Eyeing power, Scottish nationalists launch British election manifesto
EDINBURGH, United Kingdom (UPDATED) – Scotland's separatists tried to reassure voters across Britain on Monday, April 20, over the key role they could play in deciding the next government following May's knife-edge election.
Launching the left-wing Scottish National Party's manifesto with 17 days to go, leader Nicola Sturgeon vowed that the SNP would act "responsibly and constructively" if it agreed to prop up a minority center-left Labour government led by Ed Miliband.
The launch came as the Conservatives – led by Prime Minister David Cameron, who is battling to stay in office after the May 7 election – sought to play on the fears of some English voters that the SNP could pull Labour further leftwards if they teamed up.
Opinion polls put Labour and the Conservatives neck and neck, suggesting that neither of Britain's two main parties will win a majority in parliament's 650-seat lower House of Commons.
That would mean they would probably have to strike arrangements with a smaller party or parties to govern.
The secessionist SNP is on course to form the third largest bloc in the Commons with major gains under the first-past-the-post constituency system.
The party held 6 seats in the last parliament but is expected to sweep to victory this time in the vast majority of Scotland's 59 constituencies, draining support from Labour in one of its traditional heartlands.
'Hand of friendship' offer
"If the SNP emerges from this election in a position of influence, we will exercise that influence responsibly and constructively," Sturgeon said at a climbing centre outside Edinburgh as she launched the manifesto.
"We will always seek to exercise it in the interests of people not just in Scotland, but across the whole of the UK."
Sturgeon added that she was offering a "hand of friendship" to everyone in Britain who favored "progressive" policies.
She pledged that the SNP would fight for an end to austerity cuts in favor of a "modest" spending increase and to scrap Britain's Scottish-based Trident nuclear deterrent, as well as increasing the minimum wage and introducing a new tax on bankers' bonuses.
Sturgeon has been talking up the prospect of the SNP supporting a minority Labour government for months, while ruling out any deal with the Conservatives.
Miliband says he would not enter a formal coalition with the SNP, which runs Scotland's devolved government, but has not explicitly ruled out a more informal alliance.
Put to him that the SNP would be "calling the shots" in an agreement to put Labour in power, Miliband told BBC television: "That ain't gonna happen."
"They're not going to tell us."
The SNP led the unsuccessful campaign for Scottish independence at a referendum in September but has since seen its membership quadruple to more than 100,000 people.
Sturgeon, who has performed strongly in a series of televised election debates, has said she cannot rule out another independence referendum in the next parliament.
Miliband portrayed as Sturgeon puppet
The Conservatives, who have failed to take a lead in the polls despite leading Britain out of recession as part of a coalition government, have increasingly targeted the prospect of a Labour-SNP deal.
A series of Conservative campaign posters portray Miliband as Sturgeon's puppet.
Cameron said Monday voters could be "sleepwalking" towards a "match made in hell for the British economy", claiming the two parties together would increase taxes and borrowing.
"Labour and the SNP – the party that would bankrupt our country and the party that would break up our country," he said on a visit to Crewe, northwest England. "Is that what you want?"
Meanwhile Conservative Defence Secretary Michael Fallon described the SNP manifesto as "the most expensive ransom note in history".
A ComRes poll of 2,048 adults for ITV television conducted between Friday and Sunday (April 17-19) found that 59% did not want the SNP to play a role in the next British government.
Monday's BBC opinion poll aggregator gave the Conservatives 34%, Labour 33%, the UK Independence Party 13%, the Liberal Democrats 9% and the Greens 5%, with others on 6% combined. – Lesley Martin, with Katherine Haddon in London, AFP / Rappler.com