Distract! Disregard! Delay!

As happens from time to time, Kevin McKenna has hit upon an interesting and possibly important point. Or half of one, at least. Some might say that it takes no uncommon perspicacity to discern that distraction is a strategy much favoured by political actors. But Kevin McKenna does us a service by pointing out the extent to which this strategy is now deployed; and the degree to which it has been developed. What he neglects, however, is something which might be considered a necessary corollary to the strategy of distraction. But which might also be regarded as a strategy in its own right. I refer to the power of actively ignoring.

It follows that if you – as a political actor – are creating a diversion by which to draw the public’s attention to an issue then you are almost by definition seeking to take attention away from some other issue. Presumably, an issue which might be embarrassing were it to be sufficiently attended to. In other words, as much as you want the public to attend to something you are hoping they will ignore another thing. This would be passive ignoring. If the distraction is successful then the general public isn’t even aware that they are disregarding another matter. At the very least, the distraction must alter the public’s perception and prioritisation of the issue the political actor is seeking to divert attention from. The distraction is, if it is to function as such, perceived as being of greater importance than the other matter – whatever that might be. If the manipulators of public perception – principally the mainstream media – do their dubious duty well, the manipulated are quite convinced that the perceptions are theirs and the prioritisation a product of their own reasoned assessment of the issues.

Obviously, the distraction isn’t going to be effective if the issue from which the public are to be distracted enters their consciousness. Ideally, the political actor would wish the public to be totally oblivious to the potentially embarrassing issue. To qualify as a possible embarrassment it must be a matter of some significance – such as might be expected to engage the public’s attention should they become aware of it. Attempts to forcibly suppress such issues seldom work because the very act of suppressing is enough to attract unwanted attention. Which is not to say that politicians can be expected to be above resorting to heavy-handed measures in extremis. But the safer approach is to actively ignore the issue. Particularly if the bulk of the mainstream media can be relied upon to follow suit.

Actively ignoring involves assiduously not responding where a response would normally be expected. It means not answering questions. Not acknowledging enquiries. Not commenting, refuting, rebutting or denying or dismissing. Not reacting to provocation. Total blanking. Or as close to total blanking as can be achieved. If enough of the right people treat a matter as a non-issue, that is what it will be – a non-issue.

It can readily be seen how active ignoring would aid any attempted distraction. The public’s attention is finite. The more attention is afforded to one matter, the less there is for any other issue. But the public’s attention is also fickle. It can switch from one issue to another almost instantaneously and quite unpredictably. Even to allow the potentially embarrassing issue to impinge on the public’s peripheral vision is to tempt fate. Actively ignoring that issue is a sensible precaution.

The political actor must also be very careful about what issue is developed as a distraction. It has to be something benign. Something that doesn’t itself have potential to become an embarrassment. What the media insists on referring to as ‘partygate’ (shudder!) illustrates these points. Some believe the story of parties at No10 during lockdown was leaked as a distraction from some more serious embarrassment. (Take your pick!) If so, it was self-evidently a very poor choice. To some extent, I suppose, the near-hysteria about these events could not have been foreseen. Mass titillation is a difficult thing to measure. Which means it’s a difficult thing to manage. When (if) the party pebble was dropped in the pond, the ensuing tsunami seems somewhat disproportionate. If this was intended to be a distraction, somebody tempted fate and fate has well and truly sunk its fangs in their arse.

Hell mend them!

It may not have been deliberate of course. In which case, there was a failure of active ignoring. The issue was allowed to peek out from the wings during the tragi-farce of the Johnson regime. The public promptly stopped watching the main performance and started obsessing about the scene-stealing ‘partygate’. A scandal is born!

When active ignoring is taken from the mundane tactics of the spinmeister to a level of near-perfection – almost an art – it serves or appears as a strategy in its own right; independent of any distraction. Arguably, this has happened. Kevin McKenna comments,

There’s a warning in this, too, for the SNP. The Tories will seek to get re-elected on a strategy of peak distraction. On past evidence, they have every chance of succeeding. It’s important that the wider Yes movement in Scotland doesn’t allow the SNP to succumb to the same subterfuges.

