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A case in point

Posted on February 11, 2013 by

Recently we’ve mentioned a concept we called the “invisible hypothetical”. It refers to a form of media bias characterised by omission, and which is therefore hard to prove. This morning’s edition of the Scotsman carries a conveniently striking example.

8500

Taken solely on its own merits, the article below the headline is impossible to fault. It notes the figure claimed today by the UK Government for the number of treaties an independent Scotland would be required to (at least theoretically) renegotiate, and even refers – obliquely and neutrally – to the previously-cited figure of 14,000.

In that oblique neutrality, of course, lies the rub.

Because it doesn’t require a wild flight of fancy to imagine the story had a similar degree of rapid readjustment occurred on the other side of the debate. “HUMILIATING CLIMBDOWN BY SNP OVER EXAGGERATED FIGURES” would perhaps be a fair assessment of the sort of tone to expect, with opposition rentaquotes lining up to pile on gleefully. Yet the Unionist camp gets a free pass for inflating even their own unproven claim by a whopping 70% (from 8,500 to 14,000) and then backing down in the face of widespread mockery after barely a week.

Highlighting things which haven’t directly happened, of course, can leave the Yes campaign an easy target for allegations of paranoia. But it’s not a difficult hypothesis to support when you look at the extraordinary mountain the press can make out of the tiniest molehill, if doing so might somehow bolster the Unionist case – last week’s Herald splash based entirely on an optimistic interpretation of the word “expect” providing a timely illustration.

The pro-Union media in Scotland relies heavily on the “tomorrow’s chip wrapper” theory for its atom-thin veneer of impartiality. Supporters of independence can’t afford to take their eyes off them for a second.

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    1. 13 02 13 10:27

      Long Way To Go | laidbackviews

    20 to “A case in point”

    1. Oldnat says:

      From the UN archives
       
      “In a letter dated 19 May 1993 and also accompanied by a list of multilateral treaties deposited with the Secretary-General, received by the Secretary-General on 28 May 1993, the Government of the Slovak Republic notified that:
      “In accordance with the relevant principles and rules of international law and to the extent defined by it, the Slovak Republic, as a successor State, born from the dissolution of the Czech and Slovak Federal Republic, considers itself bound, as of January 1, 1993, i.e., the date on which the Slovak Republic assumed responsibility for its international relations, by multilateral treaties to which the Czech and Slovak Federal Republic was a party as of 31 December 1992, including reservations and declarations made earlier by Czechoslovakia, as well as objections by Czechoslovakia to reservations formulated by other treaty-parties.

      The Slovak Republic wishes further to maintain its status as a contracting State of the treaties to which Czechoslovakia was a contracting State and which were not yet in force at the date of the dissolution of the Czech and Slovak Federal Republic, as well as the status of a signatory State of the treaties which were previously signed but not ratified by Czechoslovakia as listed in the Annex to this letter.”

      In view of the information above, entries in status lists pertaining to formalities (i.e., signatures, ratifications, accessions, declarations and reservations, etc.) effected by the former Czechoslovakia prior to dissolution, in respect of treaties to which the Czech Republic and/or Slovakia have succeeded, will be replaced by the name of “Czech Republic” and/or “Slovakia” with the corresponding date of deposit of the notification of succession. A footnote will indicate the date and type of formality effected by the former Czechoslovakia, the corresponding indicator being inserted next to “Czech Republic” and “Slovakia” as the case may be.

      As regards treaties in respect of which formalities wereeffected by the former Czechoslovakia and not listed in the notification of succession by either the Czech Republic or Slovakia, a footnote indicating the date and type of formality effected by the former Czechoslovakia will be included in the status of the treaties concerned, the corresponding footnote indicator being inserted next to the heading “Participant”.”
      It’s no that hard!

    2. TheGreatBaldo says:

      Hi Stu
      I do hope YES Scotland are recording these loud exaggerations and the subsequent much quieter retractions and corrections….
       
