SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon has accused Whitehall of “dirty tricks” after a report emerged claiming she told a French diplomat she would prefer David Cameron in No 10 over Ed Miliband.
The Daily Telegraph published a civil service memo claiming Scotland’s first minister privately said Labour’s leader was not “PM material”.
Ms Sturgeon said in a tweet the story was “categorically, 100% untrue”.
She called for an “urgent inquiry” into the circumstances of the leak.
French officials said she did not express a preference for PM.
But Labour called the report “damning” and said that even if it was not true the “SNP are happy to see another Tory government”.
In other general election campaign news:
- Ed Miliband is to unveil a Labour plan to encourage banks to fund 125,000 new homes for first time-buyers in England
- Culture Secretary Sajid Javid outlined Conservative plans to protect children from online hard-core pornography
- The Lib Dems have unveiled plans for a £2.5bn care fund to help keep people out of hospitals through improved GP access, a wider range of services in doctors’ surgeries and better healthcare in nursing homes
The Daily Telegraph published on its website a transcript of what it says is an official British government memorandum which includes details of a private meeting between Ms Sturgeon and Sylvie Bermann, the French Ambassador to the UK.
Included in a civil servant’s summary is the line that Ms Sturgeon would “rather see David Cameron remain as PM (and didn’t see Ed Miliband as PM material)”.
Ms Sturgeon said: “The real issue is how a second hand and inaccurate account of this meeting – which was not even attended by the UK government – came to be written by a UK Government civil servant and then leaked to Tory-supporting newspapers at the start of a general election campaign.
“It suggests a Whitehall system out of control – a place where political dirty tricks are manufactured and leaked. And the Foreign Office now appears to be denying the very existence of such a document.”
The French consul general in Edinburgh, Pierre-Alain Coffinier, whose comments are claimed to have been the basis for the leaked memo, has told the BBC Ms Sturgeon did not express any preference for a leader.
A spokesman for the French ambassador Sylvie Bermann, whose conversation with Ms Sturgeon was being briefed on in the memo, also said the SNP leader had not expressed an opinion on who she would prefer as prime minister.
A Foreign Office spokeswoman said they had no record of the memo. The Scotland Office said they did not comment on leaks.
Polls suggest Ms Sturgeon’s party could win a number of seats from Labour on 7 May.
Both the SNP and Labour have ruled out a formal coalition in the event of a hung Parliament.
But Ms Sturgeon has hinted at offering informal support to Ed Miliband in return for steering Labour away from “implementing Tory policies” on austerity.
She has ruled out a deal of any sort with the Conservatives, who have claimed that Ed Miliband wants to get in to No 10 “on the coat-tails” of the SNP.
Labour leader Mr Miliband has warned wavering supporters in Scotland that if they vote SNP they risk handing power to the Tories, because they could end up as the biggest party in Westminster and therefore get the first chance to form a coalition.
He said on Saturday that the said the claims about his party’s biggest rivals in Scotland, reported in the Telegraph, were “damning revelations”.
He said: “What it shows is that while in public the SNP is saying they don’t want to see a Conservative government, in private they are actually saying they do want a Conservative government.”
A Labour spokesperson added: “No one will ever know for certain what went on between Nicola Sturgeon and the French Ambassador. But what we do know is that the Tories are desperate for the SNP to do well, and the SNP are happy to see another Tory government.”