Ed Miliband speaks at the Scottish Labour conference on March 21, 2014 in Perth. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Why has Labour watered down its plans to tackle zero-hour contracts?

The party previously suggested that workers would be offered a fixed-hours contract after 12 weeks. But that period has been extended to a year. 

The only one of the three main Westminster parties that can confidently take the fight to the SNP is Labour. Both the Conservatives and the Lib Dems are now too toxic to do so. North of the border, the Tories have just one seat to Labour's 41, while Nick Clegg's party will be lucky to have many more after May 2015 (psephologist Lewis Baston recently predicted that they would lose 10 of their 11 Scottish constituencies). 

For Ed Miliband, a No vote in the independence referendum is crucial, not just to preserving Labour's Scottish MPs (without whom it would become far harder to govern), but also to reinforcing his argument that a unified, social democratic Britain can be built. Ahead of the vote in September, he has travelled with the shadow cabinet to Glasgow today, as part of two days of campaigning across Scotland - and has brought a new policy along. 

In his speech in Motherwell, he will announce Labour's plans to end the use of "exploitative" zero-hours contracts (which offer no guaranteed work and require workers to be permanently on-call) following the conclusion of an independent review by Norman Pickavance, a former director of Human Resources at Morrisons. He will promise to legislate to ensure that the estimated one million people (3.1 per cent of the workforce) on the contracts are offered:

- The right to demand a fixed-hours contract when they have worked regular hours over six months with the same employer. 

- The right to receive a fixed-hours contract automatically when they have worked regular hours over a year - unless they decide to opt out.

- Protection from employers forcing them to be available at all hours, insisting they cannot work for anyone else, or cancelling shifts at short notice without compensation.

In adopting this stance, Miliband is again smartly positioning Labour to the left of the SNP, which has moved to ban public sector contractors from using the contracts (albeit with some exemptions), but has not announced proposals for the wider private sector. As well as attacking Alex Salmond's party for promising to cut corporation tax by 3p and for refusing to commit to reintroducing the 50p tax rate, he will say: 

The reason the SNP has nothing to say about ending the abuse of zero hours contracts is simple: they know that if Scotland left the UK it would harder to end the abuse of zero hours contracts either here or in what is left of the UK.

Once again, this shows the truth: we can best deliver social justice for working families by working together across the UK with a Labour government in Westminster and a Labour government in Holyrood.

But while Miliband has gone further than the SNP and far further than the coalition (which will shortly publish its response to Vince Cable's consultation) is likely to go, it's worth noting that Labour's policy doesn't just stop short of the outright ban that some in the party, such as Andy Burnham, would like to see, but actually represents a watered down version of previous proposals. 

Back in September, when Miliband addressed the TUC conference, Labour briefed that anyone working for a single employer for more than 12 weeks on a zero-hours contract would be given the automatic right to a full-time contract based on the average time worked over that period. Yet that period has now been extended to 12 months. In other words, workers will now need to wait four times as long for fair treatment. (An additional problem, as the trade unions will be quick to note, is that employers will simply dismiss workers ahead of the deadline before later rehiring them.)

No doubt Pickavance's review concluded that the previous proposals would unreasonably limit employers' flexibility. But if so, Miliband should explain why the rights of the bosses have trumped the rights of the workers. 

Update: A Labour source points out to me that "our original press release back in September, announcing the principles of our proposals and the Pickavance review, didn't actually include the 12 week element, so I wouldn't necessarily see today's announcement as a climb down." He added that "what is announced today goes far further than the government consultation." 

That may all be true, but it is undeniable that the 12 week pledge was briefed to several journalists, including me, back in September. Just check the stories from the time. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Why is it called Storm Doris? The psychological impact of naming a storm

“Homes being destroyed and lives being lost shouldn’t be named after any person.”

“Oh, piss off Doris,” cried the nation in unison this morning. No, it wasn't that everyone's local cantankerous old lady had thwacked our ankles with her stick. This is a different, more aggressive Doris. Less Werther’s, more extreme weathers. Less bridge club, more bridge collapse.

This is Storm Doris.

A storm that has brought snow, rain, and furious winds up to 94mph to parts of the UK. There are severe weather warnings of wind, snow and ice across the entire country.

But the real question here is: why is it called that? And what impact does the new Met Office policy of naming storms have on us?

Why do we name storms?

