Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. Our response to the pensions challenge is still locked in its infancy (Daily Telegraph)

Ed Balls has won praise for addressing Britain’s old age problem, but he must go further, says Mary Riddell. 

2. Labour’s great surrender on public spending (Times)

By accepting Osborne’s spending plans it’s clear that all the main parties will have to make dramatic cuts, writes Daniel Finkelstein. 

3. The overstated inflation danger (Financial Times)

A high rate may be a risk in the very long run – but right now the risk is that it may be too low, writes Martin Wolf.

4. To combat tax avoidance, tough talk is not enough (Guardian)

David Cameron must deliver a concrete plan of action at the G8 summit, says Margaret Hodge. It's a crucial test of his leadership.

5. Erdogan’s focus should be his own party (Financial Times)

The real action will now take place in the Turkish prime minister’s AKP, writes David Gardner.

6. NSA surveillance: The US is behaving like China (Guardian)

Both governments think they are doing what is best for the state and people, says Ai Weiwei. But, as I know, such abuse of power can ruin lives.

7. Thames Water avoiding tax is the final insult (Daily Mail)

These firms have exploited Britain’s soft-touch regulation, and the fear of successive governments of intervening to protect consumers, writes Alex Brummer. 

8. Once again, the nationalists decide independence is all about sharing (Daily Telegraph)

Picking and choosing on pensions shows the SNP's determination to pretend breaking up Britain would be pain free, says Alan Cochrane. 

9. Time for a rethink on GM crops (Independent)

The dire prophecies of Frankenstein foods have not come to pass, says an Independent editorial. 

10. Tax cutters should welcome a bit of state intervention (Times)

Social breakdown drives much of the growth in spending, writes Ruth Porter. 

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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