Morning Call: pick of the papers

The ten must-read comment pieces from this morning's papers.

1. From Jessica Ennis to Joey Barton. Could a contrast be more ghastly?, Guardian

The Olympic spirit we've just rejoiced in makes the return of football's greed, cheating and racism all the more depressing, writes Geoffrey Wheatcroft.

2. A-level students must be told the whole truth about the value of a degree, Telegraph

Mis-selling of higher education is one of the least remarked upon scandals of our time, argues Fraser Nelson.

3. There should be no immunity for Assange from these allegations, Independent

Owen Jones writes that Ecuador is wrong to describe the charges against the WikiLeaks founder as 'laughable'.

4. Corporate cash power is holding the state hostage Financial Times (£)

John Plender exposes the shift in relations between the public and private sectors, and asks how to combat capture.

5. Cameron must cultivate his little acorns, Times (£)

Bring back the Pre-Coalition Dave of optimism and wonder to inspire us with graphene and Raspberry Pi, begs Peter Hoskin.

6. Girls deserve top marks for catching up so quickly, Telegraph

Three cheers – girls will be more successful than boys in the latest A-level results, writes Rachel Johnson.

7. There's still (a slim) hope for the eurozone yet, Independent

You wouldn't know it from the coverage over here, but the Eurozone crisis has actually eased quite a lot of late, Adrian Hamilton explains.

8. We must clean up our act on money laundering, Financial Times (£)

Following a spate of high-profile money laundering scandals, John Cassara asks what more we can do?

9. This is not some celeb balaclava bandwagon, Times (£)

Pussy Riot are bravely risking their freedom to take on a gangster state. We can’t stay silent, says Peter Gabriel.

10. Would you be happy to live like Tony Nicklinson?

The court had no choice but to rule against Nicklinson's right to die. The law must be changed to end such brutal suffering, argues Polly Toynbee.

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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