SNP could join 'progressive alternative' to Tories, says Nicola Sturgeon

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The SNP would be open to forming a "progressive alternative to the Tories" with other parties if the election delivers a hung parliament, Scotland's First Minister has said.

Nicola Sturgeon said she is "sceptical" about whether the need will arise for an informal deal, as she predicted the Tories will win next week's election despite a reduction in the party's poll lead in the final days.

She ruled out a formal coalition but said the SNP could work with other left-leaning parties on a case-by-case basis.

Speaking to BBC Radio 4's Today programme, Ms Sturgeon said: "If there was to be a hung parliament, if the parliamentary arithmetic allowed it, then I would want the SNP to be part of a progressive alternative to a Conservative government.

"Not in a coalition, I don't envisage any formal coalitions, but on an issue-by-issue basis to put forward progressive policies and to see a progressive agenda."

Ms Sturgeon also said Scotland could play a "pivotal and decisive role" in determining the size of the predicted Tory majority.

She said: "My reading of the polls says that Theresa May and the Tories are still on the track to win this election but they are no longer certain to get a bigger majority in this election, and actually in that scenario Scotland becomes centre stage and potentially has a pivotal and decisive role to play because it could be the case that what determines whether or not Theresa May has a bigger majority is the outcome of the election in Scotland."

She urged voters not to elect Tory MPs to become "rubber stamps" for Mrs May, adding: "Scotland could constrain and keep the Tories in check by making sure we don't throw Theresa May a lifeline."

Defending her party's record in Westminster, the First Minister said the SNP had provided the only "effective opposition" to the Conservatives by fighting against benefit cuts and Brexit.

She repeated calls for a second independence referendum, saying the people of Scotland should have a say on the Brexit deal.

She said: "I've said consistently at the end of the process. Spring 2019 is what Theresa May is currently telling us will be the end of the process.

"I'm not in charge of the Brexit timetable. If that is longer then so too would my thinking about the timing of the choice for Scotland."

Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale dismissed the comments, saying Mr Corbyn had ruled out doing any such deal with the SNP.

She told the programme: "He absolutely 100% refuted any prospect of a deal, a coalition or a pact with the SNP for two fundamental reasons.

"One, he doesn't believe that the SNP are a progressive party, so you can't have a progressive alliance with a party, for example, that refuses to tax the rich and ask them to pay their fair share.

"Also Jeremy Corbyn accepts there is nothing progressive about trying to break up the United Kingdom."

Ms Dugdale claimed support for Labour was "edging up" north of the border, where the independence question is a key electoral battleground.

She said there was "tangible anger" among voters about the prospect of a second independence referendum and insisted Labour was clear in its opposition to the idea.