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The Big Lie and the many small lies

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.

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.

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18 to “The Big Lie and the many small lies”

  1. Peter A Bell

    There's another thing that underlines the foolishness of this fuss about the consultation. With well over 20,000 members and a superbly efficient campaign organisation, why would the SNP need to resort to multiple anonymous submissions? Even supposing there was some advantage to be gained from this, what would be the point? Only one perfectly legitimate submission from as little as a third of the party's members would still result in more than double the number of responses that the UK government's effort managed to attract.
    No decency in the name of the union

  2. MajorBloodnok

    You are absolutely spot-on RevStu.  Very depressing to see this nonsense all over the papers and on the BBC.  It's all so obviously orchestrated yet lacking in any substance whatsoever. 
    The SG needs to get the opposition on the back foot more and dish out the same sort of stuff it has to receive, to keep them off balance instead – very difficult with an overwhelmingly Unionist press, however.

  3. Peter A Bell

    There are lot's of questions regarding Labour's consultation smear. But the biggest question of all is, why are the media not asking these questions?

  4. Peter A Bell

    Aaargh! Rogue apostrophe!

  5. John White

    I submitted a comment to the Herald article, finally linking to this blog, but they have seen fit not to publish it. Oh well, one less dead tree customer for them……..

  6. RevStu

    The Herald don't publish anything with links in it at all. Or most other comments.

  7. John White

    I'll read Iain McWhirter  and Ian Bell online, but that's that. I don't bother with the comments at the Scotsman as that gets really deranged, but with all its faults as a newspaper they generally publish what people post – except when Lord Robertson objects……………
    Although I am on the left, I actually prefer dealing with organs like the Spectator and Telegraph, as I expect less of them.
    Talking of the Telegraph, I now get the impression that it is only Scottish Nationalist comment that is keeping Cochrane afloat in terms of posts. Perhaps we should hold a benefit for him.

  8. Bill Cruickshank

    This is a brilliant piece, it is a great pity that the vast majority of Scots will never get to see it and therein lies the problem – how do we counter the unionist lies when almost all the MSM is unionist?

  9. John White

    As regards Bill's comment, could RevStu offer this article to Bella Caledonia and Newsnet Scotland? The MSM are a lost cause.

  10. A very good piece of journalism and the comments seem to have covered the rest.Short of taking full page adverts in papers like the Metro,I'm of the opinion that we would need to set up a free paper that we can hand out all over the country.I am not capable of doing it lacking both the knowledge and the finance of how it is done.Pass it around facebook and try and cover as many people as possible.We may have to resort to Rupert and offer him asylum if he needs it,we are the big stick he is using to get some leverage over Cameron.So we need to get a little bit of that for ourselves?

  11. Shirley

    re Peter A. Bell's comment above – rogue apostrophes are a sure sign of serious concern! He and everyone else must keep calm and carry on writing.  
    Sites like this are so necessary, and this article is excellent.
    I agree with the person who suggested this piece should be on Newsnet and Bella, and indeed on any other pro-Independence site out there.
    And possibly even more important – we should all send things like this to any friends or family swithering about Independence. They probably don'r read the pro Independence sites, but do see the MSM, 

  12. DougtheDug

    It's interesting that on the consultation document for the Scottish Office consultation on the referendum makes no requirement that responders include a name and address in the response.
    I wonder how many of their responses were anonymous?

    How to respond to the consultation

    We welcome your comments on any aspect of this document, particularly your responses to the questions set out in section 4.
    The deadline for responses is Friday 9 March 2012. You can respond by letter or e-mail to:

    Referendum Consultation
    Scotland Office
    1 Melville Crescent
    EH3 7HW

  13. MajorBloodnok

    I see the Scottish Government has anounced that the anonymous responses will be discounted.  They make up whopping 3.5% of the responses received (414 in total)… Labour are looking like a bunch of twits now.

  14. RevStu

    I'm actually a little disappointed – it gives Labour some sort of Pyrrhic victory. Simply identifying the tiny percentage of anonymous responses would have been enough. But I suspect that victory is going to be short-lived, as it leaves the SNP's hands impeccably clean when it's revealed (as it has been this evening) that the UK Govt consultation also allowed and published anonymous responses, in direct contradiction of Anas Sarwar's claims.

    Of course, that assumes that the media will report the latter fact. But if they don't, be assured that we'll be all over it.

  15. Màrtainn Mac A Bhàillidh

    Have you sent this article as a letter/email to every editor etc possible?? We need to actively attack this rubbish! You dismantle this smear very comprehensively here and every journalist in the country should be bombarded with this from local papers to national ones!
    Hail Alba

  16. Peter A Bell

    I have tweeted it, posted it on Facebook and featured it at Scottish Independence Referendum. This article deserves the widest possible distribution.

  17. RevStu

    Cheers! Newsnet Scotland know of the existence of this site, and have previously reprinted stuff with our permission. We're happy for them or anyone else to reprint any WingsLand features, so long as they ask first and publish a proper credit and linkback.

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