really work out for the SNP and they achieve Independence at some point, what then for the SNP? Will Scotland settle into a politics based on Lab V SNP? This could be a little like FG v FF in Eire! I'm not at all sure if I want to see that emerge!!!
Nevertheless, I am struck that the SNP are very very professional nowadays in their integrated campaigning! They seem to have lots of bright young staffers too! They used to be rubbish at the ground war and targeting seats but this too may be changing!
The SNP have their dander up and no doubt workers are coming outta the woodwork! They have the big mo and that is coming through in the polls!
After four years of government in Scotland the fear factor of the SNP has gone and they seem broadly competent, and they have Alex! Labour on the other hand are dull and predictable and oh so utterly uninspiring! Nor do the Labour Party have anyone to kick, like Tories, either!
This all adds up to help explain why Labour are going to do badly after doing so well in Scotland a year ago and doing well UK-wide just now! (though scratch the surface and there are still questions the electorate north and south of the border ask of Labour!)
The SNP charge also seems to be coming at the expense of Tory and Lib Dem voters who appear to be voting tactically for Salmond or tactically against Labour winning, says Jeff Breslin at Better Nation.
I saw some recent polling suggesting where SNP second preferences would go. It seemed to split 50% left (Lab and SSP) 30% centre or centre left (LibDem and Green) and 10% right (Tory) with 10% unclassified.
According to Scottish Vote Compass, comparing the policies and philosophies of the parties, the Liberal Democrats and SNP and, on some issues, the Greens are all quite close.
So what have we? We live in more politically volatile times where the electorate is more fluid and less tribal than in years gone by. We see this in the tactical way the Scottish electorate votes at different elections.
The SNP have money, some clever political operatives and they have Alex Salmond!
From my point of view, as a Liberal Democrat, the Coalition and the public sector cuts that have to be delivered, will harm us at this election. In addition, association with the Conservatives remains toxic. Whether we start to re-connect and people remember why they like us, or whether this a hurting that will last a generation, only time will tell.
In a four or five party system sometimes a party is drowned out at an election however it campaigns. This is where the LibDems are finding themselves at the moment.
SNP doing well at this election. However, I wouldn't want to see them do too well!
I think if they sweep to power on the sentiment as it stands this Easter weekend, they would get their referendum this time. I think only a third of the Scottish electorate, at most, have an interest in Independence - and not all the SNP's voters!! But if there is a wave of warm feelings to the SNP this could yet become a close run thing. I don't personally believe Independence would be a good thing or the right thing for Scotland and the UK. I, as a LibDem, take the view that a good dose of devolved and decentralised power within the UK is the naural settlement for the UK and for Scotland - and it is the one I want.
I am also cautious about how realistic the SNP's positions are. They want council tax freezes and free prescriptions etc etc. Cuts are on the way to what the SNP have to spend and I don't think their programme is entirely viable.
We don't want all the votes to go to the SNP, away from Labour. At this election, I think it is important that the LibDems maintain a viable group at Holyrood!
Despite being crowded out I still think they have put together a good programme and a good campaign.
- A costed programme based on re-generation and jobs creation aimed at creating 100,000 jobs,
- Supported by regional development banks to provide investment where the commercial banks can't.
- Abolishing the Council Tax for pensioners on less than £10,000.
- Introducing a pupil premium to ensure that kids from poorer backgrounds don't lose out at school
- Keeping the free higher education, which the LibDems won in 1999 in Scotland!!
- Investment in science and plans for getting superfast broadband out there to all of Scotland - to make Scotland the most connected country in Europe
- Opposing any political power grab to the centre, especially a single Scottish police force.
So we need plenty of LibDems in the parliament. We don't want Lab v SNP to be like Fine Gael v Fine Fail in Ireland, where politics has not properly grown up post civil war and the parties do not compete enough on the politics of ideas.
Dare I say it, there is a place in Scotland for something on the right, but I do wish the Scots Tories did not sometimes look like Cameron and Farquhar down the rugby club!
The good thing about the SNP I read when I saw the Sun are supporting the SNP, and the Record Labour. The Sun were arguing that the SNP's aspirational tax-cutting and upbeat electioneering is more in tune with their readers' outlook than the Record's more stolid reporting. Sun readers are younger, and more upwardly mobile, as are SNP voters.
Amen to a younger, more aspirational, more upbeat Scotland this Easter! Let this election catch the spirit! A good thumping of smug, dull old Labour will help!
I just hope the SNP don't win too big and that the LibDems stay strong! We need them in a modern Scotland that is running to a better future!