SNP vow to help make Miliband PM
Nicola Sturgeon has pledged that the SNP would help make Labour's Ed Miliband prime minister if the Conservatives fail to win a majority in next month's general election.
The Scottish First Minister made the offer as she clashed with Scottish Labour leader Jim Murphy in the first televised Scottish leaders debate.
Mr Murphy insisted his party did not need "help" from the nationalists to oust Conservative David Cameron from 10 Downing Street.
The Scottish Labour leader asked the First Minister: "Nicola, do you want Ed Miliband to be prime minister?"
She told him: "I' don't want David Cameron to be prime minister, I'm offering to help make Ed Miliband prime minister."
Mr Murphy insisted: "Nicola, we don't need your help. What we need is people north and south of the border, people in Scotland, people in England and people in across Wales coming together to kick out an out of touch government."
Ms Sturgeon however insisted that the Labour Party did not offer an alternative to austerity, and SNP MPs were needed in Westminster to keep them "honest".
She said: "The Labour Party right now is not offering an alternative to Tory austerity, I stood on a platform last week in the UK leaders debate with Ed Miliband and I heard Miliband say if Labour is elected and left to their own devices there will be further spending reductions.
"I don't want to see further spending reductions, I don't think the country can afford them. That's why we're proposing modest spending increases and with SNP influence we can force Labour down that path."
The Scottish First Minister has already said offered to work with Labour to keep the Tories out of power if this is possible in a hung parliament.
Ms Sturgeon said tonight: " I've said to Ed Miliband and I'll say to Jim Murphy this evening, that if there is an anti-Tory majority in the House of Commons after the election, even if the Tories are the biggest party we will work with Labour to keep David Cameron out of Downing Street."
Ms Sturgeon said if a "strong block" of SNP MPs are returned to Westminster on May 7 "we can make sure Labour keeps their promises".
She added: "In short, we can keep Labour honest."
The SNP leader continued: "The SNP will never prop up the Tories in government, but nor do I want to see a Labour government simply implementing Tory policies.
"If you want the kind of progressive change I think Scotland needs and wants, send a strong team of SNP MPs to the House of Commons to make sure we get it and make sure Scotland's voice is heard."
Mr Murphy stressed that key in the election was ensuring that "working people do better" after the ballot.
While Labour has seen support fall away in Scotland, he added: "Labour has changed, and we will continue to change."
He told of the "heartbreaking" experience when a mother of two, with two jobs, broke down in tears in front of him because she did not have enough money to buy new shoes for one of her daughters.
He said: "I'm not pretending it's easy for Labour, I'm not pretending we have all of the answers, but things like a Living Wage, increasing her wages to £8 an hour minimum wage, and getting her off exploitative zero hours contracts.
"And the one way of doing that is replacing our government and supporting a government that will introduce some of those changes."
Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson challenged Ms Sturgeon on her plans to support a minority Labour administration.
Ms Davidson asked: "Why is Nicola running around saying 'Labour is rubbish, vote for me so I can put them in office'?"
She insisted her party had tried to rebuild the economy after the recession with some of the most vulnerable in mind.
"That's why we're trying to get people back into jobs," she said.
"That's why we've increased the minimum wage higher than inflation, that's why the Scottish Conservatives have a plan to help companies introduce the Living Wage.
"That's also why we've taken people at the lowest end of the wage spectrum out of taxation altogether, so they keep more of the money they get."
Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie also highlighted the increase in the income tax threshold under the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government.
He said: "What we've done, with one of the biggest recessions this country has ever faced, is we've got the economy back on track and we've done it fairly."
Mr Rennie said the Lib Dems are prepared to work with other parties in coalition but that it would not be reasonable to put the SNP in charge as they are in favour of breaking up the United Kingdom.
He said: "We're prepared to work with other parties where we can agree, we've showed that in the last five years.
"But I don't think it would be reasonable to put a party that's in favour of breaking up the United Kingdom in charge of the United Kingdom. I don't think you could really put the SNP in charge.
"What I'm in favour of is making sure we have a stable partnership in the United Kingdom that carries on the economic progress we've made in the last five years and does it fairly."
Ms Davidson ruled out any deal with the SNP and said she promises to fight to honour the outcome of the Scottish independence referendum.
She said: "I promise to fight head, heart, body and soul to honour that referendum result to keep our country together and that means no deals with the people who would break up Britain.
"So if you believe and want to build and keep the recovery going, and if you believe in keeping our country together then the Scottish Conservatives stand with you."
She also ruled out any deals with Ukip, saying: "There will be no deals with Ukip. They won't have enough MPs in parliament, they will not get into double digits in parliament in order to be able to have a coalition deal so there will be no deal.
"I've already said my preference is minority government, the Prime Minister said if he doesn't get a majority his preference is minority government."
In a question and answer session with the audience Mr Murphy was asked why he feels that as a small nation the country needs to retain weapons of mass destruction.
He replied: "I want a world free of nuclear weapons but we cannot uninvent the technology, we have to negotiate away the capability. The last Labour government did cut the number of warheads by a higher proportion than any other nation on earth.
