The British media are lying to you!

Question Time does not bar people from its audience because they have held elected office or are political activists.

There is a selection process to ensure a range of views are heard and last night’s QT audience included supporters of different political parties, including the SNP.

BBC spokesperson

The truth. The partial truth. And anything but the truth.

The British establishment long since mastered the art of prevarication, obfuscation, equivocation and falsification. Its broadcasting arm deploys these as casually as you and I blink. and almost as frequently. The BBC’s response to those protesting the blatant padding of the Question Time audience stands as an object lesson in how to tell a lie without actually saying anything that is untrue.

It is almost certainly true that the makers of the programme do not deliberately exclude from the audience people who have “held elected office or are political activists”. But this is not the substance of the complaint. The purpose of the denial is to create the impression of wild allegations having been made.

Nobody, to the best of my knowledge, has accused the BBC or its agents of barring people on the grounds of their political activism or past political office. The charge is, rather that people seem to have been selected on the basis of their known British Nationalist affiliation. How else to explain the extraordinary number of prominent hard-line Unionists who find their way into the studio?

While the claim that there is no process actively barring people of a certain political persuasion, it is rather noticeable that precious few former or serving SNP politicians are selected.

It is undoubtedly true that there is a “selection process”. And that this process serves to “ensure a range of views are heard”. Again, the denials and assurances divert from the complaint. Yes, it is possible for pro-Independence views to be heard. But they rarely are. Just as it possible for pro-independence politicians and activists to be selected. But they rarely are.

It is not a matter of absolutes, but of balance. The BBC (or its agents) can disprove accusations of exclusion simply by pointing to a lone SNP Councillor in the audience – regardless of whether that individual has been allowed to speak. They can refute allegations that a range of views are not being aired by referring to a solitary pro-independence comment. The question is, how accurately does the programme as a whole reflect the political reality? And the answer has to be, not well. In fact, not at all.

BBC Question Time is propaganda. What it presents to the viewing audience is, not a reflection of the way things actually are, but a contrived impression of the way the British establishment thinks things should be. The way British Nationalists desperately want things to be. And the way an uber-parochial, curiosity deficient, intellectually indolent London-centric media elite suppose things to be.

This grotesque fairground-mirror portrayal of politics is particularly, painfully evident when Question Time ventures into Scotland precisely because the political reality here departs so markedly from the British standard. A contrast that the people of Scotland have much cause to celebrate, even as they deplore the BBC’s evident inability to be honest with them.

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You were warned!

As you read reports such as ‘Alarm call on £800m ‘shared’ post-Brexit funding for Scotland‘, always keep in mind that dread phrase “UK-wide common frameworks”. The issue is not that funding will be withheld from local authorities in Scotland but that it will be controlled by that horrifying echo of British imperialism the ‘UK Government in Scotland’. Or, as it is known to those aware of the British political elite’s malign intent, the unelected and unaccountable shadow administration being established to take over powers stripped from the Scottish Parliament.

Funding is everything. Control the money and you have a stranglehold on even the ‘most powerful devolved administration in the world’. After the Union itself, Westminster’s ultimate control of the purse-strings is what makes devolution meaningless. Worse! It’s what allows the British state to use devolution as a weapon against the democratically elected Scottish Government.

That weapon has not been as effective as the British establishment might as hoped. Successive SNP administrations have managed to avoid the worst of the political and fiscal traps. But London has also long been looking at the potential to use local government as a means of bypassing and undermining Holyrood. This has, of course, been made easier by the fact that, in an act of political self-harm which must be utterly baffling to onlookers, voters have handed control of many local authorities to the British parties.

Put the pieces together. The British state’s imperative to eliminate the threat to its supremacy posed by the Scottish Parliament and the SNP. The opportunity Brexit has offered to unilaterally alter the devolution settlement, seize control of funding and impose “UK-wide common frameworks”. The readiness of the British parties to let Councils be used as a Trojan horse. It all adds up to only one thing – the creeping restoration of direct rule from London with Holyrood, if it survives at all, left to manage the stuff that the British would rather not be blamed for.

