Nicola Sturgeon has failed to rule out Scottish National party councillors forming coalitions with the Tories, as she unveiled her party’s local election manifesto.
The first minister was asked three times by reporters whether she would forbid SNP councillors from entering local coalitions with the Conservatives after the council elections on 4 May.
Sturgeon would not do so, but said she was strongly opposed to allowing the Tories to run councils, in a clear warning to SNP groups around the country to avoid deals.
Claiming it would be highly unlikely the two parties would collaborate, she said: “I don’t want to see the Tories in council chambers. I don’t want to Tories with their hands on local services and my message is crystal clear: vote SNP.”
Under Scotland’s council elections system, which uses the single transferrable vote method of proportional representation, coalitions or minority administrations are now the norm.
The SNP formed two coalitions with the Tories after 2012 council elections, in Dumfries and Galloway and in East Ayrshire, where the two parties still share power. It is also in six other coalitions, mainly with Labour. Labour is in coalitions with the Tories and other parties or independent councillors in four councils.
Sturgeon and the SNP now say the Tories are their main opponents in both the Scottish council elections as well as the UK general election, even though the Tories have no direct control at Holyrood over any devolved policies implemented by local councils.
With Labour’s opinion poll ratings as low as 14% in Scotland and the Tories in second place with up to 28% in the polls, the SNP insist both elections are now a two-horse race between the SNP and the Tories.
A spokesman for Ruth Davidson, the Scottish Tory leader, said the Conservatives believed deals on council coalitions should be left to local parties, not central office. “It’s hard to see why Scottish Conservative councillors would want a coalition with a party that wants to break up the UK, but we’ve made clear this is a decision for local councillors, and not from on high,” she said.
Sturgeon’s launch of both her national council manifesto and the Edinburgh SNP manifesto took place on Friday without the SNP group leader in Edinburgh, Frank Ross.
It is understood a complaint has been made against Ross to the standards commissioner for Scotland after the Herald revealed that he had failed to register his ownership of a hotel near his second home in the Highlands.
With the SNP on course to become the city’s largest party on 4 May, Ross is poised to become council leader. He insists his failure to register was an oversight and said his elderly father had suddenly been taken ill on Friday morning, preventing him from attending the manifesto launch. Ross also updated his register of interests.
Despite Sturgeon’s failure to explicitly rule out any SNP-Tory deals, her party attacked Labour’s sole MP, Ian Murray, after he told the Guardian that Tory and Lib Dem voters in his seat of Edinburgh South should vote tactically in his favour to keep the SNP out.
Tactical voting in 2015 is thought to have played a part in Murray saving his seat with a larger majority. Angus Robertson, the SNP’s deputy leader, claimed Murray was now calling on Labour voters to back Tory candidates across the country.
Robertson said: “It’s an extraordinary plea for a Tory election pact from Labour’s last remaining MP in Scotland, whose priority in this election is saving his own job at the expense of the whole country.”
Murray rejected Robertson’s claim. “This general election campaign has barely started and the SNP has already resorted to dirty tricks by wilfully misleading the public. Any vote for the Tories simply endorses their drive for a damaging hard Brexit,” he said.