Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. Xi Jinping and Barack Obama: two leaders facing very different crises (Guardian)

China's new leader faces deeper challenges than the US President, writes Timothy Garton Ash. We must hope they are met: it could be a matter of war and peace.

2. A good day for Cameron, but a rout for the Tory right’s vision (Daily Telegraph)

Cameron and Osborne must learn from Mitt Romney’s defeat and rethink Conservative election strategy for 2015, says Peter Oborne.

3. Obama shattered the GOP’s delusions (Financial Times)

Republicans have been evicted from their state of denial, writes Simon Schama.

4. Barack Obama's second term: change he can believe in (Guardian)

The change that Obama heralded before his first term as president may finally be on its way, says a Guardian editorial.

5. Beware a modern Salem over child abuse (Times) (£)

Pursuing witch hunts is as dangerous as ignoring victims, writes David Aaronovitch. Don’t launch inquiries on the back of lurid claims.

6. President has allies to unlock Congress (Financial Times)

Obama and businesses seeking stability can help each other out of a fix, writes John Gapper.

7. The debate about wealth must start with morals (Guardian)

We often end up arguing for equality on the basis of outcomes, rather than principle, writes Zoe Williams. But decent pay is only fair.

8. It’s time for a Republican Party clear-out (Daily Telegraph)

The party's sound economic policies are being drowned out by the strident voices of dubious fringe figures, writes Anne Applebaum.

9. Obama's victory is a triumph for science over superstition (Independent)

Karl Rove, and the delusional wing of the Republican party, will be forced still deeper into their reality-defying bunker, writes Matthew Norman.

10. New dawn? This looks more like a new dusk (Daily Mail)

The second Obama term will increase the deficit, further diminishing America’s economic power and credibility, says Simon Heffer.

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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