"I don't want just a Scotland free of nuclear weapons, I don't think it makes much sense to just move our weapons to the north of England, I want them off the face of the planet altogether but in a world where Iran has been trying to get a nuclear bomb and North Korea is also trying, I think it's a much safer thing to negotiate with the Americans, the French and all those other nations so that we can free not just one country but the entire planet of these weapons of mass destruction."
Ms Sturgeon told the audience the election gave them the " chance to shake up the out of touch Westminster system so that it serves Scotland better".
With polls suggesting there could be a record number of Scottish nationalist MPs at Westminster, after May 7 she added: " The SNP will make Scotland's voice heard more loudly at Westminster than it ever has been heard before."
She also said her party would " help deliver progressive change" adding: " We propose a real alternative to the pain of austerity, an end to the Bedroom Tax, a higher minimum wage and protection for our NHS and valued public services."
The SNP leader went on to defend her party's plans for an extra £180 billion of public spending over the course of the next parliament, saying this was a "clear alternative" to austerity economics.
"Under my plans it would take a few years longer to completely eliminate the deficit," Ms Sturgeon conceded.
"But right now if the austerity policies of the Tories backed by Labour continue then there is an estimate that says one million additional children across the UK will be living in poverty by the end of this decade.
"What I am proposing is responsible and modest, and I think it is right as well."
After UK politics in 2014 was dominated by the Scottish independence referendum, she insisted a win for the SNP in Scotland in May would not trigger another such ballot.
However she said whether the 2016 Holyrood elections could be used to bring about a second independence vote was "another matter".
Ms Sturgeon said: " I respect the result of the referendum last year, it was a hard fought, passionate campaign, I gave it my everything to persuade people to vote Yes, the country didn't vote Yes and I respect that."
She continued: " This Westminster election is not a re-run of the referendum campaign, if you vote SNP in this election it doesn't mean Scotland has another referendum, or becomes independent as a result."
STV political editor Bernard Ponsonby, who was moderating the debate, then asked her about after the 2016 Scottish elections
"That's another matter," Ms Sturgeon told him.
"We will write that manifesto when we get there. I will fight one election at a time. I'm putting forward in a couple of weeks a manifesto for this election and I will decide the content of our next manifesto when we get there, and people can decide whether or not they vote for that."
She added: "I f the people of Scotland don't vote for a party with a commitment in a manifesto to a referendum, there won't be another referendum, that's the point I'm making. The people are in charge, not politicians."
Meanwhile Mr Rennie said he wanted to maintain the "progress" the Liberal Democrats have made in government in the next five years.
He said: "I don't want to veer off to the left or the right like the others propose. I want to keep on that path and keep that recovery going.
"What we need to do to ensure that we do that is invest in the NHS and make sure we balance the books."
The two-hour debate ended with more clashes between the politicians over the prospect of Labour and the the SNP working together at Westminister.
Ms Sturgeon challenged the Scottish Labour leader on the issue, stating: " I've made clear the SNP will never ever be part of supporting the Tories getting into government.
"I don't think we will want a formal coalition with Labour either but what I have said is this - we will work with Labour to keep the Tories out so if there are more Labour and SNP MPs combined than there are Tory MPs then we would vote in a vote of confidence to stop a Tory government even getting off the ground.
"Now why can't Labour bring themselves to say that they would vote with us to achieve that aim? Is it because they actually would prefer to see a Tory government?"
Mr Murphy said that was "ludicrous" and added: "I'm trying to make a reasonable point and as often is the case you go off on one.
"The Labour Party and the Tory party are just so different. Nicola, the only way to lock out the Tory party is to give the keys to the Labour Party. That's the only way of preventing a Tory government."
Ms Sturgeon then asked: "If Labour don't have an overall majority but if Labour and the SNP combined have more seats than the Tories can you just say yes or no will you vote with the SNP to stop David Cameron getting back into Downing Street? It's a really simple question. Give us a simple answer Jim. Yes or no?"
Mr Murphy said "It's a very simple answer", but would not be drawn on whether it would be yes or no.
The Scottish Labour leader added: "You can protest against the Tories with all sorts of parties, but there is only one guaranteed way of replacing them - that's with Labour."
He claimed: " This is a two for the price of one election: You can vote SNP and you get David Cameron thrown in for free, or you can vote Labour and you can throw David Cameron out for good."
But Ms Sturgeon insisted: " If you vote SNP on May 7 you get the SNP, it is as simple as that, you get the one party that always stands up for Scotland, the only party that fights Scotland's corner."
She told the audience: " We'll never put the Tories into government, you know that, but we will work with others for progressive change across the UK."
Meanwhile Ms Davidson said the SNP and its leader were "desperate" to work with Mr Miliband and put Labour into government.
The Conservative questioned why Ms Sturgeon was keen to put Mr Miliband in Number 10 and said it was "because she knows its good for independence".
She added: "Ed Miliband is weak, he's not up to being prime minister and she's going to be pulling the strings."
The Scottish Liberal Democrat leader branded the exchanges as "immature" and said: " What we need to do is reflect what voters cast on May 7 and what we have sought to do in government is to bring stability to the country, return the country to recovery with the economy and do it fairly, that's what our ambition has been.
"We will work with other parties in order to do that, to bring that stability, I just wish the other parties would adopt the same approach, I think that's the mature approach to politics, the pragmatic approach to politics that people want in this country."