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.
Michael Kelly in the Scotsman, insisting that an independent Scotland having its own defence forces is a hilarious joke
Alan Cochrane in the Telegraph, burbling about Alex Salmond sacrificing the referendum in return for more powers
Ian Smart in his shed, banging his worn-out drum of how Salmond doesn’t want to have a referendum in the first place
We’ve referenced “The Big Lie” before on Wings Over Scotland. As that link explains, it’s a propaganda technique invented by Adolf Hitler in order to convince people of particularly enormous untruths. It’s one often employed by the Unionist parties, especially Labour – to name but one example, their persistent labelling of the SNP as “Tartan Tories”, despite the independently-assessed facts that the SNP are considerably to the left of Labour on the political spectrum, and that on an equally impartial policy-convergence test it’s Labour who are by far the closest of all Scotland’s parties to the Conservatives in terms of ideology.
But while in the internet age the Big Lie is harder to get away with, recently Labour and its ever-compliant friends in the Scottish media have begun to utilise a subtle twist on the method – the Big Lie Made Up Of Many Small Lies. This new variant can be seen most clearly in this weekend’s co-ordinated, manufactured outbreak of outrage about the Scottish Government’s consultation on the independence referendum.
Scotland On Sunday went with the story first, in an embarrassingly transparent and incoherent piece from Tom Peterkin, and the Scotsman clearly thought the “scandal” good enough to also lead with it on today’s front page, under the gibberish headline “Nationalists anonymous spark new referendum dispute“.
(Is “Nationalists Anonymous” some sort of support group for Labour, Lib Dem and Tory members who back independence? If so, their name is a proper noun and really ought to have both of its words capitalised.)
The Herald also runs a front-page lead on the same topic, entitled “Salmond accused of rigging poll feedback“, and it was the main item on The Sunday Politics Scotland, with Scottish Labour’s de facto leader Anas Sarwar given lots of airtime to attack the SNP’s increasingly effective Stewart Hosie on the allegations (who comported himself extremely well, and is fast becoming one of the party’s most reliable assets).
But the reason the Big Lie Made Up Of Many Small Lies is an effective technique is that it makes it considerably harder for the victim of the lie(s) to refute it/them, simply because it’s hard to know where to start. To illustrate the point, let’s see if we can break down this particular Big Lie (“The SNP are rigging the consultation!”) into just some of its component parts.
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The Unionist parties aren’t completely stupid. While we all know that one of their core arguments against independence is that Scotland is too wee, too poor and too stupid to survive without the rest of the UK, they’re not quite daft enough to be caught coming out and bluntly saying it in those terms.
So they were faced with a tricky dilemma with the release of the latest GERS figures last week, which showed that Scotland contributed over £2bn more to the UK economy in the 2009/10 fiscal year than it got back in UK Government spending. (And that figure itself neglects a number of large discrepancies in the figures, where money considered as “Scottish spending” isn’t actually spent in Scotland at all, such as almost a billion pounds on defence alone.)
One approach is to get friendly journalists to print unchallenged quotes and then use them in your headlines. The other, not-unrelated strategy is to spin the figures in such a way that Scotland subsidising the rest of the UK somehow sounds like the exact opposite – or as the Herald’s story put it, “Labour, Tory and Liberal Democrat politicians claimed the report proved Scotland was better off within the UK.”
The job of explaining this remarkable distortion of the truth fell to the unfortunate Ken Macintosh, finance spokesman for Scottish Labour, who was shoved onto Newsnight Scotland on March 7th to explain why Scotland having more money on the plus side of its books would be a bad thing. It was a tough line to push, and poor Ken was forced to begin by trying to convince viewers that he didn’t understand the basic concept of how arithmetic works. Let’s break down his comments and see how he did, and what it tells us about the Unionist vision of Scotland, starting with his opening gambit.
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