Storm Doris is the latest protagonist in the Met Office’s decision to name storms, a pilot scheme introduced in winter 2015/16 now in its second year.

The scheme was introduced to draw attention to severe weather conditions in Britain, and raise awareness of how to prepare for them.

How do we name storms?

The Name our Storms initiative invites the public to suggest names for storms. You can do this by tweeting the @metoffice using the #nameourstorms hashtag and your suggestion, through its Facebook page, or by emailing them.

These names are collated along with suggestions from Met Éireann and compiled into a list. These are whittled down into 21 names, according to which were most suggested – in alphabetical order and alternating between male and female names. This is done according to the US National Hurricane Naming convention, which excludes the letters Q, U, X, Y and Z because there are thought to be too few common names beginning with these letters.

They have to be human names, which is why suggestions in this list revealed by Wired – including Apocalypse, Gnasher, Megatron, In A Teacup (or Ena Tee Cup) – were rejected. The Met Office received 10,000 submissions for the 2016/17 season. According to a spokesperson, a lot of people submit their own names.

Only storms that could have a “medium” or “high” wind impact in the UK and Ireland are named. If there are more than 21 storms in a year, then the naming system starts from Alpha and goes through the Greek alphabet.

The names for this year are: Angus (19-20 Nov ’16), Barbara (23-24 Dec 2016), Conor (25-26 Dec 2016), Doris (now), Ewan, Fleur, Gabriel, Holly, Ivor, Jacqui, Kamil, Louise, Malcolm, Natalie, Oisín, Penelope, Robert, Susan, Thomas, Valerie and Wilbert.

Why does this violent storm have the name of an elderly lady?

Doris is an incongruous name for this storm, so why was it chosen? A Met Office spokesperson says they were just at that stage in their list of names, and there’s no link between the nature of the storm and its name.

But do people send cosy names for violent weather conditions on purpose? “There’s all sorts in there,” a spokesperson tells me. “People don’t try and use cosy names as such.”

What psychological impact does naming storms have on us?

We know that giving names to objects and animals immediately gives us a human connection with them. That’s why we name things we feel close to: a pet owner names their cat, a sailor names their boat, a bore names their car. We even name our virtual assistants –from Microsoft’s Clippy to Amazon’s Alexa.

This gives us a connection beyond practicality with the thing we’ve named.

Remember the response of Walter Palmer, the guy who killed Cecil the Lion? “If I had known this lion had a name and was important to the country or a study, obviously I wouldn’t have taken it,” he said. “Nobody in our hunting party knew before or after the name of this lion.”

So how does giving a storm a name change our attitude towards it?

Evidence suggests that we take it more seriously – or at least pay closer attention. A YouGov survey following the first seven named storms in the Met Office’s scheme shows that 55 per cent of the people polled took measures to prepare for wild weather after hearing that the oncoming storm had been named.

“There was an immediate acceptance of the storm names through all media,” said Gerald Fleming, Head of Forecasting at Met Éireann, the Irish metereological service. “The severe weather messages were more clearly communicated.”

But personalising a storm can backfire. A controversial US study in 2014 by PNAC (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences) claimed that hurricanes with female names lead to higher death tolls – the more “feminine” the name, like Belle or Cindy, the higher the death toll. This is not because female names are attached to more severe storms; it is reportedly because people take fewer steps to prepare for storms with names they perceive to be unintimidating or weak.

“In judging the intensity of a storm, people appear to be applying their beliefs about how men and women behave,” Sharon Shavitt, a co-author of the study, told the FT at the time. “This makes a female-named hurricane . . . seem gentler and less violent.”

Names have social connotations, and affect our subconscious. Naming a storm can raise awareness of it, but it can also affect our behaviour towards it.

What’s it like sharing a name with a deadly storm?

We should also spare a thought for the impact sharing a name with a notorious weather event can have on a person. Katrina Nicholson, a nurse who lives in Glasgow, says it was “horrible” when the 2005 hurricane – one of the fifth deadliest ever in the US – was given her name.

“It was horrible having something so destructive associated with my name. Homes being destroyed and lives being lost shouldn’t be named after any person,” she tells me over email. “I actually remember at the time meeting an American tourist on a boat trip in Skye and when he heard my name he immediately linked it to the storm – although he quickly felt guilty and then said it was a lovely name! I think to this day there will be many Americans who hate my name because of it.”

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.