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.
10 thoughts on “The smearing of Alex Salmond”
If you ask me, the obstruction lies squarely within the Scottish Civil Service, namely Evans and McKinnon and the LA and the Crown (Woolfe, Hardie and assocs). They are doing their utmost to bring down the good standing of both FMs, which to their delight has resulted in so much infighting. Time we called out the real criminals.
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Spot on, thebenupnorth. Got it in one.
Another excellent analysis. Thank you.
I wonder if you would like to pursue further your acceptance of the “dirty trick” as a legitimate political tactic. Where would you draw the line? I offer some speculative words upon which to ruminate.
It is alleged that the British State has entire departments dedicated to ensuring events take place in accordance with British interests, amongst which ensuring Scottish independence never takes place, or at least only does so with the usual structures of patronage and British influence intact. Dirty tricks are their stock in trade.
It seems to me and a great many others that Alex Salmond’s treatment has been orchestrated for some time from within one of these departments of dirty tricks. In his submission he is very careful to level the bulk of his ire at the Crown Office and Leslie Evans, implying that there has been some sort of collusion from afar. That this is being framed as a tiff within the SNP is entirely to the point; the general aim has always been by whatever means necessary to destabilise Scotland and ensure so much confusion reigns that we will decide on our own that we are indeed too wee, too poor and too stupid to govern ourselves.
Where do we draw the line in response to this? When do we get to play the same level of dirty tricks on our opponents? Would it even be possible? Where does a handful of bloggers, free thinkers and activists get hold of the resources to counter years of concerted British State conspiracy? Where are the dirty tricks we will need to win this?
Just some stuff to think about.
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I think I made clear in the article that the line must be drawn very clearly, tightly and indelibly. It’s a matter of judgement. And there are vastly more ways of getting it wrong than there are ways to get it right. You have to be very sure of yourself, your associates and the ground you propose to tread before embarking on a political smear. All of which makes it a bit of a last resort. Which implies desperation. Which implies impaired judgement. Which means your chances of getting it right fall precipitously, passing zero on the way down to who knows where.
Responding to a political smear is another topic that might bear some analysis. As with all things, there will be some ground rules. The first might be – “Don’t admit! Don’t deny!”. If that’s the first rule it has some strong competition from another contender – “Don’t respond to a smear with a smear!”. All that does is make smears ubiquitous and ineffective other than to make all political operators look sleazy. If they don’t already look sleazy.
Ruling out tit-for-tat smears doesn’t mean the tactic need be abandoned completely. Only that spontaneous retaliation is a bad idea. Not only does it run the risk of being ill-considered, if you are responding automatically you are behaving predictably. Your opponents can use that against you. If they know how you are likely to respond they can prompt the response they want. We see that a lot.
Political smears are part of the armoury. But they are very prone to backfiring if fired without due caution. I’d say we should have smears in reserve to be deployed in a planned way in particular circumstances. Keep the smearing department well away from the responding department. And spend ten times more on the latter than on the former. If you get your responding right then you’ll neutralise your opponents’ smears and have no need of your own. Humour is a massively powerful weapon in this regard. It too must be used with caution. But artfully deployed satire can take the sting out of most(?) smears.
This is, of course, an off-the-cuff answer to your thought-provoking question. I shall give it more thought. There may be an article in there.
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With all this general chat about smearing I am drawn to a more material image of a prominent Westminster politician literally smeared with ordure.
Be that as it may, thank you. Glad to have become involved in your process …
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Reblogged this on Ramblings of a now 60+ Female.
I reckon that the stench currently coming from some of the institutions of Scotland e.g. the Crown Office, the Scottish Parliament, the Office of First Minister etc is more foul than the odour emanating from an IRA prisoner cell during the ‘dirty/blanket’ protests.
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If Alex Salmond had been ‘in charge’, he would have behaved differently to the women in his employ, or at least the 3, 9 or 12 who claim grievance. He would have stayed in charge of his behaviours and this would not therefore be happening. He is not a victim. The victims have been forgotten in the purile positioning and counter claiming evident.
So the verdict returned by a jury of 15 people who sat through all the testimony counts for nothing?
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At least that got me to put on Ivor Cutler’s Sammy Smears album.
Other less important findings, on top of the New Normal Totalitarian Police State, complete with daily State Broadcasts:
– The FM is a liar.
– The previous FM is a liar.
– The Scottish government is corrupt.
– The people that run the Scottish judiciary are beholden to the above.
– The Scottish government are as transparent as a brick.
– Lindia Fabiani is a lang drip a water.
– So’s Andy Wightman.