So who does Nicola Sturgeon really want as Prime Minister? Her official line is that she’d put in anyone but the wicked Tories – indeed, Alex Salmond told me last week that “the SNP approach to a Cameron minority government will be to bring it down”. But that’s not what Strugeon has been saying in private.
The Daily Telegraph has just released a leaked diplomatic memo revealing that Ms Sturgeon has confessed to the French ambassador that she would prefer that David Cameron "remains" Prime Minister - and that she thinks Ed Miliband is too incompetent.
The leaked memo - a UK government memo - goes as follows:-
"Just had a telephone conversation with Pierre-Alain Coffinier, the French CG [consul-general]. He was keen to fill me in on some of the conversations his Ambassador had during her visit to Scotland last week. All of this was given on a confidential basis... The Ambassador....had a truncated meeting with the FM [Nicola Sturgeon, the First Minister] (FM running late after a busy Thursday…). Discussion appears to have focused mainly on the political situation, with the FM stating that she wouldn’t want a formal coalition with Labour; that the SNP would almost certainly have a large number of seats... that she’d rather see David Cameron remain as PM (and didn’t see Ed Miliband as PM material)."
It seems that Ms Sturgeon hasn't yet worked out that ambassadors gossip like fishwives, and anything confessed on the diplomatic circuit would be all around London fairly soon.
But this is more than just an embarrassment to Sturgeon, for two reasons. First, on 8 May, the SNP may well be in a position to choose who gets to be Prime Minister: if it refuses to support Ed Miliband this may put in David Cameron by default.
And second, the SNP is about to supplant Labour in dozens of seats across Scotland precisely because it is posing as a tartan version of Labour. A party that loathes the Tories even more than Labour does, so Labour voters can support the SNP without having to worry about another five years of David Cameron.
I have always suspected that, as Ms Sturgeon seems to have confessed, the SNP actually prefers Cameron - because having an Old Etonian in No10 suits the party's wider purpose. Right now, opinion polls in Scotland show that the no1 desired outcome is an SNP/Labour deal. If this is what Scotland gets, then this saps the demand for independence - which is, after all, all the SNP really cares about.
The SNP needs a villain: without one, it doesn't have a pantomime. Cameron is that villain. So it could pretend to be all willing to do a deal with Labour then walk out of talks on some lefty pretext (Trident, etc) saying it could not bring itself to sell Scotland short, only independence will do, yada yada.
To enstool the Tories, the SNP just needs to abstain in the right votes because Labour - shorn of its Scottish base - would not have the votes to defeat the Tories. With Cameron in power, cutting away, Sturgeon would have someone to blow raspberries at when campaigning for a majority in next year's Scottish Parliament elections.
Then in two years' time Cameron calls his EU referendum. England votes out, Scotland votes in. And - presto! - a fresh constitutional crisis and a second independence referendum.
So that's why the Sturgeon memo rings true to me: the SNP and the Tories need each other more than they need anyone else right now. Even though they do their utmost to pretend otherwise.
Ah the games, the games.
PS Needless to say, Sturgeon will categorically deny this. I'll update the blog when she does.
.@simon_telegraph your story is categorically, 100%, untrue...which I'd have told you if you'd asked me at any point today
— Nicola Sturgeon (@NicolaSturgeon) April 3, 2015
And in a bid to protect the auld alliance, M Coffinier has backed up Ms Sturgeon’s denial telling the Guardian:
"I have looked at my notes and absolutely no preference has been expressed by anyone regarding the outcome of the election. Which suggests neither Nicola nor my ambassador said anything.”