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By Jason Michael

Every so often a key player for the union will make a slip up, but too often we are too nice or too “good” to get down into the dirt and tear them a new one. If we want to win we have to rethink this niceness.

“To be fair, what he actually meant was…” It is interesting that this sentence, or anything like it, never appears in the British media when it is busy misrepresenting the words of prominent members of the SNP or the wider independence movement. All too often the unionist press will take sentences or sentence fragments entirely out of context as quotes in order to present these people and their – our – political beliefs in a dim light. Yet when someone or some group in the independence movement does exactly this, there is always a clamour from other independentistas, no doubt good and well-meaning people, suggesting that “we mustn’t stoop to their level.”

That’s nice, but I hate to be the one to break it to you – this moralism is as much use in a fight as a set of plasticine knuckledusters, and – like it or not – we are in a fight. Already the BBC and other British mass media; newspapers, television, and radio, have ramped up their dirty tricks offensive. If you are in any doubt of this please go and check out the analysis of BBC Reporting Scotland over on the IndyRef2 website. Have a read at what GAPonsonby and Peter A Bell are writing on Twitter. Wings Over Scotland has been doing the same.

Many reading this will think: What harm? It won’t turn me. But this style of aggressive media manipulation and bias – already well past the point of being a media war – is not intended to sway the resolute Yesser. It is directed at soft Yes, soft No, and undecided viewers – and it works. It doesn’t matter a jot if we are uncomfortable with playing dirty. The sad reality of politics and social interaction, as Noam Chomsky has said, is that “slinging mud always works.”

Given that we know the nature of the beast and the atrocious and filthy tricks it plays, we in the independence movement have to think long and hard about whether or not we want to win. Don’t get me wrong, I am not suggesting we begin following them down the road of lying and cheating. Nothing is more counterproductive and harmful to the cause than an exposed lie. What I am suggesting is that we stop kissing gift horses in the mouth. Ammunition is ammunition.

Take for example Bernard Ponsonby’s interview with Jeremy Corbyn last night on STV’s Scotland Tonight programme. When Ponsonby asked Corbyn if a federal UK was the way to go, the British Labour leader – who has come to Scotland to attack SNP seats in advance of another, highly possible, snap general election – had this to say:

We are going to be looking at all options around devolution, about powers that are currently held in Brussels going to the nations and regions of England. We’ll also be looking at the future structure of an upper chamber, of what the House of Lords will look like in a democratic Britain. And obviously we’ll look at devolution in that context.

Other than conceding the fact Britain is not a democracy, his phraseology around the repatriation of powers from the EU is extremely interesting. When he says, “to the nations and regions of England,” there are two possible interpretations. He could have meant when these powers return to the nations [i.e. Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland], and to England. This is what he – as his supporters on social media are keen to argue – may have meant, but it is not what he said. An Oxford comma, dividing “the nations” and “the regions of England” into separate clauses; indicated in speech by a brief pause, would have cleared this up. He did not make that pause. Even something as little as the use of the definite article between “the” and “regions of England” would have helped. It wasn’t there. This is what he could have meant, but it was unclear.

Consider then the following sentence, which follows the accepted rules of spoken English usage: To the mountains and rivers of France. In terms of structure and grammar it is exactly the same sentence as the one used by Corbyn. “Nations” has simply become “mountains,” “regions” has been replaced by “rivers,” and “England” by – for the sake of neutrality – “France.” Are these mountains not the mountains of France? Of course they are. As a single grammatical clause, the preposition “of” in the sentence demands possession or ownership. In these cases the mountains and rivers belong to France, and the nations and regions belong to England.

The simple answer to this is that Corbyn did in fact say that the nations and regions are England’s, but whether he actually meant what his words indicated is another question. It may have been a slip of the tongue, and ill-thought out and off-the-cuff remark, or a Freudian slip. Personally, if he hadn’t meant it the way he said it, I prefer the Freudian slip version. A Freudian slip is when one thoughtlessly blurts out what one is otherwise trying to keep concealed.

Another possibility is that in saying “England” he was referring to “Britain.” We may not be used to this in Scotland, but in England it is quite common to treat “England” and “Britain” as synonymous terms and therefore interchangeable. Britain in the English imagination, is – and has been since the signing of the Acts of Union – an expression denoting an expanded or “Greater” England. He could have been saying, to the nations and regions of Britain – as he understands “Britain.”

“Had Nicola Sturgeon, in a similar slip of the tongue, uttered the words; “The Scottish National-ist Party,” what would happen?”

It’s all semantics, but should we let him off the hook? Let him off the hook at your peril. Had Nicola Sturgeon, in a similar slip of the tongue, uttered the words; “The Scottish National-ist Party,” what would happen? I will tell you. It would be immediately construed as an admission from her that she and the SNP are fascist, far-right, racist, and practically neo-Nazi. It would be blood and soil, ethno-nationalism in every soundbite all the way to the next referendum. And this is how they win.

We can be as gentle, as meek, as fair, and as mild-mannered as we like. We do not have the luxury of mass media to get our point across. We can be civil and well spoken, reasonable, and well behaved. Their cameras and microphone booms will never come near us. No one will hear how nice we are. All the while the airwaves and the news reports and column inches will be jammers with vile BritNat manipulation and half-truths, and we will “lose the argument.”

If our object is to win the argument – that is, win independence – then we have to dispense with this we’re better than that routine. What do we want; to imagine ourselves the moral goodies to their baddies or win the fight? Trust me, we can’t have both. They won’t let us. My approach – and I make no apology for it – is that we seize every opportunity to drag them through the gutter, personalise every offensive – no matter how small, and never kiss a gift horse in the mouth. So long as it is at least plausible and rational, and the “facts” are defensible enough, we can create the openings we need – and, by God, do we need to make some openings.

