On a number of occasions recently I have mentioned the phenomenon of propaganda cues, or prompts. These are “lines” devised by the teams of media advisers – or “spin-doctors” employed by political parties. They are generally recognisable because they are not concerned with policy issues but with a process of manipulating the public’s perceptions of political rivals.
The “smear story” is the most obvious of these. But propaganda cues can be more subtle. The point is that their main purpose is, not necessarily to do direct and immediate damage, but to let supporters know what to focus on at any given time and to provide material that others can reference repeatedly in an ongoing propaganda campaign.
The idea is to generate a meme. Very often, this meme is a complete lie. Or, at least, a severe distortion of the truth. But it is used by those who pick up on the cue as if it represented established fact in the hope that people will thoughtlessly accept it as such.
Very often, these cued onslaughts appear when a politician or party is in trouble. They are used to divert attention from a serious gaffe or scandal – such as Jim Murphy’s recent attack on NHS Scotland on the basis of totally spurious procedure cancellation statistics.
The piece featuring former Scottish Tory leader, Annabel Goldie
, in the Daily Record on Tuesday 17 February is an excellent example of a propaganda cue. We can expect that it will be dutifully picked up by commentators in the British media and British nationalism’s rag-tag band of amateur propagandists on various social media platforms and in the below-the-line comment facilities of the British press.
The meme in this instance is the idea that the SNP somehow worked hand-in-hand with the Tories at Holyrood during the minority government of 2007-2011. (I know! Strange that nobody noticed this until now.) The sub-text is that, having supposedly co-operated with the Tories for four years, the SNP is now being “hypocritical” by ruling out a deal with the Tories at Westminster. (I know! But let’s gloss over the planet-weight irony of the British parties talking about hypocrisy.)
What generally gives these things away is a lack of substance. Looking at the piece in the Record, for example, we find the relationship between the SNP and the Tories described in a way that makes it appear almost like a formal coalition. The aricle makes the claim that the two parties “worked side by side. There is a reference to a “close relationship” between Goldie and then First Minister, Alex Salmond.
Only as we read on do we find Goldie admitting that she only ever spoke directly with Alex Salmond on the single issue of drugs strategy, which was being developed pretty much on a cross-party basis. Such honesty is a relatively new feature of these propaganda prompts. Goldie is smart enough to know that, however much the mainstream media can be relied upon to stick to the propaganda line, the piece will inevitable be torn to shreds in the more critical alternative media. (See Wings Over Scotland – http://wingsoverscotland.com/the-imaginary-alliance/
) She needs a get-out clause. She needs to be able to claim that she said something true, even if 99% of the piece is blatantly dishonest. She can afford to give the game away safe in the knowledge that this bit will never be mentioned by any of those who pick up the propaganda cue.
As noted above, the estimable Stu Campbell has already dissected the Goldie article. But is worth noting here that on most, if not all, of the occasions when the minority SNP administration was defeated, British Labour MSPs voted with their future Tory allies in Better Together. Meanwhile, just about the only times the Tories voted with the government was on budget votes – when John Swinney had held out on a couple of bones to throw their way so that they could claim to have won “concessions”, e.g. the extra 1000 police officers.
Then, as now, the only “informal alliance” in evidence was the cabal formed by the British parties at Holyrood.
But there is a rather more glaring indication of this habitual close co-operation between (or among, if we take account of the LibDems) the British parties. Where has this British nationalist propaganda cue from one of Scotland’s leading Tories been published? It has been plastered all over the Daily Record, a newspaper which is generally regarded as the house organ of British Labour in Scotland.
British Labour’s rapidly diminishing band of loyalists are being asked to take their lead from a top Tory.