Nicola Sturgeon has been accused of “complete twaddle” and attempting to destroy the Union after announcing SNP MPs will start voting on English-only matters after the general election.
The Scottish First Minister told Nick Robinson, the BBC’s political editor, that the Nationalists will drop their self-denying ordinance not to vote on matters that do not affect their constituencies because they are devolved to the Scottish Parliament.
She justified the move on the grounds that a cut in spending on the English NHS, which she claimed was being privatised by the Tories, would have a “direct impact” on Scottish health spending thanks to the Barnett formula.
Her intervention came as an Ipsos Mori opinion poll for STV put support for the SNP in Scotland at 52 per cent compared to Labour’s 24 per cent. This would give the Nationalists 55 seats at Westminster, compared to their current total of six, and see Labour’s total drop from the 41 it won in 2010 to just four.
Anna Soubry, a Tory MP said Ms Sturgeon was talking “twaddle” and putting the Union at risk but Labour’s Sadiq Khan insisted the announcement would not increase the clamour for English votes for English laws.
However, it came the day after George Osborne said it would be “unfair” on the English for a future Government to be “beholden” to the votes of Scottish Nationalist MPs.
Ms Sturgeon’s announcement potentially gives SNP MPs more bargaining power in a hung parliament as they would previously have been unable to prop up a minority Labour government on devolved issues such as health and education.
They will also be able to start voting on rates and bands for stamp duty and income tax in England despite both levies becoming devolved to Holyrood over the next few years.
Ms Sturgeon has previously ruled out any deal with the Tories but said the SNP could work with a minority Ed Miliband government on an informal basis rather than a coalition. Opinion polls indicate the Nationalists are on course to make large gains north of the Border.
She said: “We’re signalling we would be prepared to vote on matters of English health because that has a direct impact potentially on Scotland’s budget.
“So if there was a vote in the House of Commons to repeal the privatisation of the health service that’s been seen in England, to restore the National Health Service, we would vote for that because that would help to protect Scotland’s budget.”
She admitted she is entirely in control of the Scottish NHS but said it was a “self-interested” stance as the Barnett formula, which is based on spending on devolved areas in England, determines the Scottish Government’s budget.
Asked whether her announcement would infuriate the English, she said: “I suspect a lot of English voters would like to see an end to the privatisation of the English health service.”
The Scottish First Minister said SNP, Plaid Cymru and Green MPs would be a “progressive and moderating force” on a minority Labour government and “win big gains for Scotland.”
She said she would demand much wider powers than were agreed by the cross-party Smith Commission in the wake of the referendum. David Cameron is in Scotland on Thursday to unveil draft legislation enacting the changes, which include control over income tax band and rates.
SNP MPs would also demand that the Trident nuclear deterrent, which is based on the Clyde, be scrapped.
But Ms Sturgeon was forced to deny that it would be Alex Salmond, who is standing to become an MP again, who would be calling the shots in any negotiations rather than her.
Ms Soubry, the Broxtowe MP, told BBC Radio 4’s World at One programme: “I’m absolutely astonished at the complete twaddle she has just spoken.
“She doesn’t even understand what’s happened and this nonsense – and it is a nonsense – that the Conservatives are on some wide-scale privatisation of the NHS. She puts our Union at risk again and plays with dangerous stuff.”
Mr Khan, Labour MP for Tooting, claimed the announcement would not increase the clamour for English votes for English laws, saying there must remain “one class of MP”.
David Cameron has previously promised that a Conservative-led government would protect health spending. The Institute for Fiscal Studies also found the Scottish Government has not passed on to the Scottish NHS all the “Barnett consequentials” from higher health spending in England.
Jim Murphy, the Scottish Labour Party leader, dismissed Ms Sturgeon’s comments saying that the SNP were spending less on the NHS “than even David Cameron”.
He added: “There is a way of getting a better health service, a way of getting more money for Scotland’s health service, and that is by voting for the Labour Party.”