Politicians’ words

A glittering generality is an emotionally appealing phrase so closely associated with highly valued concepts and beliefs that it carries conviction without supporting information or reason. Such highly valued concepts attract general approval and acclaim. Their appeal is to emotions such as love of country and home, and desire for peace, freedom, glory, and honor. They ask for approval without examination of the reason. They are typically used in propaganda posters/advertisements and used by propagandists and politicians.


I wonder if they know they’re doing it. I wonder to what extent it’s intentional or if glittering generalities are now so ingrained in the language of politics that political actors pepper their texts with them unconsciously. A sort of linguistic quirk. I wonder how long it takes to develop this quirk. Do politicians and others involved in politics in various ways have to learn the ‘special’ language? Do they simply absorb it from the environment they inhabit on account of their interest in politics? Do they receive formal training? Has that become part of the role of political parties?

Or is it that people born with a particular facility for manipulative language inevitably gravitate towards a career in politics? Or journalism? Or cold calling?

I wonder too why so many people continue to be taken in by this manipulative language. People generally claim to be aware and sceptical of resistant to the wiles of those trying to sell them happiness; whether in the form of a new appliance or a holiday in the sun or a magic formula that will make the normally aged look abnormally young because young people are always happy, aren’t they? Everybody says that everybody else is excessively influenced by the media. Nobody admits that they are excessively influenced by the media.

You’d think we’d develop some kind of natural immunity. After all, people have been using language to manipulate one another since before there was anything that we’d recognise as language. Maybe we have developed resistance. Maybe the power of manipulation has evolved as well in a kind of arms race. Like predator and prey. Maybe this is as good as it gets. Maybe manipulating and being manipulated is part of what makes us human and we’ll be doing it for as long as humanity lasts.

This manipulative language – of which the glittering generality is but an illustrative example – seems more common now. But that might be an age thing. Nonetheless, it’s everywhere. Perhaps I’ve just got better at recognising it. It also seems that the manipulative language of politics is used less artfully than it used to be. I seem to encounter more and more instances of jarringly clumsy attempts at manipulation. Efforts so artless that it is hard to believe anybody could possibly be taken in – although they are. This might be an age thing as well. Each of us has our own golden age. The things about golden ages is that they exist almost exclusively in memory. You seldom hear anybody celebrating the fact that they are currently enjoying a golden age. It is something mainly seen with hindsight.

It irks to see people falling for the blandishments of manipulators. It’s like that bit in a nightmare where you see someone you care about walking into danger and you want to scream a warning but you can’t; or your warnings can’t be heard. I see the Pavlovian response to some glittering generality and I get annoyed. Perhaps unreasonably so. Maybe even irrationally so. An age thing?

I seem to spend a lot of time being vexed, perplexed, irked and irritated by what seems to me to be a growing prevalence of incomprehensible stupidity. Or stupid behaviour. People don’t have to be stupid to do stupid things. Genuinely stupid people don’t know they’re stupid. If an individual recognises that they’ve done something stupid then they probably aren’t as stupid as their behaviour would suggest. Unfortunately, both forms of stupid behaviour are equally irritating as, generally speaking, the observer has no way of immediately distinguishing between the genuinely stupid and the incidentally stupid. It’s all just stupid.

And there’s just so much of it! I seem to swim in a sea of stupid. I suspect that’s a social media thing. It’s unlikely that the amount of stupid in the world has actually increased to the extent that one might assume from the evidence of ones Twitter timeline. Nature would surely have intervened by now to eradicate the source of stupidity massive enough to warp space and time. It just feels like there’s more of it because more of it gets published.

The amount of stupid out there can also seem greater than it really is because it tends to form lumps. Stupid attracts stupid until there’s a large amount of stupid which then attracts ever larger amounts of stupid until there’s a huge, dense clump of the stuff all gathered in one place. Like those mountainous balls of congealed grease and gunk that you sometimes hear about blocking some sewer.

It’s competitive, too. Which makes it worse. Stupidity doesn’t diminish. However stupid a claim or comment or conspiracy theory may be, there’s always somebody who can go one better. So it goes on until it reaches the point where the only people who could be more stupid are too stupid to be able to express themselves and the process ends abruptly.

What the hell started him off? I can hear you asking this. You’ve only read this far because you’re curious to know what has prompted this rambling rant. Well! I’ll tell you! It was Neale Hanvey MP. Although it could have been just about any politician, it just happens to have been Neale. This doesn’t reflect on him in particular. I’m not having a go at the guy. I’m not picking on him. It just so happens that he used one of the glittering generalities that’s been paining me lately.

