Labour must ‘ditch austerity’ to gain SNP backing

NICOLA Sturgeon has warned Labour that the party would have to abandon austerity and spend £180 billion more on public services as a condition for SNP support in the event of a hung parliament after May’s election.

The First Minister called for a £180bn boost to public services in her London speech. Picture: PA
The First Minister called for a £180bn boost to public services in her London speech. Picture: PA
The First Minister called for a £180bn boost to public services in her London speech. Picture: PA

In a keynote speech in London, the First Minister said Ed Miliband would have to adopt a “more moderate” approach to deficit reduction and give up on eliminating it by 2020 if he wanted the SNP to back a minority Labour government in Commons votes.

Speaking at University College London (UCL), she called for a 0.5 per cent rise in departmental spending and said she wanted an increase in welfare spending but failed to say where the cash would come from.

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Labour has committed to eliminating the deficit by 2020 and get the UK’s current budget into surplus within the next parliament, with Mr Miliband warning his government would face “hard choices” over public spending decisions.

In a recent vote in the Commons Labour MPs went through the lobbies with the Tories to support the fiscal mandate of cutting £30 billion of spending.

However, Ms Sturgeon said she wanted to break the “cosy consensus” in favour of austerity at Westminster and her MPs would work with “progressive” allies in other parties on that agenda.

Opinion polls have suggested that the SNP could make sweeping gains on 7 May, potentially putting the party in the position of kingmaker if neither Labour nor the Conservatives win outright.

In a broadcast interview ahead of her speech, Ms Sturgeon suggested she would be willing to prop up Labour even if it came second in numbers of seats to the Tories.

Ms Sturgeon has also stated that she would “lean towards a confidence and supply agreement” with Labour in Commons votes, while both Mr Miliband and Jim Murphy have refused to rule out striking a deal with the nationalists.

She said: “I would certainly hope if there was a Labour government and it was dependent on SNP support – which is the most popular preferred outcome of people in Scotland – then I would hope we could persuade and influence a ­Labour government to take a more moderate approach to deficit reduction.

“I am not going to support governments that plough ahead with austerity that damaged the poorest in society.” Ms Sturgeon added: “A Labour government that looked to the SNP for support would have to moderate its position in that regard.

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“That would be popular not just with SNP supporters but I’m sure a lot of traditional Labour supporters in Scotland and across the rest of the UK as well.”

She also accused Labour, the Tories and Lib Dems of concentrating too much on the deficit.

She said: “Talking about the deficit in isolation misses the point. Economic policy is a means not an end; it’s the means for citizens to lead happy, healthy, fulfilling lives.”

However, Labour’s shadow Scottish secretary, Margaret Curran, claimed that a vote for the SNP would keep David Cameron in Downing Street as leader of the biggest party.

Ms Curran added: “Labour has a fair plan to balance the books but the SNP have stood against Labour’s progressive policies, such as the 50p tax for top earners. The Tories, who have been running a poster campaign in England with picture of Alex Salmond with Mr Miliband entitled “your worst nightmare”, seized on Ms Sturgeon’s words as evidence that Labour would be willing to hike up taxes in exchange for power.”

Conservative Party Chairman Grant Shapps said: “Now we know the price that the SNP would charge to support Ed Miliband if he became Prime Minister – a bill of £180 billion paid for by hardworking taxpayers.”