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Nicola Sturgeon mustered her new cohort of Scottish National party MPs on Saturday, insisting they would bring her anti-austerity agenda to the “heart of Westminster” despite the Conservatives’ majority in the House of Commons.
At a photo opportunity in Queensferry in front of the Forth road and rail bridges, Ms Sturgeon again dismissed suggestions the SNP’s new MPs would push for a new independence referendum after they arrive in London on Monday.
The SNP swept to a landslide on Thursday, winning 56 of 59 Scottish seats and 50 per cent of the vote.
But nationalist hopes of a hung parliament in which they would become the swing vote that put a minority Labour government into power were dashed by the Conservative party’s victory.
Now analysts say the SNP could struggle to live up to sky-high expectations given inevitably limited clout as part of the Westminster opposition.
At the gathering of MPs, Alex Salmond — the former first minister and party leader who is returning to the House of Commons — said the Tories’ narrow majority would be a major problem for the government and would help ensure the SNP enjoyed “substantial” influence.
Ms Sturgeon said her party would reach out to “progressive” allies and that the UK government had to recognise that things had changed in Scottish politics.
“It simply cannot be — and it will not be — business as usual when it comes to Westminster’s dealings with Scotland,” she said.
She said she had made clear to David Cameron during a short telephone conversation with the prime minister on Friday that the SNP’s top priority was opposing government spending cuts.
“That is the priority that these men and women will now take to the very heart of the Westminster agenda,” she said.
Some observers have said Mr Cameron might embrace the SNP’s call for “full fiscal autonomy”, under which Scotland would take control of all tax raising, transferring some funds to the UK government for shared costs, such as defence and debt service.
With oil prices low, this could be hugely damaging to Scottish government financing and Ms Sturgeon made clear fiscal autonomy was not a priority — and that even if agreed it would be “implemented over a period of years”.
Ms Sturgeon said she had not discussed the issue during her conversation with Mr Cameron. Instead, they touched on him delivering the devolution measures already promised and the SNP’s demand for control over business taxation, the minimum wage and welfare.
Mr Salmond said Mr Cameron’s government would struggle even more than that of former Tory prime minister Sir John Major, who commanded a much larger majority but had “run into the sands in about six months” after the 1992 election.
“A Cameron government won’t be too long before he goes the same way as John Major,” Mr Salmond said, citing similar internal Tory friction over membership of the European Union.
He said the SNP had been able to make an impact in the House of Commons in the past when it had only a tiny handful of MPs, and the party was discussing new tactics to maximise its influence.
“The circumstances we have now are rather more propitious . . . a narrow majority and a rather more substantial SNP group,” he said.