Miliband the Unionist

The Labour leader made a convincing social democratic case against Scottish independence.

Since he became Labour leader, Scotland has often been a weak spot for Ed Miliband. His decision to turn last year's Holyrood election into a referendum on the coalition proved disastrous and he was famously unable to name all three of the candidates for the Scottish Labour leadership. But his speech in Glasgow today on Scotland and the Union was one of his most impressive to date.

Buoyed by his victory on Stephen Hester's bonus (he accused Cameron of failing to act as a "responsible shareholder"), Miliband presented his own brand of social democratic Unionism. The crux of his argument was that "the real divide" in Britain is not between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom but between "the haves and the have-nots." The task of creating a "more equal, just and fair society" is one best performed by the nations of the UK working together, he said. He spoke of the Scotsman who founded the Labour Party (Keir Hardie), the Englishman who led the "most successful Labour government" in history (Clement Attlee) and the Welshman (Nye Bevan) who founded the NHS.

In his Hugo Young lecture last week, Alex Salmond argued that an independent Scotland could serve as a "progressive beacon" for the rest of the UK but Miliband turned this claim on its head. Scottish secession, he warned, would trigger a "race to the bottom" on bank regulation, wages and conditions at work. For instance, citing the example of Ireland, Salmond has pledged to slash corporation tax should Scotland win fiscal autonomy. Perhaps partly for this reason, Miliband argued for a single-question referendum, excluding the possibility of a "devo max" option. There are some in Labour, citing Donald Dewar's echoing of devolution as "a process, not an event", who argue that the party should embrace devolution max, which is favoured by a majority of Scots, as a positive alternative to independence. The danger in leaving devo max off the ballot paper, they note, is that Scottish voters conclude that the only way to win fiscal autonomy is to vote for full independence. But Miliband, like Cameron, seems wedded to the high-risk option of a one-question referendum.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Donald Trump's healthcare failure could be to his advantage

The appearance of weakness is less electorally damaging than actually removing healthcare from millions of people.

Good morning. Is it all over for Donald Trump? His approval ratings have cratered to below 40%. Now his attempt to dismantle Barack Obama's healthcare reforms have hit serious resistance from within the Republican Party, adding to the failures and retreats of his early days in office.

The problem for the GOP is that their opposition to Obamacare had more to do with the word "Obama" than the word "care". The previous President opted for a right-wing solution to the problem of the uninsured in a doomed attempt to secure bipartisan support for his healthcare reform. The politician with the biggest impact on the structures of the Affordable Care Act is Mitt Romney.

But now that the Republicans control all three branches of government they are left in a situation where they have no alternative to Obamacare that wouldn't either a) shred conservative orthodoxies on healthcare or b) create numerous and angry losers in their constituencies. The difficulties for Trump's proposal is that it does a bit of both.

Now the man who ran on his ability to cut a deal has been forced to make a take it or leave plea to Republicans in the House of Representatives: vote for this plan or say goodbye to any chance of repealing Obamacare.

But that's probably good news for Trump. The appearance of weakness and failure is less electorally damaging than actually succeeding in removing healthcare from millions of people, including people who voted for Trump.

Trump won his first term because his own negatives as a candidate weren't quite enough to drag him down on a night when he underperformed Republican candidates across the country. The historical trends all make it hard for a first-term incumbent to lose. So far, Trump's administration is largely being frustrated by the Republican establishment though he is succeeding in leveraging the Presidency for the benefit of his business empire.

But it may be that in the failure to get anything done he succeeds in once again riding Republican coattails to victory in 2020.

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.