      If a neutral voter was presented with say the claims on Faslane jobs, the number of treaties etc then they would conclude that the Unionist and their compliant media were at the very least ‘Unreliable witnesses’….
       

    3. indy says:

      The interesting thing is that if all these treaties and membership of international orgs, EU etc went into abeyance Scotland would have an incredible level of freedom for a period of time. There would be nothing to stop us selling things at a tenth of the price they could be bought elsewhere in EU – including the UK – for example. No VAT, we could just waive all customs etc. If we are outside ALL of the international agreements, as is being argued, we wouldn’t need to obey any of them until they were renegotiated.
      What a cuckoo to have in the nest! Reality is the UK would be trying to hustle us back into the single market as soon as was practically possible.

    4. redcliffe62 says:

      If Scotland is not part of the successor states after the divorce then clearly there is no debt applicable. One cannot be half pregnant. Either you are in or you are out.
      Can someone ask Darling how Scotland would be expected to pay a debt to a country it is no longer associated with either within the EU or the UK?
      Watch him choke on that one.

    5. Albalha says:

      I wonder if it’s worth looking at one treaty …….take this one below …..which is listed  on the FCO website, how many are European Communities agreements, as for the 14000 claim it’s clear on the FCO that’s the number that the UK ‘HAS’ been involved in, the sloppiness, an arrogance that belies both stupidity and complacency ….. think we’ll see it changing as we move towards the vote.

      But on the headline point it would make for a good leaflet ….. this is what the headline said, these are the facts 

       Treaty
      Fisheries partnership Agreement between the European Communities and the Kingdom of Morocco
       

      Treaty Type

      Bilateral

      Definitive Entry Into Force

      28 February 2007

      Publication Reference

      OJ L 141/1

    6. Robin Ross says:

      ‘Wings’ is the only site I know that offers a consistent critique of MSM reporting on Scotland. However, critique is not enough. Other articles present us with measured and and evidence based arguments for independence from Rev Stu or guests which are vital to our understanding of key elements in the debate. I’ve done no systematic analysis of the content of the posts so far, but my impression is that Rev Stu’s writings are tending to be critiques of the MSM rather than measured pieces on issues, and I would have thought that this would be natural if there is not enough time to earn a living and run the site as fully as he would like. This site is one small dent in the wall of complacent unionist assertion; it certainly cannot match the budget of Whitehall to challenge its production of ‘better together’ stuff; and at present it is unable to gather  thought provoking analysis from as wide a variety of informed sources as possible. In these respects it could be argued that at present ‘Wings’ is “too wee, too poor and too stupid”.  If it remains so, it is not for lack of trying on Rev Stu’s part – so if you don’t like “TWTPTS” and you’ve not yet donated to the site please do it now.

    7. Rev. Stuart Campbell says:

      Robin: Those are fair points, and indeed the site was explicitly set up as, and chiefly remains, a media monitor. However, we do carry quite a number of more in-depth articles on the issues themselves, including (but not limited to) Scott Minto’s superbly-researched analyses, of which another is imminent.

      As you note, if people want to see more of that sort of thing, it’s time-consuming and expensive, and writers and researchers have rent to pay like everyone else.

      http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/one-pound-for-wingsland/

    8. Dave McEwan Hill says:

      As a layman it appears to me that an independent Scotland inherits initially Treaty obligations it was party to  when we were in the UK and renegotiates  only those of them with which we may have a particular or different interest.
      I look forward to our negotiations with the Zulu nation over our legal right to run telephone lines across their territory.

    9. Barontorc says:

      Dave McE H , spot on, what a load of guff and yes, it just had to come from that nonentity Rennie! I fear these people are operating with absolutely no scruple. Like Baillie and Baker and Davidson – goodness the list is endless, they are uttering pure pi** and the real democratic tragedy is that the media are not only letting them get away with it – the media are even broadcasting and repeating it!

