2007 - 2021

Unionist Strategy on the ‘Salmond Inquiry’ is straight from the Post-truth Playbook of Trump

If you live in one of Scotland’s major cities, you will likely have been confronted this weekend with a billboard calling for the First Minister’s resignation.

The billboards form part of a campaign entitled #ResignSturgeon, launched by The Majority with the support of Scotland Matters and UK Union Voice.

The campaign compliments the Scottish Conservative’s ongoing threat of a No Confidence vote in Scotland’s leadership.

If a bystander asked you to give context to these threats and demands, you might be tempted to say they are occurring ‘in the wake’ of the ‘Alex Salmond Inquiry’.

Yet, that would not be technically true. We have not reached the ‘aftermath’ of the inquiry, we are not ‘in its wake’.

Indeed, the Conservatives began calling for their vote of no confidence before Sturgeon even gave evidence; never mind the wake, the bow of the ship had barely passed his nose when Douglas Ross began shouting for Sturgeon to resign.

These efforts are thus better explained as an effort to press upon the Scottish public the idea Sturgeon is ‘guilty’ before, and thus regardless of, the outcome of the Inquiry.

If our bystander was from the US, she might remark that this is not unlike Donald Trump’s strategy during his Second Impeachment. And indeed, she would not be far wrong. The key difference being that, whilst Trump’s team tried to impress the ex-president’s innocence, Unionists aim to imprint Sturgeon’s ‘guilt’.

Post-truth

To understand how Trump’s was acquitted we need to understand the ‘Post-truth Age’ it is often said we live in, and which the ex-President proved particularly acute at navigating.

Post-truth’ refers to an environment in which ‘facts’ or ‘evidence’ (the ‘truth’) has become increasingly less able to impact public opinion. Instead, the public is seemingly more responsive to appeals to emotion and personal belief. Subsequently Post-truth politicians seek to win support by crafting political narratives which appeal to emotions, regardless of whether these stories contain any actual ‘truth’.

Such narratives are frequently characterised as ‘bullshit’, Trump being referred to as the bullshitter-in-chief. This follows Harry Frankfurt’s influential characterisation of ‘bullshit’ as an attempt to persuade regardless of truth.

One needs to also recognise the deeper impact convincing narratives can have on human cognition. As Glasgow born philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre explained, human beings are essentially ‘story-telling animals’: we understand ourselves and our place in the world through the stories we are told and those we tell ourselves. It is subsequently in relation to these ‘narratives’ that we assess the information we receive, judging whether we regard it as significant, or, indeed, even true.

If politicians are thus able to control and influence these narratives, they are subsequently able to control how the public sees the world; what they will regard as significant; and what they will ultimately believe.

Trump’s Post-truth Trial

It was by controlling the narrative surrounding his Impeachment Trial that Trump was acquitted.

Trump’s defence team constructed a narrative which impressed forcefully the idea that the trial was an illegitimate partisan attack by Democrats to ‘silence’ Trump and, more widely, the ‘Trump Movement’. It was ‘constitutional cancel culture’, aimed not just at Trump, but you the American people.

The message emanating from Trump’s defence team was crucially reinforced by America’s right-wing media. One America News, Fox, and Newsmax repeatedly characterised the Impeachment as a partisan attack not just on Trump but on the American people.

Fox News even urging viewers not to watch the trial: If someone tells you it is important, they are ‘probably trying to distract you from something that is’.

The effect of this narrative was to impress upon mainly Republican voters that the impeachment proceedings was an illegitimate partisan attack on them. Subsequently, any evidence or facts presented at the trial were already tainted in their mind and subsequently rejected.

With most Republicans refusing to recognise the legitimacy of the trial, it would have been political suicide for Republican Senators to vote for impeachment regardless of what evidence was presented before them.

Successfully crafting an emotive narrative had neutralised truth.

