THE prospect of a Lab-Lib electoral deal at the next General Election to stop the Conservatives staying in power has been raised after Ed Davey talked up a Liberal Democrat progressive partnership with Labour and insisted his party’s success in 2024 was “critical” to removing Boris Johnson from Downing St.

And in an exclusive interview with The Herald ahead of this weekend’s virtual Lib Dem spring conference, the party leader claimed SNP infighting had left the upcoming Holyrood election “wide open”.

Sir Ed declared: “The circus maximus has brought home to people that the SNP are fundamentally divided from top to bottom. People are sick to the teeth of it. They are sick to the teeth of the Nationalists.”

Pointing to recent polls, he said: “Momentum is now against the SNP…Things are changing and there’s all to play for. I would simply say to people, who do not want to see the UK broken up and who might even support the SNP’s long-term goal, now is not the time[for Indyref2]. Now is the time to put recovery first.”

The party leader said he was “pretty shocked” by Nicola Sturgeon’s bid to put ‘vote SNP for Indyref2’ on the ballot paper, underscoring how the Nationalists’ overriding priority was not saving jobs and securing the recovery but creating division and uncertainty.

“Most people looking around are worried about their family, their health, their community, their businesses, their jobs. If the SNP think that’s not the case, shame on them.”

During the interview, Sir Ed attacked what he termed was the obsessive nationalism of the Conservatives and the SNP but conspicuously did not raise any criticisms of Labour, quite the opposite in fact and spoke about a “non-Tory progressive alternative”.

In December 2019, Labour, under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, suffered its worst defeat since 1935, winning just 202 seats with Mr Johnson securing an 80-seat Commons majority.

Ian Murray, Labour’s sole Scottish MP, has calculated that if his party again returned only a single Scottish MP in 2024, it would need a record 13% swing to gain the necessary 124 extra seats to form a government; Labour’s biggest win to date under Tony Blair in 1997 saw a 10% swing.

If the Tories won again in 2024, then, given the next election after that would be due in 2029, it would mean they could look to be in power for 19 years, longer than they were under Margaret Thatcher and John Major after the 1979 election until Mr Blair secured a Labour landslide in 1997.

At the last so-called “Brexit election,” the Lib Dems entered into a pact south of the border with the Greens and Plaid Cymru, agreeing not to stand against each other in 60 seats to maximise the Remain vote.

Given the electoral mountain Sir Keir has to climb to get Mr Johnson out of No 10, Sir Ed was asked if the Lib Dems would consider agreeing a deal with Labour ahead of the 2024 poll, whereby each party would not stand in certain seats to maximise the anti-Conservative vote.

The party leader replied: “I want to make sure we are strong enough to beat Tory MPs.

“We’ve got 11 seats at the moment. The Tories are second in nine of those, the SNP are second in two. We have 91 second places, 80 of those are second to the Tories. We are working night and day to winkle out those Tory MPs and get Lib Dem MPs and get the Tories and Boris Johnson out of Downing St.

“Every road for the Liberal Democrats at any election over the next few years is all about getting the Tories out of Downing St as well as, in Scotland, getting the SNP out of Holyrood.

“They are both nationalists; one’s English nationalists, one’s Scottish nationalists. They both don’t want to put recovery first. One wants to put an independence referendum first, the other has put an appalling trade deal before recovery; they’re both wrong and the Liberal Democrats want to get both the Tories and the SNP out of power and that’s what we are about.”

Sir Ed pointed to the work on his party’s federalism policy being undertaken by Lord Campbell, the former Lib Dem leader, stressing how the Scottish peer had “reached out” to Labour and Gordon Brown.

“So,” he explained, “there is a non-Tory progressive alternative thinking about the future of our country and so, on that federalist agenda, yes, we are working with Labour on some of those plans.”

The former Coalition Cabinet minister also highlighted the welcome from Willie Rennie, the Scottish Lib Dem leader, to Anas Sarwar as Labour’s new Scottish leader and how the Lib Dems would look forward to working with him, seeking “opportunities for a partnership, in the constructive partnership politics Willie is renowned for”.

Asked if he was seeking a similar constructive partnership with Sir Keir, the Lib Dem leader smiled and said he was focusing on the May polls but again stressed how Mr Rennie wanted to rekindle “old alliances” and work with Mr Anas “in partnership to deliver progressive government that delivers more power for the Scottish Parliament”.

But, in what appeared to be a thinly-veiled message to the UK Labour leadership, Sir Ed stressed: “Over and beyond that, there is literally no route to getting the Tories out of power without the Liberal Democrats winning seats.

“So, whether it is in Scotland or the whole of the UK, if you want ultimately to see the Tories out of power at Westminster, you’ve got to recognise that the Liberal Democrats are critical to that. My job as leader is to make sure we can play a major role in getting the Tories out of power,” he added.