In this article we use evidence from the Scottish Election Study 2007 to build an explanation for the narrow SNP victory in the Holyrood election. The theoretical focus is on valence models of voting, which are increasingly important in Scotland following dealignment and ideological convergence in the party system, and as Scottish governments flex their executive muscle. Exploring the valence battleground reveals mixed but overall negative evaluations of Labour's performance in government, and suggests advantages for the SNP on issue competence, leadership and party image. Modelling party choice at the individual level shows that key valence variables – performance evaluations, economic competence and party image – have strong and significant effects, unlike hitherto prominent factors like religion, class and national identity. Constitutional preferences are important too, but their effects suggest a further valence link: the SNP's strong showing among voters seeking further devolution but opposed to independence is due in large part to its credentials as a battler for Scottish interests. In contrast, Labour's stand against ‘more powers’ may have tarnished its own reputation on that score. We conclude that the SNP edged home by persuading enough voters that it had a positive agenda for governing Scotland within the current constitutional arrangements, and that it could deliver on that agenda.