Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. Nick Clegg is becoming the heir to Blair (Times)

The Liberal Democrat leader is winning admirers by standing against the extremes of left and right, writes Rachel Sylvester.

2. Missiles alone cannot secure US credibility (Financial Times)

Obama has grasped the superior power of economic strength, says Gideon Rachman.

3. The long arm of Plebgate (Guardian)

The never-ending police inquiry into the treatment of Andrew Mitchell should be of concern to all democrats, says Chris Mullin.

4. Why the Mail stands shoulder to shoulder with the BBC... (Daily Mail)

The remedy being widely canvassed at Westminster is an assault on freedom of expression that should horrify all lovers of liberty, says a Daily Mail editorial.

5. Why the Lib Dems are doomed to be unpopular – and also powerful (Independent)

Clegg and his party still have cause for hope, but it has little to do with the polls, writes Steve Richards.

6. Full-face veils aren't barbaric – but our response can be (Guardian)

The veil is a perfectly proper subject for debate in a liberal democracy – so long as Muslim women are not excluded, says Maleiha Malik.

7. Vote on EU will not help Cameron’s critics (Financial Times)

The polls show a dwindling of the salience of the issue – it grips a minority and bores the rest, writes Janan Ganesh.

8. Iran and the Bomb (Times)

The west is right to seek a diplomatic solution with Tehran to defuse an emerging nuclear threat, argues a Times editorial.

9. iPhone 5S: has Apple given up on innovation? (Guardian)

Once a company renowned for breaking new ground, Apple is turning into a typical American corporation, writes Aditya Chakrabortty.

10. Who lets murderers out of jail to do it again? (Daily Telegraph)

The safety of the public is woefully neglected by our prison and probation services, writes 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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