Scottish First Minister and nationalist leader Nicola Sturgeon would privately prefer David Cameron to remain as Prime Minister, the Telegraph has claimed.
The paper claims to have seen a leaked memo that includes details of a private meeting between Ms Sturgeon and the French Ambassador to the UK in which the First Minister said she would like to see Cameron “remain as PM”, adding that she did not see Labour leader Ed Miliband as “PM material”.
The memorandum reads: “Just had a telephone conversation with Pierre-Alain Coffinier (PAC), the French CG [consul-general]. He was keen to fill me in on some of the conversations his Ambassador had during her visit to Scotland last week. All of this was given on a confidential basis.”
It continues: “The Ambassador….had a truncated meeting with the FM [Nicola Sturgeon, the First Minister] (FM running late after a busy Thursday…). Discussion appears to have focused mainly on the political situation, with the FM stating that she wouldn’t want a formal coalition with Labour; that the SNP would almost certainly have a large number of seats; that she had no idea ‘what kind of mischief’ Alex Salmond would get up to; and confessed that she’d rather see David Cameron remain as PM (and didn’t see Ed Miliband as PM material).”
The civil servant who typed the memo seemed so surprised by Ms Sturgeon’s words that he then wrote: “I have to admit that I’m not sure that the FM’s tongue would be quite so loose on that kind of thing in a meeting like that, so it might well be a case of something being lost in translation.”
It was later revealed, however, that the meeting took place in English.
The disclosure appears to confirm speculation that the Scottish National Party would secretly prefer the Conservatives to stay in power after the next General Election as it could stoke-up anti-English sentiment in Scotland and lead to calls for a second independence vote.
The Conservative Party’s popularity in Scotland has been in decline for several decades and it now polls well behind the left-wing Labour and Scottish National parties. Such is its unpopularity that both Labour and Nationalist leaders regularly try to use the prospect of a Conservative-led government in Westminster to scare Scottish voters.
With the SNP predicted to make massive gains in next month’s general election, mainly at the expense of Labour, Sturgeon has been floating the idea of a “progressive coalition” in Westminster between Labour and the Nationalists in order to keep the Conservatives out of government. The nationalists have also pledged to keep Labour firmly to the left if they decide to prop up a minority government.
If the leaked memo is true, however, it blows a hole in the Nationalist strategy, especially as it depicts Ms Sturgeon as keen for a right-of-centre government in Westminster.
Sturgeon has now called for an “urgent inquiry” into the leak, describing it as a “dirty trick”.
“It suggests a Whitehall system out of control – a place where political dirty tricks are manufactured and leaked,” she said, adding: “The Foreign Office now appears to be denying the very existence of such a document.”
The BBC reports that the Foreign Office has said it has no record of the memo, while the French consul general in Edinburgh has also denied that Ms Sturgeon expressed any preference for Prime Minister in the meeting. A spokesman for the French ambassador also said that Sturgeon did not give a preference.
The row comes amid one of the tightest elections in British history, with neither of the main parties likely to win a majority of seats in the House of Commons. Although the opposition Labour Party looks set to make gains in England, polls suggest it is facing a near wipe-out in Scotland at the hands of the Scottish National Party.