Information or misinformation? Some thoughts from Scotland in Union supporter Keith Howell.
The SNP blatantly seek to mislead us. While every political party can sometimes be economic with the truth, Scottish nationalism goes much further. The SNP have set out to manipulate public opinion with a far reaching programme of misinformation.
The SNP misdirect and mislead the people of Scotland in a number of ways. For example they take something they know is not true but simply say it again and again, so that people start to accept it. Or with a kind of nationalist ‘doublethink’, they say one thing to please one group of people, and the opposite to keep another group happy too.
When faced with facts that are unhelpful to their cause the SNP are very good at simply asserting their alternative but false narrative, again relying on how confident repetition will mislead. Another favourite, when an argument is going against them, is where the SNP put words into the mouths of their opponents, aiming to make them appear more extreme than they really are, or easier to ridicule, and as a consequence avoiding having to properly debate the issue.
So how many ways have the SNP tried to mislead us? A hundred or more? Below I have listed off some examples of how the SNP have sought to mislead people - from small and subtle ways, to major and blatant ways. Let’s start with 21 to get the list started. The notes give a little more info about each but for those well versed in the SNP’s duplicity, this additional detail might be skimmed over. See if the things that most annoy you about the SNP are included here. At the end I’ll tell you my ‘top 3’. What will yours be?
1. Basing the Scottish economic case on inflated oil tax revenues
The future strength of the Scottish economy was a critical factor in the referendum debate. In the infamous Scotland’s Future White Paper (more of which later) the SNP knew their initial numbers did not add up. So, Alex Salmond, who was an oil economist when he worked at the Royal Bank of Scotland, simply advised that they build in the highest possible future oil prices to improve the outlook. Many warned of the volatility of oil prices and how you could not depend on such optimistic assumptions, but were dismissed by the SNP as ‘talking Scotland down’. The fall in oil prices that followed has seen revenues to government from oil down a staggering 94% in 2015. A leading insider involved in developing the SNP strategy has since admitted that the figures included in the White Paper were knowingly misleading.
2. Claiming the moral high ground.
The SNP like to portray themselves as the anti-austerity party that care more than others about overcoming poverty and helping the most disadvantaged. The SNP and their nationalist supporters love to claim the moral high ground. Yet over the course of their 8 years in government the SNP have made little or no real difference for the poor and most vulnerable sectors of society. On the contrary their vote winning universal benefits from free tuition to free prescriptions, as well as the freezing of Council Tax, favour the middle classes and divert funds away from those who need them most.
3. The currency pretence, implying that sharing the £ sterling with the rest of the UK would benefit rUK and Scotland
The SNP have always known that any initial currency option would be no more than a temporary arrangement before having to join the Euro. Reading the SNP’s Fiscal Commission recommendations it is clear they were merely giving the answer that the SNP Government wanted – not surprising given they were hand-picked by Alex Salmond from his own economic advisers. The argument with the UK over the use of sterling was crucial to avoid a focus on the Euro which given the problems of countries like Greece would not have been popular with the electorate. Nevertheless, a pre-condition to Scotland’s continued post UK break-up membership of the EU would be a commitment to eventually join the Euro and to become a part of the ever closer union project. Ironically, that would mean Scotland giving up some of its autonomy to Brussels. The shared £ would have left rUK carrying the risk for a newly independent Scotland which would make no sense for the UK, while for Scotland breaking away from the UK could be more symbolic than real if the UK still controlled interest rates and set other fiscal limitations on Scotland in order to try to protect itself.
4. The pro-UK/ ‘No’ side of the debate are too ‘negative’
In part this reflects the success of the SNP in securing a question requiring a Yes/No answer, with them being gifted the ‘Yes’ advantage. This forced their opponents onto the back foot, with an apparent in-built negativity in having to promote ‘No’. Oddly the Electoral Commission only seemed to recognise belatedly in the context of the future European Referendum that to be truly neutral the question could not have a Yes/No answer. Also, while the positive case for Scotland’s place in the UK has been made again and again by many different commentators and experts, this was ignored by the SNP who instead preferred their own ‘spin’ that the ‘No’ side were negative.
