Morning Call: Pick of the Papers

Ten must read pieces from this morning's papers.

1. The Prime Minister has put his judgment and integrity on trial (Observer)

David Cameron must deeply regret setting up the Leveson inquiry now that it is exposing his government's way of doing business, says Andrew Rawnsley.

2. From his seat in the dock David Cameron can show who's in charge (Sunday Telegraph)

Matthew D'Ancona thinks the Prime Minister should see his appearance before Leveson as beginning of a prime ministerial re-launch.

3. I fear this terrible massacre will be the beginning of a long civil war in Syria (Independent on Sunday)

A fearful and divided society is sliding towards tragedy, writes Patrick Cockburn.

4. Romney could win, but Obama's grip on the nation is still strong (Observer)

Polls show the Republican challenger moving ahead but, says Michael Cohen, few have noticed how much of America's heartland Obama has captured.

5. A textbook case of how not to defuse a scandal (Independent on Sunday)

John Rentoul finds Jeremy Hunt's defence unworthy of a cabinet minister.

6. Clegg and a memory lapse that Tories won't let him forget (Mail on Sunday)

James Forsyth detects Conservative outrage at Nick Clegg going freelance on foreign policy.

7. We have a duty to put our faith in science, not trample it (Observer)

Will Hutton laments the failure of anti-GM protesters to consider the evidence.

8. Wanted: A business minister for business (Sunday Times)

Leading article channels the spirit of Adrian Beecroft.

9. Yes or No, don't let ill will stifle debate (Sunday Herald)

Leading article reserves judgement on independence, calls for clean fight to decide Scotland's future.

10. Be less productive (New York Times)

Tim Jackson makes the economic case for working less intensively.

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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