Sturgeon’s ‘Guilt’

Scottish Conservative calls for a vote of ‘no confidence’, before Sturgeon had even given evidence, mirrors the Trumpian strategy. It tries to impress the notion she is guilty before any evidence is given, thus pre-empting any evidence or ‘truth’ which may subsequently be presented.

In the last week, the Scottish Conservative Facebook has posted over twenty-five posts impressing the idea of Sturgeon’s guilt and calling for her to resign, before and after she provided evidence.

On the 4th of March Ross penned a ‘post-match’ analysis of Sturgeon’s ‘performance’ for the Express full of colourful analogies to imply she must go, ranging from giving her the ‘red card’ to comparing her to a musician on the Titanic’s deck.

Leaning heavily on Trump playbook, he even tried to give the inquiry a populist flavour, framing it ‘Sturgeon v The People.’

#ResignSturgeon have relied on heavier-handed means to impress this narrative. If the aforementioned billboards were not subtle enough, they also hired a plane to fly a ‘Resign Sturgeon’ banner across the sky.

One might of course highlight the incredible hypocrisy in these claims: Boris Johnson, Matt Hancock, and Priti Patel have all made headlines for illegally activity.

The £500,000 of taxpayer money Sturgeon ‘wasted’ is significantly shy of the estimated 4.8 million the UK government spent on their scrapped contact-tracing app.

Of course, though, perspective matters little. The aim of this post-truth strategy is to imprint an emotive narrative forcefully and repeatedly upon our minds, irrespective of evidence or context.

Inviting self-doubt

As with the Trump trial in America, the Unionist efforts have been supported by the mainstream press.

The media narrative has however been more insidious, attempting not just undermine Sturgeon but Scotland as a whole.

The Express gleefully wrote ‘there is something rotten in the state of Scotland. A Daily Mail headline proclaimed Scotland a ‘banana republic without the bananas’.

In The Scotsman, Brian Wilson claimed that Scotland was driven by the philosophy of ‘one nation, one party, one leader’ (a not-so-subtle rephrasing of the infamous Nazi slogan ‘Ein Volk, ein Reich, ein Führer’), questioning in the process the integrity of Scotland’s Civil Service, the Crown Office, and even Police Scotland.

The New Statesman meanwhile claimed the ‘Salmond Affair’ revealed Scotland to be ‘a furtive, nervous, ankle-biter of a nation with an over-mighty government and an ineffective legislature, a kailyard of compromised relationships and countless minor corruptions’.

Such coverage evidently seeks to impress upon our mind a sense of Scotland’s corruption, incompetence and thus, ultimately, our inability to govern our own affairs. It is more dangerous, and more insidious, as It calls into question not just Sturgeon, but Scotland.

It seeks to reintroduce a kernel of self-doubt into the Scottish public just at the moment Scotland’s future is on a knife-edge, with public opinion sidling towards independence.

It is dangerous as it could inflict serious damage on the independence movement: potentially casting a shadow of doubt that prevents a wavering ‘no’ becoming a ‘yes’, or a new convert to independence having second thoughts about leaving the supposed ‘security’ of the Union.

It is insidious as it evokes the age old ‘Scottish cringe’, a crippling demon we have only in the last decades seemed to have exorcised from our public consciousness.

Lessons to be Learned

As its stands, it appears the Unionist strategy on the Salmond Inquiry is failing.

The Green’s have condemned attempts to pre-empt the inquiry, making a ‘no confidence vote’ unlikely.

Support for the First Minister appears boosted rather than diminished.

The Scotland on Sunday poll, which claimed the Inquiry had shifted support back in favour of the Union, appears to have only done so by omitting key data which, if included, would have showed a continued majority for ‘yes’.

Ross is also no Trump.

Not to set the ex-president as a benchmark, but he was adapt at tapping into certain aspects of the American imagination.

Ross’ efforts appear less inspired.

Indeed, it is a strange strategy for Ross – who has been routinely criticised for prioritising officiating duties over parliamentary debates and memorial services – to unnecessarily make us think about football.

