There is certainly hypocrisy in David Mundell’s screeching U-turn on the matter of his willingness to serve under Boris Johnson. Just as there is dumb arrogance in Ruth Davidson’s bombastic pronouncements on the subject of a new referendum – her actual authority being in inverse proportion to her pomposity. Similarly, it is difficult to explain Richard Leonard’s dire performances at First Minister’s Questions (FMQ) without including stupidity as a significant factor.
But is there something more to all this than rank hypocrisy, vaunting arrogance and abysmal stupidity? Is it, perhaps, a mistake to dismiss such things as mere gaffes or to discount them as just evidence of the kind of character flaws which seem ubiquitous among British politicians? When taken together with the various form of dishonesty by which the British media allows the gaffes to go unreported and the character flaws unremarked, might we be looking at a much larger phenomenon?
Some time ago. in an article for iScot Magazine called ‘The death of truth’, I wrote,
It seems not enough to say that truth is being supplanted. That it is being overwhelmed by a “narrative contrary to reality”. For all its vivid persuasiveness, the concept of a “vast, permanent chasm between reality and perception” is wanting. Possibly because it leaves reality distanced, but intact. And the sense I get is, not of truth being set-aside or distorted or obscured, but of truth being demolished. Obliterated. Eradicated.
Not that I am suggesting some Orwellian plot to murder truth. But if making the concept of truth indistinct and elusive serves the agendas of a sufficient number of people with a sufficient amount of influence then what emerges from their behaviours and interactions may be all but indistinguishable from a conspiracy.
What is certain is that the British establishment has developed doubt as a powerful weapon in its propaganda arsenal. Pretty much everything that British politicians do seems designed to foster uncertainty. The British media does a bang-up job of spreading that uncertainty. This results in a generalised erosion of confidence, not only in politicians, but in the entire political system. It also leads to much confusion among voters and, at the very least, a reduced ability to make informed choices.
When people are confused and uncertain they are more easily led. Or steered. They are more readily deterred from effecting change. They are more averse to anything that can be portrayed as a risk. They are more inclined to favour the familiar and cling to the status quo.
An atmosphere of uncertainty and confusion also makes people more susceptible to anyone who offers a risk-free option. Or an option which, with the help of the media, can be portrayed as risk-free. It was doubt, generated and exaggerated by Better Together / Project Fear, which the British political elite deployed so successfully in the 2014 independence referendum. It was the plausible promise of a simplistic certainty that launched the Brexit fiasco.
Pervasive doubt leaves space for manufactured truth. When truth is diminished, reality is defined by the loudest and most intrusive voices. Last week, Mundell said he wouldn’t work with Boris Johnson. This week, he says he would. Next week, nobody is sure what he said – or when he said it.
Nicola Sturgeon is First Minister. She has the authority of that office. She has the democratic mandate. Ruth Davidson is treated by the British establishment – particularly the media – as if she has the same status as the First Minister. She is presented as speaking with similar authority. She is allowed and enabled to claim a mandate that she doesn’t possess. Keep this up for long enough and with sufficient intensity and the distinction between First Minister and nonentity is blurred. Davidson’s pronouncement are afforded a weight they cannot legitimately have.
At FMQ, Richard Leonard persists in asking questions about reserved matters. This may be, wholly or partly, attributed to stupidity. But, deliberate or not, it has the effect of causing confusion about the powers of the Scottish Parliament and makes it easier to blame the SNP administration for the deleterious impact of British government policies.
Leonard’s evident stupidity is appalling. Davidson’s pretentiousness is offensive. Mundell’s hypocrisy is disgusting. The British media’s dishonesty is despicable. But put all this together and you have a phenomenon which is quite frightening.
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