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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.
(@ScotlandTonight) August 24, 2017
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.
How Dirty Tricks Work in Politics