SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon denies saying she prefers UK's Cameron as PM to rival

LONDON (REUTERS) - The leader of the Scottish National Party, which could help decide who governs Britain after May's election, denied on Saturday that she had said privately she wanted David Cameron to remain prime minister rather than his main rival.

Nicola Sturgeon, whose personal status has soared since an assured appearance in a major TV debate on Thursday, was said to have told the French ambassador to Britain in February that she would rather see Cameron remain in power over Labour leader Ed Miliband, the Daily Telegraph newspaper reported.

She was also reported to have said she did not see Miliband as prime minister material.

The issue is politically sensitive because the allegations could help Labour, whose vote in Scotland has slumped in the wake of an SNP onslaught, with its argument that voting SNP could lead to another Conservative-led government.

The Telegraph's assertion was based on a leaked memo written last month by a British civil servant who had spoken to the French Consul-General to get his account of the meeting between Sturgeon and the ambassador.

However, French officials involved and Sturgeon, Scotland's First Minister, have said the claims were incorrect. "I'm saying these comments weren't made. The French Ambassador who I was talking to said these comments weren't made," Sturgeon told BBC TV. "The French Consul-General who is reported to have said I said these things said he didn't say that, then the question of whether of not I said this should actually be put to one side." Cameron's Conservatives are running neck and neck in the polls with Labour, and commentators predict that Sturgeon's surging SNP will win capture many Labour seats in Scotland meaning it could hold the balance of power in Westminster.

The Telegraph said the memo appeared to confirm speculation that the SNP wanted another Conservative-led government in London as that could boost support for her party's campaign for independence.

Last September, Scots rejected voted 55-45 per cent to stay part of the United Kingdom but there has been a surge of nationalism since then. "I think these are damning revelations," Miliband told Sky News. "What it shows is that while in public the SNP are saying they don't want to see a Conservative government, in private they are actually saying they do want a Conservative government." Sturgeon has ruled out propping up a minority Conservative government but said her party could support a Labour administration.

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