A question of credibility

When is a scare-story not a scare-story? What defines a scare-story? Surely it’s a matter of credibility. It’s all to do with how realistic is the threat when assessed dispassionately and without prejudice.

Pretty much all of the scare-stories peddled by Better Together during the first independence referendum campaign were deemed to be such because they lacked credibility. Initially, they lacked credibility because the anti-independence campaign simply didn’t care. The British establishment was so disdainful of the whole thing that they put little or no effort into crafting believable tales of the disasters that would befall Scotland if the people voted Yes. Latterly, the British nationalists became fearful and desperate – which drove them to concoct ever more fanciful scare-stories. The development of Project Fear can be charted in propaganda that went from the ludicrous to the lurid. From exorbitant mobile roaming charges and RAF bombers over Edinburgh airport, to Scotland as an economic desert and global pariah state. From the sneering assertion that independence was a daft idea, to the threat of low-level economic warfare if the people of Scotland dared to assert their sovereignty.

In all cases, it was credibility – or, rather, the lack of it – which defined the particular piece of propaganda as a scare-story. Credibility was the criterion which distinguished the genuine concern from the inane doom-mongering. And whatever there might have been of the former was totally overwhelmed by the latter.

There is, of course, an element of subjectivity in all of this. People assess the credibility of the stories they are being told in the light of their own attitudes and world-view. There are degrees of subjectivity and objectivity. what was notable during the first referendum campaign was the lack of objectivity among unionists. In general, they quite literally believed everything that they were told. Even the patent nonsense about the RAF bombing Scottish airports to prevent them falling into the hands of alien invaders (or whatever!) was taken seriously by large numbers of ideological unionists.

While the Yes campaign picked apart the various claims being made by the British nationalists, supporters of the No campaign questioned nothing. Often, they would continue to treat as entirely credible stories which had been comprehensively exposed as nothing more than groundless scare-stories deserving of no credence whatever. Project Fear’s propaganda about organ transplants, pensions and bank bail-outs being examples which spring immediately to mind. Not only was there no critical scrutiny of things such as the threat to abolish the currency union, even the stories which the UK Government acknowledged as nonsense continued to be believed by British nationalists. The stuff about the cost of setting up new administrative infrastructure being a prime example.

With the EU referendum, Project Fear is back with a vengeance. And it’s brought along a twin. Both sides of the “debate” have resorted to the same kind of sensationalist scaremongering as we saw from Better Together during the first independence referendum campaign. Now, as then, we must assess the credibility of these stories as rationally as we can. When somebody like Jeff Salway suggests that Brexit puts at risk many of the rights that we tend to take for granted, only the severely prejudiced will thoughtlessly dismiss this as scaremongering. Others will ask the meaningful questions. They will ask how credible is it that the Tories will respect workers’ rights. They will ask whether what we know about the current Tory administration suggest that they would be inclined to continue and preserve “employment rights such as paid annual holidays, maternity and paternity leave, equal treatment of part-time, full-time and agency employees, rights for outsourced workers and protection from discrimination”.

More importantly, those seeking to understand how credible Mr Salway’s warning is will reflect upon the nature of the Tory party that will emerge from a triumphant campaign to quit the EU, and contemplate how perfectly credible it is that such an administration would seek to sweep aside all of the rights and protections which are part of the obligations of EU membership.

There are some who will consider the sacrifice of these rights and protections to be a price worth paying to be out of the EU. There will even be those who welcome the stripping away of worker’s rights as being “good for business”. The rest of us need to think long and hard about how credible the threat is. And whether we are prepared to pay such a high cost for the hugely dubious benefits of Brexit.

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5 thoughts on “A question of credibility

  1. Atypical Scot

    ‘They will ask whether what we know about the current Tory administration suggest that they would be inclined to continue and preserve

    “employment rights such as paid annual holidays – EU says 20 days;

    http://ec.europa.eu/social/main.jsp?catId=157

    for example. Why then, in the UK is the entitlement greater than the EU minimum?

    The same goes for maternity leave etc. These are not necessarily the most meaningful questions Peter, especially after some actual research.

