THE SNP has dismissed Labour's claims that they are against forming a secret pact with the Tories ahead of the next general election.

Yesterday's Jackie Baillie said there would be no deal. "The next general election is an opportunity to get rid of the Tories and send a message to the SNP — by voting Scottish Labour," she said.

However, Mhairi Black disputed the denial. She said Labour leader Anas Sarwar "can't be trusted not to do a secret pact with the Tories at the next general election."

"It's the Better Together coalition all over again - and it absolutely stinks," she added.

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The row comes amid speculation could be sooner rather than later. 

An official heading into Downing Street yesterday inadvertently leaked party plans for candidate selections, with constituencies and names captured by a photographer. 

Both the Tories and Labour are focused on the local elections in England and Wales, where a good result for Rishi Sunak could see him go to the country before the January 2025 deadline. 

Polling by Redfield & Wilton Strategies, published last night, had Labour's lead down two points to 17, the smallest since November - though still an almost certain landslide for Sir Keir Starmer's party.

In Scotland, the proposals for the so-called “vote smart” strategy to “end nationalist dominance” emerged over the weekend. 

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According to the Sunday Times, it would see Labour voters urged to back the Tories in rural parts of Scotland, while Tories would give Labour a free run in their industrial heartland 

An insider told the paper the party had identified an “opportunity to end nationalist dominance” and make the SNP “pay” for ignoring Scottish priorities.

“But that requires Scots to vote smart to maximise tactical voting. That means putting normal party politics to one side and voting for the candidate most likely to beat the SNP.”

“That means, for example, Conservative voters in Glasgow backing Labour, while Labour voters in Aberdeenshire vote for the Conservatives.”

Focus groups held by the Tories in rural seats suggest that there is little evidence of a revival for Labour outside the party’s historical strongholds. 

Tory targets are understood to include Angus, Ayr, Carrick & Cumnock and Gordon.

Ms Baillie said the plot was an admission from Mr Sunak’s party that they had lost the next general election. 

“It appears the Scottish Tories have accepted that they have lost the next general election. Scotland has two failing governments. The next general election is an opportunity to get rid of the Tories and send a message to the SNP — by voting Scottish Labour.”

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However, Ms Black said there was "little difference" between the "two tired old Westminster parties."

She added: "Under Keir Starmer, the Labour Party has lurched to the right and become a pale imitation of the Tories - backing austerity cuts, imposing Brexit, attacking devolution, and denying Scotland's democratic right to choose our own future in an independence referendum.

"With Tory-Labour deals already in place across local authorities in Scotland, it's clear Anas Sarwar can't be trusted not to do a secret pact with the Tories at the next general election. It's the Better Together coalition all over again - and it absolutely stinks.

"Scotland deserves better than a choice of two Tory parties. At the next election, the SNP will be the only party offering real change from the Brexit-backing, cuts-imposing Westminster parties."

Ms Baillie hit back at Ms Black, describing her intervention as "pathetic."

She said: “While Mhairi Black complains about the Tories, Labour is ready to boot them out of government.

“Only Labour can replace this morally bankrupt and economically illiterate Tory government and deliver the change Scotland needs.”

There was also some pushback on the plan from Conservative Campaign Headquarters in London, who did not want the party helping Keir Starmer into No 10.

Tory frontbencher Stephen Kerr appeared to support the plan during an interview with the BBC.

“I think it would be wrong to underestimate the sophistication of the Scottish electorate,” he said. “I think they know exactly what they want. They know exactly how to vote.”

Asked if the Tories would try to manipulate the Unionist vote, Mr Kerr said he was "absolutely not interested in the word manipulation in any of its forms.”

He said: “The people of Scotland have their priorities. The Conservative Party is committed to delivering those priorities, and when it comes to voting, I think they'll know how to vote to get rid of this Nationalist government.”

Asked what Prime Minister Rishi Sunak might make of the plans, Mr Kerr said the PM was “committed to putting the country first”.

“I don't know about what the Prime Minister knows and doesn't know because I've not been involved in the discussions about what you're reading on the front page of The Sunday Times.

“All I know is as a Conservative, in my DNA, I want to do the right thing for my country.”