Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. The Pope can quit but it won't erase his complicity in his Church's crimes (Independent)

Letters from Cardinal Ratzinger have emerged in several US court cases, always protective of rapist priests, writes Geoffrey Robertson.

2. Jeremy Hunt's smoke and mirrors will not solve the care crisis (Guardian)

With no useful solution, the government should have left this snake's nest alone, says Polly Toynbee.

3. Horsemeat: Regulation doesn’t taste so bad now, does it? (Independent)

The question is no longer over the FSA’s existence but over whether it is powerful enough, writes Steve Richards.

4. Budget poker: Osborne needs a trump card (Times) (£)

There are rumblings of discontent from all sides as the Chancellor tries to improve on last year’s 'omnishambles', writes Rachel Sylvester.

5. A betrayal of Tory values that shatters the hopes of ordinary families (Daily Mail)

George Osborne had a dream of removing owners of family homes from inheritance tax, writes Stephen Glover. Now, in full possession of his faculties, he has decided to make them pay even more.

6. A rare sighting of good news in Europe (Financial Times)

The gloom that has haunted the region has lifted slightly, writes Gideon Rachman.

7. Why is it the state’s job to pay for our care? (Daily Telegraph)

There’s no 'scandal’ in selling a family home that has benefited from soaring house prices, says Philip Johnston.

8. Obama faces State of the Union test (Financial Times)

It is time for a serious overhaul of the US tax system, says an FT editorial.

9. Benedict, the placeholder pope who leaves a battered, weakened church (Guardian)

As John Paul II's right-hand man, he watched the papacy fall into decrepitude, writes Andrew Brown. He had no wish to follow suit.

10. Inheritance tax freeze proves Osborne is not a master strategist after all (Independent)

The Chancellor's 2007 pledge has been allowed to slip away with barely a murmur, notes an Independent editorial.

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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