Alex Salmond during his live TV debate with Alistair Darling on Scottish independence. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Scottish No campaign lead falls to six points in first post-debate poll

The race narrows again after Alex Salmond's victory over Alistair Darling. 

There were many, including myself, who questioned whether Alex Salmond's victory over Alistair Darling in Monday's Scottish independence debate would have any effect on voting intention in the referendum. But the first poll carried out since the contest suggests it may well have done. A Survation survey for the Daily Mail puts the No side down four points to 53 per cent and the Yes side up four points to 47 per cent. 

This is, of course, just one poll (more will be required to determine whether the race has narrowed) and, in common with all others since the campaign began, it puts the Yes side behind. But with three weeks to go, the gap is still narrow enough to give Unionists sleepless nights. The nationalists have long counted on a strong finish, as in the 2011 Scottish parliamentary election (when the SNP overturned a double-digit Labour lead to win a majority), and Alex Salmond appears to be delivering. 

Along with Douglas Carswell's defection to Ukip today, the uncertainty over the future of the Union, that 307-year-old institution, is a reminder of just how unstable British politics is at the moment. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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The buck doesn't stop with Grant Shapps - and probably shouldn't stop with Lord Feldman, either

The question of "who knew what, and when?" shouldn't stop with the Conservative peer.

If Grant Shapps’ enforced resignation as a minister was intended to draw a line under the Mark Clarke affair, it has had the reverse effect. Attention is now shifting to Lord Feldman, who was joint chair during Shapps’  tenure at the top of CCHQ.  It is not just the allegations of sexual harrassment, bullying, and extortion against Mark Clarke, but the question of who knew what, and when.

Although Shapps’ resignation letter says that “the buck” stops with him, his allies are privately furious at his de facto sacking, and they are pointing the finger at Feldman. They point out that not only was Feldman the senior partner on paper, but when the rewards for the unexpected election victory were handed out, it was Feldman who was held up as the key man, while Shapps was given what they see as a relatively lowly position in the Department for International Development.  Yet Feldman is still in post while Shapps was effectively forced out by David Cameron. Once again, says one, “the PM’s mates are protected, the rest of us shafted”.

As Simon Walters reports in this morning’s Mail on Sunday, the focus is turning onto Feldman, while Paul Goodman, the editor of the influential grassroots website ConservativeHome has piled further pressure on the peer by calling for him to go.

But even Feldman’s resignation is unlikely to be the end of the matter. Although the scope of the allegations against Clarke were unknown to many, questions about his behaviour were widespread, and fears about the conduct of elections in the party’s youth wing are also longstanding. Shortly after the 2010 election, Conservative student activists told me they’d cheered when Sadiq Khan defeated Clarke in Tooting, while a group of Conservative staffers were said to be part of the “Six per cent club” – they wanted a swing big enough for a Tory majority, but too small for Clarke to win his seat. The viciousness of Conservative Future’s internal elections is sufficiently well-known, meanwhile, to be a repeated refrain among defenders of the notoriously opaque democratic process in Labour Students, with supporters of a one member one vote system asked if they would risk elections as vicious as those in their Tory equivalent.

Just as it seems unlikely that Feldman remained ignorant of allegations against Clarke if Shapps knew, it feels untenable to argue that Clarke’s defeat could be cheered by both student Conservatives and Tory staffers and the unpleasantness of the party’s internal election sufficiently well-known by its opponents, without coming across the desk of Conservative politicians above even the chair of CCHQ’s paygrade.

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.