Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. In France, Hollande is losing the battle for the eurozone (Guardian)

The president's woes matter outside France, says Jonathan Fenby. The failure of his anti-austerity pledge has left the balance of power with Germany.

2. Heroes and history keep red flags flying high (Times)

Manchester United’s global appeal is fuelled by ideals and romance, which also sustains parties of the left, writes Tim Montgomerie.

3. Britain now has one selfish class (Financial Times)

There is no sense of mission to this modern middle class, writes Tristram Hunt.

4. Migrants get jobs because they work harder than us (Daily Telegraph)

Labour’s education policies left our young people lacking the skills or ambition to compete, writes Boris Johnson.

5. The UN should put North Korea in the dock at the Hague (Guardian)

The UN should treat Kim Jong-un's threat as a crime against humanity, and refer it to the ICC, says Geoffrey Robertson.

6. Don’t get violins out for useless bankers (Sun)

Every saver in Britain needs to know they can rely on the measures promised and introduced since the last crash to protect them from the next, says Trevor Kavanagh. 

7. Timid US visa reform will deter workers (Financial Times)

The H1B visa manages to annoy everyone, writes Edward Luce.

8. Lee Halpin's tragic story shows the terrible plight of the homeless - but does anybody care? (Independent)

We are slyly slipping back from the caring society that founded Crisis and Shelter to one holding Victorian attitudes to work, poverty and misfortune, says Yasmin Alibhai Brown.

9. Warning. This article on gay marriage contains optimism (Guardian)

Gay rights' first activists never imagined that it would go politically mainstream, as it has now, says Gary Younge. But they fought anyway.

10. It is too late to preserve the old Royal Mail (Daily Telegraph)

Campaigners are right to say that the postal services are in jeopardy, but it is difficult to make the case for a rethink when privatisation is long overdue, says a Telegraph editorial. 

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How a small tax rise exposed the SNP's anti-austerity talk for just that

The SNP refuse to use their extra powers to lessen austerity, says Kezia Dugdale.

"We will demand an alternative to slash and burn austerity."

With those few words, Nicola Sturgeon sought to reassure the people of England, Wales and Northern Ireland last year that the SNP were a party opposed to public spending cuts. We all remember the general election TV debates, where the First Minister built her celebrity as the leader of the anti-austerity cause.

Last week, though, she was found out. When faced with the choice between using the powers of the Scottish Parliament to invest in the future or imposing cuts to our schools, Nicola Sturgeon chose cuts. Incredible as it sounds the SNP stood shoulder to shoulder with the Tories to vote for hundreds of millions of pounds worth of cuts to schools and other vital public services, rather than asking people to pay a little bit more to invest. That's not the choice of an anti-austerity pin-up. It's a sell-out.

People living outside of Scotland may not be fully aware of the significant shift that has taken place in politics north of the border in the last week. The days of grievance and blaming someone else for decisions made in Scotland appear to be coming to an end.

The SNP's budget is currently making its way through the Scottish Parliament. It will impose hundreds of millions of pounds of cuts to local public services - including our schools. We don't know what cuts the SNP are planning for future years because they are only presenting a one year budget to get them through the election, but we know from the experts that the biggest cuts are likely to come in 2017/18 and 2018/19. For unprotected budgets like education that could mean cuts of 16 per cent.

It doesn't have to be this way, though. The Scottish Parliament has the power to stop these cuts, if only we have the political will to act. Last week I did just that.

I set out a plan, using the new powers we have today, to set a Scottish rate of income tax 1p higher than that set by George Osborne. This would raise an extra half a billion pounds, giving us the chance to stop the cuts to education and other services. Labour would protect education funding in real terms over the next five years in Scotland. Faced with the choice of asking people to pay a little bit more to invest or carrying on with the SNP's cuts, the choice was pretty simple for me - I won't support cuts to our nation’s future prosperity.

Being told by commentators across the political spectrum that my plan is bold should normally set alarm bells ringing. Bold is usually code for saying something unpopular. In reality, it's pretty simple - how can I say I am against cuts but refuse to use the powers we have to stop them?

Experts - including Professors David Bell and David Eiser of the University of Stirling; the Resolution Foundation; and IPPR Scotland - have said our plan is fair because the wealthiest few would pay the most. Trade unions have backed our proposal, because they recognise the damage hundreds of millions of pounds of cuts will do to our schools and the jobs it will cost.

Council leaders have said our plan to pay £100 cashback to low income taxpayers - including pensioners - to ensure they benefit from this plan is workable.

The silliest of all the SNP's objections is that they won't back our plan because the poorest shouldn't have to pay the price of Tory austerity. The idea that imposing hundreds of millions of pounds of spending cuts on our schools and public services won't make the poorest pay is risible. It's not just the poorest who will lose out from cuts to education. Every single family and business in Scotland would benefit from having a world class education system that gives our young the skills they need to make their way in the world.

The next time we hear Nicola Sturgeon talk up her anti-austerity credentials, people should remember how she did nothing when she had the chance to end austerity. Until now it may have been acceptable to say you are opposed to spending cuts but doing nothing to stop them. Those days are rapidly coming to a close. It makes for the most important, and most interesting, election we’ve had in Scotland.

Kezia Dugdale is leader of Scottish Labour.