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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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Scotland after the referendum 10

Posted on March 12, 2012 by

If you’re a bit naive, it can be hard to understand why the parties of the Union are so bitterly opposed to a second question on the referendum ballot. All three of them, after all, claim to want more powers for Scotland (though not yet, and they don’t want to tell us which ones), and after all the fuss they’ve made before it seems odd that they don’t feel the need to get any democratic mandate for them.

It’s also odd because it’s pretty much agreed by everyone on all sides that a second question for, let’s call it Devo-X, would all but completely sink the SNP’s chances of winning a Yes to full independence, whereas in a straight two-way face-off it’s already very close and the numbers (as well as the arguments) are slowly but steadily moving in the Nats’ direction. That appears an awfully big gamble for the No parties to take purely in order to deny the SNP something (more powers, but short of independence) that all the Unionists are supposedly in favour of.

So what’s the real reason? Well, it’s not too hard to figure out.

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Does Alex Salmond need a translator? 10

Posted on March 09, 2012 by

We're a bit confused, readers. We live in the online age, where almost everything that happens is recorded for posterity – whether by a full TV crew or someone with a mobile phone. There can be almost no concerted misrepresentation of events, because no matter how hard spin doctors or biased media sources might try to push a dishonest line, someone somewhere will have what really happened on video.

So we're somewhat bemused as to how there can be such a polarised difference of opinion on whether the SNP wants one or two questions on the ballot paper for its proposed referendum on Scottish independence in 2014. The facts, as presented by the SNP in front of a watching nation and preserved forever on tape and digital memory by a hundred news channels of every and no political colour, seem extremely clear.

"On a historic day in Edinburgh, as the Scottish Government published its detailed proposals for a referendum to determine the country’s future, the First Minister announced his intention to put a simple question to voters in the autumn of 2014: Do you agree that Scotland should be an independent country? Mr Salmond’s single question on independence was supported by constitutional experts last night. The UK government also welcomed the clarity of the question he proposes." (Eddie Barnes, The Scotsman)

"Alex Salmond has revealed plans for a single-question independence referendum in 2014, offering voters a straight 'yes' or 'no' choice."
(Andrew Nicoll, The Sun)

"Selkirk’s Tory MSP John Lamont has welcomed Alex Salmond’s preference for a single question in Scotland’s independence referendum"
(Selkirk Weekend Advertiser)

"Scotland's First Minister Alex Salmond has unveiled the question he wants to ask Scots in a referendum on independence. He said it should be: "Do you agree Scotland should be an independent country?" In a statement to the Scottish Parliament to launch his party's public consultation on the referendum, he told MSP's Scots will be given a "straightforward" and "clear" choice." (James Matthews, Sky News)

"The document will also see Salmond confirm his preference for a single yes-no question on independence in a 2014 referendum."
(Tom Gordon, The Herald)

"As Mr Salmond launched the Scottish Government’s consultation paper on the independence referendum, the document’s centrepiece was the question Scots will be asked in 2014: “Do you agree that Scotland should be an independent country?” The document, launched on Burns Night, even contains a mock-up of how a single-question ballot paper would appear, with two boxes, marked Yes or No." (Paul Kilbride, the Daily Express)

"Salmond reiterated his Scottish National Party's formal preference for a single question." (Keith Albert, Public Finance)

"Mr. Salmond wants only one question on the ballot paper: Do you agree that Scotland should be an independent country?"
(Neal Ascherson, the New York Times)

"It is interesting, when you look at the public utterances of people like the Deputy First Minister and the Finance Secretary, Nicola Sturgeon and John Swinney, that they have said, clearly, that they prefer a single question themselves. Indeed, the Scottish Government’s own consultation makes that their preference." (Michael Moore, Secretary of State for Scotland)

"The Government has made it clear, as it always has done, that its preference is for a single question on independence."
(John Swinney, Finance Secretary)

"Scots Tory leader Ruth Davidson said she was glad that Mr Salmond had set out his preference for a single question on independence."
(Sanya Khetani, Business Insider)

"Our preference is to have a single question."
(Alex Salmond, quoted in Holyrood magazine)

So that all seems pretty straightforward and unambiguous. The First Minister and the SNP have made it clear that their preference is for a single-question referendum with a straight Yes/No answer, and while they're willing to listen to other opinions and consider any alternative, a single question is what they prefer and that's what they're proposing. Right? But wait – what's this?

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Attention, stupid people 5

Posted on March 06, 2012 by

(You’ll see what we did there in a moment.)

