Political Campaigning for Dummies #1

Since it appeared in The National on Thursday 14 February, Andrew Wilson’s latest column has provoked a considerable amount of comment. It is safe to say that almost all of this comment has been highly critical. All of those which I’ve seen express various degrees of outrage at one of our First Minister’s advisers urging the ‘softest possible form of Scottish independence’. None of those that I’ve seen show any evidence that the individual commenting on Andrew’s article has taken the trouble to read it first.

The fact is that the words ‘softest possible form of Scottish independence’ do not appear anywhere in the piece. What Andrew actually says, after some discussion of aspects of the Sustainable Growth Commission’s report, is,

In the parlance of Brexit, we offer the softest of possible changes to the current arrangements, not the hardest.

Andrew Wilson: Next Scottish White Paper will learn from 2014 – and from Brexit

He is talking about changes to particular arrangements in the period immediately after independence. Using the “parlance of Brexit” may have been an unfortunate choice of rhetorical device, but it is no more than that – a rhetorical device. What he is saying is that the transition to independence should take the least disruptive course rather than the most disruptive. A statement which is only controversial if one is committed to maximising tumult and turbulence in the early years of Scotland’s restored independence. Or, to put it another way, you’d have to be some kind of nutter to be outraged by what Andrew Wilson actually said.

There is much to criticise in Andrew’s article. For example, his claim that the “first and most striking lesson” that the independence campaign might take from the Brexit fiasco is that we need “a prospectus and a rigorous plan”. He would say that, wouldn’t he? Given that he’s in the business of developing that prospectus and that plan.

Fortunately, Andrew is not – so far as I am aware – involved in planning the campaign which will take us to independence. The prospectus and plan to which he refers are really just attempts to explain. And, as Ronald Regan observed in one of his lucid moments, “If you’re explaining, you’re losing!”.

The “first and most striking lesson” to be taken from the Brexit mess is that a political campaign needs a comprehensible and unambiguous objective. That aim must also be deliverable. But first and foremost it must be absolutely clear what the campaign’s purpose is. You can’t even begin to formulate a prospectus and plan unless and until you establish what it is that the campaign aims to achieve.

That the Leave campaign failed in this regard is evident from the fact that much, if not all, of the early debate concerned the meaning of Brexit. A debate which was not in any sense resolved by Theresa May explaining that “Brexit means Brexit”. It is a measure of the laminar shallowness of this remark that, had you entertained an idea of Brexit as a sugar-coated dung beetle, May’s ‘explanation’ would have done absolutely nothing to disabuse you of this notion.

I hate to remind you. But Theresa May is the British Prime Minister and the person in charge of taking the UK out of the EU. A fact which makes the idea of Brexit as a sugar-coated dung beetle seem sensible and credible by comparison.

Having taken a lesson from the Leave campaign’s abysmal failure to precisely define its aim, how might the Yes movement do better. It’s safe to assume that most people would say the objective is the restoration of Scotland’s independence. But, as we discovered during the 2014 referendum campaign, the concept of independence is open to almost endless interpretation. The Yes movement spent pretty much the entire campaign trying to explain what independence means; what independence is. There were almost as many different explanations as there were people doing the explaining. Every one of those explanations invited demands for further explanation from an anti-independence campaign intent on sowing doubt and confusion. And every one of those demands drew the Yes campaign into further attempt to explain.

If it’s true that “when you’re explaining, you’re losing”, then the Yes campaign was losing big-style.

What is required is a tighter ‘mission statement’. One that states exactly what it is that is the end being pursued by the campaign. That is where #DissolveTheUnion comes in. It serves admirably as that comprehensible and unambiguous objective. There is no ‘flavour’ of independence which does not require the dissolution of the Union which is the antithesis of independence. The fundamental and essential aim of the independence cause is to bring an end to the Union. The break it. To consign it to the history from which it emerged and to which it remains incorrigibly bound.

The other lesson for today is not to trust the British media. It is remarkable that this lesson has yet to be learned by so many in the Yes movement. Of all people, you’d think those who are part of the campaign which is most commonly the target British media dishonesty would be familiar enough with the methods used to manipulate perceptions to avoid being taken in. But evidently, this is not so.

