Sturgeon refuses to rule out working with Tories on councils

Nicola Sturgeon joined candidates in Edinburgh to launch the SNP's manifesto for the 2017 local government election.
Nicola Sturgeon joined candidates in Edinburgh to launch the SNP's manifesto for the 2017 local government election.
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Nicola Sturgeon repeatedly declined to rule out SNP councillors working with the Conservatives at a local level when she launched her party’s manifesto for next month’s local elections.

Despite claiming that voting SNP was the best way to keep Tories away from power in councils, the First Minister declined to say that she would ban her councillors from forming coalitions with Ruth Davidson’s party.

At her manifesto launch in Wester Hailes, Edinburgh, Ms Sturgeon said there was a “danger” of Tories being propped up by Labour in local authorities, but stopped short of ruling out SNP/Tory deals.

In the past Ms Sturgeon’s party has worked with the Tories in local government with a Conservative/SNP coalition running East Ayrshire.

Ms Sturgeon said: “There is a danger either through people voting Tory or Labour potentially looking at coalitions with the Tories to keep themselves in power in the council chambers that we do in this election see local services slipping into Tory hands and I think that would be disastrous for the services that local councils are responsible for. My message is a very clear, straight message, if you want to vote to protect local services then vote SNP.”

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But when asked if she was going to ban East Ayrshire SNP from going into coalition with the Tories again, Ms Sturgeon said: “I want to see SNP councils and with the greatest of respect, I am going to campaign for the remainder of the campaign to get as many votes for the SNP and as many SNP councils.”

When pressed further on whether the SNP would countenance coalition with the Tories, the First Minister again declined to answer the question directly.

“I don’t want to see the Tories in council chambers,” she said. “I don’t want to see the Tories with their hands on local services. My message is crystal clear - vote SNP. We have got an election in under two weeks time and the way to keep Tories out of local councils is to vote SNP.

“Anybody that looks at the relationships between the SNP and the Tories right would think that is hugely unlikely.

“My main message is to vote SNP to make sure that you get SNP councillors running councils.”

With Labour lagging far behind the Conservatives in UK-wide polling, Ms Sturgeon conceded it was likely Theresa May would return to Downing Street after the 8 June snap election.

“I don’t want to see a Tory government but I can read the opinion polls as well as anybody else can,” she said.

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“If Scotland doesn’t want a Tory government that has a massive majority, that has the ability to do whatever it wants, to silence Scotland’s voice, to impose cuts, further austerity, and to try to almost silence the Scottish Parliament, there needs to be really strong opposition from Scotland to that Tory government.

“That can only come from the SNP. That’s the clear message that we’ll be taking to every part of Scotland.”

Ms Sturgeon has said she already has a mandate for a second ballot on independence after winning the Scottish elections in 2016, success in the general election would “reinforce” it.

“The general election is about making sure that the Tories don’t get to crush dissent and silence opposition, and steamroller over Scotland, how Scotland has voted and how the Scottish Parliament has voted,” she said.

“It is about making sure Scotland’s voice is heard and independence is certainly an aspect of that, but it’s bigger than that as well.

“It is about making sure we don’t allow the Tories to do the social and economic damage to Scotland that they have done in recent years.”

Scottish Conservative chief whip John Lamont said: “A vote for the Scottish Conservatives at this election will deliver a strong message to the SNP: We don’t want your unwanted independence referendum, we want you to get on with the day job.”

Labour’s Alex Rowley said the SNP had cut local services and had a “brass neck” to claim it would stand up against the Tories”.