A leaked Government memo which claims the SNP leader wants the Conservatives to win the general election, has been described by Nicola Sturgeon as a “political dirty trick” manufactured in Whitehall.
The memo, purporting to be an account of a February meeting in Edinburgh between Ms Sturgeon and the French ambassador, Sylvie Bermann, threatens to dominate the remaining month of campaigning north of the border.
Scotland’s First Minister (FM) described the contents of the memo, which also included a dismissal of Ed Miliband as not “PM material”, as “categorically, 100 per cent not true”. Last night the head of the UK civil service, Sir Jeremy Heywood, agreed to an SNP demand and launched an inquiry into the circumstances of the leak.
The document, published in the Conservative-supporting Daily Telegraph, offered an account by a civil servant who had discussed the Bermann meeting with the French consul general in Edinburgh, Pierre-Alain Coffinier.
At the conclusion of fairly routine diplomatic correspondence, Ms Sturgeon is reported to have said she’d rather see “David Cameron remain as PM”, and that she “had no idea what mischief Alex Salmond [the former first minister] would get up to”. A concluding caveat from the civil servant admits to reservations about what Ms Sturgeon was saying, adding: “It might well be a case of something being lost in translation.”
Ms Bermann’s office said the SNP leader had not expressed an opinion to her on who she preferred as prime minister.
Mr Coffinier said the lost-in-translation issue was irrelevant, as his conversations were in English. The consul general said he had discussed the meeting with a Scotland Office official, but had made no casual reference, at any stage, to Ms Sturgeon’s preferences. He did admit, however, that the discussion between the two women had taken in the “political situation” – adding “which is normal”. The prospect of the Heywood inquiry being able to report back even interim findings before the election was described to The Independent on Sunday as “remote and politically awkward” by a Cabinet Office source.
With the FM effectively saying her party had been set up, and demanding to know who concocted the letter, that did not stop the leaders of the main parties taking full advantage. Ed Miliband described the leaked government memo as “damning”. He said the document revealed the SNP held different private opinions to what it was telling the Scottish electorate.
In pictures: Experts' predictions for the General Election - 04/04/15
In pictures: Experts' predictions for the General Election - 04/04/15
1/10 Andrew Hawkins (ComRes)
“My position has moved: no party can win a majority now. I have also shifted in favour of the Conservatives winning more seats than Labour. That, however, assumes that the current Tory momentum is maintained and that they don’t do anything daft or careless between now and polling day. But the underlying pattern is distinctly in their favour.” (In January he predicted Labour would be the largest party, possibly with a small majority.)
2/10 Joe Twyman (YouGov)
“Probably: a ‘well hung parliament’. Possibly: Conservatives winning most votes and seats, thanks, in part, to SNP gains at Labour’s expense. Speculation: Conservatives unable to form another coalition, not having enough seats with just the Lib Dems, but Labour better placed with SNP and Lib Dems – albeit informally.” (In January Twyman said: “Gun to my head? Labour minority government.”)
3/10 Ben Page (Ipsos MORI)
“Stuck in ‘too close to call’ mode still, made harder by the way votes translate into seats in Parliament. If the parties remain neck and neck, Labour might just end up with more seats, but not a majority. We still have weeks of campaign to go and no clear picture for the marginals, where the polling that is being done suggests a lot of local variations that have plenty of potential to surprise us in May.” (Last time Page said it was a “mug’s game” to make predictions four months before an election.)
4/10 Rick Nye (Populus)
“Since January, the Conservatives have clearly improved on the polls relative to Labour to the point where I’d expect the Conservatives to win the most seats as well as the most votes 7 May. What’s less clear is whether the Conservatives would be able to form a government. (In January Nye expected a hung parliament in which Labour would win most seats but not necessarily most votes.)
5/10 Nick Moon (GfK)
“Something would need to change dramatically for there to be any chance of a one-party majority government. My guess: the Tories will be largest party, but some way short of forming even a two-party coalition. A Labour minority government seems most likely, but I won’t be putting money on it.” (Prediction unchanged since January.)
