Nicola Sturgeon will deliver a message of “friendship and solidarity” to people across the UK who want an ally in shaking up the Westminster system.
In the keynote address to the Scottish National party’s largest ever conference on Saturday, Scotland’s first minister will say: “To ordinary people across these islands who feel just as let down by the out-of-touch Westminster system as we do, I have a very clear message. It is a message of friendship and solidarity.”
Addressing an expected 3,000 delegates in Glasgow, after party membership hit an unprecedented 100,000 this month, Sturgeon will add: “As long as Scotland remains part of the Westminster system, we will be your allies in seeking to shake up and reform that outdated and discredited system once and for all.
“Westminster needs to change. To be more responsive to the needs and demands of ordinary people, wherever they are in the UK. So to people in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, I make this promise: the SNP stands ready to work with you in making that positive change.”
The SNP may hold the balance of power after the 7 May election, and the party is increasingly being portrayed by Westminster parties and the media as a looming threat.
Sturgeon featured in a Sun mockup clad in a tartan bikini and swinging on a wrecking ball, and a Conservative party animated film this week showed Alex Salmond making a puppet Ed Miliband dance a jig. Some Scottish commentators have described it as “Jockophobia”.
Salmond, Sturgeon’s predecessor as SNP leader, may have contributed to these fears when, in a series of interviews to promote his referendum memoir The Dream Shall Never Die, he threatened both to lock the Tories out of power and to exploit Labour weakness in a minority government.
But Sturgeon will insist that the SNP wants to use its elevated status to improve the situation of people across the UK. “We will pursue policies that will win support from, and make life better for, people in every part of these islands,” she will say.
“We will demand an alternative to slash-and-burn austerity. Responsible deficit reduction, yes. But cuts that tear at the very fabric of our society, penalise the poor, threaten our public services and stifle economic growth – let me make it crystal clear, those will not be in our name.”
Asked on Friday about Salmond’s recent comments, Sturgeon said: “Alex Salmond is a member of the SNP. I’m the leader of the party.”
She added: “Alex has said nothing that I’m not also saying. We’re articulating a message about how good it could be for Scotland if the SNP is in a position to wield influence in the House of Commons.”
Reiterating that she would not go into coalition with the Tories and that a formal coalition with Labour was highly unlikely, Sturgeon said: “We could have an arrangement akin to confidence and supply, and if we couldn’t do that we would seek to use our influence on a vote-by-vote basis.”
Borrowing the phrasing of Scottish Labour, which has suggested that a vote for the SNP would increase the chances of another Tory government, she added: “It’s a matter of simple arithmetic. If there are more anti-Tory MPs in the House of Commons than Tory MPs than it would be possible to lock the Tories out of government.”
Polling has consistently predicted an SNP landslide in Scotland in May, with the Guardian’s latest figures this week suggesting Sturgeon’s party could take 43 of the 59 seats.
Admitting that current polling made it difficult to manage expectations, she said: “I’m very mindful of the fact we have six MPs now; in the remaining seats in Scotland we face hefty majorities. The most MPs the SNP has ever had in the Commons is 11, so anything beyond that would be record-breaking for the SNP. So I am mindful of the mountain we have to climb.”
But she said she placed no limit on the SNP’s ambition and the party would be “fighting every seat to win”.
This article was written by Libby Brooks, for theguardian.com on Saturday 28th March 2015 00.01 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010