Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. Lib Dems won't knife Nick Clegg – well, not quite yet anyway (Observer)

The misjudgments they have made in office have not been the leader's alone – as Vince Cable surely knows, writes Andrew Rawnsley.

2. The rich are doing their bit. Are you? (Sunday Times) (£)

Voters must be educated about the fact that there really are costs to the benefits they receive, says Dominic Lawson.

3. Dogged and decent, Chris Grayling shows how to get reform right (Sunday Telegraph)

The Paralympics should inspire politicians to continue the fight for a fairer benefits system, writes Matthew D'Ancona.

4. Our schools are being undermined by a constant rhetoric of decline (Observer)

We should stop running down the manifest improvements in the country's education system, argues Matthew Taylor.

5. Dirty ads and debate can still win it for Mitt (Sunday Times) (£)

Romney should not be underestimated, warns Andrew Sullivan.

6. We'll go down as the nation that smoked itself stupid (Mail on Sunday)

I can't fathom the double standards over cannabis, says Peter Hitchens.

7. It's thrilling to see science take centre stage in the national conversation (Observer)

To witness Stephen Hawking at the Paralympics is to be reminded of Britain's pre-eminent scientific status, says Paul Nurse.

8. We should tune in to the Romney and Ryan show (Sunday Telegraph)

The myth of a democratic socialist society funded by capitalism is finished, argues Janet Daley.

9. Stop huffing — we all called for this crackdown on immigration (Sunday Times) (£)

The economic benefits of foreign students to Britain are highly debatable, insists Minette Marrin.

10. The Chinese puzzles of chairman Tim Yeo (Sunday Telegraph)

Tim Yeo is urging ministers to assist British firms in doing 'low-carbon' business in China, but has failed to mention that he is chairman of one such firm, writes Christopher Booker.

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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