Kevin McKenna: Strategy favoured by UK political elites is emerging

I fear Kevin’s warning comes too late. Too late by some years. Under Nicola Sturgeon’s leadership the SNP has become the master of distraction. And when it comes to active ignoring, the SNP makes the Johnson regime’s efforts look amateurish. Announcements and initiatives are the party’s most favoured tools. Their failure to progress Scotland’s cause being the abiding issue from which they seek to distract us. It would be tedious to catalogue even a portion of the SNP announcements and/or initiatives over the past eight years which have ultimately come to nothing. Their only effect (purpose?) has been to prevent people focusing on – or in some cases even noticing or acknowledging – the dire lack of progress towards restoring Scotland’s independence.

Alongside these distracting announcements and initiatives there has been some seriously powerful active ignoring. Most notably, it is the voices asking questions, expressing concerns, submitting ideas and offering well-intended criticism relating to the SNP’s approach to the constitutional issue which have been pointedly and obdurately disregarded. Observe Nicola Sturgeon at work and you would never guess that a substantial part of both the party and the wider Yes movement are at minimum uncomfortable or dissatisfied with the way she is going about what must surely be regarded as her main task. Those voices aren’t merely unheard or unacknowledged, they are erased entirely from political discourse. Sturgeon is impressively adept at making the discontent a non-issue by treating it as a non-issue. Actively ignoring it.

If you’ll bear with me, there is another aspect of the distraction/active ignoring strategy which is worthy of mention. What does the political actor do when that strategy goes wrong? The answer is that they play for time. They drag things out in the knowledge that the public will eventually weary of any topic. Somebody will come up with a better distraction. Or events will provide one. Fate both bites the bum of those who tease her and kisses it better.

People are already starting to find the ‘parties’ issue wearisome. By one means or another, Boris Johnson has managed to stave off the denouement he wants to avoid – no matter how much he deserves it. He has clung on tenaciously. And this final strategy may well work for him. With every day that passes without Johnson being toppled the likelihood that he’ll survive the ‘parties’ scandal increases. Not just survive, but thrive. Because if he’s unbearable now then wait until he’s emerged unscathed from a scandal widely considered to be a career-killer.

Sturgeon, too, is very evidently playing for time. She faces the intractable problem of both abiding by her declared commitment to the Section 30 process and honouring her promise to deliver a referendum – but do so without the confrontation for which she has less than no appetite. There is no way to resolve this dilemma that will be acceptable to anyone in the Yes movement other than those mindless Sturgeon/SNP loyalists with whom we’ve become depressingly familiar. And so she plays for time in the hope that something will turn up. Or that people will lose interest. Or that she gets to a point where she can step down with dignity and reputation intact – at least in the eyes of those whose opinions matter to her.

The combination of distraction / active ignoring / time wasting has worked well for both Boris Johnson. Both survive still and both seem likely to survive yet. For how long? Which will go first. My money would be on Sturgeon outlasting Johnson. Perhaps we might turn this into a gambling opportunity. What a great distraction that would be!



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17 thoughts on “Distract! Disregard! Delay!

  1. Good piece, Peter. That unpredictable element, though, is always hanging around just waiting for an opportunity to bring the house down – and, often, that can be the distraction itself, or a coalition of several distractions. It’s always a risky strategy. We could ask Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette or Tsar Nicholas II and Alexandra, if they were still around – but the distractions they sowed and seeded grew arms and legs and consumed them.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. There is a thing now famously called “Events” which can so easily be the downfall of those who seek not to fall.
      For the King of France, it has been said that a huge ongoing Icelandic volcanic eruption that lasted months, and put massive amounts of ash into the skies above Europe, leading to severe famines and helped create unrest, or rather to accelerate already rising tensions in the country, spilling over to Revolution. Tho few could predict, how shocking and destructive that would be, both for France, and for all of Europe.
      For the Emperor of Russia, it was World War One, and the disastrous situation for most ordinary ppl, being not unlike France 130 years earlier.

      In both cases, however, neither the volcano in Iceland by itself, was the main reason behind the Revolution, but would have been a factor, even if they didn’t realize a volcano thousands of miles to the north, had a part to play.. World War One was clearly the main factor for Russia.
      However, had there not been a powerful group of well placed, and well educated agitators who were able to take full advantage of both situations, with powerful backing,and thus unleash upon an unsuspecting population what then unfolded, neither revolution might have happened, or happened the way it did.
      Initially some,, tho certainly not all, welcomed the immediate change, and hoped for the better. But it didn’t work out that way. Revolution rarely does. Things descended into chaos before too long.
      And so it was for the German Emperor who had hoped getting Lenin back into Russia would help his efforts to end the Russian side of the War, he too ended up out of power but with a better outcome for his own safety than the others!

