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Henry Hill is a British Conservative and Unionist activist and writer. He is also editor of the non-party website Open Unionism, which can be followed on Twitter here.

SNP drag Labour behind the Tories in two Scots polls

It’s hard, speaking as an observer from outside Scotland, to really grasp what is happening to Scottish Labour.

There have been cracks showing for a while now, particularly when Alex Salmond trashed the party’s commanding poll lead to win the Scottish election. The Yes Scotland offensive into its working class heartlands in the last weeks of the campaign also suggested vulnerability. But I don’t know anybody, at least any unionist, who expected Labour to poll behind the Scottish Conservatives. Ever.

Yet they have. In fact, they’ve done it twice. Page one of the YouGove survey shows the Conservatives one point ahead of Labour (20 points to 19) on voting intention, whereas page three of the Populus poll shows the Conservatives three points ahead at 24 to Labour’s 21.

Both of those polls come with health warnings. They are simply the Scottish sections of British polls, rather than exclusively Scottish polls, and so have too small a sample size to draw firm conclusions from. The YouGov result is certainly within the margin of error (although that itself is fairly remarkable).

On the other hand, for the Tories to draw ahead in two polls, conducted over the same two days (15-16 October) by two different companies suggests there is something more than statistical fluke at work. The YouGov poll also sees Scots more likely to describe the Conservatives as having moved on from their past by two points, but more significant still is that Cameron enjoys a 12 point lead over Miliband as preferred Prime Minister north of the border, 31 points to 19.

How this works out for the Tories in upcoming elections will depend on all manner of factors, including how new SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon handle’s her membership’s own lurch to the left. But the prospect of a fight for its political foundations has thrown Labour into crisis.

The electoral dilemma for Labour is a cruel one. The SNP could win up to twenty extra seats at the next general election, all from the Liberal Democrats or Labour, which dramatically reduces the “progressive” electoral buffer that Scotland has offered since the 1990s – even more so if the Scottish Conservatives can pick up a handful of new seats.

Yet the more resources Labour has to commit to its heartlands – which are being opened up by UKIP and the Greens in England too – the fewer it has to spend on its battlegrounds with the Conservatives. The harder left it has to pitch its messaging, the more space it concedes to Cameron in the centre (provided he doesn’t let UKIP do the same thing to him).

With a popular national leader in Cameron, a popular Scottish leader in Ruth Davidson, a strong and cohesive devolutionary pitch and a Labour Party getting dragged into a catfight with the nationalists for the affections of Glasgow, the Tories might even find some viable Labour-held target seats north of the border.

Welsh Labour return fire as Tories launch fresh assault on their NHS record

Mark Drakeford, the Welsh administration’s health minister, has accused Jeremy Hunt of telling a ‘tissue of lies’ about the state of the Welsh NHS after the Health Secretary accused it of providing a second-class service.

The exchange between the two ministers – both letters are available from the above-linked BBC News article – comes as the Daily Mail launches a days-long exposé of the Welsh NHS, which promises to hugely amplify this critical Conservative line of attack against Labour in England and Wales. With Miliband trying to fight a comfort-zone election on the health service, if Labour is neutralised on the issue it risks entering the general election with a near-empty political arsenal.

Mr Drakeford writes that: “The NHS in Wales will not be the victim of any Conservative Party ploy to drag its reputation through the mud for entirely partisan political purposes.”

This column has touched before upon Welsh Labour’s hysterical aversion to any attempt to compare its achievements to those elsewhere: Michael Gove was accused of holding “indestructible colonial attitudes” when, as Education Secretary, he wrote for the Western Mail about dire state of Welsh education.

Nonetheless, the increasing willingness of the Jones administration to conflate themselves with the Welsh nation, and to see in widespread criticism only Conservative plots, suggests a regime that has borne too long the burden of office.

UUP propose electoral deal with the DUP to capture the country’s most marginal seat

Mike Nesbitt, the leader of the Ulster Unionist Party, has entreated the much larger Democratic Unionists to agree to an electoral pact at the 2015 general election.

The pact would see the UUP stand aside for DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds in North Belfast, the last of the provincial capital’s four Westminster seats held by a unionist MP. In exchange, Nesbitt wants the DUP to stand aside in Fermanagh and South Tyrone, where Sinn Fein are defending a majority of four over 2010’s ‘unionist unity’ candidate Rodney Connor.

Nesbitt argues that such a deal would be the “right thing for unionism”. The NI Conservatives have been quick to point out that this is yet another step toward the effective amalgamation of the two main Unionist parties. The UUP have apparently abandoned any attempt to secure their long-term future by offering the electorate a distinctive proposition, at least for the moment.

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