Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. Miliband needs to be bolder on EU and immigration (Daily Telegraph)

Instead of offering a strong lead, the Labour Party leader risks giving the initiative to the Tories, says Mary Riddell.

2. Europe: no more talk of in-or-out. Let's think opt-outs (Guardian)

The EU treaties are not fit for purpose, but leaving makes no sense, says Simon Jenkins. Negotiation is possible without risking free trade.

3. Don’t be the PM who takes us out of Europe (Times) (£)

David Miliband imagines what advice John Major might offer David Cameron.

4. Japan should rethink its stimulus (Financial Times)

The real problem is a return to deflation and an overvalued currency, says Adam Posen.

5. The big chains simply cannot rival the choice or the price of online retailers (Daily Mail)

The high street as we knew it, and perhaps in some cases even loved it, is becoming history, writes Simon Heffer.

6. Towards a fairer capitalism: let's burst the 1% bubble (Guardian)

Talk of a more moral capitalism is just hot air unless we rehabilitate and reward the idea of value creation, writes Mariana Mazzucato.

7. Don't let HMV drown in the Amazon (Independent)

A scaled-down operation that adopts more of the "niche" principles of modern business thinking could yet thrive, says an Independent editorial.

8. Berlin slows down (Financial Times)

It is time for German companies to end pay restraint, argues an FT editorial.

9. The BA Christian case was judged rightly, and a true test of tolerance (Guardian)

Nadia Eweida's religious reasons for wearing a cross at work should not have been trampled on by BA's uniform policy, argues Andrew Brown.

10. We should not pay a penny of RBS’s fraud fine (Independent)

The cost, which could rise above £300m, should come out of the bankers' bonus pool, writes Andreas Whittam Smith.

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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