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UKIP have taken more votes from the Lib Dems than most think

Clegg's party has lost more than 500,000 voters to Farage since 2010.

Ahead of the first debate between Nick Clegg and Nigel Farage tomorrow, many have predicted that both men will win. This is because, as the Telegraph's Benedict Brogan writes in his column today, "the two parties are not competing for voters – they draw support from different ends of the spectrum." In the case of tomorrow's head-to-head over EU membership, this is undoubtedly true; Clegg is bidding for the "inners" (a group larger than the Lib Dems' current base), with Farage bidding for the "outers". 

But it's worth noting the degree of crossover between current UKIP supporters and former Lib Dems. A recent study by Peter Kellner, for instance, found that more than 500,000 2010 Lib Dem voters have defected to Farage's party, a figure greater than the number who voted Labour (c. 400,000), who voted UKIP (c. 400,000), or who didn't turn out (c. 400,000). Today's YouGov poll shows that 12 per cent of 2010 Lib Dem voters (excluding don't knows and wouldn't votes) currently support UKIP, a share that matches the number of Tory defectors (12 per cent) and exceeds the number of Labour ones (2 per cent). 

That these voters have swung from the most pro-European party to the most anti-European party is less surprising than many think. People in general pay far less attention to policy than most assume and this is especially true of the EU, which does not even make it into the top ten of voters' concerns (it is currently ranked 18th). What explains the swing is UKIP's supplantation of the Lib Dems as the "none of the above" party: the party voters support when they want to kick the Westminster establishment. 

With Clegg now framing the Lib Dems as "a serious party of government", he is largely resigned to loss of most of this group. But the Lib Dem to UKIP defectors show that Clegg and Farage will be competing for some of the same voters tomorrow. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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How a small tax rise exposed the SNP's anti-austerity talk for just that

The SNP refuse to use their extra powers to lessen austerity, says Kezia Dugdale.

"We will demand an alternative to slash and burn austerity."

With those few words, Nicola Sturgeon sought to reassure the people of England, Wales and Northern Ireland last year that the SNP were a party opposed to public spending cuts. We all remember the general election TV debates, where the First Minister built her celebrity as the leader of the anti-austerity cause.

Last week, though, she was found out. When faced with the choice between using the powers of the Scottish Parliament to invest in the future or imposing cuts to our schools, Nicola Sturgeon chose cuts. Incredible as it sounds the SNP stood shoulder to shoulder with the Tories to vote for hundreds of millions of pounds worth of cuts to schools and other vital public services, rather than asking people to pay a little bit more to invest. That's not the choice of an anti-austerity pin-up. It's a sell-out.

People living outside of Scotland may not be fully aware of the significant shift that has taken place in politics north of the border in the last week. The days of grievance and blaming someone else for decisions made in Scotland appear to be coming to an end.

The SNP's budget is currently making its way through the Scottish Parliament. It will impose hundreds of millions of pounds of cuts to local public services - including our schools. We don't know what cuts the SNP are planning for future years because they are only presenting a one year budget to get them through the election, but we know from the experts that the biggest cuts are likely to come in 2017/18 and 2018/19. For unprotected budgets like education that could mean cuts of 16 per cent.

It doesn't have to be this way, though. The Scottish Parliament has the power to stop these cuts, if only we have the political will to act. Last week I did just that.

I set out a plan, using the new powers we have today, to set a Scottish rate of income tax 1p higher than that set by George Osborne. This would raise an extra half a billion pounds, giving us the chance to stop the cuts to education and other services. Labour would protect education funding in real terms over the next five years in Scotland. Faced with the choice of asking people to pay a little bit more to invest or carrying on with the SNP's cuts, the choice was pretty simple for me - I won't support cuts to our nation’s future prosperity.

Being told by commentators across the political spectrum that my plan is bold should normally set alarm bells ringing. Bold is usually code for saying something unpopular. In reality, it's pretty simple - how can I say I am against cuts but refuse to use the powers we have to stop them?

Experts - including Professors David Bell and David Eiser of the University of Stirling; the Resolution Foundation; and IPPR Scotland - have said our plan is fair because the wealthiest few would pay the most. Trade unions have backed our proposal, because they recognise the damage hundreds of millions of pounds of cuts will do to our schools and the jobs it will cost.

Council leaders have said our plan to pay £100 cashback to low income taxpayers - including pensioners - to ensure they benefit from this plan is workable.

The silliest of all the SNP's objections is that they won't back our plan because the poorest shouldn't have to pay the price of Tory austerity. The idea that imposing hundreds of millions of pounds of spending cuts on our schools and public services won't make the poorest pay is risible. It's not just the poorest who will lose out from cuts to education. Every single family and business in Scotland would benefit from having a world class education system that gives our young the skills they need to make their way in the world.

The next time we hear Nicola Sturgeon talk up her anti-austerity credentials, people should remember how she did nothing when she had the chance to end austerity. Until now it may have been acceptable to say you are opposed to spending cuts but doing nothing to stop them. Those days are rapidly coming to a close. It makes for the most important, and most interesting, election we’ve had in Scotland.

Kezia Dugdale is leader of Scottish Labour.