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Record View: Listen and learn, Alex.

ALEX Salmond remains easily the most popular choice to be first minister - while support for his goal of independence is falling.

That's the ironic conclusion of a new opinion poll out yesterday.

Aclose look at the poll shows that the ratings of all the Scots party leaders dipped slightly in the wake of last week's bungled budget, but with Salmond still holding a healthy lead over his rivals.

So it seems Salmond and finance secretary John Swinney were right to try again after their first attempt to get the budget through failed, rather than quit and try to force an election that no one wants.

But, overall, the budget drama has not changed much in the eyes of most voters.

The broad message from the poll yesterday was both good and bad news for Salmond.

It says he would win a snap election.

But as the recession kicks in, most Scots are more worried about keeping their homes and jobs than pursuing independence.

The realisation that RBS and Bank of Scotland are still in business only thanks to the UK Government has sunk in.

Now Salmond's goal of splitting Scotland from the rest of Britain seems further away than ever.

He should listen to that message.

And that means ditching those policies which were designed, first and foremost, to further the cause of independence.

They include the damaging Scottish Futures Trust, which is preventing schools and hospitals being built, and the ill-conceived Local Income Tax, which would hammer hard working families and businesses.

He should also rethink his plans for a referendum on independence next year.

Salmond is riding high despite, not because of, independence.

The sooner he realises it, the better it will be for Scotland.

The lesson of the botched budget is simple, the SNP are better off working with everyone rather than pursuing their own interests.
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Title Annotation:Leaders
Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Feb 2, 2009
Words:309
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