Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. Ed Miliband is standing firm on Syria, but is he caught in a trap? (Daily Telegraph)

Labour is haunted by Iraq, but doing nothing as catastrophe unfolds brings its own risks, writes Mary Riddell.

2. The toxic legacy of the Greek crisis (Financial Times)

That Greece was the first to fall into trouble gave weight to the view that the crisis was fiscal, writes Martin Wolf.

3. Big ideas can be bad ideas - even in the age of the thinktank (Guardian)

Forget the US model. British academics should aspire to offer more than just intellectual fig leaves for policymakers, writes Mark Mazower.

4. What’s to be gained from arming the rebels? (Times)

Whether or not Britain takes sides in Syria, these are the issues facing military analysts, writes Roger Boyes.

5. Britain's response to the NSA story? Back off and shut up (Guardian)

Snowden's revelations are causing outrage in the US, writes Simon Jenkins. In the UK, Hague deploys a police-state defence and the media is silenced.

6. We must never forget our debt to America (Times)

Ahead of Barack Obama’s speech in Berlin we should remember that the US made the choice to protect Europe, says Daniel Finkelstein.

7. Russia has mixed motives in Syria (Financial Times)

To ordinary people, a defeat of the rebels is seen as a victory over the west, writes Andrei Nekrasov.

8. Did Stuart Hall's victims relive their agony just for this? (Daily Mail)

Hall's lenient sentence shows judges learnt nothing from Savile, says Yasmin Alibhai-Brown.

9. Co-op structures don’t solve all management issues (Independent)

We must make the shareholder-owned model work as well as possible, says Hamish McRae.

10. It's now time we reaped the rewards of GM crops (Daily Telegraph)

A disastrous harvest ahead and poor productivity mean farmers need all the help they can get, says Philip Johnston.

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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