I take it that headline was intended to be ironic. The only complacency I see here is coming from Richard Walker. And it’s coming in huge, all-engulfing, sense-swamping, reality-defying, panglossian waves. As I read Richard’s column I found myself trying to figure out whether it reveals his own personal take on the situation; or whether it is an insight into the mindset that prevails inside the bubble-fortress where dwells the SNP leadership. If the former, then we perhaps need to be a bit concerned about Richard. If the latter, then we have to be fearful for the entire nation.
There is a third possibility. Perhaps the article doesn’t so much expose the thinking within the SNP+SGP/Scottish Government as betray the attitude they hope to instill in the Yes movement. Maybe they’re not as complacent as Richard’s article suggests. Maybe they want us to be more complacent. Or less openly fretful and vocally disquieted. My guess would be that if the article has some purpose other than to let us know how happy and, indeed, clappy Richard is, then that purpose is to create an even starker contrast than already exists between the situation as perceived by critics of the Sturgeon doctrine and the situation as the SNP leadership would like it to be seen. Thus making it easier to portray the dissenting voices as the voices of unreason.
Did I hear somebody say ‘conspiracy theory’? Well, that would be the standard method of dismissing such ideas. But if you think about it all I’m talking about here is politicians behaving like politicians and a journalist doing what journalists do. Politicians always want to manipulate public perceptions. Journalists are professional manipulators of public perceptions. It’s hardly the stuff of outlandish conspiracy theory to suppose they might collude. The British media is replete with examples of such collusion. Not necessarily a formal arrangement. Perhaps no more than a coincidence of interests.
I am not for one moment suggesting that Richard wrote his sunny assessment of the state of play at the behest of Nicola Sturgeon. Let’s knock that one on its potentially defamatory head right away. All I’m saying is that Richard is in a position to be intimately aware of the communication needs of the SNP leadership and powerfully conscious of the editorial stance of what with due deference to Callum Baird, is still ‘his’ paper. If the communication needs of the SNP leadership are as I suppose them to be and the editorial stance of The National is what it claims to be, then the product might well be the kind of all sugar no pill appraisal we find in Richard’s column.
I’m not suggesting Nicola Sturgeon speed-dialled Richard and said,
“Dae’s a favour, pal! Gaun dae’s a wee piece in yer paper that kinda, ye ken, gies the punters a bit pat on the heid an’ tells them a’hing in the gairden’s baith tickety and, indeed, boo an’ fur them no tae listen tae they dour-pussed blogger baistrirsts Pete Wishart’s aye oan aboot (Whit the Friar Tuck’s up wi’ him these days, by the way? Whit’s he oan? An’ kin ah hae sum!? Ha! Ha! Wee joke therr. Aye…. ) Onyhoo! Ye ken whit ah’m efter, Richard. Leave it with ye. Let’s dae Gregg’s pasty oan Buchanan steps like the auld days, eh? Afore a pit yiz a’ unner hoose arrest again, eh!? ‘Nither wee joke therr. Ah’m oan fire the day. See ye later, pal!”
Or something like that.
I’m just saying that if she had and he did then it would look very much like what we have.
What we have makes me wonder if Richard has considered writing under the pen-name Pollyanna. It would certainly be appropriate. There’s enough irrepressible optimism here to fill an entire library of Eleanor H. Porter’s ‘Glad Books’. It’s relentless positivity from the opening declaration.
The momentum is back with the campaign for independence.
Hmmm! I thought the official line was that the momentum had never been lost. Isn’t the story that Nicola Sturgeon’s steady hand on the tiller has steered the independence campaign ever onwards towards its destination over the past seven years? Let’s leave that thread unpicked for the moment, however, and ask one of those awkward questions so abhorred by the #WheeshtForIndy mob. For there to be momentum, does there not have to be movement? I’m pretty sure that’s what Sir Isaac Newton would tell us. As I understand his laws of motion, a stationary object has no momentum. It has inertia. For there to be momentum there must first be a force applied sufficient to overcome inertia and impart motion.
The reality is that as far as Scotland’s cause is concerned, time has stood still for seven years. The independence campaign is like one of those houses preserved as it was at some point in history. Nicola Sturgeon’s plan, insofar as there is one and to the extent that it has been revealed, is to bring that old house back into use. No renovation is to be done. Just a bit of hoovering and dusting then we move in. Richard Walker refers to a “new case being put together for indy” and a “new prospectus for independence”. But the remainder of the article doesn’t tell us anything about any of this “new” material. Instead, it deals almost entirely with the British Nationalists’ supposed dearth of new material. The ‘logic’ seems to be that because they have so little it inevitably follows that we must have a lot. But nowhere is any of this new material identified.
