Just who was behind the worst TV advert of the campaign that caused such a backlash from women across Scotland? Turns out it was Douglas Alexander ‘Labour strategy chief Douglas Alexander gets blame for ‘patronising’ TV ad backfiring’. The video by the company M&C Saatchi, who Alexander brought in to shape the campaign ‘was widely panned on social media and in advertising circles as patronising, sexist and insulting.’
Here Ariadne and Lizzie Cass-Maran unpack the prevalence of the language of abuse in the Better Together campaign.
After Better Together posted their now infamous campaign video, a friend on Twitter remarked on the prevalence of the language of abuse in their campaign, in particular in the video. On being called out to defend this accusation, we wrote the following. Quotes in italic are taken from the video.
What is the ‘language of abuse?’
First, it might be handy to define what ‘the language of abuse’ means. ‘Language’ is communication; it doesn’t boil down to simple vocabulary. It’s not the same thing as vocabulary of violence; it’s not saying ‘I’m gonny chib ya’. In fact, quite the opposite. The language of abuse is to do with emotional abuse, and blackmail. We trawled through a few articles online and used some of their common signs of emotional abuse to break down the video.
Degradation/treating an individual like a servant or child
A woman enters kitchen, and we discover she’s a housewife with the full burden of looking after the children and keeping the house tidy; so overworked that two minutes with a cup of tea is the highlight of her day. We are given the archetype of an oppressed, 1950s’ style housewife as Better Together’s idea of the ‘ordinary woman.’ They could have given us a professor, or a CEO, or an artist. But no.
There’s only so many hours in the day.
The message: You, the Scottish electorate (the target audience of this advert) have neither the time nor the brain power to fully understand the issues here.
He [her husband] started again first thing this morning: Have you made a decision yet? I was like, ‘it’s too early to be discussing politics. Eat your cereal’.
The biggest political decision Scotland has had to make in centuries is being discussed on television and in her home. Her aggrieved tone suggests she is not happy about this. It’s breakfast, she has the opportunity to have an interesting conversation, but she shuts it down, with the only power she has in her arsenal: control over the cereal.
The message: Don’t engage. Don’t research. Keep yourself to yourself. DON’T GO OUTSIDE, IT’S DANGEROUS!
So he starts to ask the kids, I mean honestly, like he’ll get any sense out of them, they never have their heads out of their phones.
If these ‘kids’ have phones, and their Dad is trying to engage them in political discussion, they’re probably teenagers. 16-years-olds with the right to vote, perhaps? They could be seen as intelligent beings with the ability to control their own destiny, but we’re encouraged to think so little of them that the woman cannot begin to fathom why their father would want to discuss politics with them.
The message: The opinion of young people is worthless. Careful not to discuss it with them; they might use their vote.
Threats and intimidation
Most of all, I want what’s best for my children… There’s no way you can change your mind in four years’ time. They have to live with the decision I make. I suppose that’s why all this uncertainty bothers me so much.
Democracy is by its very nature unpredictable and uncertain. You want utter certainty all the time? Go and live in a dictatorship. Just try not to actually talk to anyone when you do, as people who live in fascist regimes tend to be terribly interested in politics and freedom for some reason.
The message: Just do what you’re told, or we’ll be after your family.
Name calling or insults/degradation
‘The guy off the telly’ is the democratically elected First Minister of Scotland and ‘Yeah right?’ isn’t a logical comeback in an argument.
The message: The main representatives of the Yes campaign are unworthy of even being named and certainly not of being listened to. Half an ear on the telly is probably all the research the electorate’s puny little brain can cope with. You’re too stupid to be having this discussion anyway.
Withholding important information
Or in this case, encouraging the electorate to not seek such information.
There’s not much time left for me to make a decision, but there’s only so many hours left in the day… The more I think about it, the more independence seems like one big gamble, like it’s not been thought through.
Spending two minutes to think about it, without looking at any facts or figures, she concludes that the slow process of devolution over the last 15 years, leading to the referendum on whether we’d like to assume full financial control over our stuff has been a total thoughtless car crash.
The message: Don’t use your limited time to research this important issue. It’s not like The White Paper, and reliable, independent resources like The Financial Times, the Economist, etc are easily available online. Stay in the kitchen.
Making someone fear that they will not receive the food or care they need
So you can rely on oil for everything can you? Your kid’s school, our local hospital, mum and dad’s pension?… I’ve heard plenty of promises, but straight answers? They seem a little bit harder to come by… If there’s one thing I do know, I will not be gambling with my children’s future… So that’ll be a no from me.
She’s not looking at any facts as to whether oil will pay for anything, or even whether that’s what people claim. Google will give her stats on how much oil is out there, and what percentage it will contribute to an independent economy. She might also like to look at other money makers in Scotland, such as whisky, food, tourism and finance, or investigate Scotland’s pioneering eco-friendly alternatives to oil and projections for how much of our energy will be made like that in future, and what other political parties are looking at doing if Scotland becomes independent.
There’s no actual logic behind her final decision; just ‘I don’t know; I’m too scared’
The message: If you care about your family, you’ll vote No. We have their pensions.
Telling an individual that they are too much trouble
Or in this case, that their plans are too much trouble.
Time to get to work.
They doubtless mean that as a metaphor for ‘Let’s build a better country, together’, but all we’re left with is the bleak knowledge that she’ll return to her ironing, subjugated and hopeless, leaving her husband to do all the thinking while she stomps as hard as she can on her children’s ability to think critically for themselves because she never learned how and doesn’t intend to start.
The message: Stop thinking you can possibly try to assert control over your own future.
The woman in the kitchen is not a fully realised human being, but an offensive caricature of what Better Together thinks a woman is. It is an insult to intelligent, engaged women in other sectors, and it is especially insulting to women who do look after their children all day, because those women are not stupid, they are not too weak, cowed or stubborn to debate and have robust conversations, and they are certainly not so mean that they don’t understand the importance of getting children thinking and talking about weighty topics which affect their future.
First published at http://bit.ly/cereal-abuse and edited by the authors for print