5. The Unionists say Scotland and the Scots are ‘too wee, too poor, and too stupid’ to run their own county.
In practice no Unionist of any note ever said that. Rather, the phrase was an invention of SNP Central Office spin doctors. It served both to draw attention away from the real criticism and challenges coming from the Unionist side, and also to keep up a constant false impression that the Unionist side were arrogant and cynical as regards the prospects of Scotland. In fact most notable Unionists made clear that they did agree that Scotland could become an independent country and operate separately from the UK and quite probably eventually prosper after an initial difficult period, but their main point was that their view was that Scotland’s future would be so much better if they remained a positive and collaborative part of the UK.
6. Scotland would automatically remain a member of the EU with no need to renegotiate the terms of membership
EU leaders seem unequivocal that Scotland would need to apply as a new member. While the EU would want a newly independent Scotland to re-join, there is no reason to expect that this would be on anything other than the same terms as other recent new members, not least because those new members would have to approve Scotland’s entry. This would include Scotland signing up to the EU’s ever-closer union project - Ironic given that a newly independent Scotland would have only just separated itself from an over 300 year union with the UK. Amongst many conditions of membership, Scotland would also have to commit to eventual membership of the Euro, and to meeting the economic tests for Euro membership.
7. The case for self-determination is a black and white issue, and any right thinking person would be in favour of it
Scottish nationalists like to skim over the basic justification for independence. It is inconvenient for them to have to accept that the people of Scotland are not oppressed in any way, nor disadvantaged compared with others elsewhere in the UK. If they were, the case for self-determination would of course start from a completely different footing. Equally, it is not the case that we either have self-determination or not, but rather we already have a great deal of say and influence over our lives through the various layers of UK, Scottish devolved powers and Local Authority government. Effectively we already have a great deal of scope for independent decision making with the existing and coming devolved powers. The cost of getting the balance of remaining powers still held at the UK level could well be a period of economic calamity and certainly would have been after the 2008 financial crash or if we had broken away from the UK before the recent collapse of oil prices. It seems the Scottish nationalists are prepared for us all to pay any price for them to get their way.
8. Removal of Trident is the only moral stance regarding nuclear weapons
The SNP speak of their unilateral disarmament viewpoint as if the multilateral alternative stance does not exist, preferring instead to imply that those who do not agree with them are all uncaring war-mongers. They do not like to recognise that the great majority of their opponents are in fact just as much against nuclear weapons as they are. The multilateral nuclear disarmament position - getting rid of our nuclear weapons at the same time as others do - is just as morally acceptable as the unilateral alternative, and arguably more rational. Most people would like to see nuclear weapons removed, just as soon as the world we live in is safer and those other countries that have nuclear weapons give them up too. This includes some countries who might otherwise be inclined to use the threat of nuclear weapons to further their aims.
9. The SNP and its supporters are Scotland
Of course they are not, but they love to imply they are, not least because it suggests that if you do not agree with Scottish nationalism you are somehow not as patriotic as they are. The SNP attitude dismisses the huge numbers of people in Scotland who prefer to see Scotland thrive as part of the UK. One of the most disrespectful aspects of the approach taken by the SNP is the way they deride huge numbers of people in Scotland who do not agree with their nationalist ideology, suggesting that in criticising the SNP view of the world they are ‘talking down Scotland’.
One feature of this ‘you are either for us or against us’ attitude, is in the SNP’s hijacking of the Saltire. This is similar to what happened to the Union Jack during the period when far right groups were temporarily on the rise in the UK and it took some years for the UK flag to once again be something we could all feel comfortably proud of.
10. Only the SNP can be trusted to act in the best interests of Scotland
In practice, the SNP’s controlling and centralising instincts see them ignore expert opinion and the preferences of the people most directly effected by their policies. So for example, the SNP’s energy policy is based on their tunnel vision approach with an over-reliance on wind power and other green energy sources despite the resulting looming gap in our energy supplies as coal fired power stations are closed without replacement sources of energy. By keeping their ‘progressive’ supporters happy in this way the SNP have closed their minds to the nuclear energy option that could fill the gap.
Meanwhile, their Named Person legislation involves an approach to protecting children at risk, that potentially requires State interference in any family, ignoring the views of the majority of parents.
11. The SNP offer a new kind of politics
The SNP like to contrast themselves with what they like to characterise as the ‘scandal prone, self-serving old style of politics' played out in Westminster. But in reality what has been unfolding of late suggests the SNP have not put as much care into turning this wish into reality. They have been lax in their selection procedures, inconsistent in their governance and lacking in respect for proper procedures and principles.
