Microsoft Surface: good name

Why the Surface will work.

Names are funny things. Take for example "Starkiller". It’s not a bad name. It’s pretty appropriate for a character in a Sci Fi story - probably a bad guy, someone you wouldn’t want to mess with. But the world would have been a poorer place if George Lucas had left the main protagonist of his most famous work with that moniker, instead of the more evocative (and appropriate) "Skywalker".

Which is why I think Microsoft are wise to name their new tablet the Surface.

Firstly, it’s an easy to name to say and write. It’s very hard to find single English words that you can trademark (let alone find a half decent url that hasn’t been sat on already), so when you already own one (as Microsoft did in this case), you’re wise to use it, even if the products that have gone previously have had less than stellar success.

Secondly, you can tie yourself in knots trying to find exciting new and different names to use. Choosing and then sticking with a name is really hard. Everyone loves how Apple brands products with their simple "i" device. But it so nearly wasn’t so. Steve Jobs was all set to call the iMac the rather less exciting "Macman" right until the last minute. If you’ve got something simple and evocative sitting right in front of you, grab it.

Thirdly, not everything makes sense when you’re naming. Can you imagine calling your product Gertrude, Centipede or 5t? No? Yet someone had the gumption to go for Mercedes, Caterpillar and 3M. Picking a new name needs courage, faith and a grim determination to make something work. Would you have sat in a room and bought "Blackberry?"

Plus in this case, there’s fun to be had with name elements like "surf" and "face" that already resonate in the digital territory the product occupies. It just fits.

Finally, whoever picked surface really understands that one of the things people love about tablets is the tactile way our hands sweep across them, the touch, the glide, their smoothness. Remember those sweeping hand gestures Tom Cruise made as his hands shot across those giant touch screens in "Minority Report". The way tablets feel makes using them special. And now Microsoft have a shot at owning that territory, both literally and metaphorically.

Of course, not everyone will love the name and these things are totally subjective. That’s the way of the world. But at least from a naming point of view, the Microsoft Surface has a real shout at making it.

Of course, whether the product's any good or not –well, that’s another story…

'Richard Morris runs branding and Design agency Identica.

Microsoft Surface, Photograph: Getty Images

Richard Morris blogs at A View From Ham Common, which was named Best New Blog at the 2011 Lib Dem Conference

How Jim Murphy's mistake cost Labour - and helped make Ruth Davidson

Scottish Labour's former leader's great mistake was to run away from Labour's Scottish referendum, not on it.

The strange revival of Conservative Scotland? Another poll from north of the border, this time from the Times and YouGov, shows the Tories experiencing a revival in Scotland, up to 28 per cent of the vote, enough to net seven extra seats from the SNP.

Adding to the Nationalists’ misery, according to the same poll, they would lose East Dunbartonshire to the Liberal Democrats, reducing their strength in the Commons to a still-formidable 47 seats.

It could be worse than the polls suggest, however. In the elections to the Scottish Parliament last year, parties which backed a No vote in the referendum did better in the first-past-the-post seats than the polls would have suggested – thanks to tactical voting by No voters, who backed whichever party had the best chance of beating the SNP.

The strategic insight of Ruth Davidson, the Conservative leader in Scotland, was to to recast her party as the loudest defender of the Union between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom. She has absorbed large chunks of that vote from the Liberal Democrats and Labour, but, paradoxically, at the Holyrood elections at least, the “Unionist coalition” she assembled helped those parties even though it cost the vote share.

The big thing to watch is not just where the parties of the Union make gains, but where they successfully form strong second-places against whoever the strongest pro-Union party is.

Davidson’s popularity and eye for a good photo opportunity – which came first is an interesting question – mean that the natural benefactor in most places will likely be the Tories.

But it could have been very different. The first politician to hit successfully upon the “last defender of the Union” routine was Ian Murray, the last Labour MP in Scotland, who squeezed both the  Liberal Democrat and Conservative vote in his seat of Edinburgh South.

His then-leader in Scotland, Jim Murphy, had a different idea. He fought the election in 2015 to the SNP’s left, with the slogan of “Whether you’re Yes, or No, the Tories have got to go”.  There were a couple of problems with that approach, as one  former staffer put it: “Firstly, the SNP weren’t going to put the Tories in, and everyone knew it. Secondly, no-one but us wanted to move on [from the referendum]”.

Then again under different leadership, this time under Kezia Dugdale, Scottish Labour once again fought a campaign explicitly to the left of the SNP, promising to increase taxation to blunt cuts devolved from Westminster, and an agnostic position on the referendum. Dugdale said she’d be open to voting to leave the United Kingdom if Britain left the European Union. Senior Scottish Labour figures flirted with the idea that the party might be neutral in a forthcoming election. Once again, the party tried to move on – but no-one else wanted to move on.

How different things might be if instead of running away from their referendum campaign, Jim Murphy had run towards it in 2015. 

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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