Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. Gloomsters buried the euro too soon (Financial Times)

The end point looks likely to be tighter economic union that falls short of political federalism, writes Philip Stephens.

2. Accountancy's Big Four are laughing all the way to the tax office (Guardian)

Accountancy giants are paid huge sums by the state while helping firms strip it of desperately needed tax revenue, says Polly Toynbee.

3. For Cameron aid is not a badge. It’s a mission (Times) (£)

When the PM is compared to Harold Macmillan it’s usually derogatory, writes Philip Collins. But Africa shows them both at their best.

4. The EU has changed Britain – and mostly for the better (Independent)

Besides the money for infrastructure projects, EU membership has given Brits the chance to see how Europeans do things, and what we could do better, says Mary Dejevsky.

5. Time to protect the UK defence budget (Financial Times)

If necessary, aid spending must be used to shore up the MoD, argues an FT leader.

6. Cameron goes where Blair went before – but at what cost? (Independent)

The Prime Minister's decision to send troops to Mali is the product of an ill-defined nightmare of religious terrorism and "gesture" politics, writes Adrian Hamilton.

7. Our Armed Forces can’t survive on a diet of fudge, Mr Cameron (Daily Telegraph)

If the Prime Minister truly wants to confront the threat from Islamists in Africa, he must find the money to increase the defence budget, says Fraser Nelson.

8. Why can't we British make patriotic films like Spielberg's blockbuster? (Daily Mail)

The director's Lincoln is an unembarrassed hymn to the United States, writes Max Hastings.

9. Try to see economic opportunity in our current difficulties (Daily Telegraph)

Times are hard, but blood-curdling warnings about our financial predicament are wrong, argues Jeremy Warner.

10. We can count hard cash, but what is the value of beauty? (Guardian)

In planning, defenders of nature are 'nimbies', opponents 'vandals', writes Simon Jenkins. To end the shouting match we need a new language.

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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