6/10 Damian Lyons Lowe (Survation)
“On Survation’s public polling, Ed Miliband remains the person most likely to form the next government. However, he’s far from the workable majority figure required . Friday 8 May will remain a day of deals and discussions with other parties to form the next government.” (In January he expected Labour to be the largest party in a hung parliament, by 40-50 seats over the Conservatives.)
7/10 Michelle Harrison (TNS)
“It’s less a case of who wins but who can scrape over the line. Labour polls better on the NHS; the Tories poll better on the economy. Can any claim additional territory from the other over the remaining weeks? Probably not. But our polls show that the public thinks the Tories will be the largest party. In the absence of a firm lead, I’ll go with the wisdom of crowds.”
8/10 James Endersby (Opinium Research)
“Despite the recent weekly statistical ties, we’ve witnessed the faint whispers of movement in the air and a slow, unsteady and shaky sway towards the Tories. How this shift plays out over the coming weeks obviously depends on a huge number of factors. My call, if this holds fast and momentum gathers: Conservatives 288, Labour 267, SNP 45, Lib Dems 24, Plaid Cymru 3, Ukip 3, Greens 2.” (In January he put Labour on 320 seats.)
9/10 Martin Boon (ICM)
“I’m tempted to say: how should I know? I’m just a pollster. But I feel that Miliband may just have raised himself from the grave, so I’ll add a couple to where I had them before. Everyone else largely becalmed although, I see the Greens disappearing from view and Ukip sliding a touch. Tories 34 per cent, Lab 32 per cent, Lib Dems 14 per cent, Ukip 12 per cent. I don’t trust any academic model that translates vote shares into seats, so a seat projection from this is a pure and simple guess, which is Labour to be touching 300 seats with the Tories just behind.” (In January Boon predicted Labour on 290 seats.)
10/10 Lord Ashcroft (Lord Ashcroft Polls)
He refuses to make predictions. “My polls are snapshots, not predictions.”
Jim Murphy, who since he became Scottish Labour leader has struggled to dent polling numbers which suggest Labour face a near wipe-out north of the border, said this was a “devastating revelation that exposes the uncomfortable truth behind the SNP’s general election campaign”.
He added: “For months Nicola Sturgeon has been telling Scots she wants rid of David Cameron, yet behind closed doors … she admits she wants a Tory government.”
Ed Balls, Labour’s senior finance spokesman, tweeted that the document had revealed an “unholy alliance” and that if Scotland votes SNP, “Sturgeon gets the government she wants”. Only the Greens backed the SNP, saying the “reputation” of a politically independent civil service was at risk.
The origins of the document were the subject of an intense trawl over the past 24 hours inside the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Memos of previous diplomatic exchanges, involving both Alex Salmond and his successor, were gathered. However the FCO disowned the document published by the Telegraph.
It is expected that Sir Jeremy’s inquiry will begin in the Scotland Office. The Scottish Secretary, Alistair Carmichael, did not dismiss the document as a forgery. He said he learned of its contents only when his staff notified him on Friday.
All four main Scottish parties are facing two televised debates this week. The first, in Edinburgh on Tuesday night, involves Ms Sturgeon, Mr Murphy, the Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson, and the LibDem Scottish leader Willie Rennie. A BBC debate in Aberdeen on Wednesday night involves the same four leaders, plus the Greens and Ukip.
Fresh from her widely praised performance in the UK debate last week, Ms Sturgeon was expected to build on that success. However the letter is likely to influence the dynamics of the televised combat.
Speaking in Glasgow at an anti-Trident rally, she dismissed suggestions that she needed to defend anything, instead saying the “bigger question” was for Westminster to explain “how this memo came to be written and published”.
The FM said the story was an indication of the “panic” in Westminster brought on by the surge in nationalist support in Scotland.
Labour responded with Mr Miliband stating there would not be a coalition or post-election deal with the SNP. A senior Labour source anticipated the outcome of the inquiry, saying: “No one will ever know for certain what went on between Nicola Sturgeon and the French ambassador.”Reuse content