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By Jason Michael
The drama of poor Paul and the idiot kids in the Patronising BT Lady ad became an instant hit for the independentistas of the 2014 referendum, but this piece of pathetic propaganda and others like it must sharpen our teeth for round two.
No one in Scotland will soon forget the sourpussed and conceited busy working Scottish mother who made an appearance on our television sets in late August 2014, the one who came to be known quickly the country over as “Patronising BT Lady.” This two minute and forty second long referendum campaign ad was designed to target reasonably affluent working mums – the largest proportion of the electorate still undecided at the time – in an attempt to convince them to vote No, but the idea soon unravelled and rapidly became a royal pain the arse for the Better Together campaign.
Moira Shemilt (@DrMoiraShemilt) June 25, 2016
The idea was to get Scottish women in this bracket to identify with the actress in her dilemma over which way to vote, for them to see something of their own lives in hers – with her hyperactive, motor-mouthed and browbeaten husband Paul, and their millennial generation children who she obviously doesn’t rate too much in the intelligence stakes. No attempt was made to hide the fact that this ad was speaking to the pound shop ladies who lunch; a deeply sexist essentialisation of women that quickly blew up in the campaign’s face and was mocked the country over.
In its content, however, this attempt at marketing a unionist message is interesting in that it synthesises all of the key themes of Project Fear into a single punch. As the actress talks to herself over her morning mug of tea she reminds her listeners that this referendum is an important vote, one that – if gotten wrong – can never be undone. She lays it on thick and fast as she worriedly rubs her hands, complete with diamond engagement ring and wedding band, while fretting over the uncertainty and risk this all poses to her children. In no more than two sentences she delivers Westminster’s threats over the pound, the security of her pensioner parents, schools, hospitals, and the fear of the oil running out.
The man on the telly – a politician, and no doubt a reference to Alex Salmond – says that it will all be alright, but she has heard that before. This is a monumental gamble and one that strikes her motherly wisdom as one that hasn’t been thought through. It all sounds to her a bit too good to be true. Mother knows best, you see, and we are all meant to know that the politicians we elected are never really to be trusted. Surely every woman should know this? Without a single specific being offered, she alludes to the myth of there being too many unanswered questions before declaring that she has made up her mind to vote No.
This was a wonderfully cynical attempt on the part of the unionist campaign to appeal to the mental mediocrity it expected from the women folk of Scotland. It was unashamedly insulting – not to mention sexist – and women in Scotland rightly responded in anger. A perceptible vane of classism also seeped through the ad. The responsible family, the good wife and mother, was not a single parent family, lived in a home where both parents had jobs, and maintained a pristine kitchen even at breakfast time. Unlike the poorer household, beset by unemployment or kept together by one parent on state benefits, this was the responsible home that thought things through and voted No.
Everything about the ad was ugly, but it told us so much about the social assumptions and expectations of those behind the unionist campaign. It gave away something more important too. So stuck was the No campaign for the actual thoughts and opinions of a working mum that it turned to hiring a paid actress – who, incidentally, votes Yes – to perform in a contrived mock-up of real life on planet No voter. As we draw closer to a second independence referendum there are lessons that we should be taking from the Tory propaganda of the last one. Their reasoning, as we have seen in the Brexit fiasco, has not changed. We should be laying out traps.
“The woman who made up her mind” – lol