If the SNP achieves anything like the victory polls suggest, we will discover quite how committed unionists really are towards the union. There will be a great temptation to respond violently to the good jock – bad jock tactics of Ms Sturgeon and Mr Salmond. There will also be a growing enthusiasm – especially among Conservatives – to exchange home rule in Scotland for English votes on English laws. Of course, this is what the SNP wants them to think : that the only way to destroy nationalism is to destroy the union.
Leaders of seven of the parties standing in next month’s UK general election are appearing in a one-off TV debate on Thursday night.
This is the only occasion that Conservative prime minister David Cameron will appear on a podium at the same time as any of the others, including his main rival for Number 10 Downing Street, Labour leader Ed Miliband. But in what is predicted to be the closest election in modern times there is as much interest in the smaller parties who could hold the balance of power.
By Mark Odell and Jim Pickard
Some supporters of Scottish independence believe in the conspiracy theory that MI5 was working against a Yes vote. Others have so much optimism bias about the economics of independence that I worry there is dopamine* in their Irn-Bru.
And let’s not mention the secret oil fields. Read more
The Labour Party has always boasted the lion’s share of celebrity endorsements and this election promises to be no different as the opposition tonight releases an election broadcast starring Sherlock actor Martin Freeman and Doctor Who hero David Tennant.
The video, which will run at 5.55pm on BBC Two, 6.55pm on BBC One and 6.25pm on ITV, features Freeman telling a camera that the 2015 general election will be “a choice between two completely different sets of values.” Read more
Take a look at our new graphic which details our four key battlegrounds: SNP target seats; Tory-Labour marginals; the rise of Ukip; and the collapse in Lib Dem support.
This week’s data are a timely reminder that with less than seven weeks to go until polling day and Labour and the Tories neck and neck when recently published polls are averaged, the relationship between poll leads and who might become prime minister is not straightforward. Read more
Research by Elizabeth Rigby, Jim Pickard, Kiran Stacey and George Parker
The refurbishment of Muni Theatre in Pendle might not seem an obvious priority for George Osborne in his annual Budget statement.
But the north-western town is one of a number of marginal election battlegrounds to have benefited from the chancellor’s generosity just weeks from polling day. Read more
“If we sat here 40 years ago, having this conversation your point would probably have been valid. I don’t think it is today. I really don’t think it is today.” — Nigel Farage, Channel 4, 12 March, via BBC.co.uk
In an interview with Trevor Phillips, former head of the Equalities and Human Rights Commission, to be broadcast by Channel 4 next week, Nigel Farage argues that laws against racial discrimination are no longer necessary. He also insists that the United Kingdom Independence party, which he leads, is a “colour blind” political party. Read more
The idea that a staunchly leftwing Scotland is ideologically different – and diverging – from England is among the arguments used by advocates of independence.
One of the ways this is supposedly expressed is via Scots’ more liberal attitudes to immigration. During the referendum campaign, the leaders of the Yes side called for a more open policy than the UK government’s. And for the most part, they expressed a nationalism based on citizenship rather than on ethnic or family ties. Alex Salmond, then leader of the Scottish National party, contrasted a Scotland that welcomed immigrants with an England increasingly uneasy with its border policies. Read more
Given the Scottish National party’s imperious poll ratings it easy to conclude that, despite the Yes side’s defeat in last year’s referendum, independence is inevitable.
But the release on Wednesday of annual fiscal figures from the Scottish Government suggest that, at least when it comes to the economic case for independence, 2014 was an unusually good year for nationalists, one that may not repeat itself anytime soon. Read more
HSBC’s chief executive Stuart Gulliver is due to appear before the Public Accounts select committee at 3:15pm amid a scandal over its role in alleged tax-dodging by clients of the company’s Swiss private banking arm
He will be joined by Chris Meares, former chief executive of HSBC Global Private Banking, and Rona Fairhead, a non-executive director of HSBC where she is a member of the financial system vulnerabilities committee as well as the nomination commitee. Ms Fairhead is a former chief executive of the Financial Times Group.
By Mark Odell and Jim Pickard
You might think that Labour has left it a little late, given that the Tory election slogan is now painfully over-familiar.
But the opposition party has chosen to enter the general election campaign promising a “Better Plan for a Better Future”.