The MP for Kirkcaldy & Cowdenbeath has published a A letter to the members of the SNP on Wings Over Scotland explaining his decision to quit the SNP and join the recently launched Alba Party. It is sometimes forgotten that MPs and MSPs are elected to represent a constituency, not a party. If they feel they can better represent that constituency as a member of a party other than the one under whose banner they were elected then they are not only free to change, they have an obligation to do so. I doubt if Mr Hanvey’s move will be viewed in such a light by all SNP members. Some will call him a traitor. This is unwarranted, in my opinion.

It’s no small matter for an elected representative to change parties. Not least on account of the adverse reaction of those who think him guilty of disloyalty. It is a matter to be taken seriously. One assumes that Neale Hanvey thought long and hard before making this decision. Indeed, he states that the decision was made following “considerable reflection”. That a politician should reflect at all is a fine thing. Considerable reflection is something of a prize. One would hope that this reflection involved the most careful consideration of all relevant facts and reasoned arguments. It would be good to think the motivation for such a move was sound.

Imagine, then, my disappointment at finding Neale Hanvey’s reasons for switching parties resting on the wobbly pillar of a currently fashionable glittering generality.

…we must work to deliver a supermajority for independence. This will ensure that Scotland, not London decides.

Does that not qualify as “an emotionally appealing phrase so closely associated with highly valued concepts and beliefs that it carries conviction without supporting information or reason“. Lots of high value concepts there. Something that “we must work to deliver’ has to be a good thing, doesn’t it? The word “independence” is replete with positive associations for his audience. A majority is useful, isn’t it?. Everybody knows that, don’t they? So a “supermajority” must be… well… super, right?

Does it not logically follow that this “supermajority” will “ensure that Scotland, not London decides”? Neale Hanvey certainly seems to believe it does. Or at least he states it as if a guarantee of decisions be made in Scotland not london inevitably flows from having this “supermajority”. He certainly wants the recipients of his letter to believe that if they vote for him and or his new party this will “deliver a supermajority” and desirable things will ensue. He definitely doesn’t want anybody asking how. He’s hoping people will give him approval without examination of his reasoning. He’s peddling a glittering generality.

He’s not alone. Very far from it. We find such glittering generalities everywhere the so-called ‘list parties’ are discussed. Although we now need only consider one – Alba Party. Claims like the aforementioned crop up everywhere in the rhetoric of those flogging the idea that what Scotland’s independence cause needs is more pro-independence (but not SNP) MSPs. Or fewer Unionist MSPs. Or both. What is absent is the supporting information or reason. The idea of a supermajority has strong emotional appeal. Every independence supporter wants decisions made in Scotland rather than London. Every independence supporter would love to see MSPs from the British parties unceremoniously kicked out of the Scottish Parliament. They’re naturally going to want to believe that there’s an easy way to do all of this. And here’s Neale Hanvey telling them exactly what they want to hear. What’s missing is an explanation of how one thing follows the other.

None of those peddling this particular glittering generality ever explains how a supermajority makes the other stuff happen. Ensures that it happens! It’s like the other big glittering generality of the moment. The one that says support for independence is rising according to the polls therefore independence is inevitable. What’s missing is any explanation of how the former links to the latter causally. That’s because there is no link. There is no process in place or in prospect by which that public support for independence can be translated into a democratic vote for independence. We are supposed to be so dazzled by the glittering generality that we don’t notice that lack of this link. And it works! It is incredible how readily people are fooled by this. It’s unbelievably easy to manipulate people.

As with polls/independence, the supermajority/good stuff glittering generality lacks the vital connection. We are never told how one leads to the other. Astoundingly, almost nobody ever asks!

The supermajority-peddlers will throw arithmetic at you. They’ll tell you that the numbers don’t lie. Which is drivel. Numbers can be used to construct lies almost as readily as words can. Look at GERS! They will tell you that the arithmetic proves their case. It doesn’t, of course. At best, the arithmetic suggests that the cunning plan might work. If all the numbers in real life oblige by doing nothing without referring to the cunning plan, then it’s just possible that a supermajority might be achieved.

But even if the arithmetic did prove the feasibility of gaining a pro-independence supermajority it tells us nothing at all about whether or how that supermajority assists in the fight to restore Scotland’s independence.