You were warned!

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The rise and pratfall of the British political leader

Say what you will about her, but it must be allowed that, at the time of her elevation to the office of British Prime Minister, Theresa May at least looked like a politician. Depending on your prejudices, that may not be much of a compliment. But I suspect it’s the closest thing to flattery she is likely to get – at least until after she has departed the scene and the hagiographers descend upon her reputation like vulture morticians bearing buckets of theatrical makeup.

Nobody can sensibly claim that Boris Johnson looks anything like a senior politician. Or perhaps he too closely resembles what we have come to expect of British politicians. The fact that Boris Johnson can be seriously considered for the role of head of any government not created using stop-motion animation says much about the parlous condition of British politics and the British state. But it also says something about the prevailing cultural idea of what constitutes, or qualifies as, a political leader.

I am not entirely innocent of the tendency to look at the past through rose-tinted non-prescription lenses. But it seems to me that British Prime Ministers used to have a certain presence. The earliest ones I can remember – Sir Anthony Eden, Harold Macmillan, Sir Alec Douglas-Home – gave the impression of belonging where they were. They wore their status lightly. They seemed cast from an ancient mould.

Looking back, it seems that cracks in that mould started to become evident with the appointment of Harold Wilson. Leaving aside the politics and the paranoia, Wilson was different on account of the props. It may be argued that a plummy accent and patrician air are props every bit as much as a Gannex coat and a pipe. But the former are props for radio and town hall hustings and village fete openings. The latter are the highly visual props of the television age. Wilson marked the beginning of major shift in the public perception of political leaders. This was the start of a process which, hopefully, has reached its nadir with Boris Johnson.

There was a brief harking back to the old idea of what a ‘proper’ British Prime Minister looks like with Edward Heath and, to an extent, James Callaghan. Almost as if the public had a premonition of where this was leading and tried to change course. But that ancient mould was finally and irrevocably smashed by Margaret Thatcher.

Where Wilson’s image was all personal gimmick, Thatcher was a fully-fledged compromise between the ‘men in grey suits’ and a rising breed of political technocrats who brought the techniques of the marketing industry to the realm of politics and wedded the two so completely that they would become indistinguishable and inseparable.

In Thatcher we saw the birth of the political leader as a tabula rasa – a blank sheet on which could be written whatever the immediate expediencies and exigencies of power required. When the sheet became too worn for further palimpsests, Thatcher was unceremoniously dumped and replaced by John Major – a sheet very much more blank than was required. A sheet so blank that no matter what was written on it the blankness prevailed. Major didn’t match up to the old idea of what a political leader should be. And he didn’t provide enough material for the image-makers to work with.

Tony Blair had that material. With sequins! Wilson’s mass media image was makeshift. Thatcher’s famously required a massive makeover that transformed everything from her hair and her clothes to her posture and even her voice. Blair came fully-formed – the first British Prime Minister seemingly born to fit the technocrats’ artfully crafted public perception of a fitting political leader. If Thatcher was a blank sheet, Blair came in pastel colours, scented and with a daily inspirational message printed along the bottom.

As it turned out, Blair was all charisma and no character. All platitude and no principle. All practised sincerity and no personal or political substance. A slick suit, a warm handshake and a smile whose reptilian character was only clearly visible to those who looked at him askance to avoid being dazzled by his radiated magnificence.

He’s the straight-talking guy in shirtsleeves rolled up in a way that suggests the attentions of an assistant with a measuring tape and the coffee-mug that was acquired three weeks ago for this impromptu moment and the throw-away lines distilled by a team of PR professionals from the excretions of a thousand focus groups and the air of a man on a mission, but don’t let any of his self-righteousness get on your clothes or you’ll never be rid of the stain or the stink.