Not to worry, though! It’s not like we need new arguments. It’s not even as if we have to do anything. The old Better Together arguments – if that term is even applicable – are now useless and the British government is driving Scotland’s cause without any help from us. Everything’s for the best in the worst of all possible worlds that is the British state.
Richard Walker devote’s four paragraphs to describing the British Nationalists’ old/only points of attack and the Yes side’s counter-arguments – starting with pensions. They say “independence would threaten our pensions”. We say the UK’s pensions are pitiful and Boris Johnson is intent on making them worse. The only thing that’s “new” here is Boris Johnson. And he’s just another British Prime Minister wielding the powers of the Union. We had one of those ten years ago too. This one may be worse by just about any measure one cares to apply. But there is absolutely nothing “new” in the so-called arguments. It’s the 2014 referendum campaign revisited.
Then there’s currency. I know! I know! You can’t be more sick of this currency pish than myself. But the notion persists among the greatish and goodish of the independence movement that ‘currency is key’. I’ve battered this notion to a pulp on far too many occasions to be bothered doing so again here. Those who consider themselves better qualified to pontificate on the matter persist in treating “What currency?” as a serious question. They persist with the quest for a definitive answer to that question. As with all such questions – and they are legion! – what constitutes a definitive answer is an explanation that satisfies everyone. There’s more chance of then tripping over the Holy Grail as they quest after this definitive answer than there is of them finding it. But they’re my betters. So they’ll no’ be telt.
Again, there is nothing “new” here. They insinuate that independent Scotland will have no functioning currency. We retort that we will. And repeat. Just as it was in the first referendum campaign. No lessons have been learned. Not by those in charge of devising a new strategy for a new referendum campaign. Or should I say revising the old strategy for a rerun of the old campaign. They still haven’t figured out the purpose of these questions. They assume the old Better Together propaganda will no longer be effective because voters are older and wiser. That is not a safe assumption. As I shall explain later. For the moment let’s just note that the “new” thinking in the SNP leadership is to deal with the currency issue in precisely the same way as they did when by their own admission and the nodding consensus of the larger but less thoughtful part of the Yes movement they failed to deal with it at all. If they hadn’t failed to deal with it, why is it still and issue? Why do they think they still have to treat it as an issue?
Next up we have the ‘too poor’ part of the British anti-independence propaganda. With the ‘too wee’ bit tagged on. And again there is no trace of anything new. They say Scotland lacks the resources to survive absent the generosity of English taxpayers. We respond with endless statistics that ‘prove’ how blessed Scotland is. As it was then, so it is now. There is no “new case”. How could there be? Do we have more coastline than we did a decade ago? Have the seas around us expanded? Do we have any more available fresh water? Usable wind? The numbers within those statistics may have shifted up or down a bit. Bit it’s still just a catalogue of statistics. Our political and movement ‘leaders’ still haven’t got it. They haven’t comprehended how the British propaganda works. So they haven’t devised an effective way to counter it.
And the same applies to the bit where Richard Walker touches on the British Nationalist insinuation – because it is never explicitly stated – that Scotland is too small. Our response ten years ago was to hold up a list of countries that are both independent and as small or smaller than Scotland. Do you see any change in the supposedly “new” response?
Do all those independent countries about the same size as Scotland have resources remotely close to those we are lucky enough to possess? Would any of them give up their independence?
Finally and thankfully, we get the “deficit” thing. Also known as the financial ‘black hole’ argument. And guess what! The response Richard describes could have been copied from a Yes Scotland leaflet vintage 2013. Or a Business for Scotland leaflet any time since right up to the present. I haven’t seen the material they’ve prepared for distribution on the planned Day of Action to mark the seventh anniversary of the first independence referendum. But I’m betting there’s a paragraph somewhere that isn’t a million miles from what Richard offers.
Which is OK! Because it’s true! And getting the truth out there is generally a good thing. Unless, of course, the truth is an inconvenience to those with the power to prevent it getting out there. But you take my point. The Believe in Scotland Day of Action isn’t a bad idea. If it mobilises a significant part of the Yes movement in a coordinated effort then it is a very good thing. But is it effective? It is naive to imagine that dishonest propaganda can be neutralised with truth. Cleverly contrived propaganda is armoured against truth. It may even be amplified by attempts to counter it with facts, while the facts themselves have little or no effect on those targeted by the propaganda.