As has been pointed out, the words which caused offence did not appear in Andrew Wilson’s column. So, where did they come from? They came from headlines such as the one pictured from The Herald. People should know by now that the headline does not provide an indication of what the story below it is about. The headline tells you what the author and/or the publication want you to think the story is about. The headline is the first thrust in the process of manipulating the reader’s perception of the story. It plants the seed of deception which will then be fed by the standfirst and watered by the next few paragraphs. The default assumption when looking at any political story in the British media is that the headline is a lie.

There are abundant clues to tell the active consumer of media messages that they are being fed lies. There’s the fact that it’s The Herald, for a start. Then there’s the by-line. Tom Gordon is arguably the British media’s most adept exponent of anti-Scottish spin. He has played a major role in creating a genre of stories portraying Scotland as a dystopia where all is calamity and failure – unless it’s catastrophe and collapse. Having helped create the ‘Scotland as Hell-hole’ genre, Tom Gordon has very much made it his own. Tales of dysfunction and disaster in NHS Scotland are his speciality. Misrepresenting someone associated with the SNP is something Gordon does while roosting upside-down in his cave.

The ‘single quotes’ are another giveaway. They pretty much always tell the reader that what’s enclosed has its origins in the professionally fervid imagination of some mercenary hack. In the instance under discussion, the ‘single quotes’ scream out that the words within them were not actually spoken or written. Or, at least, they do for the minimally astute consumer of the British media’s output. Which clearly doesn’t include those denouncing Andrew Wilson for something he didn’t say.

Surely one of the most basic lessons to be learned by anyone hoping to be part of a political campaign is that your shouldn’t embrace your opponents’ propaganda. And you sure as hell shouldn’t promulgate that propaganda by parroting it all over social media. If, as a campaign activist, you are saying the same things as the opposition campaign, you are in desperate need of shutting the f*** up and applying such wit as you possess to reflecting on your behaviour.


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8 thoughts on “Political Campaigning for Dummies #1

  1. “…There is no ‘flavour’ of independence which does not require the dissolution of the Union which is the antithesis of independence. The fundamental and essential aim of the independence cause is to bring an end to the Union. The break it. To consign it to the history from which it emerged and to which it remains incorrigibly bound…”

    You are 100% correct in that statement, Mr Bell. I believe all see that, but have different views as to how we get there. I, personally, have never taken Mr Wilson’s document to be an exact template of how to achieve independence, and nor do I believe the nonsense that passes for ‘news’ in The Herald. Mr Wilson’s document is far too heavily weighted in favour of the ‘supposed’ 2014 reasons for that NO vote, for my taste. Like most independists, I understand fully that it will not be easy either to get there or, afterwards, when we must set up a state that will not fail economically, so I would welcome any contribution. What really riles me is the absolute refusal to admit that the biggest part of the NO vote was not based on fiscal fears (albeit that did come second) but on neo colonial attitudes that are not going to change even in the light of the very best fiscal case being put. I’m afraid that the Leave vote in Scotland demolished that wholly fiscal argument, with many of those who had spoken of being afraid of penury in an independent Scotland, happily voting Leave in 2016, into what must be the biggest, single, economic disaster – certainly in the short term – that we have seen for many a long day. I refuse to pay homage to the lie that the majority of NO voters voted NO out of economic fear because, on the doorstep, push a little and the real, underlying reasons spew forth. I believe we need to acknowledge that fact and take the steps we need to take to find a new, equally legal and democratic route forward before it is too late.

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  2. Lorna, a good question to ask is ‘Are there any circumstances under which you could see yourself supporting Independence ?’ The genuine Nervous No’s will say something along the lines of ‘Yes, I’m not against it. I’m just not sure the case has been made yet’. A genuine Unionist will shake their head.

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    1. Jim: one of the things that stood out for me in the last independence ref, and in subsequent elections, is that the die-hard Unionists are very willing to give you a false impression. We could once have relied on the results we were getting in to point us in a certain direction, but I do not believe that is the case now. I have even heard Unionists boast about how they were economical with the truth to doorsteppers to send them in the wrong direction. Moreover, I always found the ‘frozen coupon’ look adopted by the die-hards and the neo colonialists to be a much more accurate indicator of voting intentions.

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