Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. Like Tammy Wynette, Lib Dems must stand by their man (Guardian)

Coalition has been tough for the party and for Nick Clegg, yet his brave choices deserve our continued support, says Menzies Campbell.

2. British foreign policy should be realist (Financial Times)

Emotion draws the country across the Atlantic but hard calculation pulls it back to Europe, writes Philip Stephens.

3. Nick Clegg still has time to make a gracious exit as Liberal Democrat leader - with head held high (Independent)

The Lib Dem leader has made too many unforced errors for his own good, writes Mary Ann Sieghart.

4. Forget Mr Has-Been. The prize is power (Times) (£)

The future for the Lib Dems can only be as the third party of government, not as a left-wing alternative to Labour, says Philip Collins.

5. James Murdoch: a fit and proper pasting (Guardian)

Ofcom did not mince its words in damning a hereditary magnate who "repeatedly fell short of the conduct expected of him", says a Guardian editorial.

6. Our politics is bursting with life – it’s the parties that are dying (Daily Telegraph)

There is no shortage of support for the right causes, but our leaders do not address them, writes Fraser Nelson.

7. Puzzle of falling UK labour productivity (Financial Times)

Labour hoarding, substitution of labour for capital and failings in finance are only part of the answer, says Martin Wolf.

8. Hospital death rates we can't ignore (Independent)

This is a level of risk that would be alarming in the developing world, never mind 21st-century Britain, says an Independent leader.

9. Planning free-for-all is a blueprint for discord (Daily Mail)

To deny homeowners the right to object to dramatic changes is the exact opposite of the localism the Tories claim to preach, says a Daily Mail editorial.

10. History as fantasy is no substitute for rigorous truth (Guardian)

Whether it's Richard III's corpse, Jesus's wife or King Arthur's castle, to be seduced by myth is to flirt with fanaticism, writes Simon Jenkins.

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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