Yet, we should not take the Unionist efforts too lightly, for they have revealed a key narrative strategy: that Scotland is not capable of self-governance and, if given independence, will inevitably become a failed state; a banana republic without bananas.

Such a narrative is dangerous and insidious as it could awake a kernel of self-doubt amongst the Scottish people, a negative feeling which could prove more persuasive in a referendum than any argument presented for independence, regardless of truth.

This negative narrative must be countered with a strong, confident, and uplifting vision for Scotland’s future.

Most importantly however, it is a narrative that we must not, regardless of what we think of Sturgeon or the SNP, inadvertently feed further.

 

 

Comments (11)

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  1. Iain MacLean says:

    It’s not just the tories, it’s the bbc, press and labour too!

    Make no mistake, this is a coordinated joint enterprise with a common aim of to throw as much dirt and hope it sticks!

    You can see the difference in bbc coverage since changes at the top of the organisation, we have SNP BAD on steroids whilst ignoring the tories appalling record on Covid, focusing on the vaccine and glossing over the unfolding disaster of brexit and deteriorating relationship with our nearest neighbours.

    We also have tunnels to nowhere, possible space launch sites and jobs that may come to Glasgow, smoke and mirrors plus glass shiny beads for the natives! Who but a fool would be taken in by this nonsense?

    The future the tories have for Scotland is to strip Holyrood of its powers, poison the waters further and install placement / women all whilst spending as little money as possible on click bait policies that the Scottish people have shown absolutely no interest in. If unionism wins a majority we are heading for Scotlandshire and total irrelevance, “Return of the Stone part 2”.

    We have to combat this narrative spun by the bbc and press in the run up to May with a positive future for Scotland and highlight the danger the tories, not on their own, but working with labour as they have and will continue to do, are to the future of Scotland and its peoples!

    They are not pulling punches, neither should we!

    1. Tom Ultuous says:

      A great article by Ruairidh and a great post by Ian..

  2. James Mills says:

    These tactics reveal a mind-set that dismisses Scotland and its people as , at best , second-raters . The last colonial outpost ?

    You are indeed correct in asserting that ”the cringe ” is undoubtedly a major part of their psychological attacks on us . We need to shrug off this veil of subservience .

    Why can’t we be more like the openly corrupt/incompetent Westminster Tories – they are the bench mark !

  3. Donald Reid says:

    Good article.

    Isn’t it more like the “lock her up” mantra from Trump’s 2016 election campaign?

  4. Alba woman says:

    Spot On ……we are a soft target at the moment with the restrictions of lockdown which has brought its own negative psychological effects.

    More positively, we have heard it all before and we know the “Vow “ was an out and out lie to the soft vote . I am confident that a strategic Election campaign together with ongoing calling out of the latest lies of the Unionists and its sycophantic media will prevail …..

    Fortune favours the Brave …..we can and will be brave for our children and grand children!

    Saor Alba

  5. Robbie says:

    Boris and his band of thieves, Vow breakers, EU agreement breakers, First class Liar hubbering and stuttering his way thru broken promises to nhs ,and the people of the uk,a monarchy that has been exposed for what they are, all this in a “Union of Equals” surely the Cringe factor won’t apply to the Scottish people in May, let’s have some faith and belief in ourselves let’s GET OUT.

  6. Graham says:

    I do not doubt the good intentions of the author. However, another feature of the Trump play book is to dismiss adverse information, whether true, false, or open to interpretation, as ‘fake news’. Commitment to a cause is fine. But one should never allow that to blind oneself to the possibility that there are legitimate grounds for concern about what has happened in this case. I, personally, don’t believe there was a conspiracy to put Salmond in prison, but he asserts that. There was substantial, proven, unfairness in the Scottish Government’s handling of the complaints against him, and huge sums were lost in attempting to justify this. Everyone: the Government, COPFS, the complainers, Salmond, and the SNP and their advisors, members and supporters have grounds for concern. This is not a ‘Unionist plot’ to bring down the independence movement – although some will make merry with its implications, and others will characterise it as such for fear the electorate might get put off if they learn the truth that Scotland is as capable of succumbing to high-level sexual scandal, sleaze, cronyism, administrative incompetence and corrupt cover-up attempts as anywhere. That truth is important. What kind of country do we want to live in? In my case, one that respects democratic norms and fair processes, transparency and government accountability. One where serious allegations against senior officials are treated objectively regardless of implications. If we want a better society, we have to aspire to better things than this inquiry has revealed about us, Scotland, and our existing institutions. Failing to confront the ugly aspects of our current system is no way to approach the future. It is how we got here in the first place.

