Recent progress from the Scottish National party clouds the fact their ultimate goal of independence remains elusive.

That founding ambition was pushed to the back of voters' minds during their time in government from 2007 to 2011. Scottish voters confronted with the party were more inclined to think about their record in Holyrood rather than their desire to see Scotland break from the rest of the United Kingdom.

This was not necessarily been a bad thing for the SNP, which was able to pursue policies which help foster public support for independence.

The most obvious example of this was Scottish justice secretary Kenny MacAskill's decision to free Lockerbie Abdelbaset al-Megrahi on compassionate grounds. His extremely controversial choice prompted international anger, especially in the United States. But the decision had the side-effect of giving ordinary Scots a hint of what it would be like to have an independent foreign policy.

That is only the most headline-grabbing initiative which the SNP has implemented since first minister Alex Salmond took office after the 2007 election handed him a minority government. Among its most distinctive policies were cutting NHS prescription charges; freezing council tax; handing older people free personal and nursing care payments; and a £73 million small business bonus.

During its minority administration it was able to make little progress on its pursuit of independence, however. A referendum bill introduced by the SNP into the Scottish parliament ran into a brick wall when opposition parties combined to block it. With the Calman Commission proposing the next steps in devolution, the biggest steps towards greater powers for Scotland appear to be taking place regardless of the SNP.

Overall, though, its policies did not appear to have turned the Scottish people off their national party. In 2009 it won a nine-point advantage over Labour in the European elections, topping the poll for the first time since 1979.

The SNP's by-election record in recent years was more mixed, however. It dramatically gained Glasgow East from Labour in a massive 22.5% swing in July 2008, but in November that year a closely-fought campaign saw Lindsay Roy cling on against the SNP attack. A further Labour hold in Glasgow North East 12 months later underlined limited progress by the nationalists.

The 2010 general election saw the SNP maintain six seats in parliament, far short of the 20-seat goal Salmond had set. Major electoral success had to wait another year, when, in the 2011 Holyrood elections, the party secured its greatest triumph yet. With major gains from both Scottish Labour and the Scottish Liberal Democrats, SNP candidates romped home with a series of surprising gains and swings of around 12%. It gained 23 seats to take its total to 69 – handing Salmond an extremely impressive narrow overall majority. A referendum was instantly promised, probably to be held shortly before the next elections in 2016. Now all the SNP has to do is win the argument with the Scottish people.