• Alex Salmond launches the SNP's 'slimline' manifesto yesterday – he said hopes of a hung parliament have rocketed on the back of Nick Clegg's performance last week. Picture: Robert Perry
Unveiling his manifesto for the 6 May election, the SNP leader said the best result for Scotland in two weeks' time would be a hung, or balanced, parliament where neither of the big two secured a majority.
Asked whether, in that case, he would like voters in England to support the Lib Dems, he insisted he was not going to "endorse" any of the parties south of the Border.
"I'm not going to presume to tell the people of England who they have to choose between Tweedledee, Tweedledum and Tweedle-Dem. But, nonetheless, I think voting for the objective of denying Labour or Conservative parties an overall majority would be a legitimate and proper thing to do," he said.
Mr Salmond claimed the sudden resurgence of the Lib Dems after Nick Clegg's leaders' debate success last week was now "causing panic" in Labour and Conservative ranks. He claimed it had now made his ideal scenario – where parties such as the Lib Dems, SNP and Plaid Cymru held the balance of power at Westminster – a "probability".
In such a hung parliament, Mr Salmond said his MPs would bargain their support in key votes in return for key concessions.
His hopes of a hung parliament have rocketed on the back of Mr Clegg's performance last week. A strong Lib Dem showing on 6 May would eat into Labour and Tory seats, stopping either gaining a majority.
Speaking in Glasgow, Mr Salmond laid out some of the main bargaining points he would demand if he was in a position to do so, with the scrapping of Britain's nuclear deterrent top of the list.
The party would also seek to win a 200 million fossil fuel levy currently held by the Treasury, he added. As for cutting Britain's vast 167 billion-a-year deficit, Mr Salmond said cutting Trident, as well as the ID card scheme, would "make a start".
However, his proposals were scorned by former close ally Jim Sillars, who has described the SNP Westminster campaign as "anaemic" and "lethargic".
Mr Sillars has also hit out at Mr Salmond's claim the parties will negotiate with the SNP in the event of a hung parliament.
He said: "For them to bend to any SNP demand in a hung parliament would enhance his and the party's reputation. That they (Tories or Labour] will never do."
Nonetheless, Mr Salmond insisted yesterday during the launch for its slimline 31-page manifesto that such a scenario would provide Scotland with the "greatest opportunity".
The SNP's slogan – "More Nats Less Cuts" – is designed to show that a block of Nationalist MPs could prevent Westminster reducing spending in Scotland.
Mr Salmond said he would not enter a coalition with the main UK parties. Nor would the SNP agree to a so-called "confidence and supply" deal, whereby it would guarantee its support to a governing party on crunch votes in return for concessions. Instead, he said Nationalist MPs would look at issues on a vote-by-vote basis to extract gains.
Speaking to his parliamentary candidates in Glasgow, he declared: "The prospect of a balanced parliament has now become increasingly likely. The thought causes panic in the Labour and Tory ranks. But it is a development that is welcome here in Scotland and one which we embrace enthusiastically.
"For it is with a balanced parliament that Scotland's greatest opportunity exists.
"And with a parliament balanced on Scottish and Welsh votes, much can be achieved and much can be protected."
Labour remain on course to win the most support in Scotland, according to a new Scottish poll released ahead of STV's Scottish leaders' debate last night.
Despite being pushed into third place in some UK polls in the wake of the leadership debate, Scottish Labour is ten points clear of its nearest rival, the SNP, according to the poll.
The Ipsos Mori poll, which interviewed Scots both before and after last week's debate, does confirm that the TV event triggered a Lib Dem "surge", with the party adding eight percentage points to its showing compared with February.
The SNP's manifesto in ten steps:
Restore the link between the state pension and earnings. Also, defend the concessionary fare scheme for OAPs and free personal care for the elderly.
Use the potential of a hung parliament to extract key concessions from a UK government. A full coalition with any party is ruled out.
Save 5 billion a year across the UK by scrapping Trident, ID cards, the House of Lords, a new nuclear waste depository, and the Scotland Office.
Help create 60,000 jobs in the green economy by 2020, including 26,000 jobs in renewables. Also request 200 million from the Treasury to invest in green projects.
Oppose the increase in National Insurance contributions proposed by Labour, and instead back "progressive and fair" tax rises if necessary.
Support an international tax on bank transactions as part of a wider reform to the financial regulatory system to ensure a return to prudent banking.
Introduce a fair fuel regulator to reduce the fluctuations in forecourt price.
Bring in a new veterans' card so that those who have fought for the country get special access to services such as the NHS.
Support a doubling in paternity leave from two weeks to four weeks – also proposed by Labour.
Demand further powers for the Scottish Parliament, including borrowing powers and full fiscal independence. Also campaign for control over Jobcentres to be handed over to the Scottish Government.
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