NICOLA Sturgeon has likened Theresa May’s keynote speech to the Conservative party conference to the slapstick television comedy show Fawlty Towers.

Her comments came in an exchange with Scottish Labour’s interim leader Alex Rowley about Tory welfare cuts and the controversial roll out of the new benefit universal credit.

Rowley had said he wanted a General Election as soon as possible to get his party’s UK leader into power, saying the Tories were “bankrupt of ideas” and had “no place to go”.

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Sturgeon responded: “Firstly, in terms of [Rowley’s] characterisation of the shambolic Tory government at Westminster I absolutely agree.

“Watching the letters literally fall off the stage set yesterday was like watching an episode of Fawlty Towers. It was so, so awful.”

She then added: “This is a shambolic, chaotic, Tory Westminster Government which is doing real damage to the people of Scotland and across the UK.”

But she went on to say that she was concerned both the contenders to take over as Scottish Labour leader, Anas Sarwar and Richard Leonard, had ruled out working with the SNP to stop a Tory government.

This, she said, made her conclude that “Labour still seems to be in a position where they would rather see a Tory government than ever work with the SNP.”

Sturgeon’s remarks came as Rowley pressed her on whether the Scottish Government would use Holyrood powers to reverse the Tory cut to the welfare benefit, Employment Support Allowance (ESA).

The cut to ESA came into force in April for all new claimants placed into the “work-related activity group” — people too ill to work but expected to be able to return to work eventually.

Labour said that if the SNP would not commit to reversing the cut, which takes £30 a week out of people’s pockets, Labour would table amendments to the forthcoming Social Security Bill to do so.

Rowley raised the issue following research from Macmillan Cancer Support revealed 280 cancer patients in Scotland have lost out on £120 a month in ESA since April.

Macmillan say that using the Parliament’s new social security powers to reverse the cut would cost £400,000 a year. Reversing the cut for everyone affected would cost £14 million in the next financial year.

Rowley said: “These are cruel Tory cuts that make a mockery of the claims of Theresa May and Ruth Davidson that the Tories want to build a country that works for everyone.

“Labour will fight these cuts at Westminster – but we can protect people now. Reversing cuts for people living with cancer would cost £400,000. Reversing them for everyone affected, would cost £14 million next year.”

Sturgeon said her government had acted to mitigate the worst impacts of UK welfare cuts and that since 2013 it had invested more than £350 million in supporting low-income families who have been affected by welfare changes.

“We will look carefully at the case that Macmillan Cancer Support has made today. Indeed, as we heard just before First Minister’s questions started, the draft budget of the Scottish Government will be published in December, and we will consider the matter in line with the other decisions that we have to consider.

“However, it is important to point out that, as I am sure Alex Rowley is aware, Employment and Support Allowance is not one of the benefits that are being devolved to this Parliament. It will remain reserved and, of course, it is one of the benefits that will be rolled into universal credit.”

She went on to say that she hoped Labour would in future back a policy of devolving all welfare powers to Holyrood, as the SNP have called for.

May laboriously struggled to get through her conference address on Wednesday after a series of embarrassing problems. The mishaps began when a comedian breached security to give May a P45 live on stage, continued with her developing a persistent cough and ended with letters from the slogan behind her “Building a Britain that Works for Everyone” falling off. The address should have been the highlight of the event in Manchester and was meant to put May on the front foot and allow her to regain her authority after a disastrous General Election campaign.

It also should have made delegates leave feeling refreshed and upbeat but instead it increased speculation about how long she will remain in power.