Jim Murphy and Douglas Alexander, both once talked of as future leaders, are facing the end of their careers in May. (Photo:Getty)
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"You cannot fight an idea": Why Labour is increasingly bleak about its prospects in Scotland

The latest polls show that nothing is changing in Scotland, and why would they? 

No news is good news - if you're the SNP, that is. And the latest poll from Scotland shows very little change at all - the SNP still top of the heap on 46 per cent, Labour a distant second on 27 per cent, the Conservatives in third place on 18 per cent and the also-rans knocking around in the low single digits. Small wonder that our sister site, May 2015 projects the SNP to take all but one of Labour's 41 seats in Scotland. 

It may be worse for Labour than even the headline figures suggest.  The polls fluctuate a little, but effectively what it reveals is that public opinion in Scotland remains where it was: 45 per cent for independence and 55 per cent against. That vote share - 45 per cent - is obviously insufficient in a referendum but devastating to Labour under first past the post (and little better in the D'Hondt system favoured at the elections to the devolved parliament). "You cannot fight an idea," as one shadow Cabinet minister is fond of saying, "Except with a better idea." Fairly or unfairly, Labour in Scotland, like in England and Wales, is seen as having little in the way of fresh ideas. 

But it seems unlikely that a change at the top, either in Scotland or the United Kingdom as a whole, is unlikely to benefit Labour. The polling suggests that not only do the SNP's supporters want to live in another country - increasingly as far as their opinions are concerned, they already do. Take Jim Murphy's approval ratings, not stellar but around the David Cameron mark at -10% in the latest publically avaialble poll. But that conceals strong ratings among Labour voters (+55 per cent), Liberal voters (+13 per cent) and Conservatives (+ 5 per cent). (To give you an idea of how good those are, Cameron is at -71 per cent with Labour voters in the rest of the UK.)

But among SNP supporters Murphy's polling is terrible, at -54 per cent. And just as Ukip voters split from the country at large on issues ranging from the large - they are more likely to believe that they will see the apocalypse in their own lifetimes - to the small - they believe that Sean Bean should play Nigel Farage in a movie, while everyone else favours Rowan Atkinson - SNP voters have broken away from all other voters. I'm told that there will be detailed polling on the impact of the Scottish goverment's review of government expenditure and revenue (GERS) soon. The government's figures are fairly devastating for the case for independence, but in private sampling and on the doorstep, as with public polling on the oil price, the SNP's supporters are reaching radically different conclusions than the supporters of the Unionist parties. 

It seems likely that there is no policy offer that can pull away a significant chunk of that 45% that is currently allowing the SNP to sweep all before it. Labour's woes still have a way left to run.

(I've notably avoided the Greens because the polling evidence is so scarce. Both Labour and Green campaigners in Scotland report that the boost in that party's standing seems to have less to do with independence - "that RIC-SSP-Trot block, it's joined the SNP not the Greens" in the words of one - and more to do with the overall Green surge. But with no public opinion polling specifically on the Greens and seemingly little private data either it's really all supposition.) 

 

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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Inside a shaken city: "I just want to be anywhere that’s not Manchester”

The morning after the bombing of the Manchester Arena has left the city's residents jumpy.

On Tuesday morning, the streets in Manchester city centre were eerily silent.

The commuter hub of Victoria Station - which backs onto the arena - was closed as police combed the area for clues, and despite Mayor Andy Burnham’s line of "business as usual", it looked like people were staying away.

Manchester Arena is the second largest indoor concert venue in Europe. With a capacity crowd of 18,000, on Monday night the venue was packed with young people from around the country - at least 22 of whom will never come home. At around 10.33pm, a suicide bomber detonated his device near the exit. Among the dead was an eight-year-old girl. Many more victims remain in hospital. 

Those Mancunians who were not alerted by the sirens woke to the news of their city's worst terrorist attack. Still, as the day went on, the city’s hubbub soon returned and, by lunchtime, there were shoppers and workers milling around Exchange Square and the town hall.

Tourists snapped images of the Albert Square building in the sunshine, and some even asked police for photographs like any other day.

But throughout the morning there were rumours and speculation about further incidents - the Arndale Centre was closed for a period after 11.40am while swathes of police descended, shutting off the main city centre thoroughfare of Market Street.

Corporation Street - closed off at Exchange Square - was at the centre of the city’s IRA blast. A postbox which survived the 1996 bombing stood in the foreground while officers stood guard, police tape fluttering around cordoned-off spaces.

It’s true that the streets of Manchester have known horror before, but not like this.

I spoke to students Beth and Melissa who were in the bustling centre when they saw people running from two different directions.

They vanished and ducked into River Island, when an alert came over the tannoy, and a staff member herded them through the back door onto the street.

“There were so many police stood outside the Arndale, it was so frightening,” Melissa told me.

“We thought it will be fine, it’ll be safe after last night. There were police everywhere walking in, and we felt like it would be fine.”

Beth said that they had planned a day of shopping, and weren’t put off by the attack.

“We heard about the arena this morning but we decided to come into the city, we were watching it all these morning, but you can’t let this stop you.”

They remembered the 1996 Arndale bombing, but added: “we were too young to really understand”.

And even now they’re older, they still did not really understand what had happened to the city.

“Theres nowhere to go, where’s safe? I just want to go home,” Melissa said. “I just want to be anywhere that’s not Manchester.”

Manchester has seen this sort of thing before - but so long ago that the stunned city dwellers are at a loss. In a city which feels under siege, no one is quite sure how anyone can keep us safe from an unknown threat

“We saw armed police on the streets - there were loads just then," Melissa said. "I trust them to keep us safe.”

But other observers were less comforted by the sign of firearms.

Ben, who I encountered standing outside an office block on Corporation Street watching the police, was not too forthcoming, except to say “They don’t know what they’re looking for, do they?” as I passed.

The spirit of the city is often invoked, and ahead of a vigil tonight in Albert Square, there will be solidarity and strength from the capital of the North.

But the community values which Mancunians hold dear are shaken to the core by what has happened here.

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