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By Jason Michael
Headlines matter, and it is because of shock value and attention grabbing headlines and misleading blurbs that the Conservative right in the UK is gaining ground. The right is winning because it has perfected the science of lying.
Yes, you’d be dead right in thinking you’ve just been taken in by a click-bait trap. It worked, and that is exactly the point I’m trying to make. Fake news and media manipulation work because there is a science behind the art of telling lies, and Britain’s rightist establishment has mastered it. Headlines, strictly speaking, don’t need to be true. So long as something closer to the facts is presented in the body of the article, all is good. But here’s the thing – numerous academic studies have shown that most people don’t read past the headline and blurb before hitting the share button.
Part of this trick is the frightening reality that the more shocking, the more attention grabbing the headline, the more likely it is to be shared; giving a massive advantage to media outlets willing to stoop the lowest. We might be thinking this doesn’t matter and why the hell have we been hoodwinked into reading this, but it does matter and it is one of the most power weapons being deployed against the Scottish independence movement.
The overwhelming majority of media in Scotland is openly unionist, and to varying degrees all of these newspapers and news programmes are setting the agenda by using headlines that are either fear inducing or not quite the full truth. “Tory resurgence slams brakes on Sturgeon’s nationalist juggernaut,” is a good example from The Times. It works because, at some level, we expect better from The Times. We almost trust it – well, we trust it insofar as it isn’t the Sun. It’s a serious paper and serious people, serious voters, read it. There was a surge in support for the Conservative and Unionist Party in the council elections, but this was only the result of the collapse of the Labour vote. Unionism merely consolidated itself around the Tory Party.
In reality the Scottish National Party increased its share of the popular vote and gained seats, giving it 155 more local council seats than the Conservatives. We know this, and so we can call out the headline for the BS that it is, but we were not the intended audience. The copy writers behind the establishment headlines don’t care about us. Neither do they care about an honest and balanced presentation of the news. Readers have to read fifteen paragraphs into the piece before the author Hamish MacDonnell, The Times’ Scottish political editor, acknowledges that the SNP is the “biggest party,” but he knows few will read it that far. It’s left to a Wendy MacKenzie in the comments to set the record straight: “The SNP took 431 seats – 155 more than their nearest rival,” but no one – no one in the paper’s target audience, reads the comments. It’s a trick.
When this is the game being played by the grown-up’s broadsheets, the gloves are off completely when we get to the tabloids – which, as entertainment news, get away with far worse. Of course this is water off a duck’s back to the tried and true independentista, but we all know the next independence referendum will be won or lost on the back of people switching sides. This class of media war aims to discourage independence supporters who are growing tired of the seemingly endless campaign. It galvanises the unionists, and constructs and maintains the false narrative that the “SNP has peaked.”
Voters conditioned to bow down in reverence to “institutions” like The Times will uncritically accept its facts over those presented in papers the likes of the National and other pro-independence “new media.” This too is part of the trick. If we hope to increase support for an independent Scotland in the run-up to and during the next referendum we have to prioritise the development of smart strategies to combat the lies being spread by the British media propaganda machine. While I don’t have the answer to this problem, I am certain that we all have to become better media analysts and work on methods of getting a more honest version of the news over to the rest of Scotland.
So does London have plans to invade an independent Scotland? Well, yes. It did. But that was a long time ago. The last planned invasion was in 1707, when an English army was stationed at the Tweed, ready to use military means in the event that the Scots decided not to sign the Act of Union.
Astroturf and manipulation of media messages