Morning Call: pick of the papers

The ten must-read pieces from the Sunday papers.

1. The Tories couldn't deliver the goods without the Lib Dems (Sunday Telegraph)

The Conservative right is wilfully blind to the fact that it is getting pretty much what it wants from a coalition that it hates, argues Matthew d'Ancona.

2. Bringing the bankers to heel must start right here, right now (Observer)

If Britain doesn't take a lead in controlling Big Finance, says Will Hutton, outrageous bonuses will carry on being paid and there will be another crisis.

3. Ed needs business more than big wins (Independent on Sunday)

The Lib Dems lost the Old & Sad by-election but claimed success. Labour won it but it's a terrible result for them, according to John Rentoul.

4. High taxes breed clever dodgers (Sunday Times) (£)

England's footballers, who rarely troubled opposition defences in the World Cup, are proving much more adept at outflanking the taxman, says a leading article.

5. Labour can only win if voters believe they're on the money (Observer)

The British public is not going to hand Labour the keys to No 10 until it restore its economic credibility, says Andrew Rawnsley.

6. What would be the impact of the Alternative Vote? (Sunday Telegraph)

Why are we having a referendum on AV? How does the voting system work? And is it fair? Tim Montgomerie reports.

7. Books for all, not just the wealthy (Independent on Sunday)

This leading article criticises cuts to public libraries, which will have a disproportionate effect on deprived areas.

8. Now we have two kinds of elderly (Sunday Times) (£)

Minette Marrin warns that as the elderly work for longer, two classes of old people will emerge – those who employers want and those who employers don't.

9. We can transform our countryside. Put forests in the hands of the people (Observer)

Andy Wightman maintains that a campaign to stop the government selling our woodlands misses a great chance to revolutionise their ownership.

10. Barack Obama captured the mood of a nation. Can David Cameron do the same? (Sunday Telegraph)

The president's speech in Tuscon showed the transforming power of language – a power that Cameron has so far been unable to master, argues Janet Daley.

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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