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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Stability is essential to solve the pension problem

The new chancellor must ensure we have a period of stability for pension policymaking in order for everyone to acclimatise to a new era of personal responsibility in retirement, says 

There was a time when retirement seemed to take care of itself. It was normal to work, retire and then receive the state pension plus a company final salary pension, often a fairly generous figure, which also paid out to a spouse or partner on death.

That normality simply doesn’t exist for most people in 2016. There is much less certainty on what retirement looks like. The genesis of these experiences also starts much earlier. As final salary schemes fall out of favour, the UK is reaching a tipping point where savings in ‘defined contribution’ pension schemes become the most prevalent form of traditional retirement saving.

Saving for a ‘pension’ can mean a multitude of different things and the way your savings are organised can make a big difference to whether or not you are able to do what you planned in your later life – and also how your money is treated once you die.

George Osborne established a place for himself in the canon of personal savings policy through the introduction of ‘freedom and choice’ in pensions in 2015. This changed the rules dramatically, and gave pension income a level of public interest it had never seen before. Effectively the policymakers changed the rules, left the ring and took the ropes with them as we entered a new era of personal responsibility in retirement.

But what difference has that made? Have people changed their plans as a result, and what does 'normal' for retirement income look like now?

Old Mutual Wealth has just released. with YouGov, its third detailed survey of how people in the UK are planning their income needs in retirement. What is becoming clear is that 'normal' looks nothing like it did before. People have adjusted and are operating according to a new normal.

In the new normal, people are reliant on multiple sources of income in retirement, including actively using their home, as more people anticipate downsizing to provide some income. 24 per cent of future retirees have said they would consider releasing value from their home in one way or another.

In the new normal, working beyond your state pension age is no longer seen as drudgery. With increasing longevity, the appeal of keeping busy with work has grown. Almost one-third of future retirees are expecting work to provide some of their income in retirement, with just under half suggesting one of the reasons for doing so would be to maintain social interaction.

The new normal means less binary decision-making. Each choice an individual makes along the way becomes critical, and the answers themselves are less obvious. How do you best invest your savings? Where is the best place for a rainy day fund? How do you want to take income in the future and what happens to your assets when you die?

 An abundance of choices to provide answers to the above questions is good, but too much choice can paralyse decision-making. The new normal requires a plan earlier in life.

All the while, policymakers have continued to give people plenty of things to think about. In the past 12 months alone, the previous chancellor deliberated over whether – and how – to cut pension tax relief for higher earners. The ‘pensions-ISA’ system was mooted as the culmination of a project to hand savers complete control over their retirement savings, while also providing a welcome boost to Treasury coffers in the short term.

During her time as pensions minister, Baroness Altmann voiced her support for the current system of taxing pension income, rather than contributions, indicating a split between the DWP and HM Treasury on the matter. Baroness Altmann’s replacement at the DWP is Richard Harrington. It remains to be seen how much influence he will have and on what side of the camp he sits regarding taxing pensions.

Meanwhile, Philip Hammond has entered the Treasury while our new Prime Minister calls for greater unity. Following a tumultuous time for pensions, a change in tone towards greater unity and cross-department collaboration would be very welcome.

In order for everyone to acclimatise properly to the new normal, the new chancellor should commit to a return to a longer-term, strategic approach to pensions policymaking, enabling all parties, from regulators and providers to customers, to make decisions with confidence that the landscape will not continue to shift as fundamentally as it has in recent times.

Steven Levin is CEO of investment platforms at Old Mutual Wealth.

To view all of Old Mutual Wealth’s retirement reports, visit: products-and-investments/ pensions/pensions2015/