The reality behind the glittering generality is that it can’t. A supermajority may have some symbolic value. But it has no practical value whatever. There’s nothing it can actually do that brings independence any closer. At least, I have been unable to think of anything. And nobody I’ve asked has been able to tell me. Neale Hanvey doesn’t. He has nothing at all to say about the practicalities. He doesn’t explain how this supermajority can be effective. If a supermajority can be instrumental in restoring Scotland’s independence you’d think those advocating this would be eager to demonstrate the fact. Curiously, they are extremely reluctant to do so.

That’s just politics, I suppose. It may seem a rather dubious tactic for winning votes. Even a bit dishonest. But it’s just the way politics is done. It’s the way it has always been done. It’s all about manipulating perceptions, opinions and attitudes. The alternative would be to let people see the reality, form their own opinions and adopt an attitude accordingly. What the hell kind of politics is that?

If that kind of politics appeals to you despite my facetious scoffing, you can have it. All you need to do is stop buying glittering generalities. Let ‘market forces’ do the rest. Above all, ask questions. Question everything. Start be questioning your own prejudices and preconceptions. Then question everything else. And when you you’ve done that, question your questions. Ask yourself if you’ve asked the right questions. If you find that you haven’t, go back armed with your new questions. Ask questions and don’t be fobbed off with responses that aren’t answers but just more stuff that needs to be questioned.

Asking question will solve everything. Unless that’s another glittering generality….

28 thoughts on “Politicians’ words

  1. I guess couthy words are a part of politics & reasoned points rarely make good sound bytes.

    I agree that Supermajority is mostly meaningless rhetoric, there is one technical area where it might turn out to be important (see end).

    I think the unvarnished truth is harder to pitch in a few seconds:

    The SNP and Green Party are pursuing many agendas that are anathema to a large section of the electorate. They pay lip service to Independence but there’s always a reason to delay.

    The SNP leadership are in thrall to a particular faction that also has total control of the Green Party. All means foul & fair are employed to prevent the members from regaining control of the party.

    Single party majorities with our system are incredibly rare freaks.

    On the current course we will have another Parliament focused on non-Independence issues that either don’t interest voters or actively alienate them. The Greens will hold Independence to ransom for other areas.

    Time to change course.

    If we are locked into a stable stalemate that gets us nowhere, introducing a new factor is sometimes needed to unlock it. Curiously, family members who planned not to bother voting SNP on constituency ballot are now more comfortable doing so because of Alba and a possible squeeze on the Greens.

    D’Hont is hard to predict. This might simply replace Green Party seats with a few Alba MSPs -that in itself would be good if it loosens the grip of the destructive ideology. More likely it will cost Unionists seats as well.

    An SNP Government reliant on votes from Independents (see Laura Marsh NE) and other Independence parties would be more healthy. The replacement of characters of conviction & conscience like Margo MacDonald with the woeful SNP Fabiani committee members reading from their scripts has been a disaster.

    Returning to ‘Supermajority’, there is one situation where it has an important technical meaning; I think a 2/3 vote in Holyrood is needed to call an election before the end of the natural term. This might yet be a useful power to have if a Referendum is blocked rather than having wait for end of term to hold a plebiscite election.

    The extra moral power argument is almost as weak as the current SNP Leadership ‘give us another mandate because they can’t refuse so many’.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. “Time to change course.”


      “An SNP Government reliant on votes from Independents (see Laura Marsh NE) and other Independence parties would be more healthy.”



      1. Change course? That’s the difficult bit.

        We’ve tried the internal party democracy route with no success. Those in control are blocking grass root members from having influence. They are bending the constitution and at times frankly breaking it to stifle different viewpoints. I spent hours trying to persuade fellow members to stay & try to change things but it’s too gone too far. Sadly, I think the only way things will change is external reality impinging. It is a pity that it didn’t come to a head earlier than this critical time but if it is not faced the best we can hope for is another devolutionist Parliament and the worst is Unionist take over.

        The SNP leadership need to refocus on Independence rather than controversial & alienating policy, Off the record SNP briefings about a coalition with the Greens seem to indicate that is not their their intention. The first step to an SNP reality check is a solid SNP constituency vote & the Green Party NOT being kingmakers. That’s why I think a mix of Independence MSPs of and independent nature would be healthy rather than the current heavily managed script readers.

        We’ve still to see manifestos but I’d gladly wager that all of those standing for Independence will be far clearer about Independence than either the SNP or Green Party.

        Prediction range IMHO:

        SNP government reliant on Green support, blaming S30 doubters, postponing Independence but continuing to alienate the public

        SNP do well on constituency vote but not enough to govern alone, a good range of independent minded Independence MSPs. SNP no longer in thrall to Green party ideology and perhaps some SNP MSPs feeling more able to ask questions.

