Project Fear’s tactics are not subtle. It’s propaganda techniques are pretty crude. The very phrase, “Better Together” is an example of a propaganda technique known as the “Glittering generality
“. It is a phrase which has a certain primitive emotional appeal but which is ultimately devoid of content. It doesn’t represent anything real or present any meaningful argument.
Other propaganda techniques used by the anti-independence campaign need no explanation. “Appeal to fear” is an obvious one. As is “Flag-waving”.
“Demonising the enemy” will be instantly recognisable. Alex Salmond is the main target of this.
How about, “Obtaining disapproval by association”? Sometimes called, “Argumentum ad Hitlerum“.
When you hear anti-independence propagandists relating the word “nationalism” to the Fascist movements of the early 20th century, that is the name of the propaganda method being employed. You won’t hear them talk of the nationalism of Ghandi or Nelson Mandela. Only Hitler.
I could go on. For anybody who has been following the referendum campaign mention of the following will instantly bring to mind examples from the Project Fear playbook.
Quotes out of Context. Exaggeration. Disinformation. The list goes on.
But I want to focus here on a particular form of propaganda – “Ad nauseam”. Frequently combined with, “Appeal to authority“. I, and many others, have often remarked on the cyclical nature of Project Fear’s output. The same issues get raised over and over again. Each time presented as if they were a new argument against independence that has never previously been addressed.
“Appeal to authority” is often used in conjunction with repetition. An example of this would be when some utterance from Manuel Barosso provides a pretext for rolling out the threadbare old “EU membership” scare story.
When awkward questions start being asked about Barosso’s authority or motives, or others with equal or better authority start to contradict him, some retired general will conveniently crawl out of the woodwork to mumble something about independent Scotland not being able to defend itself. Cue recycling of all the tired old scare mongering on the defence issue.
When Project Fear starts to come under pressure on this topic, lo and behold! Some economist pops up with doom-laden prognostications for independent Scotland’s finances which look curiously similar to the last round of economic scare mongering that went past on the conveyor belt.
I’m sure you all recognise the pattern. You should. It’s been going on for what seems like an eternity. An interminable cycle of grinding negativity with not one word or idea that is new. The same stuff over and over again. and every time the issue is dropped as soon as it starts to come under discomfiting scrutiny.
Not from the mainstream media, of course. With a few notable exceptions, analysis of the referendum debate in the almost exclusively unionist British media ranges from the merely lazy and inept through the woefully shallow and blatantly biased to the downright malicious.
If the traditional media was as dominant as it once was, one of the anti-independence campaign’s original propaganda exercises would have been vastly more successful. I refer to something called “Bandwagon”. The appeal to certain victory.
The days when Better Together could take victory for granted are a fading memory. The anti-independence campaign’s early assumption that it need do no more than flaunt its lead in the polls and mock the chances of a Yes vote look pretty ridiculous now. But the truth is that, in the beginning, that was all they had. Project Fear was cobbled together later and with it the scare mongering script that has been repeated ever since.
One of the problems that the No campaign has is that they have never figured out how to defend the union because it has never occurred to them to question it. Unable to advance a positive case for the union, they have been obliged to resort to entirely negative campaigning – with no redeeming features at all. Just unremitting negativity – smears and fears.
Where the mainstream media has failed abysmally in its duty to properly scrutinise the No campaign, the online community has stepped in. It is news websites that provide reliable information it is bloggers who supply in-depth analysis and pertinent commentary. The mainstream media is being sidelined in a way and to an extent that few would have believed possible when the referendum campaign began.
This has obviously caused problems for Better Together. The mainstream media is, for the most part, still a reliable ally that the British establishment can count on. But it is not the overwhelmingly powerful ally that they assumed it would be. The entirely predictable response has been to attack the alternative media. To turn some of the vitriol that had previously been reserved for Alex Salmond and the SNP on those who carry the banner of the independence cause in the virtual world.
It is a truism among propagandists that you must label the thing you are attacking. Something short and catchy is preferred. The word “Cybernat” had been kicking around for a while. David Torrance suggests it was Baron Foulkes of Cumnock who first coined the term. This seems to credit the pompous wee puddin’ with rather more imagination than I have ever seen evidence of. But, given that it is intended as a puerile insult, it’s just possible that Torrance may be right.
Dictionaries define “Cybernat” simply as a supporter of Scottish independence who is active in social media and online. Many people the Cybernat label with pride. But there can be no doubt that the anti-independence campaign regard it is a pejorative epithet. A term of abuse.
Which is a bit ironic, really, as the epithet is most commonly deployed against those who are supposedly guilty of abuse against the opponents of independence.
