Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. Why Iain Duncan Smith is no longer a quiet man but a dangerous one (Guardian)

His response to the damning NAO report on universal credit shows that he appears to rely on his gut feeling rather than facts, says Marina Hyde.

2. The west needs a replacement for the warrior spirit (Financial Times) (£)

Warfare and welfare have long been connected, writes Mark Mazower.

3. False feminists want to make abortion harder (Times) (£)

There is no ‘gendercide’ problem with baby girls in Britain, just the agenda of anti-choice zealots, argues Janice Turner.

4. Syria crisis: The teetering balance of power has whole region on edge (Independent)

Israel’s position is firmly based on its own self-interests, writes Patrick Cockburn.

5. How’s the economy? Don’t ask economists (Times) (£)

The recent good news may be welcome but it certainly wasn’t predicted by a slew of so-called experts, says Matthew Parris.

6. What next for our 'small island’ and its dwindling Armed Forces? (Telegraph)

Our political leaders’ cloying rhetoric masks a confusion about what Britain is fighting for, writes Charles Moore.

7. Ed Miliband's tormentors ignore the constraints of leadership (Guardian)

His critics show a wilful misunderstanding of what it means to lead the opposition and the responsibilities it brings, says Steve Richards.

8. Memo to our leaders: real men take responsibility (Independent)

The people of Britain are heartily sick of macho posturing on the part of public figures, argues Yasmin Alibhai-Brown.

9. One signature by Assad could help to avert the bombing (Times) (£)

Getting him to sign the chemical weapons convention is an alternative to war, says Gabrielle Rifkind.

10. Gordon Brown is right – but for all the wrong reasons (Telegraph)

The former Labour leader came out of purdah to argue against the SNP, says Graeme Archer.

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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