The slogan is a deliberate take on the Tories’ more familiar promise of a long-term economic plan, which has been tested almost to destruction by Conservative MPs for several years. (Experts often say that the point at which Westminster is sick of a message is the point at which the public may start to remember it…)
Labour strategists are aware that referring to their rivals’ message could look defensive – but they argue that it is a “realistic” strapline that does not over-promise.
The party will argue that the Tories’ plan will only benefit the “few at the top”, whereas their alternative vision will help working families.
Labour has rolled out three separate themes over the last three months: NHS was the theme in January, the “next generation” – including tuition fees – was February, while Read more
He is one of the most powerful people in Westminster: shadow foreign secretary and chair of Labour’s entire election campaign.
Yet Douglas Alexander is under pressure on multiple fronts: determined to prove that he has the right election strategy while holding off the SNP in Scotland – with his own constituency under threat from the nationalists.
Tonight we’re running a detailed profile in the FT.
Meanwhile here are some observations from some of those who know him well.
Labour MP: Douglas lost the David campaign and the 2010 election: “Why did Ed risk giving him so much power again?”
Ally: “There has to be someone making unpopular decisions. He has been there for a long time and he has always had the political jobs, where you aren’t the one handing out the Read more
Mark Garnier is a brave breed of Tory MP. The former fund manager and member of the Treasury select committee has spoken out in the past in defence of banks being able to set their own bonuses. And now he is making a rare warning from within the Tory party about the destabilising effect of an EU referendum.
Garnier’s background in the City means he is closer than most to mainstream opinion among financial services businesses in the UK. And he thinks investors are already moving money elsewhere:
If [investors] have to make an investment decision, then that is reliant on getting access to [the] single market — that money is being spent in Frankfurt, Madrid or Paris right now, not London.
Labour’s most senior women are to tour 70 marginal constituencies in a hot pink “woman to woman” campaign bus as the opposition party seeks to harness its lead among female voters.
Lucy Powell, vice-chair of the party’s general election campaign, said targeting women was central to Labour’s election efforts as the party launched its first “proper” women’s election campaign, complete with a 16-seater campaign minibus to tour the country. Read more
For the last 10 years, Hope Not Hate has been one of the more effective anti-racism campaign groups around, achieving particular success in helping defeat the BNP in Barking at the last election.
But for the next few months at least, the group has a different, more mainstream enemy in its sights: Ukip. It is a significant shift of strategy for the group, and one which some from both inside and outside the organisation are unhappy about.
Nick Lowles, HNH’s founder, has told us his activists are planning to an extensive – and expensive – campaign in over 300 constituencies in the run up to May, focusing mainly in places where Ukip hopes to win seats.
He told the FT: Read more
The insurance tycoon bank-rolling the Ukip election campaign has called for the state to be slashed and for a major overhaul of the “Luddite” NHS to increase the involvement of the private sector in health provision.
The comments from Arron Banks, founder of Go Skippy and Southern Rock – who has pledged £1m to Ukip – come at a sensitive time for the party over its health policy. Read more
Tony Blair used to say that his mission would be complete when the Labour party “learned to love” Peter Mandelson.
That mission suffered something of a setback on Tuesday after Lord Mandelson appeared on Newsnight criticising one of his own party’s setpiece policies: the mansion tax.
The co-architect of New Labour suggested that his party ought to ditch its proposal and – instead – adopt the Lib Dems’ rival policy.
With only a few months to go before polling day, the comments were not received universally well: “What prompts old Blairite warriors into repetitive poisonous treachery?” asked Paul Flynn, a left-wing Labour MP. Another MP suggested that the former minister was merely seeking the limelight: “Perhaps he has attention deficit disorder,” he asked.
There are clear issues surrounding a mansion tax per se: it could be seen as anti-aspirational; it could distort the market; it could lead to thousands of legal challenges; people could find ways to avoid it.
But do those problems apply any less to the Lib Dem version than the Labour one, as Mandelson seemed to suggest?
Perhaps the most useful by-product of his intervention (his precise words are down below*) is that it raised the question: what are the differences between the two mansion taxes? I’ve asked both parties and the answer seems to be: Not a lot.
1] Labour wants to raise £1.2bn. The Lib Dems used to say they’d raise £1.7bn but are now more vague on this point.
There was a touch of swagger about George Osborne on Wednesday as he told the country he had created a “strong” economy and could afford to divert billions of pounds of extra cash towards the NHS and a new road-building programme.
The public finances were in a “stronger” state than expected with a surplus expected by the end of the decade, he promised: “Out of the red and into the black for the first time in a generation.” Read more