        Very optimistic
        SNP & other Independence MSPs combined have 2/3 of seats and ability to call plebiscite election at time of choosing.

        Despite the promising polls, I think it’s very unlikely that SNP will have a single party majority. The behaviour of the leadership and likely unfolding events make that hard to believe.


  2. Aw bit , aw bit , don’t you think there is some value in hitting unionists where it hurts, their party infrastructure ? Every win for Alba against a sitting unionist tenant is one less funded office full of paid staff . Not lofty strategy , I grant you , more like a tawdry tactic. .You’re right , the arithmetic of gaming the system involves risk , there is no certain formula that number crunches a sure and safe electoral outcome . That said , undermining the opposition’s assets is surely worth thinking about .

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Absolutely, Peter. Snake oil salesmen. I have two questions for them:

    Q.1. How exactly does an indy supermajority at Holyrood compel the Westminster government to negotiate for Scottish independence?

    Q.2. How exactly does a supermajority at Holyrood based on less than 50% of all votes cast confer legitimacy for independence?

    All it does is show that you have successfully gamed the d’Hondt system. The public won’t thank you for that as it’s fundamentally immoral.


    1. I don’t know about “immoral”. That’s a whole other debate. And given that we each have our own morality, it’s unlikely to be a productive debate.

      My concern is that the British might declare the election void on the basis of what you’re calling it’s immorality. There’s certainly a lot of work being done by the British media preparing public opinion for this. The groundwork is being laid. So some kind of intervention is evidently being kept as an option.

      I guess it depends on how successful the list parties are in breaking the system.


        1. Aye. Not sure even the Brits would act on the basis of immorality. They’d go with legitimacy. It’s just one of the risks that those celebrating the launch of Alba choose to ignore. I sometimes wish I could so easily shut out reality. Before you say it, our house is a dry house Monday through Thursday. Ah cannae hae a drink afore Friday!


  4. More than anything to support an Indy party alternative to an SNP stuck endlessly in the S30 doldrums, That, while alienating members and potential Yes converts with ‘controversial legislation’. If we don’t have an ‘Alba’ or alternative party now, in future years we will wish that we did.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Please read my comment again Mairianna, I make no mention of a “supermajority”. My concern is in ‘our’ SNP moving away from the aims of many if not most of its members.


  5. It’s an abuse of the d’Hondt system which was designed to compensate parties for the limitations of first past the post on the constituency votes. It was not intended to be used selectively in this way but to work in tandem with the constituency vote. The Tories and Labour get about 20-25% of the vote and end up with the same approximate proportion of seats.

    The SNP got 47% of the vote in 2016 and ended up with 63 seats out of the 129 available. The number of seats each party gained was approximately in line with their electoral support.

    I’m not going to say any more on this as I don’t want to give the other side any ammunition. Suffice it to say I think it is folly which will not end well.


  6. Hi Murren, yes, I agree it’s a good idea to have another indy party besides the Greens, but it takes time to build up a party and I don’t think we have the time. I have set out my other worries elsewhere.

    I do see that Nicola Sturgeon has a strategy of pursuing a legal constitutional route and exhausting all such possibilities to demonstrate that the UK Government are being unreasonable. Quite what she does then is anybody’s guess.

    Liked by 3 people

  7. The SNP leadership shows no sign of changing its devolutionary way. It seems to think Scotland has time on its side; it does not. It will be a crime if Scotland loses out on its chance to regain its independence because of SNP obfuscation.


  8. “What will a supermajority achieve that a working majority wouldn’t?”

    -Neither will achieve anything if the SNP demur.

    On your questions Mairianna:.

    1. How exactly does an indy supermajority at Holyrood compel the Westminster government to negotiate for Scottish independence?

    -It doesn’t but neither does an SNP majority.

    Q.2. How exactly does a supermajority at Holyrood based on less than 50% of all votes cast confer legitimacy for independence?

    -Less than 50% is practically guaranteed if the SNP fails to get the wider Independence vote out. The Alba alternative motivates those voters seriously pissed off with the party back to to the ballot box thus making that 50% + a possibility again.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. And what happens when you all get pissed-off with your shiny new party and decide that what’s actually needed is another new party because you can’t be arsed with the effort of fixing what you have?


      1. Could this be an attempt to fix what we have? Currently no one within the SNP seems to be able or willing to ‘fix it’. But now, here we have a choice and options that may help the SNP to get back on track. If they have another high-profile independence party holding them to account, giving their members somewhere else to go, keeping independence on the table. It appears from all that has been revealed over the last year that the SNP have become corrupt, or to put it kindly lost their way. If Alba gets some success and profile is it not possible that their very existence will help hold Nicola Sturgeon to account and to force her to make the changes that are required? Could Alba be the catalyst that is required to start fixing what we have?