    10. k says:

      I noticed on the Wright Stuff this morning, that they used the “Scotland needs to re-negotiate 14, 00 treaties on independence” thang in one of their true/false things they do during the ad break. According to the Wright Stuff, it’s true, even Mr Wright mentioned something about it being a “fact”. 
      It’s not just Scottish media. 

    11. james morton says:

      What we have is a narrative fallacy were they believe that their knowledge surpasses the knowledge of others. It is in the end opinion, presented as fact but actually has no basis in fact because there actually is no precedent for it. They went out, got themselves some experts to basically tell them what they wanted to hear. I can guarantee that in the next couple of months the report will be quietly pushed under the carpet like most of their scare stories.
      I think this because I sense that most people are confused by and largely not impressed by the constitutional elements. It will come down to bread & butter issues in the end. Can Scotland go it alone and can it be a success?
      I think you will see a sharper focus on these issues when tory cuts really start to bite along with the bedroom tax and further cuts to the welfare budget. People will be more inclined to vote yes simply out of self preservation.
      Its for that reason that I think “better together” will fail. Its put the cart before the horse. Talking about things the average man in the street simply doesn’t give a sh*t about.

    12. muttley79 says:

      @redcliffe62
       
      Can someone ask Darling how Scotland would be expected to pay a debt to a country it is no longer associated with either within the EU or the UK?
      Watch him choke on that one.  
       
      Sadly that is the media’s job to do that, and so far they appear to not be challenging, and scrutinizing anything he says.  It is remarkable that Darling has not been grilled on the increasing likelihood of Scotland leaving the EU in the event of a No vote.  You are right if Scotland is not a successor state then we would not be obliged to pay any debt whatsoever, which makes independence even more attractive in my view.

    13. Dcanmore says:

      @James Morton
       
      You are right James. Because Better Together don’t actually have a positive strategy, it’s all fear and false questioning. Alistair Darling has to rely on ‘chip paper’ sensationalism with meagre help coming from a Tory-led UK government. So, of late, the argument from them is to throw out big numbers (11,000 Faslane jobs; 14,000 treaties) to make an impact then say that Scotland will be alone, out in the cold and nobody will help you. Their problem is it is not based on fact. It is the classic ‘abused marriage’ syndrome that has been mentioned many times before. The coming six months will be the last throw of the dice for the Better Together campaign, they’ve had nothing to offer at all this past nine months and after another shocking Tory budget coming up Better Together will be dead as a Norwegian Blue Parrot by the summer. There will not be a rabid backlash from Labour to the forthcoming Tory budget because they have an invisible leader trying to massage the same voters in middle England that the Tories have (thank you Mr Blair!).
       
      The big danger of the Better Together camp is if they are seen to be failing, which they will be by the summer, then the real Union loonies will become more vocal and actionable. The Ulster Unionists, EDL/SDL, BNP, Orange Order and others wrapping themselves up in the Union Jack bedsheets making their threats, which will be a huge turn off to the Scottish public. Also I want to ask, I haven’t bought a Scottish newspaper in about three years and don’t go to their websites much, but do these scare stories make it into The Daily Record and The Scottish Sun? It always seems to be The Herald and The Scotsman mentioned. If it is the case of only these two failing newspapers peddling rubbish then the penetration of these scare stories into the Scottish population must be questionable (I deliberately missed out the BBC in this case).
       
      As for the BBC in Scotland, can we get hold of viewing/listening figures? When I visit my sister and her husband they always seem to have Sky News on when not watching football. So I wonder what the actual viewing figures are for the likes of Reporting Scotland and Newsnight Scotland?