Speaking as someone with a certain amount of experience in the field of polemic – and with the death threats, internet hate campaigns and Daily Star doorsteppings to show for it – this writer is always a little disappointed when grown adults fail to grasp how the concept works. We must, I regret to say, begin with the dictionary definition:

polemic (noun)
a strong verbal or written attack on someone or something: his polemic against the cultural relativism of the Sixties [mass noun]: a writer of feminist polemic
(usually polemics) the practice of engaging in controversial debate or dispute: the history of science has become embroiled in religious polemics

Joan McAlpine MSP is rapidly proving herself a subtle master of the form. Writing a new column for the red-top tabloid Daily Record (read, and this isn’t a coincidence, predominantly by Labour voters), she’s immediately got the FUD camp fumingly a-flutter with her debut piece, an interesting analogy comparing the Union to a marriage in which the husband jealously controls the purse strings of the household.

At this point, readers, let us diverge for a moment to offer a professional tip derived from over 20 years of experience. The art of the polemic – at least when deploying it in the manner of the second definition above – is to say something that isn’t actually offensive, in a way that sounds as though it is. With luck, your “mark” will spot a trigger word and immediately embark on a furious kneejerk whinge, having not bothered to actually read the article in question properly or establish any context.

In such a manner can you, for example, gather 30,000 complaints about a comment nobody with even the most basic functioning brain could possibly have misinterpreted – indeed, which the perpetrator both immediately before and immediately afterwards specifically said did not in any way represent his real views.

And what’s the result? The wider public – which didn’t go looking for offence and was therefore able to rationally and calmly see that there was none to be had – just thinks the complainers are cretins and invariably develops a certain sympathy with the perpetrator, even if they weren’t necessarily favourably inclined towards them in general. Jeremy Clarkson gets paid a lot of money, and not by accident.

Most normal people – a grouping which excludes most of us politics nerds – are sick of the modern outrage culture (a relatively new phenomenon facilitated in large part by the internet), in which someone somewhere can be relied on to be offended by anything, and where barely-sentient idiots demand compensation and/or legal remedy for their hurt feelings or the fact that they were too stupid to realise that coffee is generally served hot and is best not poured directly into your lap. Nobody loves a moaner, and especially not a thick one trying to start a storm in an empty coffee cup.

We’ve never met Joan McAlpine, but we promise you that as a professional journalist she knows that fact very well. We’re not even going to bother discussing the specifics of her Record column, because this blog has a pretty bright readership and we wouldn’t insult their intelligence. Let’s just say we’re not expecting either the SNP or the Record to drag her over any hot coals any time soon, okay?

Unionists break ranks, tell truth 12

Posted on February 12, 2012 by

It’s nearly always nice to get a surprise, and a couple certainly came our way from the mainstream press and blogosphere today when two of the most diehard Unionists in the field had sudden rushes of blood to the head, threw off the reins and revealed what they really thought. First up was Kevin McKenna in the Observer, who in his frustration at his FUD comrades presenting Alex Salmond with an endless series of open goals let slip this, in contravention of the constantly-expounded party line:

“There is a growing sense in this country that we must be allowed to become the masters of our own destiny, for good or for ill, and free from any Westminster interference. This has been reflected by significant increases in support for independence, two-and-a-half years before the event, in every opinion poll since the die was cast last month.”

Kevin will be getting his wrists slapped by Unionist Central on Monday, we’re certain – the official policy is that support for independence is stalled at either a quarter or a third of the electorate, depending how hardline you are. Admitting that it’s on the rise at all – far less significantly so – will doubtless have Mr McKenna in hot water, but it pales beside the weekend’s other great “Whoops, did I say that out loud?” moment.

That appeared on the blog of Labour activist and media commentator Ian Smart, talking about his appearance on today’s Sunday Politics, and the cat he let out of the bag was one concerned with this blog’s favourite urban myth, the positive case for the Union. Because what Ian did was give away the poorly-kept secret that Johann Lamont, Ed Miliband, Nick Clegg, Willie Rennie, Michael Moore, Ruth Davidson and David Cameron and all the others are lying through their teeth when they constantly promise to make said case. Quoth Ian:

“There is no need to make a “positive case for the Union”. We know, for good or ill, what the Union entails. There is simply the need to make a case against “Independence”.”

