A stunning piece in the Telegraph eventually ran away with the vote in our British Loony Of The Week poll at the weekend. But what we didn’t realise at the time was that we were in fact only conducting the first semi-final. We’ve got two more absolute crackers for you to enjoy today.
As our Twitter followers will know, we’ve experimentally decided to reserve Saturdays for light-hearted comic banter, as a bit of relief from the serious business of politics.
Of course, this week politics has been so absurd – from “Better Together” deciding it was Better Apart to Gordon Brown promising Scots that if they vote No he’d increase their taxes and send the money to England, and the still-ongoing Faragemageddon – that it hardly seems necessary, but we’ll stick with the plan.
With that in mind, then, it’s time for… British Loony Of The Week!
We’ve spoken before on this site about a couple of political concepts based around different ways of winning votes by bombarding the electorate with untruths so relentlessly that they come to be accepted as fact.
One of them, the “Big Lie”, was a term infamously coined by Hitler to describe a strategy regularly deployed by the Nazis in which a falsehood would be perpetrated which was so diametrically and spectacularly at odds with the reality, people would instinctively reject the thought that anyone would have the bare-faced audacity to say it if it wasn’t true, and therefore it must be.
Language needs some kind of brand new term, though, to accurately encapsulate the magnitude of what Scottish Labour have just tried to pull off.
Your jaw just drops sometimes at the sheer cheek of it.
“I am pleased that this impartial body has [...] rejected the nationalist attempts to silence their opponents by setting spending limits that would have given them an unfair advantage.” – No campaign leader Alistair Darling, in a post on the “Better Together” site today.
Remember: the “nationalists” wanted to let the No campaign spend £250,000 more than the Yes campaign - a funny kind of “silencing” and a quite unusual definition of “advantage”, let alone “unfair”. Instead, the Electoral Commission has recommended that the Yes campaign be allowed to spend more than its opponents. We’re trying for all we’re worth to work out why Mr Darling considers that a victory.
For goodness’ sake. Despite believing we’d laid the issue to rest once and for all, we’re STILL getting comments and tweets from readers who haven’t grasped Alistair Darling’s simple, straightforward explanation of whether Scotland’s decision in the independence referendum would be irreversible and forever, or whether we would instead quickly and inevitably find ourselves back in the Union.
Since you clearly found our previous quotes from the “Better Together” chairman inexplicably ambiguous, we’ve gone back and found a couple more from the same interview that should DEFINITELY clear things up.
We must admit, we thought Ian Davidson would be a shoo-in for this particular award after his unforgettable implosion on Newsnight Scotland in August. But then we read something twice as mad and half as comprehensible. It was a piece from STV News in October, based on some comments by unfortunately-named Scottish Labour “deputy” leader and hereditary MP Anas Sarwar. We’ve read it eight or nine times now, and we still have genuinely not the slightest clue what he’s wittering on about.
We’re going to step through it line-by-line and see if we can get it to make any sense. Feel free to join in if you’ve got any ideas, because we’re stumped.
This is what our dear old pal, the arch-loyal true-believer Scottish Labour activist Duncan Hothersall, appears to believe happened (or rather, didn’t happen) yesterday:
This is what actually did happen:
“Alex Salmond is quick to point to the high levels of welfare in Scandinavia but those universal benefits are paid for by high levels of taxation. Scotland cannot be the only something for nothing country in the world. And I will not tolerate a country where the poorest pay for the tax breaks for the rich.”
- Johann Lamont, 25 September 2012
We’re trying really hard, but for the life of us we can’t formulate an interpretation of those words that ISN’T saying universal benefits in Scotland are “something for nothing”, and that DOESN’T attack them on the grounds that they represent a subsidy of the rich by the poor. Can any keen students of doublethink help us out?
You tend to expect legal professionals to be a bit more careful with their words than this. Over the last few days we’ve been documenting the bizarre mental collapse of staunch Scottish Labour activist Ian Smart, a practising solicitor from Cumbernauld who’s managed to arrive at the conclusion that there won’t be an independence referendum at all, but if there is and there’s a Yes vote then Scotland will almost instantly degenerate into a poverty-stricken fascist dictatorship with no elections, 100% unemployment, compulsory Gaelic in schools and cannibalism in the streets.