That, in short, is the lesson that the Yes movement hasn’t learned. The lesson that must be learned. The fallacies which must be disposed of. Such as the fallacy that voters make entirely or mainly rational choices on the basis of the facts presented to them. A propaganda war – which means every political campaign there is, was or ever will be – is not a contest of facts. It is a contest of feelings. People don’t vote according to what they know, or think they know. They don’t vote on the basis of the facts as they have accepted them. They vote according to how they feel. Facts are only relevant to the extent that they might be used to affect how people feel about an issue. But facts are neither necessary nor sufficient. Ultimately, people vote on instinct. It is not a particular collection of statistics and tables and graphs and learned articles that decides the issue. It is the individual’s overall attitude to the issue and those putting the case on either side.
A voter can stand, pencil poised over the ballot paper, armed with a factual case which ‘proves’ the wisdom of voting Yes. But if in that moment they harbour the smallest doubt no matter how irrational, they are at least as likely to vote No.
From this it should be obvious that the first task is to define the issue. The way the issue is defined will determine how the propaganda must be shaped in order to be effective. It will determine how easy or difficult it is for the contestants to manipulate feelings. How the issue is framed is crucial. The question on the ballot paper determines the form of the campaign. The question and the framing of the issue – is always going to be ‘wrong’ for one side. One or other side will always be relatively favoured by the framing and the question. Their campaign will be easier. Manipulating voters’ feelings i an way that is effective from that side’s perspective will be relatively easier than for the other side. The other side with have to work harder. Or cleverer.
Looking at Scotland’s constitutional issue armed with these thoughts we see immediately what was problematic – or potentially problematic – with the first referendum campaign for each side and what advantaged – or potentially advantaged each side. To my knowledge, and from the evidence available, it seems that the SNP never conducted this kind of analysis. If they it is simply not possible that they could have concluded that it was a good idea to do everything the same way it was done then.
I far from comprehensive summary, that analysis would have indicated that framing the issue with independence as the contended – and therefore contentious – proposition gave the No campaign a huge advantage. The Yes campaign was tasked with ‘proving’ that independence would be beneficial. The No side had only to cast doubt. Independence isn’t even a defined concept. Independent Scotland doesn’t exist. There are countless possible variations on the theme of independence. potentially unlimited numbers of ‘visions’. But no actual thing. No solid basis for a political campaign. The framing had vagueness and uncertainty built in. For the No campaign it was all plain sailing. All they had to do was ask questions. They need only dispute whatever the Yes side said and the vagueness and uncertainty would leave room for doubt to flourish.
If the No campaign had been run competently Yes would have been trounced. It was only because the No campaign was less effective than it might have been that Yes came as close to victory as it did. By the same token, had the Yes campaign been just a little more effective it would have succeeded. If it had been as effective as it could be then Yes would have won by a significant margin, and we would be looking forward to celebrating that success on 18 September rather than commemorating defeat.
Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP leadership desperately want us to think they’ve got it covered. Richard Walker evidently thinks they’ve got it covered. None of the ‘big players’ in the independence movement – such as Business for Scotland – are prepared to challenge the idea that the SNP has it covered. Sturgeon and company don’t want it known how ill-prepared they are. They need to conceal the fact that no meaningful analysis of the constitutional issue and/or review of campaign strategy has been undertaken the whole time Nicola Sturgeon has been party leader and FM. They don’t want us to know how it was stupidly assumed that no such work was necessary because the ‘gold standard’ process had already been established. According to Richard Walker
The vast majority of the SNP’s significant membership remain committed to the party. Most are more convinced of the merits of a softly, softly approach while Covid numbers continue to rise rather than marching through the streets quite yet
There’s the complacency! The notion suggested by the headline that it is Unionists who have been complacent since 2014 is, to be as generous as we might, counterfactual. To be no more generous than we ought, it is a steaming pile of idiotic shite. It is Scotland’s cause which has languished in the doldrums since 2014. The complacency has been entirely on the part of the SNP leadership. The Yes movement is guilty because we let them get away with it. And while the SNP has been busy securing its power – the real purpose of the deal with the Greens – the British Nationalist far from being complacent, have been making steady progress with their project to roll back devolution, dismantle our democratic institutions and obliterate our national identity under a barrage of Union flags.
There are dissenting voices. Growing numbers of people are beginning to question the rosy view of Scotland’s cause promulgated by the SNP leadership and their accomplices. The rosy view to which Richard Walker adds gleam and glitter. More and more people are expressing doubts and concerns about Sturgeon’s approach to the constitutional issue. Many people are persuaded that there must be an immediate and comprehensive rethink. The conviction is spreading that the SNP+SGP/Scottish Government is getting it wrong in a multitude of ways dues to a woeful failure to properly appreciate Scotland’s predicament and a flat refusal to heed any criticism or respond to any concerns. Those dissenting voices are bouncing off a solid wall of complacent certainty.
And time is running out.
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