The central plank of the SNP's manifesto will be (or at least so one assumes) independence. The eloquent Mr Salmond said so here:
"I believe an SNP victory next year will provide a double boost for our nation.
"First it will remove the dead hand of Labour rule in one of their traditional heartlands and mark the beginning of the end of the Blair era in Britain.
"But most importantly for Scotland it will mean the election of a real Scottish government. A government determined to put Scotland's interests first and return Scotland to her rightful place among the other nations of the world.
"Success will lead to a referendum in the first four years of an SNP government, giving Scots the opportunity to choose equality and prosperity through independence."
Well, there you go - simple, isn't it? The SNP and its allies (if any) win a majority in the Scottish Parliament and will then hold a referendum. Well, it's not quite that simple. As is pointed out here, the Scottish Parliament is not entitled to arrange for a referendum on independence. The break-up of the United Kingdom is - appropriately enough in my view - a matter for the United Kingdom as a whole; and it would be for the UK parliament to consider legislation authorising a referendum. So the loquacious Mr Salmond cannot actually promise a referendum within four years; that would primarily depend upon Mr Blair, Mr Brown or Mr Cameron. Of course, if the SNP were to command a majority in the Scottish Parliament which was in favour of a referendum on independence, it might well be the prudent course for a Westminster administration to accede to their demands (particularly as it is far from clear that the majority of the Scottish population would actually vote for independence), but it is somewhat remote from being a foregone conclusion (even if there are straws in the wind suggesting that certain parties in England might not be averse to cutting the ties that might otherwise bind). But it would be more honest if the SNP admitted that an SNP victory would be a prelude to lengthy and complicated negotiations with whoever was in power at Westminster before any referendum took place.
So what else is on offer? Well, here is Ms Sturgeon's goodie bag:
"To provide dignity and security for pensioners, we favour a Citizen's Pension, non-means tested and linked to earnings. The Scottish Parliament, regrettably, does not yet have the power to make that change.
"It does, however, have the power to tackle the crippling impact of the council tax and it will be an early priority of an SNP government to do just that...
"That is why the SNP will abolish the council tax and replace it with a local income tax based on the ability to pay.
"This will directly benefit the vast majority of pensioners in Scotland.
"Under the SNP proposals the 538,000 pensioners who pay no income tax will have the council tax abolished and will pay no local income tax either. There will be no ifs or buts, no means tests – half a million pensioners will simply have nothing to pay.
"Indeed, with a local income tax the vast majority – at least 90% - of pensioners in Scotland will pay either nothing or less than they do now."
Leaving aside the internal inconsistencies here (no means test, no ifs or buts, but up to ten per cent of pensioners might pay more than they do now), let us focus on this "early priority" of the SNP. The switch from council tax to local income tax would be complicated and would require a major piece of legislation. Unless an SNP administration were prepared to set up an income tax gathering organisation (which might be extremely expensive), I assume that they would ask the Inland Revenue to collect the local income tax and distribute it to the local authorities. The Inland Revenue would of course charge for this, as it would be complex to administer - it is implicit in a local income tax that different local authorities might charge different tax rates, so that the Revenue might have to ask employers to make different levels of deductions from the salaries of local taxpayers in Edinburgh compared to those in Fife.
Which leads us on to the next problem: some of those taxpayers in Fife actually work in Edinburgh. Accordingly, the Revenue would need to ask an employer to make varying levels of deductions, according to the location of the residential address of their employees. It's a lot more complicated than the present system and it is going to cost a lot more to administer.
I do not propose to discuss the interaction of the benefits system with a local income tax system but, believe me, it is far from straightforward. And all of this before we even begin to consider the position of pensioners.
None of this is rocket science - the problems with local income tax were identified in the 1970s green paper on local government finance. Local income tax is far from impossible, but there would require to be lengthy discussions and consultations before any legislation could even be drafted, far less implemented. Perhaps the SNP have sorted all this out and know precisely what they are going to do. Unless they have done so, it is misleading to claim that pensioners can look forward to an "early" release from the burdens of council tax.
So where are the SNP in relation to next May's election? My suspicion is that they are not at all prepared if they win. It is not just that they are opportunists; worse, they do not seem to do their homework. Maybe I'm wrong and there are policy wonks beavering away behind the scenes, but it seems unlikely...