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How Dirty Tricks Work in Politics


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20 thoughts on “ScotRef: The Rules of Engagement

  1. I’d say that he probably did mean Britain – and therein lies the crux of the matter for me. Conflating England with Britain has pissed me off for as long as I can remember. I had a debate with a UKIP person on Twitter who swore blind that this never happens – which to me shows that the guilty parties aren’t even aware of their offence – they don’t even think of us as a country. I too am fed up with the nicey-nicey approach. It’s high time we stood up to these bullies and showed them up for the wee colonialists that they are. How to do this and reach a wider audience though? I don’t see anyone in the MSM standing with us anytime soon.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. I is a freudian slip which lays bare his real interest in my country. He has none. There was NO ambiguity here. That we spend an entire article trying to make excuses for this is in itself an illistration of how we pussyfoot around this sort of thing. Something which see unionists make the most of. Brexit was won on lies. 2014 was won on lies. This is a slip in the facade of just another egotist and unionist which we should be exploiting fully. He said it. We know what it said. We must rebuff it from the rooftops and make no mistake of doubting ourselves,

    Liked by 1 person

  3. It is not just in England it is quite common to treat “England” and “Britain” as synonymous terms and therefore interchangeable, it is the same for many countries overseas as well. For example, I lost count of the number of times I was referred to as “you English” when I was working in Brussels. Once you point out that you are in fact “Scottish” you would be amazed with the change in their attitudes and how warm and friendly they became. I think that this goodwill can be a huge boost for us post independence.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. With you every step of the way.
    Keep it plausible, rational and especially, defensible.
    Spread it a widely as you can because mainstream ain’t gonna get it done.
    Problem with social media is that it tends to “talk to it’s own” a lot of the time.
    We need a wider base to work from somehow to get the news “out there”.
    No one at my work knew of the McCrone report for instance.
    As for the Governer of the Bank of England stating Scottish assets to be worth “north of a trillion Sterling”, the YouTube video has only been viewed 27,000 times.
    We need all 5,000,000 to be aware of our resources.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. I couldn’t agree more, I am sick to death of the bowing and scrapping we scots do to our “better ” half, I have seriously considered leaving the SNP because I feel they are letting us down, we need Alex back cause nicey nicey doesn’t do it for me

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  6. A well made point Jason. I admit to having been one of those who espoused taking “the moral high ground” in the past. I did so because I honestly believed the public would see the difference. I was perhaps naive. I now find it difficult to argue with anything you’ve said here. I would reiterate however, your point about not following the other side into lies and deceit. That’s important. We’re not talking about copying their whole game plan here, just taking the kid gloves off.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Test appears to have worked. It is ‘awaiting moderation’. My original did not even appear as awaiting moderation. So I have just tried re-posting it, but a message comes up telling me I have already made that exact post. WordPress is sometimes a post graveyard! I’ll wait 24 hours.

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  8. 1000% spot on!
    SNP had ample opportunity to refute what, in many cases, have been outright lies, but they have not. If they don’t get the tucking gloves off, And so only, ppl will take matters into their own hands, and violence will ensue.

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  9. I’m going to put a spanner in the works.

    It is far from clear that Corbyn implied the nation’s and regions are England’s / belong to England. Compare what he said with the following scenario. A man and a woman have 4 children, all boys. Three of the boys do not have children. The remaining boy Jack and his partner Jill have 2 children, both girls. Jack and Jill die. The original man and woman then write a will leaving everything “to the boys and girls of Jack”. Poorly written? Yes, but the known facts clearly determine the meaning. ‘Possession’ of the boys should not be attributed to Jack in this case.

    Corbyn’s statement is ambiguous and a pause would have helped, but it looks to me like he moved his head to one side after the word ‘nations’ instead. I interpreted this as him making a distinction between nations (boys) and regions of England (girls of Jack). Perhaps I am wrong, but it’s a plausible interpretation.

    I’m all for attacking BritNat lies, distortions, arrogance and unjustified assumptions, but if we attack on the basis of such ambiguous evidence, we will come over as at best overly sensitive and at worst paranoid. Either way, it’s not a good look. Let’s wait for the next good example; it will be along soon enough!

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    1. You may be right but who cares? (I say that in the nicest possible way.) One of the points in the article above is that we need to stop being nice to our BritNat opponents. So what if we wrongly accused Corbyn of referring to the Scotland as a region of England? Why not put him, and others like him, on the defensive with this stuff? Whatever his thoughts are we all know that many in England do not differentiate between England and Britain and consider Scotland simply to be that funny place further north of ‘The North’. We need to be willing to make political capital out of such gaffs even if they were not deliberate. That’s the whole point of taking the kid gloves off. We are here to win independence for Scotland, not be nice about it.

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    2. Agreed. There’s a lot of things that should be pounced upon, but this is an exceptionally poor example…not least because federalism can only work if England is broken down to regions. The response from Corbyn isn’t dismissive, it’s far more prescient than almost anything any other “federalist” has said on that front.

      I mostly agree with the overall gist of the article as there’s so much rubbish pedalled which goes unchallenged; however, there’s also a lot of independence supporters who love to put their tin-foil hats on and see everything as a trick or ploy against them.

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  10. Or perhaps Corbyn meant “the nations of Britain” and “regions of England”. That was my first impression when reading it; perhaps not sinister at all.

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    1. Maybe he did but even this indicates how he, and other British Nationalist like him, think. The don’t think of the United Kingdom being a Union of equals but as it being synonymous with ‘England and its peripheral possessions’. The fact that Corbyn felt it necessary in any shape or form to mention England rather than Britain in this context shows that he is thinking about, and speaking to, an English audience and the Scots, Welsh and Northern Irish don’t matter to him at all.

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