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I'm a Remainer - should I vote Lib Dem or Labour?

Who will provide a more effective opposition to the Brexit government?

So you've figured out that the chances of Prime Minister Jeremy Corbyn are slimmer than Peter Bone on a diet. But you're also a proud Remoaner and you're not about to let Cruella de May and her 329 Tory MPs march all over the next five years of your hopes and dreams. Which prompts a dilemma: Who are you going to vote for? Labour or Lib Dem? 

If you want the party of the 48 per cent (and you're in England or Wales - I'll consider the rest of the UK later), the Lib Dems want you. Minutes after Theresa May announced the early election, Lib Dem leader Tim Farron declared: "If you want to avoid a disastrous Hard Brexit. If you want to keep Britain in the single market. If you want a Britain that is open, tolerant and united, this is your chance. Only the Liberal Democrats can prevent a Conservative majority."

The Lib Dems have already proved they can turn a blue constituency yellow in the Richmond by-election, when Sarah Olney trounced the Tory princeling and Brexiteer Zac Goldsmith. 

But can they do it on a national scale? As my colleague Patrick has written here, the Lib Dem revival is exactly that - a recovery from the dark days of 2015, when voters turned on them and threw out many of liberalism's biggest beasts. And some of the winners of that backlash - Neil Coyle in Southwark, Daniel Zeichner in Cambridge - were Labour. So while the option for Remainers in a constituency currently represented by a Brexiteer Tory may be clear, elsewhere it is not so simple. 

If Labour did better than is sometimes remembered in 2015, it is struggling now. Most Labour MPs voted in favour of the Article 50 Bill, and shadow Chancellor John McDonnell once admitted the opposition party's ability to shape a softer Brexit deal is based on "moral pressure". It has shown itself ready to compromise on free movement. While only Kate Hoey has felt the need to re-enact Titanic on a boat with Nigel Farage, the rhetoric of some Labour MPs in private could be mistaken for Ukip. 

On the other hand, Labour MPs who have been vocal Remainers are already annoyed about the "vote Lib Dem" brigade. After all, some of them have already made sacrifices on the altar of a soft Brexit. Jo Stevens, the Labour MP for Cardiff Central, resigned from the shadow cabinet over the Article 50 vote, as did Clive Lewis, until then tipped as an heir to Corbyn. 

So what should the conscientious Remainer do? Well, the most practical way to steer the government away from a hard Brexit is to have an effective opposition. Even though Labour has ruled out a progressive alliance, the SNP, Labour, the Lib Dems, the Greens and even some liberal Tories are collaborating to block the government's most hardline measures. If you, like me, think the next Parliament will be dominated by the Leave-Remain debate, then a lot of those mini alliances will centre on Brexit. 

In our first past the post system, where the winner takes all, the first question to ask, if you feel the call of the Yellow Bird, is: am I going to split the progressive vote for the benefit of the Tories? 

Say - to quote a thousand Lib Dem leaflets - it really does look like a two-horse race, then the next question is: which individual will be more effective at scrutinising Brexit? Let's face it, if your incumbent MP is Kate Hoey, the answer is "basically anyone". If, on the other hand, your MP is Chuka Umunna, a Europhile who is deeply involved in the Brexitsceptic Open Britain, and could still yet lead the Labour party, then voting against him is as daft as quitting the single market over the colour of your passport. This goes for Tories too. Conservative critics of the government like Nicky Morgan and Ken Clarke are worth a dozen Labour MPs because they undermine their party's unity and say what many of their colleagues are thinking. You can always release your inner Lib Dem by knocking on doors elsewhere.

Finally, what about voters in Scotland, where the pro-EU SNP dominate, or Northern Ireland, which is about as simple as a Rubik's Cube? In Scotland, the fightback is likely to come from the Tories. Voters will have to decide which union they feel more deeply about - the UK or the EU. (The one remaining Labour MP, Ian Murray, for the record, is definitely in the pro-EU Labour camp)

As for Northern Ireland, Sinn Fein MPs don't take up their seats at Westminster (unluckily for Remain voters, MPs from the Democratic Unionist Party, who do, also embraced Brexit). The moderate nationalist Social Democratic and Labour party does, while the moderate Ulster Unionist Party backed Remain. However, with Northern Ireland's power-sharing in crisis, voters may understandably have more on their minds than Brexit. 

Julia Rampen is the digital news editor of the New Statesman (previously editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog). She has also been deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines. 

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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