Scottish Labour will do “backroom deals” with the SNP when council voting closes, Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross has said.
But at the launch of his party’s local election manifesto in Glasgow, Mr Ross said he was still open to dealing with Labour “to lock the SNP out of power”.
Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar has repeatedly ruled out the possibility of coalitions at a local level, a statement backed by UK party leader Sir Keir Starmer during a visit this week.
In a speech to party members in Glasgow, Mr Ross said: “If Labour were serious about opposing the SNP, then they would be willing to work with other opposition parties to lock them out of power.
“The Scottish Conservative position is clear: we will not do any deals with the SNP.
“And we will reach any agreement, with Labour or another party, to lock the SNP out of power in our council chambers.
“But I am not hopeful. Labour have proven time and time again that they would prefer to do a deal with the SNP than to unite the opposition.
“And so a vote for Labour risks unionist voters being betrayed by a backroom deal with the SNP.”
Asked about the stance during a press conference, Mr Ross said Labour would be likely to “betray unionist voters”, adding: “We know Labour do deals with the SNP – for all Anas Sarwar can say he doesn’t want to do deals, we know the day after the election when the counts are held and councillors are elected, they will enter into backroom deals with the SNP and we will be in this circle all over again.
“They cannot be trusted with the union – they will betray unionist voters as they have done in the past five years in the administrations where they have been in power with the SNP.”
A spokesman for Scottish Labour said: “More desperate attempts to ignite a row that doesn’t exist to distract from his party disintegrating before his eyes.
“Douglas Ross and Boris Johnson are the biggest threat to union.
“Perhaps the reason deals are on Mr Ross’s mind is because he knows he’ll be fighting for his political life come May 6 and he hopes that having kissed the ring, Downing Street will save him. They won’t”.
Mr Ross was launching a local authority manifesto that pledged to make schools the “number one priority”, to resist the use of the workplace parking levy and to pressure the Scottish Government to establish a pilot of extending the school day.
One of the party’s key policies, Mr Ross told the PA news agency, was on council tax – increasing the single person’s discount from 25% to 35% “when funding is available”, and freezing council tax “when budgets allow”.
The single person’s discount, Mr Ross said, would cost £110.8 million, but he told journalists: “The other one is a separate issue, because 32 local authorities have 32 different taxation models at the moment.”
He added: “When budgets allow, always Conservative councillors will look to reduce council tax as much as possible because we now see people paying more and more for local services, but actually getting less.
“We’re seeing powers stripped from councils but councils forced to put council tax up.”
His speech at the manifesto launch was interrupted by independence campaigner Sean Clerkin, who described the leader as “Mr three jobs Ross”, pressing him on the cost-of-living crisis and the recent fines levied against the Chancellor and Prime Minister.
SNP MSP Audrey Nicoll said: “Labour and the Tories are increasingly desperate because they are consistently rejected by voters.
“The people of Scotland are all too familiar with them standing side by side in their Trump-like denial of democracy.
“They are solely concerned with protecting their broken Union and maintaining Westminster control over Scotland when they should be doing everything possible to alleviate the crushing cost-of-living crisis affecting so many households right now.
“On 5 May, the Scottish people will have the opportunity to vote SNP and elect councillors who stand up for them and to send a message to self-interested politicians- led by a law-breaking Prime Minister – who put flags ahead of people.”
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