Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

Morning Call: pick of the papers The ten must-read comment pieces from this morning's papers. 1. 2012: the year we did our best to abandon the natural world (Guardian)

Emissions are rising, ice is melting and yet the response of governments is simply to pretend that none of it is happening, says George Mobiot.

2. Now's the moment for mindfulness (Telegraph)

Make a fresh start in 2013 with the acclaimed technique that clears your head of information overload and allows you to focus on the present, says Judith Woods.

3. We risk a repeat of Dr Beeching’s mistakes (Times)(£)

The man who closed railway lines was right to make cuts, but missed the need to invest in a modern network, says Andrew Adonis.

4. In 2013, seismic events will shape the Middle East (FT) (£)

The region offers no respite to international or local actors, writes David Gardner.

5. Women: don’t even think of applying to this orchestra (Times)(£)

One female player had nine years on probation after having children, writes Neil Fisther.

6. A US warning for the Conservatives: pander to Ukip at your peril(Guardian)

Courting Tea Party voters cost Romney the election. If Cameron isn't careful, Farage's party could cause similar havoc here, says John Kampfner.

7. The Magna Carta: an old piece of parchment that made England a nation – let's celebrate it(Telegraph)

The 800th anniversary of Magna Carta, in 2015, is fast approaching, and we should do it justice, says Philip Johnston.

8. Forty years on, the benefits of EU membership are no longer compelling (Independent)

Then we thought it was a matter of economics, not politics - and we still do today - but the rest of Europe doesn't, says Dominic Lawson.

9. 2013 brings grounds for Tory optimism (Daily Mail)

The Mail remains optimistic that 2013 could be a good year for David Cameron and his party.

10. The lost boys of Sudan's civil war (Independent)

Thousands of children were separated from their families and forced to become soldiers in a country ravaged by war, reports Dan Howden.

 

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.

0800 7318496