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Scottish independence? The SNP have an app for that

Nationalist party to use iPhone application allowing detailed map of voter intentions to be produced in election campaigning

It is one of the most popular gadgets of the noughties, checking bus times and even playing a virtual trombone - and now the iPhone could also help break up Britain, the Scottish National party believes.

The SNP has launched an iPhone application, thought to be the first of its kind in the UK, which allows activists to target nationalist voters and sympathisers, producing detailed maps of the political complexion of every street in Scotland.

The app uses the iPhone to access a huge database of Scottish voters through a system called Activate, which was used in the US by anti-Bush campaigners and later by the Obama presidential campaign.

SNP leaders believe the app, first tested during the Glasgow North East byelection earlier this month, will help the party achieve its ultimate goal of independence for Scotland by increasing the speed, accuracy and effectiveness of its doorstep campaigning.

It plans to develop it for other phone models, starting with Nokia.

Party officials believe the app, linked to the phone's GPS geographical locator software, could boost its chances of increasing the number of nationalist MPs at Westminster at the general election and winning more seats at the Scottish parliament elections in 2011.

"A lot of our activists have this sort of technology," Peter Murrell, the SNP's chief executive, said.

"We just have to provide them with the tools to do this job. We've high hopes this will be the next big thing."

The Activate database records the identity, voting intentions and basic opinions of every voter in Scotland, allowing campaigners to target people during elections and track the SNP's popularity all year round.

Only five voters' details at a time are accessible for data protection reasons, and Murrell said the party was considering buying iPhones in large numbers to hand out to campaigners.

Esther Sassaman, an SNP activist who tested the app in Glasgow North East and is the campaign coordinator for the target Glasgow Central seat, said the app allowed her to canvass voters at her leisure.

"You can use it anytime, anywhere," she added. "I just have to take my 'while you were out' cards and my iPhone and I'm good to go."

The SNP leader, Alex Salmond, will today launch his minority government's bid to hold a multi-option referendum on independence on St Andrew's Day next year.

His white paper is expected to set out four options, ranging from keeping the status quo to moderately increasing the Scottish parliament's powers, through to giving Scotland far greater fiscal autonomy and lawmaking powers, and finally full independence.

Salmond will set out four options in an attempt to make it more difficult for opposition critics to argue against the referendum bill he plans to publish early next year.

The bill is expected to fail after Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the Tories rejected the proposal out of hand.

In a further setback for the SNP leader, an Ipsos Mori poll today showed that only 25% of Scots wanted a referendum now and only 20% supported his goal of independence - the lowest figure for some time. However, 50% said a referendum should be held "in a few years".

Salmond accepts it could take nearly a decade to build up significant support for independence, describing it as a "process" and adding that publication of the white paper was "another historic step on Scotland's democratic journey."

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