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.
1. We need to note that both of the Scottish broadsheet’s headlines are themselves lies. Firstly, this is NOT a “new” discovery at all – in fact, Wings Over Scotland highlighted it three weeks ago, when it was revealed by The Times that hundreds of Unionists had already submitted identical responses to the consultation. We predicted that none of the Scottish press would pick up on the story in that form, and so it proved.
2. Secondly, contrary to the Herald’s claim, the First Minister has NOT been accused of “rigging” anything. The accusation is that the nature of the consultation process COULD theoretically lead to independence supporters (also) submitting multiple responses, not that Alex Salmond has actually engineered any such events to his own benefit.
3. Thirdly, as pointed out by Stewart Hosie on the Sunday Politics, the consultation process is in fact the exact same one laid down by the previous Labour/Lib Dem administration at Holyrood for the consultations on the smoking ban in 2004, the Tourism Bill in 2006 and the Calman Commission in 2008. Far from being the work of Alex Salmond at all, the “riggable” procedure which Anas Sarwar claimed was “designed for abuse” was actually designed and employed by Scottish Labour. (Logically, in order for them to abuse it.)
4. Obviously, and as demonstrated by point 1, the nature of the consultation means that EITHER side could attempt to swamp it in repeated submissions from the same person or group of people. And yet, despite this, every newspaper has focused solely on the possibility of nationalists doing so – even though the only side actually caught doing it has been the Unionist one.
5. The idea that providing an email address or name would in some way ensure the security or integrity of the consultation – as repeatedly claimed by Sarwar – is comically absurd. Anyone with even the most basic knowledge of computers and the internet will know perfectly well that it’s easily possible to instantly obtain an infinite number of email addresses from extremely easy-to-use free “junk mail” services like Trashmail or Mailinator, and that clearly anyone can also make up a series of false names.
Providing an email address or name on a consultation response increases the identifiability or verifiability of that response by precisely 0% unless backed up by far more rigorous security checks which in such a context are completely unworkable, and still deeply flawed anyway. (And possibly illegal under data protection law, especially given Sarwar’s extremely worrying claim, which he later tried to backpedal away from, that responses submitted through Labour’s website were “monitored”.)
For example, checking IP addresses would potentially exclude people in a household who share an internet account, would take no account of ISPs which use dynamic IPs, and could be evaded by even the mildly determined through the use of widely-available free proxy servers.
The only conclusions it’s possible to draw are that either Anas Sarwar knows all this and is deliberately lying, or he’s quite spectacularly technologically illiterate and incompetent in the ways of the modern online world, to the point where he would be embarrassed and outwitted by the average 10-year-old with a Club Penguin account. To be fair, either explanation is plausible.
6. Much of Labour’s attack is based on the premise that the purpose of the alleged “rigging” of the consultation is to enable the SNP to get a second question about “devo max” on the independence referendum paper. Sarwar is quoted in the Scotsman piece as saying “Everyone knows that Alex Salmond desperately wants a second question on the ballot”, which calls into question his basic reading abilities.
(It’s widely accepted on all sides of the debate that a second question reduces the chances of success for full independence. Even if Salmond did believe that devo max was the most he could realistically achieve – a claim which flies in the face of every single public utterance the SNP leader has made in the last 20 years – it’s far from certain that the “army of cybernats” Sarwar speaks of would be happy to go along with that plan, given that by definition any such people would be more likely to come from the “fundamentalist” wing of the party.)
7. There’s nothing actually inherently wrong with someone sending multiple submissions to the consultation anyway. There are numerous aspects to the referendum which an individual might consider at different times, or – Heaven forbid – they might even change their mind about something during the consultation period. Are we to not only discourage but actually legislate against people being persuaded by reasoned discussion and debate?
There are still more. But from all the above, we see that this entire powderpuff confection of a “story” is senseless, incoherent drivel for a dizzying number of separate reasons. It’s factually inaccurate, logically irrational, and presents a picture diametrically at odds with what has actually happened. The shock-horror headlines are based on hypothetical, theoretical behaviour by independence supporters which has already been perpetrated in reality by the Unionist side without the slightest comment in the Scottish media. (Who can’t feign ignorance, unless they’re telling us none of them read the Times.)
But why are Labour trying such a dishonest, and obviously dishonest, tactic? Precisely because there are a dizzying number of separate reasons why it’s rubbish. In the limited-time soundbites available on TV and radio, any SNP spokesman or nationalist commentator is faced with an impossible number of sub-lies to refute. Even in a comparatively long show like The Sunday Politics, Hosie had a total of approximately three minutes to speak, in which he had to try to get across all of the above while also answering Isabel Fraser’s specific questions and Sarwar’s misleading assertions, and deal with issues relating to the UK government’s separate (and dodgy) consultation as well as the Scottish Government’s own one.
Trying to cover such a wide area in so short a time is a bit like trying to shoot a swarm of wasps with a bow and arrow before any of them can sting you, and any aspect of the lie which isn’t shot down can be perpetuated endlessly by the Unionist parties and media (as we’ve already seen with the Scotsman flogging it on the front page on successive days, just as we did last week with the Scottish media’s widespread and repeated smears about Chris and Colin Weir’s donation to the SNP), with the goalposts constantly shifted as each attack is swatted away.
The only apparent strategy of Labour and the other FUDs is to desperately hope that the Scottish public are too stupid to see through such (relatively) sophisticated chicanery. We don’t think they are, but we should get an early indication of the reality from the council elections next month. We’ll be watching closely. But remember, readers – it’s not paranoia if they really are conspiring against you.