    14. Mister Worf says:

      Wait. This is a bit odd, isn’t it?
      Often, the strongest arguments to counter an argument presented as “why Scotland can’t be independent” turns out to be, er, another argument trying to say why Scotland can’t be independent. And that argument turns out to be complete bollocks too. Every “positive” case turns out to be neutral or negative. And usually any point made is stabbed in the back later.
      The heaviest blows to the No camp often come from… the No camp. The unionists are not all that united. Certainly not that coherent.
      Yes Scotland doesn’t have to lift a finger, the No camp are so busy beating themselves to death in their rush to look united, all Yes Scotland need to do is point it out some day, and then even the media won’t be able to hide from it. There’d be so much of it.

    15. Nairn Clark says:

      You know, last year was the thirtieth anniversary of Canada repatriating its constitution from Westminster, which legally was the final step in its 115 year journey towards that (we’re a little slow, eh?). I don’t see any record of Canada having to renegotiate a bunch of treaties, either then, or in 1931′ when the Crown of Canada was made seperate (as of course, Scotland’s already is). 
      maybe its worth taking a look at the processes the former Dominions had to follow – that might dispel some of these myths.

    16. Alan Gerrish says:

       
      redcliffe62 says:Can someone ask Darling how Scotland would be expected to pay a debt to a country it is no longer associated with either within the EU or the UK?
       
      Just heard it from Jim “call me Lord” Wallace on radio this morning say that Scotland would be a new state and would not retain any obligations.  Never thought Jim was the brightest tool in the box, but given that the 14,000 treaties have become 8500 within a week and the SNP timescale for EU negotiation is now perfectly do-able according to Wetminster’s legal eagles, it’s only a matter of time before Cameron realises that the hole they started digging is getting bigger by the day. And just imagine how rich an independent Scotland will become without trying :10 years out of the EU so that’s £10 billion contributions saved, no national debt to repay – £140 billion saved as well as all the other stuff like Trident and general savings on a reduced defence budget.  Jings,Jim,  what are we going to spend all this money on?

    17. Barontorc says:

      Alan G – It may well be as black and white as the premise of nil-liability, which means we write off all 8.4% of claim to the infrastructure elements of the UK that would interest us, including present holdings in the Bank of England.

      Blank canvas – start again with all revenue and returns from Scottish industry, resources and tax payments coming 100% to Scotland. No contributory share paid for the banker disaster, or the accumulated trillion+ GBP of national debt, or future WMD commitments.

      What an unmitigated disastrous outlook for rUK to even contemplate.

      Now, today’s Fiscal Paper from Crawford Beveridge’s economic committee, calls for a 10% stake to be taken in the BoE and continuing use of the GBP plus other levers for pulling to Scotland’s benefit, and what do we get fed with from Auntie BBC – a retort from the BBC’s Douglas Fraser – that the UK Gov won’t play ball.

      Oh, really, where in all logic and reason does he get the compulsion to comment as such? Read between the lines Douglas you’re slips well showing, again!

      Even contemplation of an rUK without Scotland’s cooperation will see tsunami type convulsions and I don’t think ‘Call me Dave’ is even that stoopid. Game’s on big time!

    18. Albalha says:

      @Dcanmore

      So I wonder what the actual viewing figures are for the likes of Reporting Scotland and Newsnight Scotland?

      Rep Scotland around 500 000 and Newsnight Scotland way lower, don’t think UK Newsnight gets many more than 200 000.

    19. muttley79 says:

      @Barontorc
       
      Now, today’s Fiscal Paper from Crawford Beveridge’s economic committee, calls for a 10% stake to be taken in the BoE and continuing use of the GBP plus other levers for pulling to Scotland’s benefit, and what do we get fed with from Auntie BBC – a retort from the BBC’s Douglas Fraser – that the UK Gov won’t play ball.
       
      The same Douglas Fraser that called Salmond a dictator not so long ago?  The guy is a die-hard unionist.

    20. Sunshine on Crieff says:

      Last week we had 14,000 treaties to re-negotiate, this week we have 8,500?
      Our negotiating team have certainly been putting the hours in!!!
       



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