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The Pish Gallop 133

Posted on December 15, 2015 by

We’ve spoken a number of times before on this site about the “gish gallop” or “swarm of wasps” debating technique, in which a person attempts to bury their opponent under such an overwhelming tsunami of false, misleading or nonsensical claims in a short space of time that they can’t possibly debunk it all.

The Urban Dictionary gives an example of the form:


Faced with such a rushing torrent of drivel, it’s almost impossible for an opponent to know where to start in order to begin to even scratch the surface (if you can scratch a torrent). And that brings us directly to Severin Carrell’s article in today’s Guardian.

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The news less fit to print 257

Posted on May 28, 2014 by

It’s not often that you see the same story on the front page of the i and the Financial Times. It’s even rarer – in fact, perhaps unprecedented – if that story’s about Scotland, because the otherwise-admirable mini-tabloid is barely even aware that there’s a part of the UK north of Newcastle.

(Its parent paper, the Independent, is we think unique among national UK newspapers in not even having a Scotland section, let alone a Scottish edition.)


So when it happens, you know it must be a pretty darned significant story – one which the Scottish press will be all over like a swarm of wasps at a jam-factory picnic. Right?

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The sting’s the thing 63

Posted on July 29, 2013 by

We talk often of the “swarm of wasps” approach to debate that’s the main strategy of the No campaign. The guiding principle of it is to throw out so many dubious assertions, straw men and red herrings, all at once, that it’s all but impossible for your opponent to effectively counter all the different thrusts of the attack, like trying to swat wasps with a broken tennis racquet.


To see how it works, let’s take a look at the Herald’s front page splash today.

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On fairness and balance 173

Posted on June 14, 2013 by

So, everyone turned up for Question Time in the end. We expected no different. As far as we can ascertain, the view in the pro-independence community was that the SNP’s Angus Robertson acquitted himself well as the sole political representative of the Yes campaign, and it was interesting and welcome to see journalist Lesley Riddoch (who was also assured and compelling) actually nail her colours to the Yes mast too.


But what of the show itself? Were the fears of independence supporters justified, or did the BBC mount an impeccable exercise in impartiality? Let’s find out.

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Would you like to know more? 71

Posted on March 07, 2013 by

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.

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The nest of lies 132

Posted on March 03, 2013 by

When someone sent us the image below on Twitter, we actually went to the “Better Together” Facebook page to verify it was real, because it can be hard to tell the No campaign’s real leaflets and posters from satire. But it’s totally genuine.

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Pretending to see the future 47

Posted on January 05, 2013 by

We must admit, we’re having some trouble getting our heads round the lead story in today’s Herald. Under the headline “Row flares as Treasury blasts SNP oil dividend”, the paper quotes Danny Alexander outlining what the Chief Secretary to the Treasury appears to believe is a devastating case against independence – namely, that if you were to calculate oil revenues over the period since devolution, Scots would each be a grand total of £1 a year worse off independent than if Scotland remained in the UK.

We suspect that while Alexander’s figures may not be inaccurate as such – within their own carefully-selected frame of reference – this is nevertheless an example of the Many Small Lies principle (aka the Swarm Of Wasps), in that there are so many absurdly gaping holes in his argument that it’s difficult to know which one to focus on. So let’s see if we can quickly pick out just a handful and give them a brief once-over.

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The Big Lie and the many small lies 18

Posted on April 02, 2012 by

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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