    A meaningful question to my mind is why so glassy-eyed about the EU? An equally neoliberal institution as UKplc, equally corrupt, equally ambivalent.

    There can be no question that the EU is a neoliberal construct. It facilitates the free movement of goods through the single market – neoliberalism. It facilitates the free movement of capital through the single currency – neoliberalism. All from a centralised control structure – neoliberalism. And wants to privatise publicly owned assets to lower individual state overheads – neoliberalism. I can’t understand how folk can’t see it.

    A couple of links;

    https://www.postkeynesian.net/downloads/wpaper/PKWP1401.pdf

    http://www.imf.org/external/pubs/ft/fandd/2016/06/pdf/ostry.pdf

    http://ec.europa.eu/growth/single-market/public-procurement/index_en.htm

  2. Peter A Bell Post author

    Perhaps it’s the person who imagines themselves blessed with a special power to see things that others don’t who is “glassy-eyed”? Although this superior perspicacity evidently doesn’t extend to reading others’ attitudes. Responding to advocates of remaining in the EU by insisting that they are deluded is every bit as puerile as asserting that all 1,000,000+ SNP voters are mindless devotees of some “Braveheart” cult.

    The fact that some entitlements in UK may be higher than the EU minimum is easily explained by the fact that there are forces at play other than just EU regulation. Market forces, for example, which dictate that there is a price that suitably experienced and qualified people will not pay for a job.

    As to the rest; trade is good. Trade is not neoliberalsim. Nor even capitalism.

    My point, which you seem to have missed completely, is that there is absolutely nothing to be gained by getting rid of the EU only to find ourselves with something far worse. Unburden yourself of the inane notion that the world is divided into Europhobes and Europhiles and you might be better able to see that.

    1. Atypical Scot

      No offense was intended, but I can see you taken it, so I apologise for that.

      I understand your point, and it presents two questions, the second being of most import;

      1. How are Tories bad with their austerity, privatisation and laissez faire economics, but the EU, using the same policy instruments as the Tories good?

      Tory bashing is a fun sport, but don’t be fooled, their ‘evil’ policies are not plucked from the evil tree out the back of No.10.

      Rather they follow a philosophy, that of neoliberalism. So does the EU.

      I do urge you to take a look at the first and second link regarding this.

      2. Unless the recent scenario with Calmac was pleasing to you, I’d suggest there is a something to gain from leaving the EU. It is EU policy to open all public procurement to private bidders. From April this year, public procurement contracts are to be broken up to ensure at least some of the contract goes to a private bidder (This measure only takes place when the contract on offer hits a currently undisclosed value, which may be adjustable)

      The last link I posted is the EU public procurement pages which explains this, please read.

      If that is meaningless to you, or in you believe that is meaningless to 1,000,000+ SNP supporters I remain baffled.

        1. Atypical Scot

          Cripes – Unbelievable, that’s the most transparent document I’ve read regarding this issue.

          We all hate the idea of TTIP right? Mostly because it gives US corporations access to EU public procurement and the ability to sue public authorities for loss of profit.

          As the link you provided clearly states;

          ‘Compensation may be awarded for full damages, typically lost profit, in situations where it is clear that the complainant would have won the contract,’

          Exactly the same thing as TTIP, just not including US corporations – staggering!

          The quest for growth of capitalism is unquenchable it seems, there is no escape – but wait! The EU can place tariffs on Chinese steel. How is it there can be such mercantilism on show regarding Chinese imports, but protectionism cannot be afforded to member states? Probably because China won’t reciprocate. F. Hollande recently wrote off TTIP on behalf of France for this very reason – the US is unwilling to reciprocate by opening it’s own public procurement to EU states.

          There is no unquestionable reason for this, it is a policy strategy instrument – to take as much public ownership out the hands of individual states to follow the neoliberal ideology – part of which is fiscal consolidation.

          The notion that this is not the same as TTIP but by the EU is ludicrous, so why is EU membership not questioned by the same people who rail against TTIP?

          Cheers for the link kibitzer.

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