SNP’s new ‘Truth Tsar’ should start by challenging Nationalist deceit, half-truths and spin
DAYS ago, we were facing a ‘tsunami’ of coronavirus cases and possible Armageddon — now it’s the ideal time to push for another independence referendum.
Well, that’s the unpredictable world of Scottish politics for you, moving seamlessly from a possible calamity to the prospect of an outright catastrophe.
No respite required, then, and no need for reflection or recovery as we descend the ‘downward slope’ out of the Omicron crisis, as Nicola Sturgeon described it.
The groundwork for this festival of democracy will be laid in tandem with preparations for a major judge-led public inquiry into the government’s pandemic response.
The First Minister knows she is pushing against a door that has been slammed shut — Boris Johnson, or whoever replaces him, is unlikely to allow a second referendum.
A costly courtroom showdown beckons — one that’s doomed to fail — but in the meantime the separatists’ propaganda campaign has already begun in earnest.
SNP Stewart McDonald tweeted on January 8 that he was ‘very excited to be launching a new counter-disinformation initiative in the next couple of days’.
That’s a laudable commitment — after all, there’s no shortage of distortion and indeed downright lies swirling around the interminable independence ‘debate’.
But Mr McDonald has his work cut out for him, not least because it’s his own side that is contributing to the half-truths and deceptions that he’s so keen to tackle.
The pro-Union think-tank These Islands has been helping Mr McDonald’s efforts by highlighting some of the most egregious examples of ‘disinformation’.
First there’s Angus Robertson, the minister in charge of the constitution, external affairs and culture, when he’s not promoting his books, who asserted last week that ‘almost 100 per cent of Scotland’s electricity is already rom renewable sources’.
These Islands pointed out that only 56 per cent of the electricity consumed in 2020 came from renewables, with the rest from much less fashionable sources, but that wouldn’t fit with the narrative of the eco-nirvana the SNP intends to build after ripping us out of the Union.
On January 5, the SNP’s digital media officer published an article on the party’s website claiming that the UK state pension was the lowest in the developed world.
The OECD had skewered that myth in December 2021, and you’d assume the SNP trusts the OECD — as it was the organisation that gave such an apparently glowing assessment of its education reforms, at least if you didn’t read the small print.
When this was highlighted, the SNP official responsible tweaked the wording to ‘UK state pension: least generous in North West Europe’.
The SNP then changed tack and said the figures came from the House of Commons Library, but even that research relied upon the OECD’s figures — and was published before the OECD’s December 2021 update.
In fact the UK is just below the EU average and above Germany, Ireland, Norway and Sweden.
The OECD analysis also showed public pension spending as a percentage of GDP in Ireland was 3.7 per cent, but it was higher for the UK at 5.6 per cent — and of course Ireland is regularly held up as an example of what Scotland could achieve if it only had the ambition to escape Westminster’s yoke.
Former fund manager Sam Taylor, who runs These Islands, described this as ‘nothing more than sleight of hand’, and helpfully raised the matter with Mr McDonald, who he said ‘should condemn this behaviour from SNP staffers’.
That intervention must be expected any minute now, surely, but the crusading MP does have a lot in his ‘counter-disinformation’ in-tray, so his tardiness can be forgiven.
Then there’s retired Professor David Simpson, founding director of the Fraser of Allander Institute at Strathclyde University, who wrote in an independence-supporting newspaper that the SNP Government’s GERS figures didn’t reflect the country’s true financial position, and should be ditched.
In 2014, Professor Simpson argued that an independent Scotland should disavow its share of the UK national debt, which he believed should be the ‘moral or political responsibility’ of the UK Government.
Back in 2014, the SNP was happy enough to use the GERS figures to claim that Scotland put more into the UK than it got out, with tax receipts ‘currently 14 per cent higher in Scotland than the rest of the UK’.
Presumably it would now have to trust the up-to-date GERS figures, which show tax receipts are 3.5 per cent lower in Scotland than the rest of the UK.
Scotland accounted for 9.2 per cent of UK public spending between 2016–17 and 2020–21, while generating just 7.9 per cent of tax receipts — which doesn’t chime with the Nationalist portrayal of downtrodden Scotland short-changed by ruthless colonial oppressors.
So the separatists are determined to discredit the GERS stats for fairly obvious tactical reasons, despite the SNP’s own past reliance on them.
The spin machine is in overdrive because the SNP and its acolytes realise that they can’t hope to fight this campaign on the facts — that was always a non-starter.
For now, the party is on a road to nowhere, claiming a mythical mandate for another referendum — but deprived of the mechanism to turn it into a reality.
The deluge of disinformation is intended to cover up the continuing paucity of detail on some of the trivial issues which are unresolved a mere eight years after the first referendum — such as what currency we’d use in an independent Scotland.
The SNP doesn’t like the word ‘sterlingisation’ — using the pound without Treasury permission — because it smacks of the kind of ramshackle economic policy you might find in a Latin American country.
But after almost a decade at the drawing-board, it’s the best its number-crunchers have been able to come up with.
Quantitative easing — creating more money — is off the table after the end of the UK, or so it seems from the public pronouncements of the First Minister and her Finance Secretary .
Mind you, without it furlough wouldn’t have existed, and the dole queues would have been longer — and it helped us weather the storm of the global financial crisis of 2007–08.
The SNP will still have to go through the ritual of driving home the case for independence, and it’s planning to play dirty.
But it will take more than valiant Mr McDonald to hold back that torrent, particularly when his own party is largely responsible for filling the swamp he claims he’s attempting to drain.
The propaganda of 2014, and the long run-up to that pivotal moment, was poisonous enough — but it will have nothing on the toxic fabrications and fantasies that lie in store.
- This column appeared in the Scottish Daily Mail on January 25, 2022.
- *Follow me on Twitter: @GrahamGGrant