      So, we are left wondering what big event, or even minor event that snowballs out control, will bring down Johnson, or force Sturgeon’s hand if at all possible, to go get Independence.

      And if something major were to happen in Scotland or rUK that ends up leaving the majority demanding an immediate end to the Union, would the First Minister survive it, especially if was to be something truly chaotic, as catalyst, and she condemned, for taking over much time to push for Independence?
      But perhaps only if it were an avoidable crisis that would never have happened had we been Independent, and in full control of our own country.
      Brexit could be one such crisis that has yet to fully play out. The Energy crisis could be another. For at present, we have little to no control over that.

      These are things I wonder about, but of course hope nothing truly chaotic ever happens.
      But just as “events” can equally be used to derail Independence, Coronavirus is one example,
      other “Events” can easily arise that throw things completely up in the air, and so force Independence, but if that was how it panned out, it might just be so late in the day to save certain political figures from being forced out of office be an enraged population!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes, Gordon, I agree that revolutions are not the best way to change society for the better because they alway eat their own children, metaphorically speaking, and a new autocracy and elite is created. I really believe that something massive is going to happen in Scotland very soon. I could be entirely wrong, but I have a feeling that the rumblings aren’t just an upset tummy. The SNP, in Scotland, is totally out of touch with its electorate, and worse, its members and all supporters of independence. It has to go. Likewise, Johnson’s time is coming to an end, too. They may well intersect and collude to create a whole new political scene in the UK, but, more importantly, in Scotland. I feel that we are very close now to where Ireland was pre 1916, although I really do hope that we don’t go down their route to independence because there is no need to, not when all we do need is a backbone to use the tools we have, and which we are very lucky to have.

        Liked by 3 people

  2. This is a bit off topic, but it takes notice of the Unionist pattern, at same time.
    We are left to wonder just what the hell is it with The (Glasgow) Herald these days, and its clear anti Scottish agenda?
    It’s running a slew of articles all showing how Scotland will face this and that difficulty with Independence.
    I have already touched upon their pensions articles, which they’ve had going several days this week.
    The past 2 days its how it would be years to get back into EU, The EU SNP promised us we would never leave!
    That and an entire campaign of other such stories,like this one today …………..

    “Independence ‘even more complicated’ than Brexit for Scotland’s fishing, expert warns”

    ” INDEPENDENCE would be “even more complicated” than Brexit for Scotland’s fisheries, an expert has said.

    Dr Bryce Stewart, a marine ecologist and fisheries biologist at the University of York, said it could become “quite a heated issue” in areas such as Peterhead and Fraserburgh……… ”

    Project Fear all over again, and yet dressed up as “Quality Debate” when it is nothing of the kind.
    Article after article designed to sow doubt in the minds of those who wish to be made secure in their “No” vote!
    To trash this country into the bargain and basically to make out how Independence would be way, way too difficult, if not plain impossible.

    We wonder who is behind all of this, and why right now?
    The comments on the Forums are swamped by truly fanatical anti Scottish posters, many pro Brexit and a lot of those also pro Boris Johnson who can do no wrong in their eyes.
    It has been pointed out, precious few of those views represent Scotland in general, but still given the air of the majority opinion of this country.
    This must be questioned by all pro Independence supporters.
    It is getting quite ridiculous now, and totally infuriating.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Surely then the statements from the 3 highest members of the SNP namely Sturgeon, Blackford and Forbes about another 3 countries that we would not be joined to would pay all our pensions. That surely comes under a distraction should it not. A ridiculous proposition to put out to the public and back it up until under pressure they , well Sturgeon, backtracked on. I wonder what they were distracting from?. Perhaps Ghupta’s company folding with all the millions of pounds Scot Gov guaranteed. Or the latest ferry fiasco with the wiring perhaps?. I would say that if the pension statements were a distraction that is a big mistake. That distraction if it was one will come back and haunt them big time.

