FIRST Minister Nicola Sturgeon has said she will personally lead the SNP’s negotiating team in any discussions on forming a new coalition government at Westminster after the general election in May.
Ms Sturgeon suggested there would be a fairly limited role for her predecessor Alex Salmond, despite the fact that he is hoping to return to Westminster as an MP and remains the party’s best known figure.
Appearing alongside SNP deputy leader Stewart Hosie at a briefing for Westminster journalists, she said they would “lead the position” in any talks with other parties in the event of another hung parliament.
Asked who would lead the negotiations, she replied: “Me”, before adding: “With Stewart by my side, I hasten to add”.
Pressed on what role Mr Salmond might play, she said: “If Alex is elected – as I would be fairly confident in predicting he will be – then Alex will be a key part of the team in Westminster and, of course, will have a part to play. But I am the party leader, Stewart is the deputy leader of the party, and we will lead the position.” Ms Sturgeon also said she did not want to form a coalition but would prefer an arrangement where SNP MPs “vote on an issue-by-issue basis.”
Her latest intervention came as the Tories unveiled a poster of Labour leader Ed Miliband with former SNP leader Alex Salmond and Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams outside Downing Street as a post-election coalition saying: “Your worst nightmare just got worse.”
Ms Sturgeon was in Westminster to push her party’s policy on Europe, calling for a “double lock” in a referendum, by which an overall majority in the UK to leave would also need to be supported by overall majorities in each of the four nations.
However, she refused to accept a suggestion by Lib Dem Scottish Secretary Alistair Carmichael that the SNP join a “Better Together with the EU” platform of pro-European parties.
She declined to say if she would prefer Labour leader Ed Miliband or David Cameron as Prime Minister although she has ruled out a deal with the Tories.
Meanwhile, the party has unveiled Stephen Gethins, one of Mr Salmond’s former advisers, as the candidate for North East Fife, where the Lib Dems’ Sir Menzies Campbell is to step down.
Insiders described the move as “a statement of intent” in one of the seats the SNP expects to win despite the Lib Dems currently holding a large majority.
With reports that Labour have had talks with Sinn Féin and are considering a deal with the SNP, Mr Cameron went on the attack in Prime Minister’s questions, accusing Mr Miliband of being willing to break up Britain for power.
He said: “We have seen Labour casting around for a coalition with the SNP and a coalition with Sinn Féin – the first time Britain would have people who want to break up Britain and bankrupt Britain.”
Ms Sturgeon’s press conference was focused on the party’s intention to put EU membership at the heart of the SNP’s election campaign. She pointed out a recent estimate that, in 2011, 336,000 jobs in Scotland were supported by exports to the EU – 13 per cent of the total.
Last night Mr Carmichael said: “It is yet another case of the SNP talking about process instead of making the positive case for the UK to remain as part of the EU.
“Sometimes you listen to Nicola Sturgeon, Alex Salmond and others talk about the prospect of a UK exit and it almost sounds as if they actively want it because it keeps the dream alive for the thing that matters to them more than anything else which is independence.”
On a potential referendum campaign in 2017, he said: “She needs to be prepared to campaign along with Labour, Lib Dems and those Conservatives who want to remain in the UK.”
Ms Sturgeon said: “We will be arguing the case for the UK and Scotland from our perspective.”
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