The world's most-read Scottish politics website

Wings Over Scotland

The shifting sands of thin ice

Posted on March 04, 2013 by

It can be hard to keep up with the Scotsman’s constant “finessing” of its news stories. For example, last night we followed a link to an interesting-sounding piece with the headline “UK’s Scots independence claims ‘on very thin ice'”.

It led to a David Maddox article on Professor David Scheffer’s recent comments suggesting that the UK Government’s official position – that an independent Scotland would inherit a worst-of-both-worlds share of the UK’s debt obligations, but none of the UK’s memberships of international bodies – was somewhat less than robust.


So when we saw the same story prominently featured on the front page of the paper’s website this morning, something seemed amiss.


Somewhere along the line, the Scotsman had decided that it couldn’t tolerate an opening line so critical of the anti-independence campaign, and inserted a standard “SNP accused”-type paragraph at the beginning, changing the tone of the piece from an attack on the No side to an attack on the Yes one, with the usual implication that the Scottish Government was being shifty and had something to hide.

The only thing that surprised us about the second version was that the original headline had been allowed to remain, perhaps because it’s clumsily-worded enough that people might actually overlook the “UK’s” part and assume that it was claims in favour of independence that were on shaky ground. So we cast a suspicious eye over the print edition for a third opinion:


Ah, that’s more like it.

Print Friendly

    19 to “The shifting sands of thin ice”

    1. Bob Howie says:

      If there are no newspapers that will print anything from pro-independence campaigners then there is not much we can do besides ignoring or replying which is always looked on in the negative.
      We need at least one newspaper on our side or Alex will have to go out there and state what exactly is going to happen and if those facts are blocked by legalities then to quote those legalities that are stopping him making statements.

    2. Barontorc says:

      Is it any wonder the Yes-its are complacent when they have all these media mouthpieces pushing their case. Only problem is they are handcuffed to loonies who’ve lost any sense of logical direction and circulation alone should be ringing a few anxieties – but hey – no probs!

    3. cath says:

      Rev, can I just say I’ve learned so much over the past year (and am still learning daily) about media manipulation, propaganda and the use of language. For a writer, it’s an education you couldn’t buy. So thank you to you, and indeed to the propaganda merchants.
      Still though, the shift from the first to the last version is staggering to behold.

    4. naebd says:

      “Is it any wonder the Yes-its are complacent”

    5. TYRAN says:

      I wonder if this will be shown in Scottish schools in years to come under history lessons? Seems quite educational. I mean if kids and students in 23rd century Scotland are learning about Scottish Independence 2014, or antiquated media like newspapers, there must be a place for it. I think this stuff will date badly. We all know about boys up chimneys and early flying machines peddled by a bicycle that fall straight into the sea. I feel the same when I read the Scotsman pieces above.

    6. EmbraBoffin says:

      Just wanted to echo Cath’s comments. Without your insight it would be very difficult for those of us without the time to keep track of the meta-story/narrative that MSM are pushing. 
      I can understand editors and their papers wanting to push a certain viewpoint but it is the relentless revisionism that is so galling. Pro-Unionist stories/arguments are trumpeted and the objections by the SG/SNP/Yes groups tacked on in the final paragraph. Where there is an anti-Union story the pro-Union groups are allowed to get their counter-attacks in first, and the papers lead with this and the SG/SNP/Yes groups are again left looking like they are on the back foot.
      If the No Campaign has merit then it should be able to do this without MSM support, that it can’t speaks volumes about their arguments.
      While this is all nothing new, it’s galling to watch outlets present themselves as honest news brokers when they are simply peddling a viewpoint. While they continue to dishonestly misrepresent both sides of this debate – the most important debate to take place in this country for centuries – I can only watch with satisfaction as their readership plummets. 

    7. Keef says:

      One thing is for sure the Rev. has all these articles complete with comments backed up. I’m pretty sure a man of his ca-li-ber will get at least one best seller from it in years to come. I’d venture to say he could score a Phd form writing the storyline as well.

    8. james morton says:

      Free for every reader of Wings over Scotland – A free baloney Dectection Kit as approved by Carl Sagan. Next time you delve into the UK MSM – keep this handy ruleset with you

      The following are suggested as tools for testing arguments and detecting fallacious or fraudulent arguments:
      Wherever possible there must be independent confirmation of the facts
      Encourage substantive debate on the evidence by knowledgeable proponents of all points of view.
      Arguments from authority carry little weight (in science there are no “authorities”).
      Spin more than one hypothesis – don’t simply run with the first idea that caught your fancy.
      Try not to get overly attached to a hypothesis just because it’s yours.
      Quantify, wherever possible.
      If there is a chain of argument every link in the chain must work.
      “Occam’s razor” – if there are two hypothesis that explain the data equally well choose the simpler.
      Ask whether the hypothesis can, at least in principle, be falsified (shown to be false by some unambiguous test). In other words, is isttestable? Can others duplicate the experiment and get the same result?

      Additional issues are

      Conduct control experiments – especially “double blind” experiments where the person taking measurements is not aware of the test and control subjects.
      Check for confounding factors – separate the variables.