Quite apart from two MPs having to stand down because of being close to issues currently under police investigation, there have also been questionable hand-outs of public money to T in the Park, abuse of the Holyrood committee system arguably to the point where it no longer functions properly, and a casual attitude to the regular outrageous statements by various of their membership as well as elected representatives. When your normal approach is to stir up grievance and division whenever possible, it is perhaps difficult to recognise when actions and words go over the line of what is properly acceptable.
12. The Scotland’s Future document was a White Paper for an independent Scotland
In reality the Scotland’s Future document was a ‘White Paper’ in name only - in truth it was a nationalist manifesto. The Scottish Government did not have a mandate for independence - rather they had a mandate to hold a fair independence referendum. To issue a document with many misleading and exaggerated statements, meant that public funds were misused in its production. The Scottish Civil Service was compromised in the process, with a politicisation that meant there had been a clear breach of the Civil Service Code and in turn a breach of the Ministerial Code by those Ministers who had embroiled civil servants in acting outside of the terms of their professional code of conduct. Civil servants are not allowed to knowingly mislead people, and the lack of rigour and balance in the production of the Scotland’s Future document meant the civil servants acted improperly. Much of the content of the Scotland’s Future document has now been discredited, whether by impartial economists, the recent disclosures from the ex-SNP strategy advisor Alex Bell, about how those involved knew they were setting out to mislead people, or the excellent detailed and insightful analyses of various bloggers and commentators.
13. The Royal Family would continue as before in an independent Scotland
There is a substantial element within the SNP who are determined republicans, who would seek to abolish the Royal Family replacing it with a presidential system once independence had ben achieved. While the current and previous First Ministers express their desire to retain the Royal Family in an independent Scotland, it is not at all clear that the SNP’s official position would not change once they secured separation from the rest of the UK. Once those who are pro the Royal Family have given the SNP their votes there would be no guarantee that this change would not happen. Certainly many within the SNP, including senior figures, would be actively working to achieve this end.
14. The SNP are not against the English and the rest of the UK
The SNP leadership have largely ‘cleaned-up’ their act in terms of what is said publicly about the English. They realise attitudes about racial discrimination mean blatantly speaking out against the English is no longer acceptable in this politically correct age. However, for the 400,000 people in Scotland who came originally from England, the practical reality is not so clear. During the referendum campaign, the hard-line nationalists were more and more negative towards people from England. The leadership tended to use ‘London’, ‘Westminster’ and the ‘South East’ in the way that they might previously have said the ‘English’. The atmosphere during the referendum campaign seemed to be that if you were English you were welcome to be in Scotland as long as you do not express pro-UK views. Otherwise you could expect a degree of abuse and intimidation and being told to go back from where you came from, no matter how long Scotland might have been your home.
15. The SNP represent all of Scotland
On the day she was appointed First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon said she would act on behalf of all of the people of Scotland. Yet through the 2 to 3 years of campaigning ahead of the referendum vote, she and her party had divided the people of Scotland like never before. Also despite what she said on the day of her appointment, the SNP in Holyrood, and in then in Westminster following the 2015 General Election, have set out to prioritise stirring grievance with the rest of the UK above all else. They look to accentuate differences between Scotland and the rest of the UK, real or imagined, and to use every possible opportunity to blame Westminster and the rest of the UK for the problems we face in Scotland.
16. The SNP will play a constructive part in Westminster
In reality the SNP have used their position in Westminster to be divisive and to stir ill-feeling between Scotland and the rest of the UK. This has included interfering in matters that do not involve Scotland such as fox hunting and Sunday opening hours in England and Wales. Even during debates of the most serious of matters, such as the extending of air strikes into Syria, the SNP MPs have followed a divisive tone in their statements, in stark contrast to those on both sides of the argument from other parties who spoke with distinction about where their conscience and reasoned arguments led them. The SNP voted as a block determined to make political capital out of this critical issue for the security of people across the UK and elsewhere.
17. Only the SNP can be trusted with the Scotland’s critical public services, such as the NHS
In practice, across education, health and police, the SNP’s spending choices, ill-judged reorganisations, and centralising tendencies have left those dedicated professionals who work to serve the people of Scotland in public services struggling through lack of resources and badly managed rationalisation and modernisation programmes. While some of the SNP’s broad strategies might sound good, the detail lets them down time and time again. For all the SNP’s claims, gaps in educational attainment, missed A&E waiting time targets, and a demoralised police service, all reflect the SNP’s influence.