  7. Squigglypen says:

    And it will get worse as the election approaches. Stay tough!

  8. Tom Ultuous says:

    The 500K supposedly wasted by the Scottish Government because they failed to take the advice of the incompetent “let’s give the sevco fraudsters 100 million compensation for the stupid charges we brought” crown mob amounts to 10p per head of population. Couldn’t we crowdfund to pay that money back to the Scottish government? It would only be around 20p each if all independence supporters contributed.

    Perhaps the tories would respond by asking their supporters to crowdfund repayment of the 22 billion (£350 for each person in the “UK”) wasted on track and trace and that would just be for starters.

  9. gahetacicl says:

    Above the line we are told about “post truth narratives” which convince based on emotion rather than their truth content, or as it used to be called “emotive rhetoric.” Surely the quasi official SNP messaging over Salmond, as peddled most notably by Garavelli – that he was guilty until proven innocent, and then still guilty by insinuation after not being proven guilty – is perhaps a better example of emotive rhetoric and the Trumpian, demagogic “lockem up!” mentality, than [the frankly justified cynicism about Our Dear Leader emanating from well known quarters. Another Trumpian feature is whataboutery. “The unionists and their diabolical conspiratorial psy-ops are saying X, therefore not-X is true.” Well, actually, no it isn’t. Just because unionists are bashing the Dear Leader, doesn’t mean we necessarily have to defend her. As for the daft banner-trailing planes, that sure was a pricey way to purchase a few retweets.

    The new quasi official SNP messaging seems to be paint all Sturgeon-group critics within the independence movement as fellow travellers of the alt-right; absurdly, as the vast majority are socialists, or people of simple traditional liberal convictions who put those convictions ahead of fashionable, facile progressive ideology, or both. It’s very much like the monstering of Corbyn supporters within Labour, where lifelong anti racists were made out to be racists (I’ll refrain from describing such cynical mendacity and smearing as “post truth” because plain language is good enough.) 7 years ago we heard months of the mantra that independence is bigger than the SNP, and not about the SNP. One wonders what happened to all that, and when this trend towards veneration of the managerialist state and its politicos began, especially ironically, in self styled “independent” media.

  10. Pub Bore says:

    ‘Post-truth’ is more than just a hiccup in the normal order of things; it’s the disappearance of shared objective standards for truth (‘the Death of God’) that’s one of the marks of our postmodern human condition. We live in a post-truth age because we no longer have as a society any shared objective standard by which ‘the truth’ can be distinguished; nor because we let our emotions overrule the facts in matters of belief, but because there are no longer any facts but only interpretations.

    This was the conclusion of Francois Lyotard’s epoch-defining 1979 work, La Condition postmoderne: Rapport sur le savoir (The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge), which was commissioned by the Conseil des universités du Québec. While the term ‘post-truth’ is relatively recent, the concept can be traced through moral, epistemic, and political debates about relativism to as far back as Plato.

    But there’s no mileage in trying to resurrect God. Once God is Dead, it stays Dead, and there’s little point in continuing to flog it. As Hannah Arendt pointed out as long ago as 1972, in her Crises of the Republic, mendacity in politics, including untruthfulness, lies, deception, and deliberate falsehood, now requires not some reactionary attempt to return to the universalism of bourgeois ‘truth’, but a progressive advance to some pluralistic ‘post-truth’ solution.

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