THE SNP would hold “the power” if a Labour government needed its votes to survive, Alex Salmond has insisted.
The former first minister said the party would demand the scrapping of Trident as the price of entering a “confidence and supply” agreement with Ed Miliband.
But he said the “more likely” situation would be Labour and the SNP working together on a vote-by-vote basis – including detailed negotiations about Budget packages.
The comments, in a round of broadcast interviews, were immediately seized on by the Tories, with defence Minister Anna Soubry branding them “terrifying”.
Mr Salmond, who is standing to re-enter parliament in the Gordon constituency, said it would be “very good for Scotland” if there was a decisive number of SNP MPs after May 7.
“If you hold the balance, then you hold the power,” he said.
Asked if that meant Ed Balls or another Labour chancellor would have to negotiate their Budget with the SNP, he replied: “Yes, any minority government has to negotiate in order to win a majority for its proposal.
“That is patently obvious. To deny that is to deny reality.
“If the SNP are in these circumstances it will be very good for Scotland, certainly.”
Mr Salmond mooted an example where he would propose an amendment to Budget legislation in order to create a high-speed rail line to Edinburgh. “What would Ed Balls do?” he asked.
Pressed on what kind of deal was possible with Labour, Mr Salmond said: “The Labour Party have ruled out a coalition but haven’t ruled out a confidence and supply arrangement, where you have a set programme... I think it is more likely to be a vote by vote arrangement.”
The former SNP leader said: “I think it’s a very bad idea in politics to bend under pressure.”
Mr Salmond went on: “Hopefully that decisive bloc of SNP MPs will move the Labour Party in a different direction.”
Mr Salmond said he believed Scottish independence was now “near inevitable”, and hinted that a commitment to a new referendum could be included in the SNP manifesto for the 2016 elections north of the border.
“The story is not finished. I think the direction is now as near inevitable as anything can be in politics,” he said.
“I think what has happened is that we have established the gold standard of how you have a process for Scotland becoming independent.
“What you have to have is a party or parties have to put it in their manifesto for the Scottish election, they have to win a majority in that proportional parliament to hold a referendum and then the decision of course lies with the Scottish people.”
David Cameron and Ed Miliband will face off alongside other party leaders in a single televised general election debate, it has been announced.
Broadcasters have confirmed plans for the seven-way discussion on April 2, and a range of other programmes before the nation goes to the polls.
The first is next Thursday on Sky News and Channel 4, when the Prime Minister and Mr Miliband will be interviewed separately and then answer questions from a live studio audience.
On April 16, the Labour leader is to appear in a BBC debate with counterparts from Ukip, the SNP, the Greens and Plaid Cymru.
The final encounter will be a special Question Time on BBC1 on April 30 featuring the Tory leader, Mr Miliband and Lib Dem Nick Clegg answering questions separately from a studio audience.
Labour immediately branded Mr Cameron a “coward” for avoiding a head-to-head debate with Mr Miliband.
But a Tory source insisted they had secured an even better deal than they were hoping for.
A Liberal Democrat spokesman said: “We have told the broadcasters that we will take part in the proposed format, just as we have said we would take part in all the proposed packages to date from the 4-3-2 original format, to the 7-7-2 format and all other permutations, despite our strong objections to being excluded from any TV debate or interview.”
The final line-up follows years of wrangling.