LABOUR leader Ed Miliband has ruled out a coalition with the SNP and made it clear Alex Salmond will not be holding ministerial office if he is prime minister.
However, during a speech in Leeds, Mr Miliband did not rule out other forms of informal deals including the “confidence and supply” arrangement that SNP First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has said she would always prefer, where her party would support Labour on an “issue by issue basis”.
Ms Sturgeon and the Tories said that “nothing had changed” as a result of Mr Miliband’s attempt to clarify Labour’s position after weeks of pressure from the Tories on the issue including a poster of him appearing in Alex Salmond’s top pocket.
And speaking at the London School of Economics earlier in the day, Ms Sturgeon suggested voters in England should back the Greens. But many Labour insiders said they were delighted with the statement from their leader which they said “draws a line” under the controversy.
One Scottish MP said: “Hopefully we can now put this silly discussion to one side and start debating the issues and see if the SNP will sign up to progressive policies like the mansion tax or 50p [income tax] rate.”
Scottish Labour leader Jim Murphy vowed that there “will be no back-room deals” with the SNP, making it clear the party would dare the Nationalists to vote down a minority Labour government and let the Tories in.
The row continues as the latest poll by Lord Ashcroft, the former Tory treasurer, puts the Tories two points ahead of Labour, on 31 per cent to 29 per cent.
Speaking to activists at a “people’s question time” event, Mr Miliband said: “The Tories, the party that haven’t won a majority for over 20 years, are now running a misleading campaign based on the idea of a Labour/SNP coalition.
“This idea is nonsense. It will not happen.”
He made it clear the SNP’s refusal to commit to redistributive policies like the 50p rate for those earning £150,000 or more or the mansion tax on homes worth £2 million made a coalition impossible.
He said: “There are big differences between us. Not just on the integrity of the United Kingdom and another referendum but on fair funding between the countries of the UK and on fair taxes.”
He accused David Cameron of “trying to scare people”.
He went on: “Labour will not go into coalition government with the SNP. There will be no SNP ministers in any government I lead.”
And he insisted this meant the real choice was between himself and Mr Cameron.
However, he fell short of ruling out a confidence and supply deal, which earlier in the day, Ms Sturgeon had confirmed was her preferred option as she ruled out pre-election talks with Labour.
Speaking at the LSE, she said that Labour asking for SNP support on an issue-by-issue basis was the “reasonable” option and her party could “play a constructive role” in the UK. Reacting to Mr Miliband, she said: “This was a lot of hype to rule out something no-one was proposing. Mr Miliband’s statement is absolutely fine from our point of view, because formal coalition with seats in the UK government has never been our preference anyway.
“But Ed Miliband does himself no good in trying to second guess the electorate in Scotland and pre-determine the election outcome – the people will have their say on 7 May, and the job of politicians is to take their cue from the electorate.
“Our priority is using the clout we can achieve with a strong team of SNP MPs to stand up for Scotland’s interests, and advance progressive politics across the UK. We are taking nothing for granted, and will work hard for every vote and seat at the general election to give Scotland the strongest possible voice.”
She accused the Labour leader of “allowing himself to be pushed around by the Tories”.
And she told her London audience that they should vote Green.
She said: “If you live in England I think there is an argument for voting Green.”
The Tories also dismissed the Labour leader’s statement, arguing that “nothing has changed” and that Mr Miliband still can only get into Downing Street on “the coat tails of the SNP”.
A Conservative spokesman said: “Ed Miliband will not rule out a deal with the SNP because he knows it’s impossible to become prime minister without being carried into Downing Street in Alex Salmond’s pocket.
“There have been over 1,200 votes in this Parliament. Vote by vote, bill by bill, issue by issue, Ed Miliband would have to do a deal with the SNP on each and every one of them.
“Who knows what Ed Miliband will sell out to Alex Salmond on: more borrowing, more debt, higher taxes or weaker defences. But one thing’s for certain: it’s hardworking taxpayers who will pay the price for this chaos.”
But Scottish Labour leader Mr Murphy insisted there “will be no back-room deals”.
The East Renfrewshire MP said: “Both Labour and the SNP have now ruled out a coalition. There will be no back-room coalition deals between Labour and the SNP after the election.”
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