London / AFP
The Scottish National Party heads into regional elections on Thursday hoping to strengthen its clout and secure a mandate to demand independence if Britain leaves the European Union.
Victory in the vote could allow the SNP to consolidate a historic triumph in general elections in May 2015, when it swept 56 out of Scotlandâ€™s 59 seats in the national parliament in Westminster.
Despite its failure the previous year to win an independence referendum, which was defeated by a 55 percent vote against, the party founded in 1934 remains a formidable electoral machine that has gone from strength to strength.
In the last regional elections in 2011, the SNP took 69 out of 129 seats in the Edinburgh parliament.
On Thursday, the party of First Minister Nicola Sturgeon may increase that tally to 71, according to an average of polls compiled by the Scotland Votes website.
The big question is which group will come second.
The Labour party, which counted Scotland as a stronghold before the rise of the SNP, could lose the runner-up position to Prime Minister David Cameronâ€™s Conservatives.
A strong showing for the SNP could bolster the partyâ€™s hopes of Scotland breaking off from the United Kingdom, especially if Britons vote to leave the European Union in a referendum due on June 23. The pro-EU SNP leaders have repeatedly said that a so-called Brexit could be a trigger for a second referendum on independence.
â€˜Firm independence plansâ€™
The promise features on the SNPâ€™s manifesto which goes before voters XXX on Thursday.
â€œThe Scottish Parliament should have the right to hold another referendum if there is clear and sustained evidence that independence has become the preferred option of a majority of the Scottish people,â€ it reads.
â€œOr if there is a significant and material change in the circumstances that prevailed in 2014, such as Scotland being taken out of the EU against our will.â€
According to Andrew Blick, a lecturer in politics and contemporary history at Kingâ€™s College London, momentum for another vote on independence would build above all if the rest of Britain voted to leave the EU but Scotland did not.