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.Views: 2006
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