A hung parliament at Westminster would produce tangible benefits for voters in Scotland, the First Minister, Alex Salmond, claimed yesterday.
Mr Salmond, who leads the Scottish National Party, said the prospect of no one party winning an overall Commons majority was now a "probability" and, in those circumstances, the SNP could seek to extract gains for Scotland.
Launching the party's manifesto in Glasgow, Mr Salmond listed its demands for supporting David Cameron or Gordon Brown if the election left minor parties holding the balance of power. The SNP has agreed to work with Plaid Cymru in Wales to avoid what Mr Salmond described as "a decade of dismal cuts".
"It is with a balanced parliament that Scotland's greatest opportunity exists," said Mr Salmond, who heads the minority SNP government at Holyrood. "With a parliament balanced on Scottish and Welsh votes, much can be achieved and much can be protected."
He said it was now likely that no one party would win an overall majority at Westminster and this would be the "best thing for the people across these islands". "The thought causes panic in the Labour and Tory ranks," he added. "But it is a development that is welcome here in Scotland and one which we embrace enthusiastically. For it is with a balanced parliament that Scotland's greatest opportunity exists: the more SNP MPs, the stronger Scotland's hand will be."
The SNP has seven of the 59 Scottish seats at Westminster and has set a target of winning 20 seats on 6 May. Mr Salmond, who has stepped down as the MP for Banff and Buchan, said the SNP would not enter into a coalition but would instead use its experience running the minority administration north of the border to win concessions.
As a priority, the SNP and Plaid Cymru would use their Westminster seats to act as "national champions" and oppose the cuts plans by both Labour and the Conservatives and to demand greater devolved powers. "Our nation deserves more than a decade of dismal cuts – a decade of wasted opportunities and lost hope," Mr Salmond said.
The SNP is calling for the scrapping of the £5bn national identity card scheme and the £100bn replacement of the Trident nuclear missile system. It wants the House of Lords abolished, saving £100m a year, and the Scotland Office to be closed, saving nearly £10m.
Mr Salmond said his party would go further than the Liberal Democrats in calling for all nuclear weapons to be scrapped, and would seek to ban nuclear weapons from Scotland. On Afghanistan, the SNP said it "does not wish to see Scottish troops committed without time limit".
The manifesto calls for Scotland to share in the funding poured into the London Olympics site, with the transfer of £165m to support regeneration across Scotland. The SNP will also demand the return of £150m in lottery money which it claims was diverted from Scotland to fund the 2012 Games. This would be used to ensure the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow left a "great legacy", the party said. It also pledged to "move forward" with plans to abolish prescription charges next year, as it promised in 2007.
The manifesto says one of the SNP's priorities would be to gain autonomy for tax policy in Scotland, saying: "It would give us the ability to lower corporation tax [and] save a proportion of our growing energy wealth – from oil and gas today and renewable energy in the future – in an energy fund."
The SNP lost heavily to Labour in the Glasgow North-East by-election in November after the former Commons speaker, Michael Martin, was elevated to the House of Lords. But Mr Salmond insisted his party could still achieve a swing of more than 10 per cent to take its 20 target seats. These include Labour-held Inverness East, Nairn and Lochaber, and Glasgow Govan, which would need a swing of only 5 per cent. The SNP would need a swing of 10 per cent to take Ochil and South Perthshire, held by Labour, and the Liberal Democrat seat of Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross.Reuse content