Nick Clegg at the launch of the Liberal Democrat European election campaign in Colchester last week. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Who will win the first-time vote in 2015?

Labour has a 16-point lead over the Tories, with the Lib Dems in fifth place behind Ukip and the Greens. 

At the general election, a year tomorrow, there will be 3.3 million young people (some of whom were not born when Tony Blair became prime minister) eligible to vote for the first time. In what one Labour strategist recently told me would be a "bloody close" contest, they have the potential to play a decisive role. But a new poll by British Future shows that 59 per cent aren't planning to vote at all. This compares to 40 per cent of all voters and 25 per cent of the over-65s (the most likely group to turn out). 

Among the 41 per cent of 17-21-year-olds who are certain to take part, there is more grim news for the Lib Dems. Labour is on first place on 41 per cent, followed by the Tories on 25 per cent, Ukip on 12 per cent and the Greens on 9 per cent, with Nick Clegg's party trailing in fifth place on just 5 per cent. Nearly four years after the Lib Dems broke their pre-election promise not to vote in favour of increasing tuition fees, the damage endures. The news is all the more dispiriting for the party given their traditional strength among this demographic. At the 2010 general election, 30 per cent of 18-24-year-olds voted Lib Dem, compared to 31 per cent for Labour and 30 per cent for the Tories. 

There is better news for Ed Miliband. Unlike among the electorate in general, he is rated as by far the best party leader. While 58 per cent say that David Cameron does not understand their concerns, only 46 per cent say the same of Miliband, giving him a net rating of -14, ahead of Cameron (-35), Clegg (-37) and Boris Johnson (-27). The Labour leader is also narrowly rated as the best prime minister with a score of 17 per cent, putting him ahead of Cameron (15 per cent), Johnson (15 per cent), Alan Sugar (12 per cent) , recent NS guest editor Russell Brand (12 per cent), Jeremy Clarkson (11 per cent), Nigel Farage (9 per cent) and Clegg, who is level with Jamie Oliver on 6 per cent. 

With his promise of policies to aid "Generation Rent" (including a cap on rent increases, longer tenancies and a ban on letting agent fees), of a "radical offer" on tuition fees, and of a guaranteed job for all 18-24-year-olds out of work for more than a year, Miliband has made a conscious appeal to the young as the Tories have focused on the old (promising to maintain the triple-lock on the state pension and introducing new high-interest pensioner bonds). The challenge for Labour will be ensuring that they turn out. Among those who are likely but not certain to vote, Labour's lead rises from 16 points (41-25) to 22, showing the benefits of maximising participation. If Miliband is to win in 2015, a successful voter registration drive will be crucial. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

How Jim Murphy's mistake cost Labour - and helped make Ruth Davidson

Scottish Labour's former leader's great mistake was to run away from Labour's Scottish referendum, not on it.

The strange revival of Conservative Scotland? Another poll from north of the border, this time from the Times and YouGov, shows the Tories experiencing a revival in Scotland, up to 28 per cent of the vote, enough to net seven extra seats from the SNP.

Adding to the Nationalists’ misery, according to the same poll, they would lose East Dunbartonshire to the Liberal Democrats, reducing their strength in the Commons to a still-formidable 47 seats.

It could be worse than the polls suggest, however. In the elections to the Scottish Parliament last year, parties which backed a No vote in the referendum did better in the first-past-the-post seats than the polls would have suggested – thanks to tactical voting by No voters, who backed whichever party had the best chance of beating the SNP.

The strategic insight of Ruth Davidson, the Conservative leader in Scotland, was to to recast her party as the loudest defender of the Union between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom. She has absorbed large chunks of that vote from the Liberal Democrats and Labour, but, paradoxically, at the Holyrood elections at least, the “Unionist coalition” she assembled helped those parties even though it cost the vote share.

The big thing to watch is not just where the parties of the Union make gains, but where they successfully form strong second-places against whoever the strongest pro-Union party is.

Davidson’s popularity and eye for a good photo opportunity – which came first is an interesting question – mean that the natural benefactor in most places will likely be the Tories.

But it could have been very different. The first politician to hit successfully upon the “last defender of the Union” routine was Ian Murray, the last Labour MP in Scotland, who squeezed both the  Liberal Democrat and Conservative vote in his seat of Edinburgh South.

His then-leader in Scotland, Jim Murphy, had a different idea. He fought the election in 2015 to the SNP’s left, with the slogan of “Whether you’re Yes, or No, the Tories have got to go”.  There were a couple of problems with that approach, as one  former staffer put it: “Firstly, the SNP weren’t going to put the Tories in, and everyone knew it. Secondly, no-one but us wanted to move on [from the referendum]”.

Then again under different leadership, this time under Kezia Dugdale, Scottish Labour once again fought a campaign explicitly to the left of the SNP, promising to increase taxation to blunt cuts devolved from Westminster, and an agnostic position on the referendum. Dugdale said she’d be open to voting to leave the United Kingdom if Britain left the European Union. Senior Scottish Labour figures flirted with the idea that the party might be neutral in a forthcoming election. Once again, the party tried to move on – but no-one else wanted to move on.

How different things might be if instead of running away from their referendum campaign, Jim Murphy had run towards it in 2015. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.

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