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Why Tory MPs believe they may not win a general election landslide

The chance of Jeremy Corbyn becoming prime minister may appear too small for a "fear factor" to aid the Conservatives.  

Theresa May is burdened by greater election expectations than any post-war prime minister. Three polls have given the Conservatives an elephantine 21-point lead - their largest in government since 1983 and enough for a majority of 150 seats. The Sun's frontpage predicts that the PM will simply "kill off Labour". 

May will likely never have better circumstances in which to call an election. Labour is irretrievably divided and Jeremy Corbyn's personal ratings are even worse than those of his party. For most in Westminster, the only question is how large the Conservatives' majority will be. 

But precisely for these reasons, some Tory MPs fear they will undershoot expectations. Though CCHQ will unleash the mother of all dossiers against Corbyn, the "risk" of him beoming PM appeared "too small," an MP told me, for the attacks to resonate. In 2015, it was voters' sincere fear that Ed Miliband would win (and do a deal with the SNP) that carried the Tories to a majority. In 2017, the common belief that Corbyn cannot win may limit the Conservatives' gains. "We won't get close to a majority of 100," an MP told me earlier. "It'll be much, much less."

Labour MPs hope to survive by running on their local reputations and record. Some will produce their own manifestos, just as Corbyn and John McDonnell did in their backbench days. As one Labour MP, who predicted an early election, recently told me: "People will follow the Lib Dem playbook, treat the party as a franchise and run ultra-local campaign". Leaflets will be free of references to Corbyn and national policy. “You’ve got to cut the mother ship adrift and row yourself to safety. It's every man for himself now."

Some Conservatives believe that such efforts could help Labour to hold onto more seats than expected (as it did in 2010). The unreformed constituency boundaries, dating back to 2005, will also aid Corbyn's party.

The Tories are further troubled by the prospect of Lib Dem gains. As I recently revealed, a Conservative poll by Lynton Crosby showed the party would lose most of the 27 seats it won from Tim Farron's party in 2015. MPs from Devon and Cornwall pleaded with May not to go the country. There is no turning back now. But remarkable as it may seem, a majority below 100 will be deemed a failure by some. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Scotland's vast deficit remains an obstacle to independence

Though the country's financial position has improved, independence would still risk severe austerity. 

For the SNP, the annual Scottish public spending figures bring good and bad news. The good news, such as it is, is that Scotland's deficit fell by £1.3bn in 2016/17. The bad news is that it remains £13.3bn or 8.3 per cent of GDP – three times the UK figure of 2.4 per cent (£46.2bn) and vastly higher than the white paper's worst case scenario of £5.5bn. 

These figures, it's important to note, include Scotland's geographic share of North Sea oil and gas revenue. The "oil bonus" that the SNP once boasted of has withered since the collapse in commodity prices. Though revenue rose from £56m the previous year to £208m, this remains a fraction of the £8bn recorded in 2011/12. Total public sector revenue was £312 per person below the UK average, while expenditure was £1,437 higher. Though the SNP is playing down the figures as "a snapshot", the white paper unambiguously stated: "GERS [Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland] is the authoritative publication on Scotland’s public finances". 

As before, Nicola Sturgeon has warned of the threat posed by Brexit to the Scottish economy. But the country's black hole means the risks of independence remain immense. As a new state, Scotland would be forced to pay a premium on its debt, resulting in an even greater fiscal gap. Were it to use the pound without permission, with no independent central bank and no lender of last resort, borrowing costs would rise still further. To offset a Greek-style crisis, Scotland would be forced to impose dramatic austerity. 

Sturgeon is undoubtedly right to warn of the risks of Brexit (particularly of the "hard" variety). But for a large number of Scots, this is merely cause to avoid the added turmoil of independence. Though eventual EU membership would benefit Scotland, its UK trade is worth four times as much as that with Europe. 

Of course, for a true nationalist, economics is irrelevant. Independence is a good in itself and sovereignty always trumps prosperity (a point on which Scottish nationalists align with English Brexiteers). But if Scotland is to ever depart the UK, the SNP will need to win over pragmatists, too. In that quest, Scotland's deficit remains a vast obstacle. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.