It’s all a thin wash of watery paint on the surface of a flimsy vessel into which is poured whatever kind of political gruel is deemed likely to be lapped up by the media whilst being bland enough to avoid giving offence to the few thousand voters who actually decide elections.

That is what passes for the qualities of leadership among the British political elite. Talent and ability are regarded as dangerous. Principles and a social conscience are anathema. Because power and status are relative, everyone who is – or imagines themselves to be or aspires to be – a member of that elite is motivated to suppress any talent or ability which might prove a threat to whatever power and status they regard as theirs.

It is a system which rewards conformity and promotes mediocrity while tolerating ineptitude. A system which puts inordinate value on harmless novelty and transient celebrity. A system that produces as candidates for political leadership people who run the gamut from dull and doltish through inept and inadequate and damaged and deficient to deluded and dangerous.

Viewed from this perspective, Boris Johnson may be the very model of a modern British Prime Minister. No more erudite orators or bold reformers or impressive statesmen or adroit political operators. Just a mop-headed clown grinning and guffawing as his scrotum gets caught in the spokes of his bicycle wheel. What larks!

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What is independence?

My first article for today having been destroyed by a failure of the WordPress autosave function, I offer this brief comment as an addendum reinforcing a point made in an earlier piece called A strategy for penetrating No territory.

Prompted by a claim made on Twitter, I sought to establish whether anybody had actually ever heard any independence supporter say that there is “no such thing as independence”. To date, Jim Fairlie seems to be unique. But the responses indicated something interesting. And something which is not sufficiently recognised. People define independence in different ways.

Obviously, British Nationalists present independence – for Scotland, at least – as something outlandish and scary. Despite the fact that many nations have managed to achieve independence, and many more have survived very well as independent states, British state propaganda would have us believe that Scotland is the exception. For Scotland, independence is a leap into the unknown. A terrifying adventure in uncharted territory. Complete nonsense, of course. But the British media has been quite successful in attaching such fearful connotations to the idea of independence.

Mr Fairlie, as I understand it, entertains notions of independence which many would consider rigidly ‘isolationist’. A personal definition of independence which derives from a combination of his bitter resentment of the success of the ‘gradualist’ wing of the SNP – which he fervently opposed – and his equally bitter hatred of the EU. But don’t take my word for it. I’m sure Jim would be happy to explain his idea of the one and only thing that independence can mean.

I’m curious to know if anyone has ever heard an SNP supporter say that there is “no such thing as independence”.— Peter A Bell #DissolveTheUnion (@BerthanPete) May 16, 2019

Within the Yes movement, our cherished diversity ensures that there are almost as many definitions or descriptions or explanations of independence as there are people defining, describing and explaining. This is generally regarded as one of the Yes movement’s great strengths. But for a political campaign, such vagueness is fatal.

A political campaign must be sharp and focused. It must be possible to state its purposed unambiguously and coherently in a few words. Nobody should be in any doubt what the campaign is about. Especially the activists fighting that campaign.

This is why we should now be conducting a campaign to dissolve the Union. Because that objective encapsulates the core purpose of the independence cause. It precisely states the aim of every single independence supporter, regardless of how they define the term.

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A strategy for penetrating No territory

200,000 people signing a petition does not, of course, signify increased support for independence. Impressive as the figure may be, it’s only about 10% of the existing support for independence. To put it in context, the Yes movement can put that number of feet on the streets.

Maintaining an appeal to the base is unquestionably essential. A political campaign which wins converts while losing its core vote is almost certainly doomed to fail. But, equally, if the entire effort is devoted to holding on to existing support then where is the winning surge going to come from?

In principle, it is possible that the same campaign strategy might serve both to retain and increase support. The evidence suggests, however, that this is not so in the case of Scotland’s independence campaign. The basic strategy of pounding out a positive case for independence focused on social and economic benefits hasn’t changed since the 2014 campaign. It has developed. The arguments have improved. But they are still the same arguments. And they are still arguments about policy. The kind of arguments used in an election campaign.