I say “supposedly” because, for all the endless whining about “Cybernat abuse” actual evidence of the phenomenon is exceedingly sparse. George “The Red-nosed Baron” Foulkes was repeatedly asked to provide examples of the “Cybernat abuse” that was the subject of his own pathetic bleating. By the time I gave up waiting for any such examples, none had been provided.
David Torrance does no better. Back in October 2010 he wrote a blog piece under the title, Cybernats – a Scottish political phenomenon, which purported to be an expose of Cybernat abuse directed at him following the serialisation of his biography of Alex Salmond in Scotland on Sunday – the newspaper which so shamefully replaced the St Andrew’s cross on Scotland’s flag with the swastika. I, for one, will never forgive them for that.
But the comments that Torrance cites to back up his claims of abuse turn out to be no more than rather feeble criticisms of his book. or rejections of some of the claims he makes about Salmond. If this counts as abuse then even the mildest uncomplimentary review must read to poor wee David like a veritable torrent of vituperative vilification.
Fast-forward to the beginning of this year and we find that bastion of truth and moderation, the Daily Mail, running a series of high-minded tirades against Cybernats. But it too had some difficulty coming up with examples of the “vile abuse” they claimed was everywhere online. The stuff they cited would hardly have raised an eyebrow at the most sedate soiree far less offend seasoned politicians or political activists.
And there’s the point. This is politics. It’s going to get pretty robust sometimes. To suggest that political debate be conducted in language appropriate to a church tea-party is patently ridiculous. And to suggest that the kind of things David Torrance and the Daily Mail call abuse are inappropriate in the context of political debate is, frankly, just plain silly. some growing up is required.
So, what is really going on with the regular bleat-fests about “Cybernat abuse”? In part, as mentioned earlier, it is propaganda. an attempt to undermine the credibility or respectability of the online news sources and commentators who are proving to be a thorn in the side of the anti-independence campaign.
But there is another aspect to this.
It’s not difficult to see what is behind the latest ranting from an increasingly panicked and incoherent Alistair Darling as he berates unidentified persons for unspecified “online abuse”. He is facing crippling, career-ending humiliation over the threat to abolish the currency union and so he is, perhaps understandably, trying to divert attention from the currency issue.
It would be easy to dismiss Darling’s whining about “Cybernats” as nothing more than a diversionary tactic from a seriously beleaguered politician. But there is something rather more sinister here as well. There is an attempt to silence dissent.
Darling is arguing that people such as Bill Munro, boss of Barrhead Travel, should be allowed to spam employees email inboxes with lies and idiotic scare mongering in an attempt to intimidate them into voting No and do so with complete impunity.
He is saying that people like Munro should be allowed to say whatever they want – however dishonest or demented – while others are deterred, if not actually prevented, from challenging the lies. Dissenters are to be bludgeoned into silence with name-calling and unfounded allegations of “abuse”.
Basically, Darling wants free reign for Project Fear.
According to Darling and his ilk, it is perfectly acceptable for “business leaders” to threaten people’s livelihoods in pursuit of a self-serving political agenda, but it is outrageous if ordinary people threaten private profit in pursuit of their perfectly worthy aspirations to create a better, fairer society.
Where there’s a unionist bandwagon, there will always be some numpty trying to jump on it. enter stage left, British Labour MP for Edinburgh South Ian Murray.
Taking his cue from Darling, Murray tweeted that his constituency office had been vandalised by Yes campaigners. As we now know, there was no vandalism. At most, a sticker or two may have been put on the doors and windows. Although there isn’t even any evidence of this. And certainly no evidence that the culprits were in any way connected with the independence campaign.
Make what you will of all that. Far be it from me to suggest that the whole thing was a malicious smear attempt. A form of abuse, if you like.
The lack of any facts to support Ian Murray’s accusations makes a delicious irony of the headline on the blog in which he attempts to justify his behaviour.
“Let’s have a reasoned debate based on fact!”, he pompously intones. what follows is an object lesson in obfuscation, evasion, distortion, misrepresentation, insinuation and blame-shifting. It really is a remarkable piece of work. What is more even remarkable is that people actually voted for the author of this atrocious missive.
But perhaps we should be grateful to Ian Murray. whatever he may have done to whatever reputation he might have had, he has done us a service by revealing the vacuous maliciousness of the “Cybernat abuse” propaganda. Aware of the true dishonest and nefarious nature of these attacks on independence campaigners, we are better armed against the insidious effects of this vicious propaganda. We know who the real abusers are.
This is a longer version of a piece originally broadcast by Aye Right Radio