      Common fallacies of logic and rhetoric

      Ad hominem – attacking the arguer and not the argument.
      Argument from “authority”.
      Argument from adverse consequences (putting pressure on the decision maker by pointing out dire consequences of an “unfavourable” decision).
      Appeal to ignorance (absence of evidence is not evidence of absence).
      Special pleading (typically referring to god’s will).
      Begging the question (assuming an answer in the way the question is phrased).
      Observational selection (counting the hits and forgetting the misses).
      Statistics of small numbers (such as drawing conclusions from inadequate sample sizes).
      Misunderstanding the nature of statistics (President Eisenhower expressing astonishment and alarm on discovering that fully half of all Americans have below average intelligence!)
      Inconsistency (e.g. military expenditures based on worst case scenarios but scientific projections on environmental dangers thriftily ignored because they are not “proved”).
      Non sequitur – “it does not follow” – the logic falls down.
      Post hoc, ergo propter hoc – “it happened after so it was caused by” – confusion of cause and effect.
      Meaningless question (“what happens when an irresistible force meets an immovable object?).
      Excluded middle – considering only the two extremes in a range of possibilities (making the “other side” look worse than it really is).
      Short-term v. long-term – a subset of excluded middle (“why pursue fundamental science when we have so huge a budget deficit?”).
      Slippery slope – a subset of excluded middle – unwarranted extrapolation of the effects (give an inch and they will take a mile).
      Confusion of correlation and causation.
      Straw man – caricaturing (or stereotyping) a position to make it easier to attack..
      Suppressed evidence or half-truths.
      Weasel words – for example, use of euphemisms for war such as “police action” to get around limitations on Presidential powers. “An important art of politicians is to find new names for institutions which under old names have become odious to the public

    9. Doug Daniel says:

      Does anyone else feel sad when they hover over an image only to find Stu hasn’t given it a witty caption?
      I always think of it as the Wings equivalent of a secret handshake or something.

    10. Rev. Stuart Campbell says:


    11. Boorach says:

      @ Pandapaws
      Consider yourself paid up…… I’ve been where you are and enjoy yourposts. Good luck

    12. famous15 says:

      See also “Straight and Crooked Thinking”. Thouless 1953
      Should be taught in schools! 

    13. Les Wilson says:

      I remember when PUTIN was in his election campaign in Russia, the reporter was asked if this was a democratic election. To which he replied that it was not a democratic campaign at all, he went on to say, ” how could it be, PUTIN has control of all the press and TV coverage, and anything the opposition say is usually misquoted in order to deflect their message. Guess what channel it was on, and who the reporter worked for, YUP the good old BBC!
      My real feeling was that PUTIN was getting lessons from the well tuned processes for such events, frm the UK!
      They make you sick don’t they!

    14. CameronB says:

      And they have just built themselves a shiny new replacement for Bush House, providing a multifunctional high-tech HQ for the World Service. Need to keep pumping that propaganda out to the global community, don’t you know.
      As with the BoE, just how much does Scotland already own of the Beeb?

    15. Tamson says:

      Harking back to the news about Johnson Press’ shenanigans surrounding their pagerank on Google, I’ve been googling the phrase “scottish news” intermittently over the past few days. The first page you get back has the BBC, Herald, Scottish Sun, STV, Daily Record, even Newsnet Scotland – but not the Scotsman. In fact, for the past few days it didn’t turn up until page 4 of my search results, somewhere near the Irvine Herald and the Caledonian Mercury (which is pretty much dormant now).
      Today it dropped to the bottom of page 5 of my search results, buried under secondary links to the BBC and the like. It’s dying before our very eyes.

    16. rapid says:

      I think its time we building a news-sniffer plugin for The Scotsman.  I’ll have a look at the code to see how complex it is. for their Guardian and BBC sniffers…

    17. Tamson says:

      Good grief – I tried the “scottish news” Google search again, and the first Scotsman link didn’t appear until page 12 ! Just behind the East Kilbride News…

    18. Malcolm says:

      Been thinking about this one off and on since it was published.
      What I couldn’t understand was if the editorial line of the Scotsman is so clearly pro union, why this article didn’t start in the way it ended up? Why write a piece in a more neutral way, if you know you’re going to be called upon to change the tone subsequently? Or let someone else do this for you? Does this mean there is someone on the Scotsman staff who is interested in writing news without partisan spin, and who is being overruled? Are they trying to sneak something more balanced out?

    19. Angus McPhee says:

      Cant see this as being as negative as you portray when you see the quotes they have chosen
      ‘  A Better Together spokesman said: “The overwhelming body of evidence suggests Scotland would indeed be a new state if we decide to go it alone. …  ‘
      ‘ A Scotland Office spokesman said: “Prof Crawford, one of the world’s leading experts on new state formation, has said leaving the UK would see Scotland become a new country, with all the issues that entails.” ‘
      Why have they chosen these quotes in particular? they are completely obvious and make the No campaign out to be a bit well thick. They might as well have said. ” Scotland will become a separate country if it becomes a separate country”

    Comment - please read this page for comment rules. HTML tags like <i> and <b> are permitted. Use paragraph breaks in long comments. DO NOT SIGN YOUR COMMENTS, either with a name or a slogan. If your comment does not appear immediately, DO NOT REPOST IT. Ignore these rules and I WILL KILL YOU WITH HAMMERS.

    ↑ Top