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Osborne, Sturgeon are the top political performers

If I had to nominate the man whose stock is rising fastest in UK politics, it would have to be - and I know this will not be popular with many Herald readers - George Osborne.

After a long period when even Ed Balls had far more credibility, the momentum is clearly now with the Chancellor. The turnaround in his fortunes is remarkable.

Of course we are not witnessing an economic miracle, or anything approaching one. There are still many storm clouds on the horizon; the danger signs remain there for all to see. Employment may be rising, but so is personal debt. The housing market is bubbling out of control, particularly in the South- east of England, and the growing disconnect between that region and the rest of the UK makes a nonsense of the Union.

Meanwhile, I cannot believe Britain's workers will be prepared to accept wages that are not keeping up with the cost of living for much longer. Indeed, I am surprised there has been so little trade union militancy for so long.

But the political reality is the Chancellor has stuck doggedly to his policies, through more than three years of derision and economic depression. His sheer resolution is to be commended. But what of his relations with the Prime Minister?

The Premier and the Chancellor are very close; it was Mr Osborne who masterminded David Cameron's campaign to become Tory leader, and many Westminster insiders think Mr Cameron is basically the smooth front man of what is really Mr Osborne's project. The two men are good friends, and godfathers to each others' children, but it is now being suggested the relationship is becoming strained. While Mr Osborne's stock is rising fast, Mr Cameron's woes pile up inexorably. In the coming year the Chancellor's new-found credibility might even be seen as a threat to Mr Cameron, rather than a much needed political bonus.

So Mr Osborne can probably look forward to a much more pleasant year than Mr Cameron, who faces acute difficulties, even as the UK economy recovers. His biggest problems will concern the EU and Scotland. He still does not know how to see off UKIP, which could destroy his premiership, and as far as Scotland is concerned, more and more English Tory voters just cannot understand his passionate commitment to the Union. They simply do not think it makes sense in terms of practical politics (and they are right). They see him as at best an appeaser, at worse as someone who does not have the best interests of England, as opposed to the UK, at heart.

And anyway, if Mr Cameron is really so desperate to maintain the Union, why one earth won't he lead from the front? Why will he not go head to head with Scotland's leader in a televised debate? If his commitment to defend the Union is so sincere, so intense, then his rejection of such a test indicates one of two things; he is feart, or his heart is not in it. Or maybe both of these.

And if Scotland does vote No, and the Union is saved for the time being, Unionists will quickly note that it is Ed Miliband's Labour voters who have delivered, not Mr Cameron's Tories, who are well nigh extinct north of the border.

Meanwhile, if George Osborne is the main man in UK politics right now, the woman of the moment simply has to be Nicola Sturgeon.

The Deputy First Minister is currently the most effective politician in the UK, bar none. The SNP's triple-S force - Salmond, Sturgeon and Swinney - has for long been dominated by the First Minister, but no longer. Nicola Sturgeon is right now the most articulate, considered, and persuasive proponent of Scottish independence.

Not that there is any friction between her and Messrs Salmond and Swinney. One of the most impressive features of the SNP as a political party is the absence of rancour and division at the top. The discipline and mutual respect of those leading the party is unique in modern British politics.

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