That these arguments are effective in retaining support is clear. Despite there being no let-up in British Nationalist propaganda over the period since the first vote, there has been no measurable reduction in support for independence. Significantly, however, neither has there been any marked increase. The evidence is all but conclusive. The old strategy was very successful in taking support to the 50% level, and has been remarkably effective in holding it there against a relentless onslaught of propaganda and all the disadvantages the Yes campaign has in terms of communicating its message. But it has not won any new support.

There is no great mystery to this. The people who have already been won over to Yes are those who have gained access to information beyond that which is provided by the mainstream media. They are educated. They are easy to retain because education is not easily lost. You can’t ‘unknow’ something. And once someone has been made aware of the lies and distortions peddled by the British media, the propaganda ceases to have any effect.

Many have made the journey from No to Yes. Whatever the claims of social media trolls, nobody goes from Yes to No.

It follows, therefore, that the people who have not yet made the journey from No to Yes are those who have not yet gained access to the same information as those who have made that journey. The question is why. Without understanding why they have not accessed the information, there is no possibility of devising ways to ensure that they do.

What we know for certain is that the strategy of broadcasting a ‘positive case for independence’ won’t do it. We know it won’t do it because it hasn’t done it. That has been the strategy for at least seven years now. And the polls remain stubbornly stuck at 50%. It’s not working because the message simply isn’t reaching into that other 50%. Which is just another way of saying the people who make up that 50% don’t have access to the information.

It doesn’t matter whether this lack of access to information is due to the obstacles created by the British media or the inadequacy of the signal or simply a refusal to listen on the part of No voters. The result is the same. People are not making the journey from No to Yes because they are not even aware that such a journey is possible.

What must the Yes campaign do to address the issue of information starvation? How might the Yes campaign ensure that its signal penetrates deeper into that 50% on the No side of the constitutional divide?

The task is made simpler by first eliminating the things that can’t be done, or can’t be done in time – as well as the things that have been tried without success. There is not much that can be done about the obstacles created by the British media. The lies must be rebutted and the disinformation corrected. But, if the Yes signal isn’t getting through then neither are the rebuttals and corrections. A careful calculation must be made as to what resources should be committed to setting the record straight – bearing in mind that this comes at some cost to the strength of what we are calling the Yes signal.

People can’t be obliged to receive that signal. They can’t be required to tune in to it. They can’t be forced to open their minds. The further the Yes signal travels into No territory, the less chance there is that it will be received. Obviously, there comes a point at which the effort just isn’t worth it. Ultimately, there is a point at which it doesn’t matter how strong the Yes signal is, there is nothing there that is capable of picking it up.

But that still leaves a lot of No territory which can be reached if the Yes signal is strong enough and if people can be induced to tune in. There is more than enough potential support within range to ensure a decisive Yes vote. It is this reachable No territory that the Yes campaign strategy must target. The aim of the strategy must be to strengthen the Yes signal and prompt people to receive it.

There are two ways to strengthen the Yes signal. It can be strengthened by adding to it. And it can be made more powerful by being more focused. The thing that is added must be new. It must be something which is not already part of the ‘positive case for independence’. It must also be dramatic. It is the combination of novelty and drama which will seize attention and induce people in No territory to tune in.

Focus is achieved by making the message contained in the Yes signal comprehensible, coherent and consistent. Short, sharp and simple. Never drifting from the core message. Always ensuring that the signal is directed at, and the message framed for, the reachable population in No territory.

This population is not inclined to listen to that ‘positive case for independence’. Many become less inclined to tune in the more this ‘positive case’ impinges on their consciousness. Encouraged by the British media, they have grown resistant to it. What else is the ‘vile cybernats’ propaganda about if not to discourage and dissuade people from accessing information carried by the only channels that are readily available to the Yes campaign?

