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By a Newsnet reporter

Giving the opening speech at the SNP's spring conference, depute leader and health minister Nicola Sturgeon welcomed delegates home to Glasgow, the city where the party was founded 78 years ago.  Ms Sturgeon told the conference that the SNP could take control of Scotland's largest local authority from the Labour party, which has ruled in the city since the 1980s.

At the largest ever conference of what is now Scotland's largest political party in terms of membership – by a considerable margin – Ms Sturgeon predicted that there would be no empty seats at Alex Salmond's keynote speech on Sunday, in contrast to the half-empty halls addressed by leaders of the Labour party and the Lib Dems in Scotland during their poorly attended conferences last weekend.  

Glasgow will be a key battleground between the SNP and Labour in May 3rd's local elections.  If Labour fail to retain control of the council it will be a catastrophic blow to the party's attempts to recover from its humiliating defeat in last year's Holyrood election, when five of the city's nine constituency seats were taken by the SNP.  Labour's Scottish leader Johann Lamont is closely associated with Glasgow Labour, being herself a Glasgow Labour MSP.

The local Labour party was recently described as being in "meltdown" after the mass resignation of seven Labour councillors, one of whom defected to the SNP.  The remaining rebel Labour councillors have announced their intention to set up a rival party and to stand against Labour in the forthcoming council elections.  The defections came after an ill-tempered reselection process which many sitting councillors saw as being directed by a clique led from Westminster.  The bitter in-fighting within Glasgow Labour has been accompanied by allegations of bullying and intimidation.

Ms Lamont has come under fierce criticism for her seeming failure to deal with the problems within Glasgow Labour.  She has made no public comment and nothing more has been heard of a promised investigation into an allegation of intimidation made by a rebel female councillor.

Ms Sturgeon vowed that unlike Labour, the SNP would not take Glaswegians for granted, and would work hard for every vote.  She highlighted Scottish Government investment in Glasgow, citing the M74 motorway extension and the new Southern General Hospital.  She hailed the party's "historic breakthrough" in the city during the May 2011 Holyrood elections and vowed that the SNP would continue to deliver for Glasgow and build on the growing support the party enjoyed locally.

Ms Sturgeon, MSP for Glasgow Southside, said: "We are not like Labour, we take nothing for granted, we will work hard for every vote.

"The people who will decide the election here in Glasgow and in every part of Scotland are the voters.

"But we face here a Labour Party that is crumbling before our eyes, a Labour Party that is discredited, that is losing councillors hand over fist."

Ms Sturgeon's remarks were backed by Glasgow City Council's SNP group leader Allison Hunter.  Ms Hunter told the conference that the party would shortly unveil its manifesto for the city and promised that it would contain "common sense proposals".

Ms Hunter added: "I am not going to make any false promises about what an SNP administration can achieve.

"We don't have a magic wand that can magic away all Glasgow's problems with one stroke, but I promise you this: there is absolutely no chance of an SNP administration becoming complacent and comfortable while these problems continue to exist."

Ms Sturgeon's speech in full:

"Welcome to the great city of Glasgow for what is our biggest ever Spring Conference. Let me make a prediction at the outset of our conference, delegates – there will be no empty seats for our leader's speech this weekend.

"Delegates, an awful lot has changed in Scottish politics since this time last year.  Cast your minds back – back then we were 15 points adrift in the opinion polls, I was the only constituency SNP MSP in Glasgow, and indeed this venue was in a Labour constituency.  Our election chances were being written off.

"But we still believed - and less than two months later we won an unprecedented overall majority nationwide.  I'm very proud to say that my home city of Glasgow played a key role in that.  The Glasgow count itself took place in this very building and was a night of high drama and unprecedented success for the SNP – the tensest moment was waiting to find out that Bill Kidd had won Glasgow Anniesland by seven votes after two recounts!

"We won seat after seat in this city and became the largest party, and Conference it's a huge pleasure to welcome you to the SECC in the SNP constituency of Glasgow Kelvin – won by Sandra White.

"It's always great to be in Glasgow, and it's great for Glasgow to have the estimated £1million boost that it brings to the economy over the weekend.

"And when SNP Conference comes to Glasgow it is really coming home.  As you know the SNP was founded in Glasgow 78 years ago and many of our most important electoral breakthroughs happened here – not least in the Govan constituency.  Glasgow has always been at the SNP's heart and central to our vision of a progressive, fairer and more democratic Scotland.

"As a government we have delivered for Glasgow and continue to do so.  Major infrastructure investments like the M74 extension, and the new Southern General Hospital show our commitment to the city – as does the investment linked to the Commonwealth Games which the whole city is looking forward to.

"Fellow delegates let me tell you this: we are working towards yet another important electoral breakthrough in Glasgow.  These are exciting political times for our city.  Even people who aren't usually all that interested in politics are asking me if the SNP can really win the council elections in Glasgow.

"The answer is yes, we can!  But unlike Labour, we take nothing for granted and we will work hard for every vote.  The people who decide the election are the voters.

"We face a Labour council which is crumbling before our eyes.  A Labour party that is discredited and is losing councillors hand over fist.  On that note I was delighted to welcome new SNP Councillor - and ex-Labour Councillor - Irfan Rabanni to his first SNP conference.  Let's give Irfan a warm welcome.

"We are working hard here in Glasgow and right across Scotland.  For the first time we are fielding candidates in all 32 Local Authorities – including Orkney and Shetland.  We are truly Scotland's party.  A record number of candidates this year – almost 50% more than in 2007.

"We need local Councils working hand in hand with the SNP Government to deliver for the people of Scotland.  We are ambitious for our country and it's that ambition that means we want our country to be independent.  Independence puts the future of our country in our own hands.  It will give Scotland what over 200 countries around the world take for granted.

"So let us send a very clear message from this Conference this weekend.  It is our intention to work hard to persuade the people of Scotland of our case for Independence, and to win a resounding yes vote in the referendum in 2014.

"Delegates – let's get to work.  Enjoy the conference, and the hospitality of this great City.  We've got council elections to win, and we've got a referendum to win – let's get on with it."

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