During the referendum the SNP made a great deal of how only they could be trusted with the NHS. Yet the budget increases that have been applied elsewhere in the UK in the NHS and passed on to Scotland through the block grant have not been fully passed on to NHS Scotland. The SNP have preferred to put the money into other priorities including their vote winning universal benefits like free tuition fees that favour the better off.
18. The Scottish independence referendum provided an ‘exemplar’ that others around the world could follow
Alex Salmond claimed the referendum was an ‘exemplar’ for others to follow. Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP leadership have talked approvingly of the ‘energised political life’ arising from the referendum campaign. They knowingly draw a veil over how much of that ‘energy’ was negative and threatening. Abuse and intimidation were common features of the debate. The SNP like to play this down because while there were bad examples from both sides, the overwhelming experience of any who tried to actively speak out on the ‘No’ side of the campaign was that whether online, or on the streets, they regularly faced attempts to threaten and silence them, and this continues. The referendum campaign divided Scotland like never before and the nationalist leadership stoked up that sense of divisiveness and grievance at every opportunity and their more hard-line supporters followed that lead.
19. The ‘vow’ has not been delivered
In the hours after the referendum result the SNP started their campaign to convince everyone that no matter what came the ‘vow’ would not be delivered. When the Smith Commission findings were announced, even though the SNP had been fully involved in the process, they blatantly dismissed its findings within minutes of them being announced. At each stage of the Scotland Bill the SNP have cried foul, denying that what was promised was being delivered even when Lord Smith and Gordon Brown both confirmed that as far as they were concerned the promised powers were now being delivered in full. The SNP are determined to never accept that anything offered from the UK Government is good enough and it remains to be seen if they will use the new powers in due course for the good of Scotland or rather as a means to create further discord.
20. The Scottish constitutional issue is more important than anything else going on in Scotland or elsewhere
By consistently keeping the constitutional issue in the public eye, encouraging their hard-core supporters that another referendum is inevitable, the SNP leadership and their spin doctors create an impression that this issue matters above all others. For 2 to 3 years of intensive debate in the run-up to the September 2014 referendum vote, intensive campaigning pushed the primacy of the need for separation above all things. This is perhaps not surprising in that the SNP’s nationalist constitution places the break-up of the UK as its primary goal. But to foist this onto Scotland as a whole is very unhealthy for our country and our people. There are far more important issues in Scotland and the rest of the world and we should not fall for the nationalist conceit on this.
21. The SNP leadership respect the result of the 2014 referendum
Despite often saying that the 2014 referendum was a once in a generation opportunity, once it gave the result they did not want they quickly moved on to saying that whether and when there should be another referendum depends on the people of Scotland – leaving the SNP leadership in a position where they can effectively ‘call’ the time for a second referendum whenever it suits them. Some like Alex Salmond have said another referendum is inevitable. While Nicola Sturgeon has said there would need to be a significant change in public opinion and some have suggested that to be safe they would need to see 60% support for independence in opinion polls over the course of a full year, no one should take any comfort from that. Given that Nicola Sturgeon so readily dropped the idea of once in a generation when it no longer suited her, so she can equally drop any thought of any specific opinion poll result or trend to enable another referendum. Instead she will ensure it is a matter of simple political calculation, calling for another referendum just whenever it best suits her cause.
So what are my ‘top 3’ of the many ways in which the SNP have tried to mislead us? There are 3 of the above that stand out for me:
(1) That the SNP and their supporters are Scotland - whereas I believe a significant majority of us have had enough of the nationalist obsession with breaking up the UK
(2) The Scotland’s Future document was a White Paper for independence - whereas it was really a nationalist manifesto for separation based on a fundamentally false prospectus
(3) The SNP leadership ‘respect’ the result of the 2014 referendum - whereas in practice they ignore the wishes of the 55% who voted ‘No’ and intend to call another referendum whenever it suits them
There are of course many other ways that the SNP have tried to mislead us, sometimes on very specific points, or otherwise more generally. What other ways have you noticed? What are the ones that annoy you above all others?
Keith Howell, at www.nupateer.com