General Election 2015: Nicola Sturgeon vows to turn her TV success into more MPs

Political foes admitted today that the SNP leader was the biggest winner in the only TV election debate between the seven party leaders

Nicola Sturgeon has moved to the heart of the general election campaign, with Labour and the Tories drawn into a new argument over what impact the Scottish National Party leader will have on the election result.

While the Conservatives warned Ms Sturgeon could put Ed Miliband into power and Labour figures attempted to counter that she could no longer be portrayed as a threat to English voters, political foes admitted yesterday that she was the biggest winner in Thursday’s television debate.

Ms Sturgeon was hailed in Scotland for her assured performance, watched by 7.4 million viewers, and is suddenly a big player on the national stage. She even had to fend off questions about whether the SNP would now field candidates in England, and on its front page today – at least south of the border – the Daily Mail brands her the “most dangerous woman in Britain”.

She said after the debate: “I think it is a reflection of how out of touch the whole Westminster system has become. Going into a post-election scenario, what I need to do is make sure there are as many SNP MPs in there challenging and pushing the Westminster parties to give as much power to Scotland as possible.”

 

Alex Salmond, her predecessor, said Ms Sturgeon had “wiped the floor with the old boys’ network” and “hammered” David Cameron.

In a setback for Mr Miliband, some Labour candidates and former MPs praised Ms Sturgeon. The Labour leader may be eclipsed if the SNP leader does well in the next TV debate between five “challenger” leaders on 16 April.

Labour figures claimed the Tories’ attempt to portray the SNP as “the bogeyman” had been scuppered by Ms Sturgeon’s conciliatory approach.

Caroline Flint, the shadow Energy Secretary, accused the Tories of talking up the SNP. “They would love Nicola Sturgeon to do well because that puts David Cameron back in No 10,” she said. “If Scots don’t want David Cameron, they should think very carefully about voting for the SNP.”

Nicola-Sturgeon.jpg
The SNP leader has dismissed the claim as '100% untrue' (EPA)

A Labour source said: “The Tories are trying to hide behind the SNP because they can’t defend their record. The SNP is the Tories’ last hope of clinging on to Downing Street. It is an unholy alliance.”

But the Tories are jubilant that the SNP is in the spotlight. They believe Ms Sturgeon’s showing will harm Labour’s chances of holding its 41 Scottish seats. Michael Gove, the Tory Chief Whip, warned that a Labour government propped up by the SNP and other smaller parties would be a “lethal cocktail”.

Michael Fallon, the Defence Secretary, told BBC Radio 4’s World at One: “She certainly outshone the other challengers… But she did rather give the game away, in that she didn’t just say she would prop up a Miliband government. She actually said she would ‘keep him honest’, by which she meant she would keep him left wing; she would keep him on a path of departing from our fiscal plan. That is extremely dangerous.”

The Daily Telegraph said last night it had seen a leaked Government memo detailing a conversation between Ms Sturgeon and the French ambassador, in which the SNP leader apparently expressed a preference for a Tory win in May and a desire to avoid a formal coalition with Labour.

Ms Sturgeon strongly denied the paper’s claims, calling them “categorically, 100 per cent untrue”.

Meanwhile, a Daily Mirror/Survation poll found that Mr Miliband’s net approval rating had increased by eight points since the first TV “debate” on 26 March.

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