Danny Alexander has said he would be "happy" to see Alex Salmond challenge him for his seat in the Westminster parliament at the general election in six months time, and dodged questions about whether he wants to become Lib Dem leader.
On Tuesday, Salmond, the outgoing Scottish first minister and SNP leader, dropped a heavy hint he would try and return to London as an MP in May. In his farewell address to the Scottish parliament, he said suggested his experience "will come in handy in another place".
It is rumoured that Salmond could challenge Alexander, the Lib Dem chief secretary to the Treasury, for his Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch & Strathspey seat.
This morning The Daily Telegraph reported that a "senior Liberal Democrat strategist" had warned that unless there is a radical change of fortunes, Alexander will see his 8,765 majority overturned in 2015. As arguably the second most important Lib Dem in government, his loss would be a huge blow to the party. Losing to Salmond would be even worse.
Speaking to journalists at a Westminster lunch today, Alexander said he was "confident" that he would retain his seat, but acknowledged it would be a "tough fight".
"Some nationalist are behaving as if they won the referendum. Alex Salmond is apparently even considering standing against me in the Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch & Strathspey constituency," he said.
"The Highlands is somewhere that many people choose to come to to retire. I would be happy to help Alex Salmond add his name to that list."
And Alexander said any senior Lib Dem operative that was making predictions that he would be kicked out of the Commons in 2015 should themselves "count their days" in the party.
A Survation poll for the Daily Record released today showed the Lib Dems on just 6% in Scotland. The survey suggested it would leave the party with just one Scottish MP after the election.
But Alexander, a close ally of Nick Clegg, said he expected the Lib Dems to do "a great deal better" that many newspapers, pundits and rival politicians were predicting.
Alexander is believed to have his eyes on succeeding Clegg as Lib Dem leader. His brand of liberalism would see him positioned as the continuity candidate against the more left-leaning Tim Farron or Vince Cable. Asked to give a yes or no answer to whether he wanted to be leader, he replied simply: "There is no vacancy."
But asked whether in an age of increased devolution across the United Kingdom, a Scottish MP could ever lead a UK-wide party, he said: "Of course it is feasible, whether it happens or not is an entirely different question."Suggest a correction