Nicola Sturgeon hits back at Alistair Carmichael

SCOTTISH Secretary Alistair Carmichael should “question his whole approach to politics” if he thinks dirty tricks are part of election campaigns, Nicola Sturgeon has said.

Scottsih Secretary, Alistair Carmichael. Picture: Greg Macvean

The Liberal Democrat minister claimed “these things happen” after the leak of a UK government memo claiming Ms Sturgeon would prefer David Cameron as Prime Minister, which has been fiercely rejected by the First Minister as “100 per cent untrue”.

Ms Sturgeon tonight faces her main opponents north of the Border in a live televised debate on STV where the issue is likely to be raised.

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The SNP’s record in Government in Scotland is likely to face greater scrutiny from Labour leader Jim Murphy, Conservative chief Ruth Davidson and Willie Rennie of the Liberal Democrats in the Edinburgh shodown tonight. The programme follows the First Minister’s impressive display in last week’s TV debate with the UK leaders.

Mr Carmichael confirmed over the weekend that the memo, containing an account of a private meeting between First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and the French ambassador, was written in the Scotland Office.

The Liberal Democrat denied the leak was embarrassing for the Government department, stating “this is the middle of an election campaign, these things happen”.

But Ms Sturgeon hit back: “I think Alistair Carmichael really needs to question his whole approach to politics if he thinks dirty tricks and smear campaigns are just how things are done in elections.

“I take a very different view. I think elections should be a battle of positive ideas and that’s how I’ll continue to campaign.”

Cabinet Secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood has ordered an inquiry into how the note - which claims that Ms Sturgeon told ambassador Sylvie Bermann that she would prefer to see Conservatives remain in power after the 7 May poll - got into the public domain.

Ms Sturgeon called for answers from the inquiry as soon as possible and insisted the allegation contained within the memo has been “completely answered”.

She said: “I didn’t say what I was alleged to have said. The French Ambassador has said I didn’t say it, so that part of this story really has been dealt with and should no longer even be an issue.

“Now the questions are: who wrote this memo, how did it come to contain such an inaccuracy, but most importantly of all how did it very conveniently fall into the hands of the Daily Telegraph? I want answers to these questions and I want them as quickly as possible.”

SNP leader Stewart Hosie said yesterday he could see Ed Miliband as Prime Minister because he leads the Labour Party.

Mr Hosie, MP for Dundee East in the last parliament, said his party did not want a Tory government.

He said: “We are an anti-Tory party, we are an anti-austerity party. We have offered Ed Miliband a deal.

“We would not prefer to see a Tory government. The damage Tory governments do to ordinary people is so bad.”

Meanwhile, Ms Sturgeon yesterday she would fight moves to increase in the state pension rate in Scotland while life expectancy lags behind the rest of the UK. The First Minister set out the SNP pensioners’ plan which also includes a pledge to keep the winter fuel allowance for all pensioners - despite a Labour pledge to end it for the well-off.

The state pension age is to increase to 67 under current plans, but the SNP had pledged during the referendum campaign that an independent Scotland would not have to implement this.

“The Tory/Lib Dem government’s plan to further increase the state pension age is a worry to people across the UK who are planning for their future – but the failure to take Scotland’s specific circumstances into account is particularly unfair,” Ms Sturgeon said.

“Our comparatively low life expectancy rate is an issue which I will do everything in my power to change – but in the meantime it would be completely unacceptable for people in Scotland who have paid in to a state pension all of their lives to lose out. That is why SNP MPs will reject any plans for a further increase in the state pension age.”

Labour has said it would end the winter fuel allowance of up to £400 for the most affluent 5% of pensioners. but The First Minister yesterday pledged to “oppose any attempts” to end this benefit.

The SNP’s plans also include retention of the Triple Lock to ensure that the state pension increases every year either by inflation, in line with wages or by 2.5 per cent – whichever is higher.