NICOLA Sturgeon has sent a clear message to Ed Miliband that the SNP would be a "constructive and responsible" ally at Westminster if Labour scaled back its plans to cut spending to balance the UK's books.

 

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The SNP leader said ending austerity would be her "number one priority" if her party emerges from the election in a position to influence the new government.

But launching the SNP's manifesto against the dramatic backdrop of Edinburgh International Climbing Arena, she stressed her MPs were not "going down to Westminster to block Budgets or bring down governments".

In a further overture to Labour, she signalled her backing for Mr Miliband's entire tax policy, including his proposed mansion tax, bankers' bonus tax, changes to pension tax relief and abolition of 'non dom' status.

The SNP leader also watered down her demand for full fiscal autonomy, following days of criticism over the plan to take Scotland out of the UK tax system and rely entirely on revenues raised north of the Border to meet the Scottish Government's spending commitments.

The SNP will press for Holyrood to "move to" full fiscal autonomy after a phased transition period, in which a number of specific powers, including control over National Insurance and corporation tax, would be devolved first.

Ms Sturgeon insisted: "This election is not about independence."

The comment was greeted with laughter from the hundreds of SNP activists gathered in the cavernous arena, but asked whether people should bet on there being a second referendum in five years, she answered: "I don't think I would.

"I'm not planning another referendum, something substantive would have to change from the circumstances last year."

Labour has promised to eliminate the current budget deficit by 2020 and has warned of cuts to "non-protected" areas outside health and education in England.

Ms Sturgeon yesterday reiterated her call to increase spending by 0.5 per cent per year, generating £140billion over the lifetime of the next parliament.

Despite the Nationalists' rhetoric, her plan is much closer to Labour's than Labour's is to the deeper cuts proposed by the Conservatives.

Ms Sturgeon, whose speech was broadcast live across the UK, said: "We will not do any deals that would put the Tories into power.

"Indeed, if there is an anti-Tory majority after May, we will vote to stop a new Tory government even getting off the ground.

"But we will then seek to use our influence to make a Labour government bolder and better."

Piling further pressure on Mr Miliband, she added: "The SNP is not going into this election seeking the election of SNP MPs in order that we can go to Westminster to be in any way destructive or disruptive.

"The SNP is not going to Westminster to seek to bring down governments or block budgets.

"We are going to Westminster to build alliances for good, positive, sensible, progressive change.

"We will do that constructively, looking to make common cause with people of like mind."

Her comments appeared to contradict SNP deputy leader Stewart Hosie who had earlier outlined a plan to block a minority Labour government from spending money on a possible Trident replacement.

On the decision over renewing Britain;'s nuclear deterrent, which is due to be taken next year, she said: "We will seek to build an alliance in the House of Commons against the renewal of Trident and we will vote for the £100 billion that would be saved to be invested instead in education, better childcare and the NHS."

With polls suggesting the SNP are on course to win 50 or more seats and hold the balance of power after May 7, the party has torn up its previous commitment not to vote on English issues.

David Cameron yesterday warned a Labour administration propped up by the SNP would be a "match made in hell for the British economy".

Ms Sturgeon said his comments were "born out of panic and desperation" and claimed Mr Cameron was "making a huge tactical and strategic mistake" by highlighting the SNP's possible influence.

Scottish Labour leader Jim Murphy said that by failing to rule out a re-run, the SNP had broken a promise that last year's referendum was a once in a generation event.

He added: "They claim that they can stop a Tory government when a vote for the SNP is the thing that David Cameron craves in Scotland. And they claim to be against austerity when Full Fiscal Autonomy means £7.6billion more cuts."