We can’t exactly affect surprise at this revelation. After all, we’ve been tracking promises of the “positive case” ranging back 32 years, without a single actual sighting of it. But Smart’s unguarded moment is no less depressing for its confirmation, because it tells us that Labour plan a scorched-earth strategy for the independence debate. They will happily destroy Scotland to keep it in the Union, by running a campaign based on fear, distortion and outright lies with no thought for the state that will leave the country in after the referendum, whether the vote is Yes or No.

Two and a half years of unrelenting, poisonous negativity can only have a hideously toxic effect on the entire body politic of Scotland, because for a negative campaign to win it must catastrophically undermine the confidence of the Scottish people in their ability to run their own country successfully. (Because if you DO believe you can do that, why on Earth would you ever let the voters of another nation impose on you governments and ideologies you consistently reject?)

Bewilderingly, and infinitely depressingly, Smart believes that independence supporters want Unionists to campaign positively only as some sort of trick, that it’s a trap we’re luring our unwary opponents towards. But in fact it’s because whichever way Scotland votes in autumn 2014, we’d like to move forward as a nation that hasn’t been torn in two by years of vicious infighting, bitterness and dirty trickery.

We’re not at all sure we’d like to live in Ian Smart’s future Scotland even if it did vote for independence. Such a divided country – set implacably against itself like an Old Firm derby writ large, and crushed by an inferiority complex – would be a dark, benighted place. But maybe that grotesque vision is exactly what Smart and his Unionist allies want – to tell the Yes camp that even victory would be Pyrrhic, the winners inheriting nothing but ashes and ruins. For such a despicable worldview and strategy we hold nothing but contempt. But we’re glad to see that at least it’s finally out in the open.

Something from the crank file 9

Posted on February 11, 2012 by

When you hear an organisation is “linked to the Taxpayers’ Alliance”, you don’t build your hopes up too high. The TPA are a bunch of Tea Party-esque loons at the best of times, and the phrase suggests some sort of renegade splinter group too crazy even for that particular nut-house. We’re probably still just about entitled to expect fractionally higher standards from the Telegraph, though.

We were directed to this piece yesterday by a Labour source who really ought to know better, and who was citing it as conclusive proof that an independent Scotland’s economy would be crippled by debt repayments. (Our source later admitted to not actually having read the article before linking to it, which perhaps tells you something about the quality of debate one tends to get from Unionists.)

That anyone at the Telegraph, a once-respectable newspaper, actually thought this rubbish was worth putting its name to may be even more instructive as to how desperate the FUD camp is for scare stories which might frighten Scots away from independence. You can scour the “story” all day looking for how it arrived at the headline figure, or trying to piece it together yourself from the random fragments of made-up “data” scattered through the text (a spurious £9bn here, an invented £7.5bn there, a pulled-from-thin-air 30% somewhere else), but you’ll be out of luck.

If in occasional moments of weakness over the next two and a half years you doubt our chances of success, glance back at this and see just how afraid of us they are.

The other side of the coin 0

Posted on February 06, 2012 by

As our fast-growing number of readers (all viewing records broken again last week) will be glad to hear, we’re just about back online after a weekend cursing the ineptitude of the laughably-named TalkTalk Business (“Here to help you 24/7, where by 24/7 we mean 10/5”). We’ve still got a somewhat restricted service, but fortunately enough access to direct you to this excellent piece on Newsnet Scotland, which eschews the site’s unfortunate tendency towards wild-eyed polemic in favour of a calmly insightful and perceptive look at the reality of one of the Unionist camp’s favourite scare stories – that Scotland would be kicked out of the EU if it became independent.

It’s a terrific bit of analysis, pointing out how disastrous such a scenario would be for the rump UK and how it would also mean Scotland being able to walk away from the Union without any share of Britain’s crippling £1trn (and rising) debts. Call us optimists, but we’d love to believe it means the end of that particular tired old canard from the FUDs. We’re not holding our breath, though.

Premature evaluation 1

Posted on February 01, 2012 by

There could have been nothing more predictable in the independence debate than that the Unionist parties, having furiously demanded a clear, simple, yes/no question for the last eight months, would be in a tumultuous rage when they finally got one. The First Minister had barely announced the Scottish Government’s chosen ten-word proposition to the Scottish people when a chorus of angry voices in the Unionist camp were on the airwaves denouncing it as “leading”, “unfair” and “rigged”.

