SNP 'to prop up Labour minority'
Scottish nationalists could prop up a minority Labour administration even if Ed Miliband's party ends up with 40 fewer MPs than the Conservatives after the General Election, SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon has said.
Ms Sturgeon said that if David Cameron could not command a majority in the House of Commons dominated by "anti-Tory" parties then he will not be able to form a government, even if Conservatives are by far the largest single party.
Her comments came as Labour slipped below 30% in a mainstream opinion poll for the first time in the election campaign, taking 29% to the Tories' 33% in a Survation survey for the Daily Mirror which could see Mr Miliband's party trailing by 25 MPs or more if repeated on May 7.
The developments came as independent economic analysts from the Institute for Fiscal Studies said that there were "genuinely big differences" between the tax and spend policies of the major parties, which could see "substantial" cuts to public services under a Tory government which eliminated the deficit, while Labour would squeeze services less but allow borrowing to remain as high as £26 billion.
As expectations remained high of a hung Parliament with a contingent of as many as 50 SNP MPs after May 7, Ms Sturgeon was asked on BBC2's Newsnight whether her party would be ready to prop up a Labour government if the party had fewer seats than the Conservatives.
She replied: " Yes. Even if the Tories are the largest party, if there is an anti Tory majority, my offer to Labour is to work together to keep the Tories out."
Asked if this would remain her position even if Mr Cameron had 30 more MPs than Mr Miliband, she confirmed: " If there is an anti Tory majority, yes, that's what I've been saying all along - I'm not sure why there's any confusion about it - that we would work with Labour to stop the Tories getting into Downing Street."
And if the margin was as wide as 40 MPs, she said: " If they can't command a majority they can't be a government, that's the basic rule of how governments are formed I'd have thought."
Ms Sturgeon rejected the IFS finding of a "significant disconnect" between the SNP's claims to be an anti-austerity party and plans that implied it would be spending less than Labour by 2019/20. The IFS had not credited the SNP with any of the revenues it intends to raise from tackling tax avoidance and had assumed borrowing at 1.4% of GDP for 2019/20, when the SNP wanted it at 1.6%, she said.
The IFS accused the major parties of keeping voters "in the dark" by spelling out only the "broad outlines" of their tax and spend plans following the May 7 poll, though it singled out the Liberal Democrats for being more transparent than their rivals about their intentions.
The thinktank's deputy director Carl Emmerson said: "There are genuinely big differences between the main parties' fiscal plans.
"The electorate has a real choice, although it can at best see only the broad outlines of that choice."
Conservatives say they would eliminate the deficit by 2017/18 and start to run a surplus while Labour says it will reduce the deficit each year and balance the books "as soon as possible" during the five-year term.
The IFS said the Tory plans were "predicated on substantial and almost entirely unspecified spending cuts and tax increases", and could involve "further real cuts to unprotected departments of around £30 billion".
Labour's plans were consistent with a pledge not to borrow for day-to-day spending but "would leave borrowing at £26 billion a year in today's terms", it said.
The IFS said the Liberal Democrats had been more transparent about overall fiscal plans to 2017-18, revealing that they are aiming for tightening more than Labour but less than the Conservatives.
While the SNP would "cut less to start with", the implication of the plans spelt out in their manifesto would be that the "period of austerity would be longer than under the other three parties we consider", it said.
Mr Cameron, visiting Cornwall, said the IFS findings showed that Labour would borrow £90 billion more over the course of the next Parliament than Tories, which he said would be "a risk to our recovery, a risk to our economy, a risk to jobs".
But Mr Miliband said the figures were based on assumptions which he did not accept about the date that Labour would achieve its goal of balancing the current budget and had overlooked the party's ambition to run a surplus on day-to-day spending.
Campaigning in Nuneaton, Mr Miliband said the thinktank's analysis confirmed Labour warnings that a Tory government would deliver "the most extreme cuts in the developed world" and a squeeze on services unprecedented in any three-year period since demobilisation at the end of the Second World War. The Labour leader insisted: "Ours is a better plan, a balanced plan and the right plan."
Meanwhile, Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg said the IFS had identified Tory plans for a "secret cuts bombshell".
Speaking in Talgarth, in Powys, Mr Clegg told the BBC: " They confirm, as we have been saying, that we will cut substantially less than the Conservatives' ideological plan to cut many public services to the bone and borrow less than the reckless plan from the Labour Party.
"The Conservatives have a secret cuts bombshell that will hurt the most vulnerable in society and will take millions and millions of pounds away from the public services that people rely upon."
Chancellor George Osborne insisted the Tories had put forward a "balanced and clear plan" and seized on the IFS conclusion that Labour could "leave the British government less well-placed to deal with future adverse effects".
"In other words, we will be more exposed to the economic storms," he said. "Britain has been through those economic storms before, we don't want to go through them again."