Five of the Best

The top five comment pieces from today's papers

Rachel Sylvester writes in the Times that the American fury over the release of the Lockerbie bomber marks the death of the "special relationship" and that the UK has not found a replacement.

For the Americans, this is not just about justice it is also about trust -- the White House sees the release of al-Megrahi as a blatant breach of an agreement given by the British government that he would serve out his sentence in Scotland. It is impossible to sustain a relationship, let alone a special one, if one partner can no longer believe what the other one says.

The Independent's Steve Richards argues that those who advocate public service reform ignore the increased costs involved.

The free market reformers argue that competition will raise standards and save costs. Perhaps it will over time, although the evidence in other fields does not suggest this will automatically be the case. After the privatisation of the railways the costs for the taxpayer soared, partly because so many more outsiders were involved, often making the delivery of the service much worse.

In the Guardian, Robert Reich says that the problem with the US budget deficit is that it's too small. The US government must reject the "deficit hysterics" and pursue the only reliable way to expand the economy.

Without large deficits this year and next, and perhaps even the year after, the economy doesn't have a prayer of getting back on a growth path. In that case, the debt-to-GDP ratio could really get ugly.

Gordon Brown should have defended the release of the Lockerbie bomber, argues the Daily Telegraph's Mary Riddell. As ever, his fear of unpopularity has led to him becoming even more unpopular.

The PM could have denounced the bullying American officials who implied that the US would never consume another dram of whisky or stick of Edinburgh rock. He could, and should, say that bringing Libya into the fold has not only been good for trade. Tripoli has also abandoned its pursuit of nuclear weapons, helped fight al-Qaeda and so made Britain and the world less dangerous.

The New York Times's columnist David Brooks writes that President Obama's popularity has fallen faster than any previous president. He must distance himself from the Democrats' liberal wing to recover.

This is a country that has always been suspicious of centralised government . . . Most Americans still admire Obama and want him to succeed. But if he doesn't proceed in a manner consistent with the spirit of the nation and the times, voters will find a way to stop him.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Scottish Labour's defeat to the Tories confirms a political transformation

The defining divide is no longer between left and right but between unionist and nationalist.

It was Scotland where Labour's recovery was supposed to begin. Jeremy Corbyn's allies predicted that his brand of left-wing, anti-austerity politics would dent the SNP's hegemony. After becoming leader, Corbyn pledged that winning north of the border would be one of his greatest priorities. 

But in the first major elections of his leadership, it has proved to be Labour's greatest failure. A result that was long thought unthinkable has come to pass: the Conservatives have finished second (winning 31 seats). For the first time since the 1910 election, Labour has finished third (winning 24). Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale stood on a left-wing platform, outflanking the SNP on tax (pledging to raise the top rate to 50p and increase the basic rate by 1p), promising to spend more on public services and opposing the renewal of Trident. But rather than advancing, the party merely retreated.

Its fate confirms how Scottish politics has been realigned. The defining divide is no longer between left and right but between unionist and nationalist. With the SNP as the only major pro-independence party, the Tories, led by the pugnacious Ruth Davidson, framed themselves as the pro-UK alternative - and prospered. In contrast, Dugdale refused to rule out supporting a second referendum and suggested that MPs and MSPs would be free to campaign for secession. The result was that Scottish Labour was left looking dangerously irrelevant. "Identity politics. Labour doesn't get it," a shadow minister told me. Its socialist pitch counted for little in a country that remains ideologically closer to England than thought. The SNP has lost its majority (denying it a mandate for a second referendum) - an outcome that the electoral system was always designed to make impossible. But its rule remains unthreatened. 

Corbyn's critics will seek to pin the baleful result on him. "We turned left and followed Jeremy's politics in Scotland, which far from solving our problems, pushed us into third," a senior opponent told me. But others will contend that a still more left-wing leader, such as Neil Findlay, is needed. Dugdale is personally supportive of Trident and was critical of Corbyn before his election. Should she be displaced, the party will be forced to elect its sixth leader in less than five years. But no one is so short-sighted as to believe that one person can revive the party's fortunes. Some Corbyn critics believe that a UK-wide recovery is a precondition of recovery north of the border. At this juncture, they say, SNP defectors would look anew at the party as they contemplate the role that Scottish MPs could play in a Westminster government. But under Corbyn, having become the first opposition to lose local election seats since 1985, it is yet further from power. 

In Scotland, the question now haunting Labour is not merely how it recovers - but whether it ever can. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.