We think the Scotsman may finally have jumped the shark this morning. A piece by Scott Macnab (which we’re not going to link to, but have made a local copy of) on the No campaign’s year-old “decoy dossier” from yesterday is so extraordinarily, laughably biased and transparently dishonest that it couldn’t see even the most distant edges of decent, honourable journalism with the Hubble Space Telescope.
It is, however, just the most nakedly partisan of a series of Scottish newspaper headlines and lead stories this morning that once and for all give the lie to the notion that the country is served by anything remotely resembling a fair and balanced media.
We’ve spoken a few times of the “swarm of wasps” approach to large-scale lying that’s frequently deployed by the anti-independence movement. But this week’s desperate, co-ordinated, all-fronts onslaught on truth is more akin to a sudden mass infestation of hundreds of nasty, disease-ridden little bugs, trying to be too many to stamp on.
To exterminate them, we’re unfortunately going to have to make some notional attempt at taking seriously the ludicrous tissue of drivel issued by “Better Together” yesterday as their supposed doomsday weapon, whose only real purpose was to distract attention from the extremely healthy GERS figures – an aim which was enthusiastically embraced and facilitated by the Scottish press.
That the document is a badly-photocopied, embarrassingly-spelled, and innumerate concoction of misrepresentations, false extrapolations and flat-out lies probably, by this stage, goes without saying. But for the purposes of illustration we’re going to take you through it piece-by-piece anyway.
Gordon Brewer couldn’t contain his mockery of the file’s “James Bond” front cover (which uses the Scottish Government logo over a title referring to “a separate Scotland” in what we’re not sure isn’t some form of illegal passing-off) on last night’s Newsnight Scotland, but if anything the contents – some fake Post-It notes attached to the atrocious blurry monochrome Xerox of the original report – are more comical.
We don’t even get to the document proper before the gibberish starts. “Better Together” spend the introductory passage insisting on the one hand that the SNP “publically pretend [oil] will pay for everything”, while simultaneously accusing them of refusing to tell the public “that their budget plans are based on oil”. Huh?
(In fact, less than one-sixth of Scottish public-sector spending – £10.6bn out of a total of £64.5bn – is currently provided, indirectly, by oil revenue.)
The lies are already coming thick and fast. The SNP have repeatedly acknowledged that an independent Scotland would accept a share of the UK’s debt.
The SNP discussion document at absolutely no point details “plans” for public-sector job cuts or reductions in the old-age pension, nor indeed even mentions either at all.
We can only assume that the No camp missed last autumn’s SNP conference, which featured a lengthy debate broadcast live on BBC TV at which the party agreed an extremely specific policy of having a £2.5bn defence budget in an independent Scotland. This is £1bn less than Scotland contributes to Westminster for defence currently, but significantly more than is actually spent IN Scotland.
In budgetary terms it would be the best of both worlds – a saving of £1bn in revenue, while at the same time increasing the amount of money actually put into the Scottish defence economy. (The use of the term “would HAVE to” in this context is particularly curious.) But what it CERTAINLY isn’t is any kind of secret.
Those 21 words in the “Better Together” document, impressively, contain no fewer than three separate lies, at least two of which directly contradict each other. The SNP (if elected) would in fact be spending around 25% MORE on defence in an independent Scotland than the UK does currently, while still SAVING a billion pounds (which is currently sent from Scotland to London and spent in England), and it has been absolutely open and direct in public about the fact.
We’ll digress from the direct politics for a moment here to take a look at the document’s use of language. This paragraph is a misinformation classic. There is of course no inherent contradiction between something being expensive and it being cheaper than something else – if Thing X costs, say, £800m, Thing Y costs £600m and Thing Z costs £400m, the cost of any one of them is still “huge”.
The point of passages like the above is to create an impression in the reader’s mind of evasiveness and untrustworthiness on the part of the Scottish Government, by providing a single figure bereft of any context or comparison.
But we’re still just on the intro. Let’s get to the real comedy gold.
You can click all these images to enlarge them, but “Better Together” has – we suspect entirely deliberately – reproduced the SNP internal discussion paper at a poor and fuzzy resolution, presumably to discourage people from seeing what it actually says rather than the No camp’s spin on it.
We’re not sure we recall the SNP ever denying that the price of oil is volatile, as doing so would be akin to them coming out and claiming that the sea wasn’t wet. Again, the dossier invites people to assume deception and evasion where none in fact exists. So the first big headline “revelation” is something that everyone in Scotland has already known for 40 years and which to our knowledge not one living soul has ever disputed.
This is another example of the “denial fallacy” we discussed a few paragraphs back. There’s no actual contradiction between stating the fact that Scotland is better off than the UK now, and accepting that it MIGHT be (“marginally”) worse off in the future, assuming an independent Scotland adopted the same spending plans as the UK.
