Hostile response on the doorstep. Photo:Getty
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Naked men, diminutive voters, existential questions: what really happens "on the doorstep"

Good response on the #labourdoorstep? Here's what really happened on the doors this week.

Political activists of all stripes unite on one thing: incomprehension at the number of people who answer the doors while partially - and on occasion wholly - undressed. A good variant on that this week. One Conservative canvasser in a Northern marginal was greeted by a voter "naked as the day he was born".  Spotting the blue rosette on the activist's lapel, the naked man shouted "Come off it, mate, do you think Tories come to the door like this?" 

Hostility among the English to Scotland is indeed growing, most strongly among those Labour organisers who have been relocated from  Conservative-held marginals to Labour fortresses north of the border. One remarks: "there are political parties who have never contested an election with a better idea where their voters are".  

Another hardy perennial: the voters who always vote for the governing party, presumably on the grounds that they haven't killed them yet. A Liberal candidate north of the border met one of that slightly strange clan, only to be told they were voting Conservative. "But we're in government too!" they protested. To which the reply came: "Are you really?" 

A Labour activist in a London marginal canvassed a family that had previously voted Labour but were unsure about who they were supporting this time. Instead of the expected doubts about Ed Miliband or the mansion tax, they found an unusual domestic arrangement: the family of five will have an internal ballot to decide the votes of the two adults. 

The most difficult challenge for doorstep activists is what one Tory dubs the "child or dwarf?" problem: whether to ask a freshfaced person on the doorstep if their mother or father is in. "Once you have asked a fortysomething if their parents are in," they explain, "There is no way back for you." A Labour MP's solution to the problem is to ask everyone, regardless of their apparent age, the same questions. They say the approach is better than regular VoterID, as "children are more honest".

Lastly, I can report that the Conservative attack on a Labour-SNP deal has indeed begun to "cut through" into the real world, although not always in the way the Tories might wish. "Yeah, I'm voting for you," a Labour candidate in the Midlands was recently told, "But only because Nicola Sturgeon will be there to hold your balls to the fire!"

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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The UK is dangerously close to breaking apart - there's one way to fix it

We must rethink our whole constitutional settlement. 

When the then-Labour leader John Smith set up a report on social justice for what would be the incoming government in 1997, he said we must stop wasting our most precious resource – "the extraordinary skills and talents of ordinary people".

It is one of our party’s greatest tragedies that he never had the chance to see that vision put into practice. 

At the time, it was clear that while our values of equality, solidarity and tolerance endured, the solutions we needed were not the same as those when Labour was last in power in the 1970s, and neither were they to be found in the policies of opposition from the 1980s. 

The Commission on Social Justice described a UK transformed by three revolutions:

  • an economic revolution brought about by increasing globalisation, innovation and a changing labour market
  • a social revolution that had seen the role of women in society transformed, the traditional family model change, inequality ingrained and relationships between people in our communities strained
  • a political revolution that challenged the centralisation of power, demanded more individual control and accepted a different role for government in society.

Two decades on, these three revolutions could equally be applied to the UK, and Scotland, today. 

Our economy, society and our politics have been transformed even further, but there is absolutely no consensus – no agreement – about the direction our country should take. 

What that has led to, in my view, is a society more dangerously divided than at any point in our recent history. 

The public reject the status quo but there is no settled will about the direction we should take. 

And instead of grappling with the complex messages that people are sending us, and trying to find the solutions in the shades of grey, politicians of all parties are attached to solutions that are black or white, dividing us further. 

Anyone in Labour, or any party, who claims that we can sit on the margins and wait for politics to “settle down” will rightly be consigned to history. 

The future shape of the UK, how we govern ourselves and how our economy and society should develop, is now the single biggest political question we face. 

Politics driven by nationalism and identity, which were for so long mostly confined to Scotland, have now taken their place firmly in the mainstream of all UK politics. 

Continuing to pull our country in these directions risks breaking the United Kingdom once and for all. 

I believe we need to reaffirm our belief in the UK for the 21st century. 

Over time, political power has become concentrated in too few hands. Power and wealth hoarded in one corner of our United Kingdom has not worked for the vast majority of people. 

That is why the time has come for the rest of the UK to follow where Scotland led in the 1980s and 1990s and establish a People’s Constitutional Convention to re-establish the UK for a new age. 

The convention should bring together groups to deliberate on the future of our country and propose a way forward that strengthens the UK and establishes a new political settlement for the whole of our country. 

After more than 300 years, it is time for a new Act of Union to safeguard our family of nations for generations to come.

This would mean a radical reshaping of our country along federal lines where every component part of the United Kingdom – Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and the English regions – take more responsibility for what happens in their own communities, but where we still maintain the protection of being part of a greater whole as the UK. 

The United Kingdom provides the redistribution of wealth that defines our entire Labour movement, and it provides the protection for public finance in Scotland that comes from being part of something larger, something good, and something worth fighting for. 

Kezia Dugdale is the leader of the Scottish Labour party.