Lord Forsyth spoke out as senior Conservatives ramped up their onslaught against the SNP on the day of the Nationalists’ election manifesto launch. London mayor Boris Johnson compared the party’s potential UK influence to child-killing King Herod “running a baby farm”.
Nicola Sturgeon yesterday insisted the SNP will not seek to “bring down governments” at Westminster as she launched the document. The First Minister appealed to English voters with a promise the SNP will use any post-election influence “responsibly and constructively” and in the interests of the whole of the UK.
The SNP’s spectacular surge in the polls since last September’s failed independence referendum has led to predictions that the party could seize as many as 56 of Scotland’s 59 seats, leaving it holding the balance of power in Westminster.
Ms Sturgeon set out a package of measures containing a number of “English-only” policies, including more NHS spending in England and a cut in tuition fees south of the Border.
The proposals were branded a “ransom note” by the Tories, in the hope that stirring up fears among wavering English voters about Scottish Nationalists holding sway at Westminster could boost stagnant poll ratings.
But Lord Forsyth, the Scottish secretary from 1995 to 1997, warned this could backfire in dire fashion. “We’ve had the dilemma for Conservatives, which is they want to be the largest party at Westminster and therefore some see the fact that the Nationalists are going to take seats in Scotland [from Labour]will be helpful,” he said in an interview yesterday.
“But that is a short-term and dangerous view which threatens the integrity of our country.”
Ms Sturgeon has said she will not do “any deal” which would put the Tories into power, but she has offered to help make Ed Miliband prime minister in a deal short of formal coalition.
But Lord Forsyth, who was MP for Stirling, also warned that attempts to undermine the legitimacy of Nationalist MPs ran counter to the “one-family” referendum appeal from the No campaign.
He added: “You can’t just say, ‘Oh, it’s outrageous that Scotland has sent all these Nationalists into the House of Commons’. We spent the whole of the referendum campaign arguing that we were one family and there will be Nationalists MPs at Westminster.”
Ms Sturgeon unveiled the SNP’s manifesto at the Edinburgh International Climbing Arena with an appeal to voters around the rest of the UK.
She said: “The SNP is not going to Westminster to seek to bring down governments or block budgets.
“We are going to Westminster to build alliances for good, positive, sensible, progressive change. We will do that constructively, looking to make common cause with people of like mind.”
The manifesto includes the party’s keynote demand for full fiscal responsibility for Scotland, where the country gets control over all tax and spending, despite warnings it would result in a £7.6 billion black hole in spending.
But Ms Sturgeon also had a message for voters in the rest of the UK, seeking to reassure them about the impact a large group of Nationalist MPs could have.
The SNP leader said: “Even though you can’t vote SNP, your views matter to me. You have a right to know what to expect of my party if the votes of the Scottish people give us influence in a hung parliament.
“So my promise to you is this: if the SNP emerges from this election in a position of influence, we will exercise that influence responsibly and constructively.”
The SNP manifesto makes the case for “modest” increases in public spending, resulting in “at least £140bn extra investment” across the UK. This would see an additional £9.5bn above the rate of inflation for the NHS by 2020/21.
There are also key areas of common ground with Labour. SNP MPs would back an increase in the minimum wage, to £8.70 an hour by 2020.
Full fiscal responsibility is also being called for, but this would be phased in over a number of years.
But Conservative Defence Secretary Michael Fallon described the manifesto as “the most expensive ransom note in history”.
Mr Fallon said if Ms Sturgeon’s party holds the balance of power “she will wrap Ed Miliband round her little finger and we could have a very dangerous situation”.
Mr Cameron warned that voters could be “sleepwalking” towards an outcome which would deadlock government and bring economic recovery to a halt.
“Make no mistake, if Labour and the SNP get into power, you are going to see an alliance between a party that wants to spend, borrow and tax more, with a party that wants to spend, borrow and tax even more,” said the Tory leader. “It might be a match made in heaven for them but it is a match made in hell for the British economy.”
But Mr Miliband last night insisted he would not be dictated to by the Nationalists. “They’re not going to tell us. Look, I’m very clear about that,” he said.
Challenged that many voters believed that in the event of another hung parliament it would be the SNP who would be “calling the shots”, he replied: “That ain’t gonna happen.”
Former Conservative prime minister Sir John Major will warn today that a deal between Ed Miliband and SNP would cause chaos – and millions of families would pay through higher taxes, more debts and fewer jobs.
In a speech in the Midlands today, Sir John will say that vote-by-vote bartering between Mr Miliband and the SNP would create a “weak and unstable” government and jeopardise Britain’s economic recovery.
He will add that the Labour leader would be left wide open to a “daily dose of political blackmail”, with the SNP able to withdraw support and bring down his government at any moment.
Sir John will argue that voters face a simple choice – vote for Labour, the party that presided over economic chaos, or vote for the Conservatives, the party behind the economic recovery.
His warning came as the latest polling by Lord Ashcroft in two Edinburgh constituencies showed the SNP on course to win both from Labour. The constituency surveys suggest Mark Lazarowicz would lose in Edinburgh North and Leith and Ian Murray would be ousted in Edinburgh South.