Alex Salmond attends a media conference at the Commonwealth Games media centre on July 22, 2014 in Glasgow. Photograph: Getty Images.
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The Scottish Yes campaign is running out of time

With less than 50 days to go, the No side retains a double-digit lead. 

There are now less than 50 days to go until the Scottish independence referendum. The possibility that the country could vote to secede from the UK, after 307 years of union, makes the general election appear almost trivial by comparison. But the chance that it will do so is growing ever smaller.

As John Curtice's latest poll of polls for the Independent shows, the Yes campaign trails the No side by an average of 14 points (57-43). What should particularly alarm the nationalists is the stability of public opinion. Since March, both sides have been within one point of their current rating. With so little switching between the two camps, Alex Salmond is reliant on a large majority of "don't knows" breaking in his favour. But worryingly for him, it is support for the status quo that tends to increase in referendums as voting day approaches. 

Of the 70 polls published since February last year, just one has put the Yes campaign ahead (by a single point), and that was a biased survey commissioned by the SNP. The longer the No side's lead holds, the less chance there is of it being defeated. 

Many point to the 2011 Scottish parliamentary election, when the SNP went from 20 points behind to 15 in front, as evidence that the nationalists could enjoy a late surge. But by this stage of that contest the party had dramatically narrowed Labour's lead to a few pointsIn the form of the SNP's 2007 victory there was also at least something close a precedent. By contrast, there has never been a majority for independence and the uncertainty created by the financial crisis and its prolonged aftermath has made voters even less willing to take that plunge into the dark. While conscious of avoiding the complacency that characterised Labour's 2011 campaign (described to me by one shadow cabinet minister as "loathsomely shit"), Better Together is rightly confident of victory. 

On Tuesday night, Salmond will debate Alistair Darling live on TV for the first time, a contest he badly needs to win. But such is the stubbornness of the No side's lead that this alone won't be enough. Rather, he needs a black swan event of the kind Darling spoke of in his interview with the New Statesman in June: "What worry you are the unknowns. Something could happen ...".

It still could, but Salmond's greatest opponent is now the clock. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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John McDonnell's seminars are restoring Labour's economic credibility

The Shadow Chancellor's embrace of new economics backed by clear plans will see Labour profit at the polls, argues Liam Young.

It’s the economy, stupid. Perhaps ‘it’s the economy that lost Labour the last two elections, stupid’ is more accurate. But I don’t see Bill Clinton winning an election on that one.

Campaign slogan theft aside it is a phrase Labour supporters are all too familiar with. Whatever part of the ‘broad church’ you belong to it is something we are faced with on a regular basis. How can Labour be trusted with the economy after they crashed it into the ground? It is still unpopular to try and reason with people. ‘It was a global crisis’ you say as eyes roll. ‘Gordon Brown actually made things better’ you say as they laugh. It’s not an easy life.

On Saturday, the Labour party took serious steps towards regaining its economic credibility. In January a member of John McDonnell’s economic advisory committee argued that “opposing austerity is not enough”. Writing for the New Statesman, David Blanchflower stated that he would assist the leadership alongside others in putting together “credible economic policies.” We have started to see this plan emerge. Those who accuse the Labour leadership of simply shouting anti-austerity rhetoric have been forced to listen to the economic alternative.

It seems like a good time to have done so. Recent polls suggest that the economy has emerged as the most important issue for the EU referendum with a double-digit lead. Public confidence in the government’s handling of the economy continues to fall. Faith in Cameron and Osborne is heading in the same direction. As public confidence continues to plummet many have questioned whether another crash is close. It is wise of the Labour leadership to offer an alternative vision of the economy at a time in which people are eager to listen to a way by which things may be done better.

Far from rhetoric we were offered clear plans. McDonnell announced on Saturday that he wants councils to offer cheap, local-authority backed mortgages so that first-time buyers may actually have a chance of stepping on the housing ladder. We also heard of a real plan to introduce rent regulations in major cities to ease excessive charges and to offer support to those putting the rent on the overdraft. The plans go much further than the Tory right-to-buy scheme and rather than forcing local authorities to sell off their council housing stock, it will be protected and increased.

It is of course important that the new economics rhetoric is matched with actual policy. But let’s not forget how important the rhetoric actually is. The Tory handling of the economy over the last six years has been dismal. But at the last election they were seen as the safer bet. Ed Miliband failed to convince the British public that his economic plan could lead to growth. The branding of the new economics is simple but effective. It does the job of distancing from the past while also putting a positive spin on what is to come. As long as actual policy continues to flow from this initiative the Labour leadership can be confident of people paying attention. And as economic concerns continue to grow ever more pessimistic the British public will be more likely to hear the Labour party’s alternative plan.

Liam Young is a commentator for the IndependentNew Statesman, Mirror and others.