We don’t plan to carry on doing so beyond today, because right now it’s starting to feel like laughing at a car crash while the fire brigade are still frantically trying to saw bodies out before the petrol tank goes up. But the extraordinary breakdown Mr Smart suffered late last night on his Twitter account isn’t an isolated incident among Labour figures at the moment, and we’re a bit worried there could be a toxic leak of some sort in the water system at John Smith House which might harm innocent visitors.
We’re quite cynical folks, especially when it comes to Scottish Labour. We expect little from them, although even then we’re still sometimes surprised. But a couple of pieces today from two of the Scottish party’s most prominent – well, let’s use the word “thinkers” and keep things civil – raised our eyebrows good and proper.
We’ve mentioned previously that one of the core tactics the No camp appears to be utilising in the referendum debate is that of attrition through extremism. It’s a strategy borrowed from the terrifying American right wing, and has two main goals.
One is to recalibrate the perceived centre-ground by abandoning any kind of moderate position and instead arguing positions so self-evidently ludicrous and dishonest that the listener is nudged towards assuming that they must be true purely on the grounds that nobody would dare to present such an audacious lie with a straight face. The other is to simply exhaust your opponents by forcing them to constantly battle over even the most basic and obvious facts, long before you get to the real debating points.
It’s a nihilistic but clever ploy, particularly effective in broadcast media where time is often very limited and such obfuscatory stalling can completely prevent the serious issues from being addressed at all. So far it seems to be pretty much the only weapon in Scottish Labour’s armoury, not just in respect of the referendum but also politics generally – a good example being the party’s absurd claims about the cost of knife crime during the 2011 election campaign.
It applies at the macro level as well as at the top end of the scale. When we started this blog we subscribed to the Twitter accounts of lots of prominent Labour activists in a naive attempt at engaging in genuine constructive debate, but were gradually forced to the realisation that the primary (or only) point of their dialogue was to deliberately waste our time and exasperate us into submission, and unfollowed them all.
So rather than be drawn into attempting to intelligently and forensically deconstruct three of the most recent outpourings of (calculated) lunacy from some of the No camp’s leading mad old men, we’re going to treat them with the amount of respect they deserve. Read the three articles below, then use your skill and judgement to decide (via the poll over in the central column) who’s the most barking-mad mental.
Strap yourselves in, readers. And scatter some cushions around your chair, because there’s a pretty good chance you’re about to fall off it. Not in surprise, though, because as we predicted yesterday the Scottish media has imposed a near-blanket ban on reporting Labour MP and Scottish Affairs Select Committee chairman Ian Davidson’s astonishing meltdown on Tuesday’s edition of Newsnight Scotland.
The Herald buried a small neutral piece on it yesterday afternoon in an obscure corner of its website, with no bylines and no quotes from any of the parties (in either sense of the word) concerned. Interestingly the exact same story appears word-for-word in the Daily Record, still without attribution, but that’s it for news coverage.
On the BBC website there’s not a peep, even in the Scotland Politics section, despite the direct and savage attack on the Corporation’s prized impartiality. (Political editor Brian Taylor hasn’t graced the site with a blog in six weeks.) Over at the Guardian, the paper’s fearless Scotland correspondent Severin Carrell – normally so keen to cover media matters – felt a five-minute fuss over an advertising poster at Edinburgh Airport was the big Scottish story of the day. And so on.
The Twittersphere was also strangely quiet, or at least the Union-friendly side of it was. Tom Gordon of the Herald and Eddie Barnes of the Scotsman both tried to play the story down as a storm in a teacup (here’s a fun game to play: imagine the Scottish media reaction if Stewart Hosie or Alex Neil had done the same thing, especially during the political slow news season), and every normally-prolific Scottish Labour activist adopted a policy of total radio silence on the subject.
Only Angus Macleod of the Times went public to suggest that Johann Lamont should discipline Davidson for his “bonkers” outburst, while Al Jazeera reporter (and former Scottish Labour senior media adviser) Andrew McFadyen called the performance a “bad misjudgement” directed at “one of the best broadcasters in Scotland”, while noting that the point of politicians giving interviews to TV news programmes is supposed to be “to win people over, not put them off”.
We were just about to congratulate ourselves on our powers of insight when we noticed a link hidden right down at the bottom of the Scotsman’s politics section. “Michael Kelly: Showdown has put BBC objectivity to the test”, it said. We went and made ourselves a drink. “This should be good”, we thought. We weren’t disappointed.