Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Why the Scottish Tory leader said it's unlikely the Conservatives will win the general election

The possibility of a Conservative victory in 2015 is one of the Yes campaign's biggest trump cards. 

During last night's inter-party Scottish independence debate, Conservative leader Ruth Davidson made an apparently remarkable statement. Asked by an audience member what would happen if there was a No vote in Scotland and then a Yes vote in an in/out EU referendum, she said she wanted the UK to remain in the EU but to secure a better deal. She added that this would become possible if the Conservatives won the general election but that this was "not likely by the polls". 

Confronted by Labour's small but stubborn advantage, many Tories privately conclude the same, but no senior figure has been as blunt as Davidson. She broke one of the iron laws of politics: never talk down your own side's chances. 

But if Davidson's candour was remarkable, it was also understandable. As I have written before, the Yes campaign has long regarded the prospect of a Tory victory in 2015 (a party that famously holds just one seat in Scotland) as one of its biggest trump cards. The poll surge that it has enjoyed since refocusing the campaign on the threat posed to the NHS by the Conservatives (despite health being an entirely devolved issue) and punitive policies such as the bedroom tax suggests it is right to do so. The defection of Labour voters to the Yes camp (from 18 per cent of 2011 supporters to 30 per cent) shows that fear of a Conservative future is outweighing fear of independence. For these reasons, it is profoundly helpful for Davidson to suggest her party is destined for defeat. 

Yet to secure the margin of victory that the No side believe is necessary to avoid a "neverendum", Scottish voters also need to be inspired by the prospect of a Labour victory, as Ed Miliband told yesterday's shadow cabinet meeting. Miliband's social democratic policy agenda - intervention in the broken markets of banking, housing and energy, greater use of the living wage, the abolition of the bedroom tax - is one that should have mass appeal. But something has been lost in translation. The key challenge for the Labour leader when he visits Scotland tomorrow is to change this. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 27 August 2014 issue of the New Statesman, The new caliphate

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Owen Smith calls Jeremy Corbyn "a lunatic"

The Labour leader's campaign call on Smith to apologise to "people suffering with mental illness". 

Owen Smith has called Jeremy Corbyn “a lunatic” at a rally.

The Pontypridd MP and Labour leadership hopeful told supporters “what you won’t get from me is some, you know, lunatic at the top of the Labour party” while speaking in Hammersmith.

It represents a considerable racheting up of direct hostilities between the two candidates, who will discover which of the two has won on 24 September. At the start of the contest, Smith pledged to appoint Corbyn to the post of party president should he win.

Footage of the event was obtained by the Independent’s Tom Peck, who attended the rally.

A spokesperson for Corbyn's campaign said: "Owen Smith has degraded this contest by descending into personal abuse. He should apologise to people suffering with mental illness, many of whom would have been dismayed and upset to to hear such offensive language used in public by a Labour politician.

"He should also withdraw his remark, and spend time with people suffering from mental health problems to develop some sensitivity in his use of language. This is simply not the language that someone standing to lead our party should use, and it injects an ugly tone into this contest that no Labour member wants to see."

Smith, speaking on Radio 4, apologised for "a poor choice of words", saying that the remarks referred not to Corbyn but himself. "Someone said I'd been running about like a lunatic earlier on", he added. 

A senior source close to the leadership poured scorn on Smith: "Owen's biggest weakness is Owen. He has decent staffers, but it's lions led by a donkey".