Senior Liberal Democrats fear Alex Salmond will capture the Scottish constituency of Gordon from their party at the General Election – and that they will lose 11 seats in total.
The estimate is based on secret opinion polling seen by leading figures in Nick Clegg’s party and obtained by Sky News.
But they are predicting they will hold 28 seats, half their current 56. Another 10 are regarded as marginal, five more are less winnable, and senior Lib Dems expect to gain two seats from the Conservatives.
Based on this detailed polling evidence, top figures in the party are forecasting they will have 35-40 MPs – more than Mr Salmond’s Scottish Nationalists and enough to be powerbrokers in a hung Parliament and potential Coalition partners again.
“We will definitely have more MPs than the SNP,” a top Lib Dem party figure told Sky News. “So, whatever the polls say, don’t write us off.”
But these claims will be fiercely disputed by opponents.
The Lib Dems’ national opinion poll ratings are currently dire, with the party on about 7%, battling for fourth place with the Greens and trailing way behind Nigel Farage’s UKIP.
Mr Salmond confirmed this week he will contest Gordon, in northeast Scotland, which is currently held by the Lib Dems’ deputy leader Sir Malcolm Bruce, who is standing down.
The only minister among the 11 MPs predicted to lose their seat is Home Office minister Lynne Featherstone in Hornsey and Wood Green, which party chiefs fear will be recaptured by Labour.
Among the MPs defending a seat regarded as marginal are Cabinet ministers Ed Davey in Kingston and Surbiton, Danny Alexander in Inverness,Nairn,Badenoch and Strathspey, and junior minister Jo Swinson in Dunbartonshire East.
The two seats party chiefs predict they will win are Watford, where popular Lib Dem mayor Dorothy Thornhill- elected in 2002, 2006, 2010 and 2014 – is standing, and Winchester, held by the party from 1997 to 2010.