Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. What Nick Clegg doesn't know can still get him into trouble (Guardian)

The Lib Dems' handling of harassment claims has so far been shameful, says Gaby Hinsliff. Their inquiries had best follow their brief – and dig.

2. The Chancellor’s not for turning – or sacking (Times) (£)

The Moody’s downgrading ought to shame our entire political class, who have blocked George Osborne’s plans, says Tim Montgomerie.

3. As Tory austerity inflicts misery on millions, Labour should articulate their alternative to Osbornomics (Independent)

Osborne’s failure must not lead to yet another bout of austerity under Labour, writes Owen Jones.

4. One thing’s clear about Eastleigh: it’ll be a wretched day for Labour (Daily Telegraph)

The magnificent Maria may see off the yellow peril, but Miliband’s man is already down and out, writes Boris Johnson.

5. Sexual claims: institutional failings (Guardian)

Uncertainty about how to proceed after serious allegations are made seems a disturbingly common institutional response, notes a Guardian editorial.

6. Hoist by his own petard... but this is no disaster (Daily Mail)

What sets the UK apart is that we have never, in our entire history, failed to pay back our debt, writes Alex Brummer.

7. Coalition facing a beastly Eastleigh (Sun)

Defeat for either the Lib Dems or the Tories will raise the odds on a coalition split sooner rather than later, says Trevor Kavanagh. 

8. How David Cameron can get more women into politics (Guardian)

 If he wants more female MPs, the prime minister must look at introducing job sharing to help them juggle family and career, says Sarah Wollaston. 

9.. The cyber age demands new rules of war (Financial Times)

A system to check covert violence is needed, writes Zbigniew Brzezinski.

10. How did modern Islam become so intolerant? (Independent)

No injustice can excuse or explain the rise of brutal Islamists, says Yasmin Alibhai Brown.

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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