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    1. It was the anti Scottish politicians who went big on the pensions, and the equally anti Scottish Media, that gave them the platform to put about a lot of outright lies and misinformation.

      No one, but no one has ever claimed 3 different countries would be paying the pensions of Scotland.
      All that was said was that those who have paid into UK pensions systems, would get those pensions honored. Same way pensions are paid out to citizens in places like Spain and France, etc.
      Why should Scottish folks who have paid fortunes into those pensions, not get them?
      So, if it is the case that Scottish citizens are not going to get those pensions ,then they should get every single dime back, they put in thus far.
      After Independence, the pensions come under Scotland’s control, and folks will probably have pension dues,etc, transferred to some new Scottish system.
      That was always going to be the case.

      And as for distractions, we have to ask, as I and others have done, why go big on all this right at this moment?
      And what are “they” distracting “us” from, with all this sudden outburst of Unionist negativity, and scare stories, now rising to a new crescendo of near hysteria?
      Something is clearly on the go in my view.
      It’s hard not to see they are definitely up to something.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. You are obviously one of the few who just do not get how pensions get paid. My sons contributions pay for my pension. The entitlements you have acrued will be honoured by Scottish tax payers in iScot. Its simple. Its not unionists causing a stir . It was Blackford first, backed up by Forbes who admitted she did not want to disagree with her most honourable friend and this was backed up by Sturgeon. The only thing acrued will be the surplus of the tax money paid in and that amounts to around 8% of 2 to 3 months pension. This caused the Unionists to rise up and I am telling you a lot of damage has been done to the indy cause. Robin McAlpine in his article spells it out perfectly. No need for unionist furore. Whatever they are up to as you say they are playing a dangerous game. Not very good thankfully.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I agree, Gordon, and I think they know the game is up. If not today, tomorrow. They know that too many people in Scotland will not support the Union for much longer. Too many no longer support the SNP, and they were banking on the SNP to keep the ball in the park.

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        1. There’s that grating disconnect again! Can it be that you don’t see the glaring, ghastly illogic in your comment? In the real world, independence can only be restored by a strong and NECESSARILY SNP Scottish Government. Yet you foresee independence following from the SNP – and hence the Scottish Government – being made weaker.

          I can understand why you want independence. Of course I can! I can certainly understand why you’d want the SNP (leadership) punished. But you can’t have both. You just can’t. To imagine you can is to lose touch with reality. To be absolutely convinced that you can undermine the SNP and simultaneously strengthen the campaign to restore independence is the travel in the realm of fantasy.

          You have to choose. It comes down to what you want most. What you deem to be most important.

          Being a very rational person, my personal inclination is to go for the thing that comes closest to allowing both consumption and retention of the cake. Which is why my preference is to punish the SNP leadership by forcing them to do that which they are so evidently reluctant to do. But I fear there are far too few of us who take this pragmatic approach. Hence, Scotland is fucked. But that’s OK. We can spend the next forty or fifty or 100 or 300 years singing songs and writing poems about how the SNP betrayed us.

          And, of course, in the mind of the political fantasist, honorable defeat strengthens the cause. Nothing makes ultimate glorious victory more certain than present ignominious defeat. Aye!

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  4. Not got a lot of time for SNP right now, but I don’t really believe that was what thy were saying, Sandy. That was how it was interpreted. The pensions issue is not a massively difficult one because certain rules pertain: 1) existing Scottish pensioners who have paid in all their lives are, under human rights law, entitled to their pensions or the UK would be brought to book for theft; 2) those who have been paying in but who are not yet pensioners would have their monies remitted back to an independent Scotland and the Scottish Treasury would then be responsible for their pension in the future; 3) all future pensioners would be taxed under an independent Scottish regime, and the Scottish government would be responsible for their future pensions. The “there’s no pension pot and pensions are paid out of present taxes” ploy, is just that – a ploy. All existing British pensioners living abroad would have to have their pensions unilaterally cut off if the Scots’ pensions were cut off, and that would create a massive stushie in the civil rights and human rights arenas, as would the outrage of the English-born pensioners who would be living in Scotland and might be Scottish citizens. It is a complete farrago of obfuscation and lies by the Unionists, just as it was in 2014.