A significant number of those disinclined to tune in to the ‘positive case for independence’ are, however, increasingly ready to question the status quo. They are daily more disenchanted with the British political elite and the British political system. They are beginning to wonder about the Union.

These are the people who must be targeted by a revised Yes campaign strategy. Alongside the ‘positive case for independence’, and at least matching it in all respects, there must be a ‘negative case against the Union’.

This has the added advantage of uniting the entire Yes movement, including the SNP. It facilitates the solidarity which the Yes campaign requires by distilling the message down to the one fundamental on which all can agree. While they all might hope for – or demand! – different things out of independence, all know that without ending the Union nobody gets anything.

If 200,000 people will sign a petition for independence, how many more might sign a petition against the Union? The cause of restoring Scotland’s rightful constitutional status will take a mighty leap forward the day the SNP decides to ask the one question that really matters. Should we #DissolveTheUnion?
The day they, and the rest of the Yes movement launch a campaign strategy designed to ensure that the answer is a resounding YES!

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It’s time to end the Union!

Excuse me if I’m not greatly exited by Nicola Sturgeon declaring “It’s time for independence!” in reaction to a poll about Brexit. Most folk in the Yes movement will, I suspect, immediately latch on to the word “independence”. In reality, what is significant here is, not the mention of independence, but the fact that, yet again the First Minister is reacting rather than taking the lead. And that her focus is on England’s Brexit woes rather than Scotland’s constitutional issue.

It was time for independence long before there was Brexit. It was time for independence long before the UK joined what was to become the EU. It was time for independence long before the European project was launched. The fact is, there has never been a time when it wasn’t time for independence. Because, since it was imposed on Scotland over three centuries ago, there has never been a time when it was not a foul affront to our nation and people.

My heart will stir when I hear Nicola Sturgeon declare, “It is time to end the Union!”. My pulse will race when she says this, not in reaction to some event which on the scale of a nation’s history is trivial, but in recognition of the inherent injustice of the Union.

My spirits will soar when I hear that Nicola Sturgeon’s stated purpose is to rectify the grotesque constitutional anomaly of the Union rather than merely address an incidental consequence of the continuing denial of the sovereignty of Scotland’s people.

It is time to end a political union that should never have been.

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Being brutish

The Sunday Mail’s sudden support for the Scottish Greens is an obvious ploy to split both the anti-Union and anti-Brexit vote. Why anyone should imagine it to be a “boost for Yes campaigners” is quite the mystery.

This is how it works. It is much easier to attack a politician or a party than it is to attack a principle such as independence. The SNP has been made the ‘face’ of the British state’s enemy. Any success for the SNP must be diminished, or simply go unreported. Any setback for the SNP must be trumpeted as signifying the party’s imminent implosion and total eradication.

Only votes for the SNP count as votes for independence. And only if they can’t be spun as votes for (or against) something else. Votes for ‘minor’ pro-independence parties count only as votes against the SNP. These parties are then airbrushed out of politics altogether unless they are attacking the SNP, or can be presented as doing so.

The 2017 UK general election is illustrative. Despite the fact that, by every meaningful measure, the SNP came out of that election just as it went in, the result was very successful portrayed as a ‘victory’ for the Ruth Davidson Queen of the BritNats Party.

British politics is brutish. Winner takes all. Losers lose everything. And who the winners and losers are is decided at least as much by the British media as by the result of any poll.

A massive surge in support for the SNP in the European Parliament elections would be, from the perspective of the British establishment, a very bad thing. Therefore, the apparatus of the British state will be deployed in order to ensure that this surge does not happen. Or is not perceived as having happened. If some of that surge can be diverted to the Greens, that will suit the British establishment very well.

Unfortunately, there are many in the Yes movement who are so politically naive as to suppose that a vote for any pro-independence party counts the same as a vote for the SNP. It really doesn’t. Not in the brutish world of British politics.

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