The image above is representative of a significant number of ‘memes’ and posts in the same vein which have been appearing on social media sites recently. It is fairly typical of the genre; marked by pettiness and ignorance. Such messages may seem trivial. Just an example of the kind of ill-informed prejudice-venting which litters Facebook and Twitter and the rest. But the views expressed in these messages also represent something which should be taken seriously – the continued dishonest smearing of Alex Salmond.
I’m a political pragmatist. I accept that the ‘dirty trick’ is part of the political game. It can be a legitimate gambit. I don’t have much of a problem with the political smear. But it is a gambit which even when played with the required caution and within the rules both formal and informal, can all too easily go catastrophically wrong. Or it can be wrong from the outset.
Before playing the smear gambit one must consider a range of factors. First among these is the veracity of the smear story. If you are going to accuse another individual of some misdeed then you better be sure of your facts. You need to be certain that they did what they are being accused of. Even when a smear story is true there will always be the temptation to embellish it. It’s a smear. The smearer will want to be sure the smearee is affected. The smearer will be inclined to present the story in a manner they consider will be most damaging to the smearee. In doing so, the smearer may over-embellish the story. They may cross the line between embellishment and dishonesty. This, obviously, is best avoided.
The smearer should also consider the form and extent of the smear. The intention will only in exceptional cases be to end a political career. Or to send the smearee to prison, ruin their reputation and mark them as a social outcast for the remainder of their lives. The ‘acceptable’ smear should aim only to undermine the smearee’s credibility. That is a perfectly legitimate tactic in debate and in politics. If an opponent has sought to take the moral high ground on some topic it is quite in order to try and knock them off. So long as the smear doesn’t breach the first rule. It must be honest.
The extent of the damage done by the smear is another major consideration. The smearer must satisfy themselves that no innocent persons are going to be ‘collateral damage’ in the operation. The smearee’s family, for example. Obviously, any smear that is effective will have some impact on those close to the target. The smearer must ensure that there will be no severe consequences for innocent parties before deploying their smear story.
This is not intended be “Smearing for Dummies”. I am not attempting a comprehensive exposition of the conditions which must be met for a political smear to be regarded as fair rather than foul play. But I would be remiss if I didn’t mention one further ‘rule’. Do not allow escalation! Stick to the original smear. The one you are confident falls within the parameters of legitimacy. Escalation is more than just embellishment – which you may recall was ruled out of order. Where embellishment is simply a matter of presentation, escalation involves the addition of new material. It involves what may effectively be a whole new smear. A smear which has no legitimacy other than that which it appropriates from the original smear. The very nature of escalation implies a response to developments concocted on the hoof and therefore likely to lack the appropriate amount of consideration. Escalation is the point where a ‘good’ smear almost always goes bad.
The case of Alex Salmond is an exemplary instance of a smear which simply disregarded all the rules. It satisfies not a single one of the criteria which would make it legitimate. It is a ghastly tale of a political smear which was ill-conceived and seriously flawed from the outset. Looking back over whole episode as it has unfolded one can see the dishonesty and the subsequent embellishment and escalation that took the affair out of the arena of regulated politicking and into a seedy, lawless world where anything goes.
The sentiments expressed in the above image belong in the seedy world. Blaming the victim is just one of the tactics which may be deployed by the unscrupulous operator as they frantically try to put out a series of pant-fires gone wild.
If there is one thing that is certain in the whole affair it is that none of it was contrived or initiated or orchestrated by Alex Salmond. He is the victim in all of this. None of tribulations he’s had to face over the last couple of years was of his own making. Yet he is being accused of pursuing a vendetta against Nicola Sturgeon. Why? Because that is the way it is being portrayed in the media. Not excluding ‘alternative’ media or social media. The complexities of the affair – augmented by a obfuscation, prevarication, obstruction, deflection and downright dishonesty – make it comparatively easy to spin the story in the service of the smear. It is easy to make Salmond look like a child throwing tantrums or a “sad bitter old man who is not getting his own way”. Or both. See above.
People fall for it. Particularly those whose prejudices make them easy pickings for propagandists. Also those so wilfully ill-informed as to be the low-hanging fruit for forces intent on manipulating them. Nobody who has even the minimum knowledge of what is going on required to make them qualified to comment could possibly suppose Alex Salmond’s hesitancy in going before a largely hostile Parliamentary Committee might be dismissed as mere petulance and awkwardness. Just as nobody with any awareness of what has been going on could possibly conclude that the whole thing was down to Salmond pursuing a vendetta against Nicola Sturgeon rather than the latter pursuing a political smear that started to run out of her control the very moment it was conceived.
Alex Salmond is a big boy. He is far from being in his dotage. He is a remarkably astute politician and a decidedly crafty political operator. I have no doubt he is capable of resorting to the political smear when circumstances dictate. But what is as certain as the fact that Alex Salmond bears no blame whatever for this situation is that had he been running this particular smear campaign it would not be the embarrassing shambles that it has. If Alex Salmond had been in charge this smear would have been aborted before it even began.