Sturgeon promise to England: I can make UK better

Nicola Sturgeon says the SNP will demand an end to austerity. Picture: Ian Rutherford

Nicola Sturgeon says the SNP will demand an end to austerity. Picture: Ian Rutherford

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NICOLA Sturgeon will today issue a “message of friendship and solidarity” to voters outside Scotland – insisting the SNP is now the UK’s party of change.

The First Minister will use a keynote speech at the SNP conference to tell voters south of the Border they have nothing to fear from Scottish Nationalists holding the balance of power after the election.

‘We will pursue policies to make life better for people in every part of UK’

Instead, she will insist this is the best way to overhaul the “outdated and discredited” Westminster system.

“To people in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, I make this promise – the SNP stands ready to work with you in making that positive change,” Ms Sturgeon will say.

About 3,000 delegates will gather in Glasgow today to hear Ms Sturgeon’s speech as part of a two-day conference, which is the last before the general election on 7 May.

She will also unveil new funding to support poorer pupils in Scotland, but faces a fight over proposals to introduce all-women shortlists in some Holyrood constituency seats.

Polls suggest the Nationalists have a commanding lead in Scotland and could seize anywhere between 40-53 of the country’s 59 seats in the election. It leaves Labour facing a wipeout north of the Border and likely to need SNP support to form a government in the event of a hung parliament.

The Tories have already embarked on an advertising campaign in the rest of the UK raising fears over the prospect of Alex Salmond emerging as Ed Miliband’s “puppet master” in such a scenario. It came after the former First Minister warned the SNP could leave the Tories “locked out” of government with a strong contingent of MPs.

But Ms Sturgeon will attempt to allay these fears in a direct appeal to English voters today.

She will say: “To ordinary ­people across these islands who feel just as let down by the out-of-touch Westminster system as we do, I have a very clear message.

“It is a message of friendship and solidarity.

“As long as Scotland remains part of the Westminster system, we will be your allies in seeking to shake up and reform that outdated and discredited system once and for all.

“Westminster needs to change. To be more responsive to the needs and demands of ordinary people, wherever they are in the UK.”

The First Minister will say that a strong group of SNP MPs will use their influence to demand an end to austerity.

She will add: “We will pursue policies that will win support from, and make life better for, people in every part of these ­islands.

“We will demand an alternative to slash-and-burn austerity. Responsible deficit reduction, yes – but cuts that tear at the very fabric of our society, penalise the poor, threaten our public services and stifle economic growth, let me make it crystal clear – those will not be in our name.”

Mr Miliband has ruled out a formal coalition with the SNP after repeated calls for him to do so, but this was played down by Ms Sturgeon yesterday.

“Of course he is going to say this,” she said.

“He is still clinging to the pretence he has got some chance of winning an overall majority. We have got vast experience as a ­minority government ... the principles are the same.

“You have to build alliances, you have to win votes on a case-by-case basis.

“It would be far better than what usually happens to Scotland at Westminster, which is we are ignored or sidelined.”

Ms Sturgeon will unveil plans today to extend the Educational Maintenance Allowance scheme, which has been scrapped south of the Border, to a further 10,000 school pupils.

In addition, about 12,000 college students will be able to benefit from the £30 a week payment for the first time.

It means about 57,000 youngsters between the age of 16 and 19 will be entitled to it.

“That is real help for the young people who need it most to stay in education and fulfil their potential,” Ms Sturgeon will say.

SNP support has soared in the aftermath of the referendum defeat. Party membership alone has quadrupled in just six months and stands at about 100,000, making the SNP the third largest political party in the UK.

Mr Salmond, who is bidding to return to Westminster in the North-east seat of Gordon, will take part in a question and answer session with delegates tomorrow and sign copies of his new book.

Party chiefs will decide tomorrow whether to introduce all-women shortlists for candidates, if directed by the National Executive Committee, when Holyrood constituency MSPs stand down. The move is being opposed by some local activists.

Scottish Conservative chief whip John Lamont dismissed Ms Sturgeon’s appeal to English voters.

He said: “The trouble with these empty words is they are being nakedly contradicted by the man who thinks he’s still SNP leader.

“While Nicola Sturgeon extends her hand in friendship, Alex Salmond uses his in a ludicrous attempt to slap the rest of the UK around. The SNP’s stated aim is destruction of the UK – no warm rhetoric from the First Minister disguises that.”

Scottish Liberal Democrat party president Malcolm Bruce added: “The SNP’s offer of friendship comes with a £180 billion price tag which threatens to wreck the economic recovery across the UK. Their recklessness puts the economy at risk all over again. They haven’t learnt the lessons of the last economic crash.

“While the Tories will cut public services and welfare too much and unnecessarily, the SNP, even more than Labour, will borrow too much and that will threaten the recovery.”

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