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  5. Have to disagree Lorncal. I receive my pension paid for by my son’s contributions like my contributions over 50 years work paid for my parents. Not going to waste typing time and space otherwise. No pot. Just surplus for 2 perhaps 3 months pension if everyone stopped paying contributions this week. The Scot Gov as the White Paper says will pay Scottish pensions and people living abroad can and will have to join whichever country they wish , join that pension scheme. They will have to choose. Probably choose the Scottish scheme because we are told our scheme will be over £300 they tell us. Scottish NIC’s will pay for this fantasy. Lorncal, I am a yoon, collaborator or quisling. Take your pick. I campaigned for NO because I do not believe in separation. Never have. Last year I went on holiday to N.Wales and Kent moving over borders freely using the same currency effortlessly . Its really cool. That will disappear with iScot. I also believe strongly that the people in the SNP do not have the capability to split the country. They will make a mess of it like they do in all their big business ventures. They are useless. I campaigned for NO telling myself if YES wins so be it. We are indy but since the referendum I have not seen one thing that will make me change my mind. In a lot of comments I see WASPI mentioned. My wife’s a full WASPI women and her chance of recompense went down the river when people did not vote for Corbyn’s compensation and a £10 min wage and ending 0 hour contracts after 3 months employment on top of ending Universal Credit straight away. The SNP use WASPI as finger in the air politics. I joined my local WASPI group ran by the SNP and it was a farce. They went down to a demonstration in Manchester on the wrong day. Their page on FB was full of intentions yet when I went to the meeting they were looking for people to fill the positions. The meeting ended with no positions filled. I never went back. In the SNP’s White Paper its policy on retirement mirrors the UK gov stance and the only difference is they in an iScot will have a discussion on retiring at 67. Interesting times ahead with this new SNP\Green coalition that the people did not vote for. The Scot Gov have maybe a couple of weeks till they announce the date. She said 3 weeks ago that the announcement will be in weeks so we will see. Been waiting 2 years on a financial review on Indy Scot so maybe this will be it. We will see. I wont hold my breath. Anyway Lorncal you have a nice day. I am getting ready to go and watch my beloved Jambos.

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    1. The pensions pot thing is a nonsense, Sandy. We all know there’s no pension pot. How could there be for Scotland when we were never allowed to set one up in the 1970s, when all the oil and gas profits were squandered by Thatcher? However, no government that wants international approbation would cut off people and let them starve – well, unless they were women, of course, because women never count and are completely expendable – would steal people’s pensions. Sorry, if you know how politics work, then you’d understand that it is always a two-way street. Put crudely, England (or rUK, if you prefer) cannot afford not to deal fairly with us. If they do what you are suggesting, an independent Scotland would leave them high and dry for many natural resources that they simply don’t have, and will never have, but which we do. Blackmail? Of course. Who cares? They will deal fairly, though. I guarantee it.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Should have said, Sandy, I, too, lost my pension. When I was told that I would get it age 63 – nothing, zilch. No more communication. Not a halfpenny. Had I not been married, I would have starved to death. We shared one pension. I will never forgive Westminster. I will never forgive Holyrood for the lack of independence and the GRA reform. I loathe and detest them all for their deliberate cruelty and for their deliberate and calculated lies.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Morning Lorncal. Sorry you lost your pension. My wife was raging also. 6 years loss. It was as you say Westminster and IMO the EU as we are now just about in line with EU pensions. The White Paper in 2013 aligned itself with the same regulations bar they would have a discussion on retiral at 67. A discussion. So in an iScot the pensions for women would have been the same as the UK and in line with the EU. I agree this Scot Gov ( SNP ) has totally lost its way and I totally support your views on the GRA. This form the kids have to fill in. I would seriously question the people who sat down and wrote it and the people who passed it. Can you imagine the school yards after the kids had filled it in. The questions the boys will be asking the girls. Its sick and also the freedoms of women and what they are trying to do to the words like mother. My main worry is if they get iScot. They will never ever relinquish power. Ever. All that nonsense of having an election right after indy. People actually believe it. They have shown in this past 2 weeks when raising the pension issue how they can dig a hole for themselves. It will get worse in 2 weeks time when they release the info on an independent Scotland. Interesting times. I will leave you in peace now Lorncal with the words ” You should have voted for Corbyn and what he was offering and left the Indy till another day”. Have a good day and take care.

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