Nicola Sturgeon: We’ll be Labour’s backbone & guts

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon during the SNP conference at the SECC in Glasgow. Picture: PA

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon during the SNP conference at the SECC in Glasgow. Picture: PA

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NICOLA Sturgeon yesterday promised that SNP MPs would give a Labour government “backbone and guts” as she spelt out the demands she would make of Ed Miliband ­after the general election.

The SNP leader called on Labour to join her in “locking out” David Cameron from Downing Street, as she unveiled a list that included the abolition of the House of Lords and a £2 rise in the minimum wage.

Ramping up the pressure on Labour and predicting her party would hold the balance of power in a hung parliament, Sturgeon claimed an SNP vote was the only way to shake-up a discredited Westminster es­tablishment, as she gave a speech to SNP spring conference which was rapturously ­received.

The last gathering of the party faithful before the general election saw around 3,000 delegates at the Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre in Glasgow.

Sturgeon challenged Labour to work with the SNP to form an anti-Conservative alliance at Westminster, even if Cameron’s party emerges with the most seats in May.

“As long as there are more anti-Tory MPs – Labour or SNP – than there are Tory MPs in the House of Commons, we can keep them out of Government,” said Sturgeon.

“If there are more anti-Tory than Tory MPs after the election, the only way the Tories get back into power is if Labour lets them back in.

“I call on Labour today to match that pledge to make clear that if Labour and the SNP combined have more seats than the Tories, they will join forces with us in a vote of confidence to lock David Cameron out of Downing Street.

“If Labour fails to make that commitment, the only conclusion people will draw is that Labour would rather have the Tories back in power than work with the SNP.”

She added: “That will be the final nail in the political coffin of Scottish Labour. It really will be time to lock the doors of the branch office once and for all.”

Sturgeon’s attempt to out-manoeuvre Labour’s claim that voting for SNP will let in the Conservatives was accompanied by her claim that the SNP would represent all Scots, regardless of how they voted in last year’s referendum.

Attempting to portray the SNP as a party that would stand up for the whole country, the First Minister said: “We will fight Scotland’s corner with passion, principle and conviction.”

She pleaded with Scottish voters to put the “normal divisions of politics” to one side and come together as “one country” at the general election. “We will represent you – to the best of our abilities – no matter your politics, your point of view and regardless of how you voted in the referendum last year.”

Packed into an enormous conference hall and having endured long queues to get in, delegates let out a deafening cheer as Sturgeon described the House of Lords as a “democratic outrage”, pointing out that it had tried to stop 16 and 17-year-olds voting in the ­referendum.

“Its members are paid £300 a day for just showing up and it is totally tax free. That’s got to stop,” Sturgeon said.

“People with no democratic mandate should not be writing the laws of the land. It is now time to abolish the House of Lords.”

With the party buoyed by a massive influx of supporters which has seen membership swell to 102,143, Sturgeon received a six-minute standing ovation from delegates, many of whom were attending conference for the first time.

Despite polls indicating the SNP will win most of Scotland’s 59 Westminster seats, the SNP leader said there was still a mountain to climb but with “hard graft and humility” no constituency was “off ­limits”.

Looking ahead to post-election negotiations with Labour, Sturgeon said she would stand firm against cash being spent on the “obscene status symbol” of a new generation of Trident weapons.

She would demand an alternative to austerity as well as a £2 increase in the minimum wage to take it up to £8.70 by 2020.

At Westminster, the SNP would vote on health issues even though the Scottish NHS is controlled by Holyrood.

She said the SNP would use its votes to halt the privatisation of the English NHS, because that would threaten Scotland’s health budget.

“Make no mistake, the continued privatisation of the NHS in England threatens the budget of the Scottish Government,” she said. “SNP MPs – in order to protect Scotland’s budget – will vote at Westminster to halt the tide of NHS privatisation in England. We will use our voices and our votes to keep the NHS, north and south of the Border, firmly in public hands.”

Telling delegates that previous Labour governments had reneged on promises, Sturgeon remarked: “If you want a Labour government to have backbone and guts, you need to elect SNP MPs to provide it for them. If you want a Labour government that won’t just be a carbon copy of the Tories, but will instead deliver the real change Scotland needs, then you must elect SNP MPs to force Labour’s hand and keep them honest.”

Sturgeon stopped short of describing her demands as red-line issues, preferring to concentrate on championing the SNP as the party of Scotland.

“Over the next few weeks there will continue to be talk of the deals that might be done after the election,” she said. “But from now until 7 May, there is only one deal I am interested in. There is only one deal this party will seek to do, and that is with you, the people of Scotland. If you place your trust in us to be your advocates at Westminster, we will fight Scotland’s corner with passion, principle and conviction.”

Before she stood up to speak, Sturgeon had attempted to reassert her authority over Westminster talks in an interview with Holyrood magazine.

Sturgeon responded to a series of interventions by Alex Salmond which have seen the former First Minister outline his views on post-election negotiations.

She said she would decide SNP strategy in a hung parliament while her predecessor would do the day-to-day work in the Commons.

Her speech to conference included a number of policy announcements including a pledge to get 500 companies paying the Living Wage to their workers.

She said a £100 million Scottish Attainment Fund had been established to keep young people in education.

On the eve of a crucial party vote to introduce all-female candidate shortlists for the first time, Sturgeon underlined her commitment to gender equality while announcing that £20 million would be set aside to tackle domestic abuse.

Last night Scottish Labour leader Jim Murphy said: “There was no mention today of the austerity max that would be inflicted on Scotland if the SNP were to follow through on their policy of full fiscal autonomy. The First Minister knows, but won’t admit, that SNP sums don’t add up and her economic plans would lead to a £7.6 billon black hole in tax revenues.

“Despite all the cheering and backslapping the facts remain only Labour or the Tories can form the next UK government. Any seat taken from Labour by the SNP or anyone else simply helps David Cameron to stay in power. The only way to get a Labour government is to vote Labour.”

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