        1. No. Or, to be appropriately cautious, highly unlikely. It has been known for some time that Alex Salmond was going to launch a new party. If Nicola Sturgeon was going to be moved by this then she would have pre-empted it. She would have done something. Something more than just complaining and condemning and making snide remarks about Alex Salmond. For example, if she had embraced the Manifesto for Independence she would have totally stolen Salmond’s thunder. Knowing that his thunder was going to be stolen, Salmond would have declined to be involved with Alba and it would have fallen flat.

          I hear all this talk of holding to account and holding feet to fires and I ask the obvious question – how? What leverage could Alba have. I already know that the other list parties could not possibly have had any leverage at all. Why should I think Alba might have more? It will be asserted that Alex Salmond will make Alba different. And I don’t doubt that this is so. But what difference can he make that provides that leverage. In what credible post-election scenario does Alex Salmond have significant influence over the Scottish Government to force a change of approach to the constitutional issue?

          And even supposing he gets elected AND that he somehow has the leverage to make the SNP change course, how can the Scottish Government do something for which it has no mandate?

          And if the SNP does adopt the Manifesto for Independence before the election and gets a decent result, what’s the point of Alba? They’d be there to force the Scottish Government to do something that it’s going to do anyway.

          And if the SNP decides to renege on the Manifesto for Independence after being elected to govern, what could Alex Salmond MSP do to prevent them doing so?

          And how can the SNP Scottish Government (which we must assume) have the powerful mandate it needs to confront the British state and yet still be so weak as to be influenced by a couple of Alba MSPs.

          I’m not getting excited. I’m too realistic.


      2. Peter, we have tried but every effort has been blocked even to the extent of people in top posts behaving unconstitutionally.

        If you manage to sort it then no one will be more delighted than me.


        1. If we’d tried it wouldn’t have happened. If we’d tried then the leadership wouldn’t have had the power to block anything. Party members – and that includes myself – cannot evade responsibility for what has happened to OUR party. We had the power to stop all of it. We failed. We didn’t use that power. We put far too much trust in those at the head of the party. If the members own the party then the buck stops with the members. Just as the people being sovereign means that the buck stops with the people.

          It is said that we get the governments we deserve. It is more true to say that we get the government we choose or we get those who choose to govern. By the same token, we get the party we want or we get what others want the party to be. If the people don’t exercise their power then that power goes by default to whoever is prepared to exercise it.

          Liked by 1 person

      3. We tried to recover the party for Independence but we realised and acted too late.
        I still had hope at the last Conference election but it make no difference when those still in key positions were prepared to act unconstitutionally.

        Legal action would make this an even bigger mess.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. On “fixing what you have ” the message surely came loud and clear when the utterly odious Fiona Robertson was bumped from the NEC by the members trying to do just that. The result was unfortunately to see her popped back essentially by Sturgeon fiat.
        Another example? What about the membership electing a Finance and Audit Committee to clear the financial murk only to have hubby Murrell deny them access to the party accounts?

        – You can’t actually reform the SNP internally and democratically with nepotism at the helm.


        1. It’s not that it can’t be done. It could have been done. A significant number of members made the CHOICE not to even try. Either because they’re blind to what has been happening or because it was more personally and immediately gratifying to do a flounce. Murrell and the rest aren’t some all-powerful junta. They’re barely competent. There is no way they could have done what they’ve done if there had been significant opposition.

          When the history of these times is written it will not be kind to the SNP membership.


  9. Mairianna,

    If you are correct in your assertion that the public will not support that which is ‘fundamentally immoral’ then I fear, based on for instance, the recent gerrymandered SNP list candidate selection process or for that matter Nicola Sturgeon’s perceived inability to recognise truth, under oath, as exposed in her
    recent appearance before the Holyrood Inquiry, that must surely make the SNP under Nicola Sturgeon unelectable.

    My question to you, why under the stewardship of Nicola Sturgeon has the SNP failed to activate mandates and campaign on a MANIFESTO FOR INDEPENDENCE?

    Honest answer please?


  10. Nice to see Tommy Sheridan and his wife get behind the new party.

    I think Tommy should, particularly giving British political precedence, be given an opportunity to come in from the cold, and stand for a list vote but I suspect Alba will be wary of the adverse media attention he will garner ……which they will get anyway.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.