Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. While dubious mortality rates grab headlines, NHS privatisation gallops on (Guardian)

The ferocity of the battle over 'dangerous' hospitals was not synthetic, says Polly Toynbee. The future of the NHS itself is under attack.

2. German fear of past jeopardises Europe (Financial Times)

The onus is on Berlin is to show it is ready to lead, writes Mark Mazower.

3. The world must learn from India’s two nations (Times)

The fatal poisoning of 23 children shows that growth and democracy are not enough, writes Philip Collins. You need good government too.

4. We have to wean the country off the drug of immigration (Daily Telegraph)

Education and welfare reforms, not imported labour, are the way to solve our mounting debt, argues Fraser Nelson.

5. David Cameron has failed to resist the lunchtime lobbyists' lure (Guardian)

In opposition, he saw the scandal coming, writes Simon Jenkins. But in office the PM has cosied up to corporate figures like Lynton Crosby.

6. Italy must throw out its racist politics (Financial Times)

The nation is stranded in the past regarding gender and racial equality, writes Philip Stephens.

7. Bad news: house prices are bubbling up again (Times)

The latest forecast is a 13% rise, writes Ed Conway. But will voters thank Osborne for stoking up the market?

8. Better a turbocharged backbencher than a ministerial drudge (Daily Telegraph)

A rebellious MP can have more effect on the direction of the party than an obedient minister, says Isabel Hardman.

9. Red Ed's picked this union dinosaur to clean up Labour's vote rigging scandal (Daily Mail)

Ray Collins is indelibly associated with corrupt elections and smears, says Andrew Pierce.

10. There is no ‘golden age’ for Malala to return to in Pakistan (Independent)

The message is simple: everything Malala has learned is wrong, writes Peter Popham. 

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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