The SNP knows selling the truth is a complete non-starter
By Graham Grant
CHAIRMAN Mao once called for ‘constant propaganda among the people on the facts of world progress and the bright future ahead’.
His regime was responsible for up to 70million deaths so the future was far from bright for large swathes of the population, whom he considered expendable.
Showing his ‘progressive’ credentials, Mao introduced the right of appeal in the courts, but there was a sting in the tail – anyone exercising that right risked having their sentence doubled.
Misinformation, whether constant or drip-fed, is deployed by most governments, or political movements, whether they’re extremist, like Mao’s, or (allegedly) democratic, to convince us of the probability of a ‘bright future’, or indeed the ‘sunlit uplands’ that lie ahead.
The in-built assumption is that voters are generally too stupid to figure out what they’re being told is nonsense, and when you get away with it, churning out more propaganda becomes addictive.
A table circulating on Twitter displays GERS figures, charting UK Government expenditure, which purports to show that defence spending in Scotland is equivalent to a whopping five per cent of GDP, more than the figure of 3 per cent for the US.
This was duly shared on the social media site by hundreds of drone-like pro-independence activists, and was posted by Chris McEleny, SNP leader at Inverclyde Council, and formerly a candidate for his party’s deputy leadership.
The only slightly inconvenient problem was that it was complete rot, and the true statistic is less than two per cent: not quite as shocking, but then the truth, when it comes to independence, departed the stage some time ago.
The McEleny tweet dates back to late August this year and was never deleted; once these false statistics are out there, they can be endlessly reiterated and distributed on Facebook, or any number of social media forums, until they become an unchallengeable article of faith.
The damage is done, and the debate – already circular, frenzied and hopelessly ill-informed – is further polluted.
Mind you, the GERS statistics also showed an independent Scotland would start out with an eye-watering £12.6billion deficit, worth 7 per cent of its economic output – the largest proportion in the whole of Europe – so at least the defence ‘debate’ provided a useful diversion.
Rampant distortion has long been a hallmark of Nationalist politics: the best example is Nicola Sturgeon’s White Paper, which you can still read online, if you’re a fan of political fiction – it runs to nearly 700 pages.
With an admirably straight face, Miss Sturgeon said last year that this monstrous tissue of lies was both ‘honest’ and ‘frank’, even though it estimated oil revenue as nearly £8billion for 2016–17, when the real figure was, er, £226million.
There were also boasts about how independence would protect the NHS from malign Tories, providing ‘world-leading health and social care’; considering this pledge is unfulfilled, by some distance, in devolved Scotland, it’s hard to see how it might be achieved after independence.
Ahead of the 2014 referendum, Yes Scotland posters appeared on the sides of phone-boxes (I know, it makes a change from the side of buses) with the slogan: ‘Let’s become independent before 100,000 more children are living in poverty’, with a picture of a schoolgirl’s ragged skirt, sandals and grubby white socks.
The only minor hitch with this prophecy of Dickensian squalor was that the 100,000 figure was a UK estimate, later disowned, and the Scots figure was 7,000 – so the poster was out by 93,000.
Similar arithmetic is used when SNP supporters estimate the turnout for their marches: the ritual is that the police give out a figure to the media in the low tens of thousands, and broadcaster Lesley Riddoch tops it up to 100,000 – before complaining about the dearth of TV coverage.
Then there was the infamous press release issued by John Swinney after the Supreme Court ruled his now-abandoned Named Person scheme to be largely unlawful, back in 2016.
It was ambitiously headlined ‘Swinney commits to roll out service as legal bid to scrap NP [Named Person] scheme fails’, a falsehood that remains shameful (and remains on the Scottish Government website).
Now, of course, the SNP respects the rule of the Supreme Court, after judges reversed the Tory prorogation of the Commons; a moody black-and-white picture of the First Minister and her Cabinet watching the live-feed of the Supreme Court’s decision last week was released on Twitter.
Former Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill once opined that the Supreme Court judges’ knowledge of Scots Law is ‘limited to a visit to the Edinburgh Festival’, a remark that was noted by senior members of the judiciary, who widely regarded him as a buffoon, and probably helped to seal the minister’s fate when he was booted out of office.
That was then, and politics changes at a phenomenal rate, so an inconsistent approach is to be expected: it’s unlikely that shot of Miss Sturgeon and her team, supposedly intended to be reminiscent of those old snaps of JFK and his White House advisers, would have been issued if the 11 judges had backed Boris Johnson.
A party political broadcast produced by the SNP last year contained a claim that the SNP had ‘banned fracking’, and you can still find it online, if you have time to kill, or a masochistic streak.
It appeared soon after Miss Sturgeon was accused of ‘misleading’ parliament after announcing a ban on fracking that was later exposed as being untrue by the Scottish Government’s own lawyers.
The First Minister said in 2017 that the gas extraction technique was barred in Scotland and energy companies later took legal action against the decision.
But the Scottish Government had the legal challenge against it quashed after its own lawyers proved that the ban on fracking was ‘a gloss’ that had never existed.
At the Court of Session, a judge ruled that statements by Miss Sturgeon and other SNP ministers claiming Scotland had outlawed fracking were ‘mistaken and did not accurately reflect the legal position’.
That was one judgment the SNP didn’t want to talk about, at least not in its party political broadcast.
Lies, if you let them take root, eventually become part of the narrative that could mould public opinion, helping – in theory – to steer the argument in the propagandists’ favour.
And you can understand why there’s a need to tweak the odd fact, or make one up, given the economic turmoil the SNP has in store for us if independence becomes a reality: it knows all too well that selling the truth is a complete non-starter.
Its record in power, if honestly rehearsed, is unlikely to win support on the doorstep, while its post-independence plan to ditch the pound, putting pensions and house prices at risk, is utterly toxic.
The era of spin instigated by New Labour has been overtaken by a far more sinister development: the wilful perversion of truth and a culture of pure invention – the kind of Trump-style tactics the SNP professes to abhor.
While Scexit – the party’s mission to rip Scotland out of the UK – continues to be its core policy, we can expect more of this desperate manipulation and blatant propaganda, with the truth redefined as a flexible concept.
*This column appeared in the Scottish Daily Mail on October 1, 2019.