A senior Scottish Conservative MSP failed to deny reports that his party is planning to encourage supporters to vote tactically for Labour at next year’s general election.

Stephen Kerr, the party’s education spokesman, was asked repeatedly on Sunday about suggestions the Tories wanted to take the opportunity to “end nationalist dominance” in Scotland.

He did not deny the claims, prompting Labour to claim that the Scottish Tories already “accepted that they have lost” the 2024 election with more than a year to go.

According to the Sunday Times, the Tories want to shore up the pro-Union vote in rural areas where they are traditionally stronger, while lending Labour support in the central belt.

A party source told the newspaper: “With the election of Humza Yousaf as SNP leader, there is clearly an opportunity to end nationalist dominance at next year’s general election and make them pay the price for ignoring Scotland’s real priorities.

“But that requires Scots to vote smart to maximise tactical voting. That means putting normal party politics to one side and voting for the candidate most likely to beat the SNP.

“That means, for example, Conservative voters in Glasgow backing Labour, while Labour voters in Aberdeenshire vote for the Conservatives.”

Asked about the plan on the BBC’s Sunday Show, Mr Kerr said: “I think it would be wrong to underestimate the sophistication of the Scottish electorate.

“I think they know exactly what they want, they know exactly how to vote… I think they’ll know how to vote to get rid of this nationalist government.”

The plan is likely to go down badly with Tories south of the border, where the focus is on turning opinion polls around and stopping Sir Keir Starmer from entering Downing Street.

Asked what Rishi Sunak thinks of the plan, Mr Kerr admitted he did not know if the Prime Minister was even aware of it.

Scottish Labour deputy leader Jackie Baillie said the General Election was about “getting rid of the Tories”, not dethroning the SNP, with no Holyrood election due until 2026.

“It appears the Scottish Tories have accepted that they have lost the next General Election,” she added.

SNP Westminster leader Stephen Flynn said the reports represent the “dreadful Better Together band announcing their reunion”, referring to the pro-Union campaign in the lead up to the 2014 independence referendum.

“The disastrous duo have been standing shoulder-to-shoulder in councils and in Holyrood ever since, but be in no doubt, people will not be fooled by this latest effort,” he said.

Meanwhile, a poll carried after Humza Yousaf replaced Nicola Sturgeon suggested that the SNP is on course to lose 14 Westminster seats in Scotland next year, with Labour increasing its tally from one to 14.

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