In a blunt message aimed at hundreds of thousands of centre-left voters, the Labour leader will argue that the Scottish government would lose up to £2.7bn a year in funding – nearly 10% of its budget, because the Tories were planning “extreme cuts” if they win in May.
“The Tories can wreak havoc in Scotland without winning a majority,” Miliband will tell a special Scottish party conference in Edinburgh on Saturday, in a speech which highlights Labour’s fears about a wipeout at the hands of the SNP.
“They can do it simply by being in government as the largest party. It would mean a Tory decade for Scotland: 10 years of David Cameron in Downing Street; 10 years of injustice; 10 years of unfairness; 10 years of attacking everything we hold dear in our country.”
He will warn former Labour voters that backing the SNP in May would not strengthen Scotland’s voice at Westminster, the key claim made by SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon, but increase Cameron’s chances of winning.
Miliband is expected to say: “And I have to tell you: every vote cast for another party, including the SNP, makes that prospect of a Tory government more likely because every one less Labour MP makes it more likely the Tories will be the largest party.”
Until now, Labour had been careful not to directly issue this kind of warning to voters in their heartland seats, dozens of which are now threatened by the SNP, fearing that would further alienate them. They now want to force Scottish voters to see the election as a direct battle between Labour and the Tories.
Labour’s anxieties about the SNP’s surge in popularity under Sturgeon deepened last week after constituency polling by Lord Ashcroft suggested that the seat Gordon Brown is quitting in Fife could be lost.
A Guardian projection showed the SNP could win up to 56 out of 59 Scottish seats and, with polls showing Labour and the Tories now neck and neck at UK level, that would give the SNP a disproportionate impact on the final UK-wide result.
Labour is now attempting to reach out to voters across the Scottish political spectrum. The Scottish Labour leader, Jim Murphy, has already identified 190,000 former Labour voters who were planning to back the SNP after voting yes to independence.
But party strategists are worried that tens of thousands of former Liberal Democrat voters, particularly in prosperous areas of Edinburgh and semi-rural seats, are switching to the SNP and threatening other marginal Labour seats where the SNP used to be rank outsiders.
Miliband will cite Institute of Fiscal Studies analysis of Tory spending plans that implied that about £1bn could be cut from Scotland’s health budget each year, the equivalent of 15,500 nurses and midwives and 3,500 GPs. IFS analysis of the Tories spending plans implied a 9% cut across all UK spending, which would cut £2.7bn annually off Holyrood’s budget by 2021, Labour has argued.
Meanwhile, Sturgeon has increased the prospects of the SNP voting alongside a minority Labour government in the Commons after she told the Guardian that a deal on scrapping the new Trident weapons system was no longer a precondition for backing the party.
Sturgeon and other senior party figures have repeatedly linked cancelling Trident with backing for Labour. In her maiden speech as party leader last November, Sturgeon said that if Labour wanted SNP support, “they’d have to think again about putting a new generation of Trident nuclear weapons on the river Clyde.”
But in a video interview, she told the Guardian the SNP would now treat Trident as a separate topic. “It’s more likely to be an arrangement where we would support Labour on an issue-by-issue basis,” she said “On that basis, there are many issues we could agree on which we would support but we would not vote for Trident.”
Sturgeon confirmed the SNP were not keen on forging a formal coalition or pact with Labour in the Commons, relieving the pressure on Miliband to explicitly reject a deal with the SNP to prop up Labour if it fails to win an overall majority.
Instead, the SNP is already making overtures to the Green party in England and Wales and Plaid Cymru, about forming a “progressive alliance”, the Green MP Caroline Lucas has told the Guardian. “With the rise of the SNP, and with our own Green surge, we have the chance to forge a new grouping in parliament,” she said.
Miliband has faced intense demands from Scottish Labour backbenchers this week to explicitly rule out an SNP deal. Sturgeon’s unexpected olive branch will lessen the need to do so; Labour sources say Miliband will take a far tougher stance on an SNP pact closer to election day.
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