Supposed experts were hastily summoned to explain to us how the phrasing of the question was designed to lead brainless voters down a “cognitive chute”, because the poor stupid Scottish electorate had no idea of what the SNP meant by “independent”. The Telegraph leapt into action, conducting its own polls with various possible versions of the question in an attempt to demonstrate how widely responses could be altered by simple changes in wording. It then swiftly wrote up the results in doom-laden terms, thundering in the article’s strapline that:

“The “loaded” question Alex Salmond wants to ask in the Scottish independence referendum leads to at least a 10-point increase in public support for ending the Union”

That analysis came a little TOO swiftly, as it turned out.

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A whole new (hard)ball game? 9

Posted on January 25, 2012 by

So that was the launch of the independence referendum consultation. Not much we didn’t know, and the usual tired, pointless carping from the FUD benches, but there was one very significant new development. The question being proposed by the Scottish government is this:

“Do you agree that Scotland should be an independent country?”

It could barely be simpler or more direct. But the fascinating aspect is the impact the form of the question could have on the legal status of the referendum. The previously-suggested question was rather longer and encased in tortuous legalese:

“Do you agree that the Scottish Government should negotiate a settlement with the government of the UK so that Scotland becomes an independent state?”

The seemingly-technical change is potentially of vital importance. The core dispute over whether the Scottish Government has the legal right to conduct a consultative referendum is the “purpose and effect” of its doing so. The old formulation of the question clearly implied that the Scottish Government would use the referendum as a trigger to actively attempt to remove Scotland from the UK (by opening negotiations with the UK Parliament), and as such the referendum could very easily be held to be exceeding Holyrood’s devolved powers by directly leading it to take action on the constitution, a matter reserved to Westminster.

The new question, however, merely innocently enquires as to the Scottish people’s opinion on the subject, without promising that the expression of that opinion will cause it to take any particular action. As such, it’s difficult to see how it could fall foul of any reasonable interpretation of the law.

Does this mean that Alex Salmond is preparing the ground to face down the UK Government and hold the referendum on his terms – without the Section 30 order that would clear away most possible legal challenges – should the imminent negotiations with David Cameron not turn out to his liking? We’ll be watching with great interest.

Round-up, 23rd Jan 2012 1

Posted on January 23, 2012 by

We’ve had our hands full in the real world for a few days, so let’s catch up on what’s been worth reading recently. Iain Macwhirter is on the money as usual as he ponders why Unionists cling to the “scare story” [paywall link] tactics that have proven so spectacularly unsuccessful over the past decade or so and propelled the SNP into power, while Alex Massie in the Spectator eloquently expresses his frustration with the idiotically negative approach of his fellow Great Britain fans in the right-wing press. Kenny Farquharson takes a related line in Scotland On Sunday, excoriating the FUD camp’s ludicrous attacks on Sir Peter Housden.

Jackie Ashley, one of the Guardian’s more thoughtful commentators on Scottish affairs, takes an interesting angle on how the Scottish situation relates to and impacts on the centre-left in England, while Socialist Worker demolishes the lie still being implausibly peddled by Labour that the Union serves the interests of the left, by openly advocating independence for Scotland.

In the blogosphere there’s a really good piece on BaffieBox, spinning off a theme we’ve been shouting about for a while – the fact that independence is in essence merely an administrative change to the electoral register, with post-independence policy being a matter for the Scottish people, not just one party. Better Nation covers a very similar point in less detail and with less insight, but does see an excellent debate in the comments section, with numerous posters eviscerating Labour’s recent dismal smears and sneers about an independent Scotland’s defence policy.

And finally, if you’re having trouble sleeping this evening, try penetrating this vision of a more fully devolved Scotland by Labour activist Ian Smart. It’s a commendable attempt at a positive argument, describing in some detail where devolution could go rather than sticking to the “LABOUR SAYS NO” party line, but if you can get all the way to the end of it you’re a better blog than us.

Enough to keep you going until lunchtime there, we reckon.

Positive-case-for-the-Union update #9 4

Posted on January 19, 2012 by

(See here for the whole story.)

Northern Ireland’s politicians seem keen to get involved in the debate at the moment, with the latest contribution coming from Lee Reynolds, Director of Strategy for the Democratic Unionist Party, writing on the Slugger O’Toole blog.

The Unionist case needs a Scottish and non-party political voice that will sell a positive narrative.”

Reynolds’ piece runs to over 750 words, concerning itself entirely with the need for the Unionist case to be made positively rather than negatively and insisting that the FUD camp needs to “sell the benefits of our Union”. Unfortunately, perhaps due to pressures of space, Mr Reynolds was not able personally to specify in the article what any of those benefits actually are. We’re confident someone will soon.

TIME ELAPSED: 31 years, 11 months


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