Nicola Sturgeon has said the SNP would explore forming a “progressive” alliance with Labour to keep the Tories out of office in the event of a hung parliament.
The SNP leader indicated she would be prepared to strike a deal with Jeremy Corbyn that would see her MPs support Labour on an issue-by-issue basis rather than entering a formal coalition.
With polls suggesting that Mr Corbyn is gaining ground on Theresa May, Ms Sturgeon was responding to suggestions that Labour would run a minority government by relying on SNP votes to implement its policies.
On BBC Radio 4, Ms Sturgeon said: “If there was to be a hung parliament, if the parliamentary arithmetic allowed it, then I would want the SNP to be part of a progressive alternative to a Conservative government: not in a coalition, I don’t envisage any formal coalitions, but on an issue-by-issue basis to put forward progressive policies and see a progressive agenda.”
The First Minister backed up her proposition by pointing out that Labour and the SNP had similar policies including free university tuition,
“We see some of the parties in this election, not least Labour, putting forward policies that the SNP has already implemented in Scotland,” she said.
Asked about a hung parliament, Ms Sturgeon said: “I’m sure there would be all sorts of talks if that was to happen.
“If a scenario like this has arisen, it’s because that’s what the electorate want, they want parties to talk to each other. So the idea that parties would refuse to do that would, I think, be flying in the face of what the electorate had wanted.”
In a separate interview, Ms Sturgeon sought to manage the expectations for her own party suggesting it would not be a disaster if the SNP lost 16 seats.
The SNP leader described the 2015 general election, where the SNP returned 56 MPs, as an “exceptional” result.
She added: “Having been in politics for the best part of 30 years and being in the SNP at times when six MPs was success for us, for people now to say to me ‘ oh, if you only get 50,40, that would be a disaster’. Well, not really.”
The Conservatives reacted to Ms Sturgeon’s remarks by claiming she would work with Mr Corbyn to engineer a second independence referendum.
Conservative candidate for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk John Lamont pointed out that the Labour leader had said he would open discussions with the SNP on another poll.
Mr Lamont said: “Nicola Sturgeon made it clear today that she’d be happy to form an alliance with Jeremy Corbyn next Friday. Top of her shopping list would be a second referendum. And given Mr Corbyn has said he’s ‘absolutely fine’ with this, there is a real risk of them dragging Scotland back to yet more division.
“There is only one way to stop Nicola Sturgeon in her tracks next week and that is by voting for Ruth Davidson and the Scottish Conservatives.
“We are on the up, we have what it takes to beat the SNP and we can send Nicola Sturgeon a message she can’t ignore.”
He added: “It’s quite clear after today: a vote for Labour risks a second referendum. A vote for the Scottish Conservative can stop it.”
Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale ruled out coalitions and deals with the SNP.
“No ifs, no buts, there will be no deals with the SNP. Jeremy Corbyn and I could not be clearer – we are not doing deals, we’re not doing coalitions, we’re not doing any agreements with the Nationalists,” Ms Dugdale said.
“There is nothing progressive about the SNP, which talks Left in Westminster but acts Right in government in Holyrood. Nicola Sturgeon wants to break-up the United Kingdom and inflict further austerity on working families across Scotland.”