Nicola Sturgeon has laid down a £180 billion challenge to the Westminster parties in a revolt against austerity.


In an controversial move, the First Minister cited the growing European insurgency against austerity, led by the new Greek Government, and vowed to change the way politics works.

Critics accused the SNP leader of attempting to "bankrupt Britain" after she called for £180 billion to be ploughed into UK public spending over the next five years.

Ms Sturgeon said that extra spending was necessary to boost the economy and ensure fairness.

But the Scottish Conservatives said that the SNP had moved on from trying to "break up Britain, now it wants to bankrupt Britain".

The First Minister's opponents said her policies would either lead to other spending cuts, tax rises or add to the debts of future generations.

Labour has committed to getting the current budget into surplus and national debt falling as soon as possible within the next parliament.

Making her call, Ms Sturgeon said that her party wanted to balance the UK's books "more gradually" than either Labour or the Tories.

She made an explicit appeal to wavering Labour supporters saying that when it came to any coalition negotiations after May's General Election: "A Labour government that looked to the SNP for support would have to moderate its position... That would be popular not just with SNP supporters but I'm sure a lot of traditional Labour supporters in Scotland and across the rest of the UK as well."

Labour hit back, saying that a vote for the SNP would keep in power the Conservatives, whose plan to eradicate the Budget deficit includes cuts in welfare payments to the working age poor.

Margaret Curran, Labour's shadow Scottish secretary, also questioned why the SNP leader was making speeches in London instead of concentrating on the Scottish NHS.

The row will add to the growing pressure on Mr Miliband from within his own party to rule out any deal with the SNP after May.

John Lamont, the Scottish Conservative MSP, said that Ms Sturgeon's plans would mean "an extra £180 billion onto the £1.4 trillion national debt, leaving even more for our children and grandchildren to pay off.

"If anything is morally indefensible, then it's that."

Her comments were also seized on by Conservatives south of the border.

Tory chairman Grant Shapps said: "Now we know the price that the SNP would charge to support Ed Miliband if he became Prime Minister - a bill of £180 billion paid for by hardworking taxpayers. More wasteful spending, paid for by borrowing and higher taxes, is a recipe for economic chaos."

Ms Sturgeon called for what she described as a "modest" 0.5 per cent increase in departmental spending, which she said would free up £180 billion by 2020 to grow the economy while still reducing the deficit.

She suggested that the money could be invested in major infrastructure projects, including bringing High Speed Rail to Scotland, as well as more money for the NHS and to offset future welfare cuts.

She denounced some of the Tory-Lib Dem coalition's cuts as "false economies" which merely transferred the burden from one part of the state to another.

But she faced questions over where much of the £180bn would come from.

The SNP's plan to scrap Trident would save only between £3-4bn a year, according to figures quoted by Ms Sturgeon.

Ms Sturgeon later said she was "not wedded" to the £180bn figure, which she said was merely "illustrative" of the point she was making.

While in London the SNP leader also confirmed that her party could hand Mr Miliband the keys to No 10, even if Labour was beaten by the Tories in the general election.

Ms Sturgeon has already ruled out any deal that would prop up a Conservative government at Westminster.

But she has said that if the party formed an alliance with Labour, she would prefer an an informal coalition under the "confidence and supply" system.

Ms Sturgeon is expected to make a number of speeches on the economy in coming weeks, as she fleshes out what her party might ask for in the event of a hung parliament.

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie accused Ms Sturgeon of taking her eye off the ball and making speeches in England while Scottish hospitals "are in crisis."