A civil service inquiry into a leaked memo which claimed that Nicola Sturgeon privately wanted to see David Cameron remain in power after the general election has been instigated following calls from the First Minister. Ms Sturgeon described the allegation as “100% untrue” and accused Whitehall of “dirty tricks”.
The announcement was made after the SNP leader called on the cabinet secretary, Sir Jeremy Heywood, to find out how the Daily Telegraph obtained the Foreign Office memo in which, the paper claims, Sturgeon told the French ambassador in February that she hoped for a Tory win.
A Foreign Office spokesman cast further doubt on the memo’s alleged contents, stating on Saturday that they were “not aware of any such document”.
Speaking at an anti-Trident demonstration in Glasgow, Sturgeon said: “Anyone who knows anything about me knows I don’t want to see a Conservative government. I’m campaigning to get the Tories out of Downing Street. We’ve made if very clear that we will lock David Cameron out of Downing Street – the only person who’s not made that clear is Ed Miliband.
“We’ve said that if there are more SNP and Labour MPs than there are Tory MPs, then we will vote to stop a Tory government even getting off the ground. I reissue my challenge to Ed Miliband today to say likewise.
“The bigger question, and one I am raising today with the head of the civil service, Sir Jeremy Heywood, is who wrote this memo, as the Foreign Office are now appearing to deny all knowledge of it.
“How did it come to contain such an inaccuracy and how did it get into the hands of the Tory-supporting Daily Telegraph? This story is 100% not true. The French ambassador, the other person in the conversation, has said that too and this really should be the end of the matter.”
Her comments came after Ed Miliband, the Labour leader, described Sturgeon’s alleged backing of David Cameron as “damning revelations”. Miliband told Sky News on Saturday: “I think these are damning revelations. What it shows is that while in public the SNP are saying they don’t want to see a Conservative government, in private they are actually saying they do want a Conservative government. It shows that the answer at this general election is if you want the Conservatives out, the only answer is to vote Labour for a Labour government.”
The Telegraph claimed that the allegation was contained in a leaked UK government memorandum, thought to come from the Foreign Office, which sets out an official account of the meeting from France’s experienced consul general in Edinburgh, Pierre-Alain Coffinier.
But Coffinier told the Guardian that this was untrue. He said he had checked his notes of that meeting, which took place at Holyrood after first minister’s questions on 26 February. “I have looked at my notes and absolutely no preference has been expressed by anyone regarding the outcome of the election,” he said. “Which suggests neither Nicola nor my ambassador said anything.”
The allegation comes as polls suggest that the SNP is on track to take up to 50 seats from Labour in Scotland, and Sturgeon’s personal popularity is soaring in the wake of a well-received performance in this week’s televised leaders’ debate.
Jim Murphy, leader of Scottish Labour, has also said the memo shows the SNP believes a Conservative victory could, in the long term, strengthen their hand in cementing opposition in Scotland to Whitehall rule.
According to the Daily Telegraph, the memo said: “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’d rather see David Cameron remain as PM.” The note went on to say that Sturgeon had said she did not think the Labour leader was “prime minister material”.
However, the civil servant appeared to doubt whether the report accurately conveyed Sturgeon’s comments, adding: “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.”
The leaked document was drafted by a Whitehall official after Coffinier called the FCO, as protocol requires, to pass on a confidential account of several of the ambassador’s meetings in Edinburgh, which included a meeting with Alistair Carmichael, the Scottish secretary.
Sturgeon added that she would welcome the publication of any minutes from her meeting with the ambassador.
Miliband also told Sky News that there would not be a formal coalition between Labour and the SNP. But he did not rule out an informal post-election deal, short of a coalition, under which the SNP might prop up a minority government in a hung parliament.
Jeremy Heywood said: “I can confirm that earlier today I instigated a Cabinet Office-led leak inquiry to establish how extracts from this document may have got into the public domain. Until that inquiry is complete, I will not be making any further comment either on the document or the inquiry.”
This article was written by Dan Carrier, for theguardian.com on Saturday 4th April 2015 11.19 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010