In reality, though, nobody has the faintest idea what either nation’s economic status will be by 2017. Every UK growth forecast of the last five years has been massively wrong, and the OBR’s forecast for the price of oil over a SINGLE year was out by around 20% in 2011-12 (see paragraph 2.58 and others). The notion that anyone can accurately predict the oil price (or production levels) four years in advance is ludicrous.
See above. Nobody in either the SNP (so far as we’re aware) or the YesScotland campaign has ever denied Scotland would start independence with some debt, like almost every other nation on the planet. But hang on – this comedy document is supposed to be full of things the SNP “say privately but won’t admit in public”, so pointing out that it contains “no analysis” of interest rates isn’t much of a smoking gun, as it seems they don’t discuss that one privately either.
Things start to get desperate by this point. After repeating itself for a while about debt ratios, the dossier moves on to make a series of entirely spurious assumptions. The word “implies” in the upper note is a dead giveaway. As we saw in the previous paragraph, the No campaign is by now reduced to commenting on things that AREN’T in the SNP paper, rather than what actually is.
The note below, however, is a much less subtle flat-out lie. The paper says “these pressures COULD reduce the resources available to provide ADDITIONAL public services” (our emphasis). It’s a very big leap from there to a plan to cut existing jobs – specifically, the leap from truth to complete and utter fabrication.
The next section is another festival of spurious assertions. The demographic difference between the Scottish and UK populations in terms of ageing is tiny, and in any event largely attributable to higher immigration of young people from the EU south of the border – something both main London parties are now frantically pandering to right-wing Tory voters to reduce, in the light of the rise of UKIP.
The second note highlights only one half of what John Swinney’s report says. The paper does indeed note that the UK dilutes the risk of a demographic timebomb for Scotland, but also points out that the fluctuations of costs could work to Scotland’s advantage as well as its disadvantage. Curiously, we don’t hear that part.
Actual discussion paper: “Scotland would decide on the best overall fiscal stance which is appropriate for the Scottish economy.”
“Better Together” translation: “London would have a veto on Scotland’s budget.”
The No camp is, of course, entirely free to claim that a monetary union would mean a budget veto, even though it would mean no such thing. It’s something else entirely, however, to claim that that’s what the SNP document says, when it plainly says nothing even remotely close to it.
There is no suggestion, indeed no mention at all, of cutting pensions in the SNP paper. Any country’s exchequer must “consider the affordability” of every aspect of its programme. Ironically, Labour angrily protests at anyone who says its commission currently “considering the affordability” of universal services is in fact talking about cuts. It can’t have that both ways.
Now we’re really scraping the barrel. A document purportedly revealing the things the SNP refuse to tell us is by this point admitting to simply listing the “obviously true” things the SNP is telling us. And have they “always talked down the costs of setting up a new state”? We’re given no evidence for the statement. We wonder why.
Except it clearly IS possible, for the reasons detailed earlier in this post – Scotland currently contributes £3.5bn to defence but only gets £2bn in expenditure in return. A budget of £2.5bn after independence would represent a saving of £1bn while still increasing spending by £500m.
(The SNP paper makes no mention of a figure of 15,000 troops. Current UK armed forces presence in Scotland is around 11,600.)
And that’s the end. As we’ve seen, the “dossier” is a wafer-thin collection of nonsense based on a year-old paper already overtaken by events. It reveals absolutely nothing the SNP has been keeping secret – everything that isn’t a completely made-up assertion is open public knowledge, much of it (like the SNP’s proposed defence budget) in fact broadcast on national television and discussed endlessly in the media for months on end.
But such a mere trifle as the document being a load of half-baked floor-sweepings is no discouragement to the feverish Scottish media, itself already plumbing new depths in its attempts to smear the Yes movement’s main participant. Faced with an overwhelmingly positive story – and one with the merit of being empirically, measurably true – Scotland’s press has instead, like a plague of cockroaches, embarked on a feeding frenzy on a giant pile of camel-droppings.
“SNP’s secret plans to cut spending revealed” (The Scotsman)
“SLEEPWALKING TO A DISASTER” (Scottish Daily Mail)
“Leaked paper shows SNP fears over cost of benefits” (The Herald)
(The Record’s piece contains the sentence “The bombshell report by Finance Secretary John Swinney says Scotland’s spending deficit will reach £28 billion by 2015”, suggesting that everyone on the Record is also an illiterate buffoon who doesn’t know the difference between a debt and a deficit.)
If you do want to know more about the finances of an independent Scotland, the only conclusion it’s rationally possible to reach from the evidence is that you probably shouldn’t rely on the Scottish media to enlighten you.