A ‘promising’ proposal

It takes a lot of flawed thinking to believe in the magical powers of these new pop-up list parties and their cunning plans to game the voting system. But that’s OK. Because there are myriad ways for thinking to be flawed. I shall mention just three. Let’s call them.

  • Arithmetic/plan conflation
  • Virtue by association
  • Partial assessment

To illustrate the first of these, let me put a proposition to you. I want every pro-independence voter to give me £100. I plan to accumulate £100,000,000. I then plan on using this to get another £100,000,000. I will then have £200,000,000 which I will use to do whatever each of you considers to be your most favoured amazing and wonderful things.

How many of you immediately reached for the ‘Pay Now’ button? Probably not many. Your first instinct would be to ask questions about the plan. My response is to insist that you look at the arithmetic. Given the number of pro-independence voters it is perfectly feasible to raise £100,000.000 in the way I propose. And look at the amazing and wonderful things! £100,000,000 plus £100,000,000 is £200,000,000. And look at the amazing and wonderful things! The arithmetic checks out. And look at the amazing and wonderful things!

If your thinking isn’t flawed, you recognise that the arithmetic and the plan are quite separate and different things and that the fact the arithmetic works doesn’t mean the plan works. You also recognise that however amazing and wonderful the promise it is worthless if it isn’t connected to the proposal by a viable plan.

The kind of flawed thinking I’ve called virtue by association is the rich vein of human folly which confidence tricksters and political charlatans throughout the ages have sought to mine. The mother lode of mindlessness. Having lent their proposal superficial and spurious credibility by quoting some numbers that add up, the shyster will then produce the promise – an outcome described using an array of constantly repeated glittering generalities. Glittering generalities are words and phrases laden with positive connotations and associations but with no substance or core meaning. Glittering generalities – often combined with plausible science or mathematics – is the language of dishonest politics and dubious marketing.

The idea is that having impressed with the unarguable science (or arithmetic), the snake-oil salesman of instructional fable then dazzles the dupe with a promise that blazes with the light of a million suns so that they fail to notice the absence of any plan linking the proposal to the promise. No mapped path from one to the other.

A marketing phrase which neatly combines the plausible science with the glittering generality is ‘Up to 100% effective!’. This pill is ‘up to 100% effective in relieving pain’. This disinfectant kills ‘up to 100% of known household germs’ (note too the additional qualifiers ‘known’ and ‘household’). This snake-oil is ‘up to 100% effective in curing up to 100% of the ailments listed’.

This tactical voting strategy is ‘up to 100% effective in ensuring more pro-independence MSPs and/or fewer Unionist MSPs!’. And if you have any lingering doubts about the promise, just look at the proposal! Look at the arithmetic! Look at how the arithmetic works! Look at how amazing and wonderful the promise is! Just don’t look for the plan that connects the proposal to the promise. And if you do look for that plan and fail to find it then that is because you fail to understand the arithmetic and/or you don’t value the promised outcome as you would if you were a true believer.

Anyone who has sought to engage with proponents of pop-up list parties will find something eerily familiar in the foregoing.

Partial assessment describes the flawed thinking that the snake-oil salesman (other gender identities are available) is seeking to exploit. What matters to the shyster and the political propagandist alike is not only what the target audience/market/constituency thinks about what’s being sold but what they don’t think about at all. The ‘other stuff’. The stuff that is not covered by either the proposal or the promise. The implications and consequences that flow from the entire package – incomplete as that entire package may be.

Partial assessment involves weighing the proposed solution to a problem – which may or may not be real or as serious as it is made out to be – only against the promise attached to it. It involves excluding all negatives. All the pros and none of the cons. Well! Maybe one very trivial con just for appearances.

The word ‘partial’ is relevant in both its sense of ‘incomplete’ and its sense of ‘favouring’. Never mind the quality! Feel the width! Never mind the risk! Look at the prize! Don’t think about what you stand to lose! Look at what you might win!

Charlatans have descended on Scotland’s politics the way pickpockets descend on tourist hot-spots. Frustration with the SNP attracts power-hungry chancers like blood in the water attracts flesh-hungry sharks. Opportunity breeds exploitation. A fox with a full belly will try to catch and kill anything which is both edible and available. Individuals driven by ambition and factions driven by ideology will scavenge for power wherever it may be found. If sufficiently driven, they will resort to any means to seize the smallest scrap of power. Just as long as it isn’t power of the type or in the measure which brings with it responsibility.

It takes a lot of flawed thinking to believe in the magical powers of these new pop-up list parties and their cunning plans. It takes only a little rational thinking to see though the scam. For Scotland’s sake, make sure rationality wins.



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