Challenging attitudes

With all due respect to Dr Iain Black, I think he was very wise to emphasise that he “makes no claims about how generalisable” his ‘findings’ are. I strongly suspect that his research may not have been measuring what he intended. What his findings represent is less an impression of voters’ attitudes and more a gauge of the success of the anti-independence propaganda campaign.

My doubts about the usefulness of Dr Black’s research as a measure of public feeling on the constitutional issue arises in part from my own experience of talking to people. Granted, these conversations take place outside the confines of an academically approved ‘focus group’. One might even say that they take place in real life. I’m not sure to what extent the absence of a formal setting totally invalidates my own experience. What I do know is that they contrast markedly with Dr Black’s findings.

Perhaps there’s some kind of observer effect. Maybe some form of uncertainty principle applies. Opinions and attitudes could be affected by the questions being asked. Or even by the fact that the subjects are being quizzed by a researcher in the context of a scientific study. One thing I remember well from my regretfully incomplete sojourn into the study of sociology and psychology is that attitudes are not fixed. They are fluid. They are subject to a plethora of influences, such as peer pressure and, perhaps particularly, the incessant background drone of the mass media.

It would be a grave mistake to act upon these conclusions as if they were factual. Like everything else that is presented to us via the print and broadcast media, this research should be questioned. It’s safe to assume that Dr Black himself would happily concede this. In fact, he has already done so.

We should, for example, wonder about the inherent contradiction of claiming to be “overwhelmed” by political activity while simultaneously demanding “more information and facts”. And those of us who were paying attention during the first independence referendum campaign will be somewhat aghast at the claim that voters didn’t get enough information and facts from the Yes campaign last time. What this response reflects is, not the reality of the Yes campaign, but the effects of the media’s constant repetition of the ‘unanswered questions’ line.

The sole and entire purpose of Better Together/Project Fear was to generate doubt and create confusion. It was their success in this which tipped the scales on polling day. It didn’t matter how often or how comprehensively questions were answered, the media still claimed they were unanswered. To the extent that the media has a democratic responsibility to help voters make informed decisions, they failed abysmally.

If the people in these focus groups really do want information and facts, why are they only questioning the pro-independence side? Why are they not interrogating the anti-independence propaganda? This too can be put down to the pernicious influence of media which were, and remain, almost universally committed to preserving the structures of power, privilege and patronage which define the British state. The structures within which, like the British political parties they operate. The structures upon which they and the rest of the British establishment depend.

People don’t question the Union because they have been ‘taught’ that the Union is a normal arrangement. They have been led to believe that ‘British’ is the standard against which all else is measured. They don’t challenge the status quo because they are not equipped to do so. To the not inconsiderable extent that people rely on the media, they have not been armed with the necessary questions. They have been overwhelmed with questions designed to undermine their confidence in themselves and their country. They have never been prompted to query the Union.

Voltaire observed that “Those who can make you believe absurdities, can make you commit atrocities.” The British state’s propaganda machine made people believe the absurd proposition that the Union is the ideal arrangement for Scotland because we are too wee, too poor and too stupid to govern ourselves. British Nationalists will protest that nobody in their ranks has ever used these words. That may be so. But it is still the essence of the Unionist message. It may be resorting to overblown rhetoric to call the No vote an “atrocity”. But who, with the benefit of hindsight, can now deny that it was an atrocious choice.

Dr Black’s findings might be open to dispute, but that doesn’t mean there are no lessons to be taken from his research. Arguably, the most valuable lesson is that the Yes movement has to stop being led by the British media. We must create our own narrative, rather than conceding that capacity to the agents and instruments of established power.

We should not simply accept as fact that people are “overwhelmed” and respond by backing off – as the British Nationalists want us to do. We should, instead, be driving home the message that politics is personal. It matters to everybody. We should be encouraging engagement and participation as a counter to the British state’s efforts to promote alienation and detachment.

We should not accept that the Union is beyond challenge. We should be challenging it. We should be vigorously interrogating those who assert the primacy of the Union and the efficacy of the existing constitutional arrangement. We must expose the false prospectus on which the No vote was sold.

We should be demanding information and fact from British Nationalists. If doubt was Project Fear’s main weapon, we should turn that weapon against them. If they can demand to know what will be the price of a first class postage stamp two decades after independence, then surely voters also need to know what the price will be twenty years hence in Scotland remains in the Union. We urgently need to dispel the notion that the first of these questions is perfectly sensible and valid whilst the second is ridiculous and unnecessary.

We must not buckle in the face of the British state’s efforts to delegitimise the Scottish Parliament; deny the mandate held by the Scottish Government; and undermine confidence in Scotland’s public services and democratic institutions.

Too many in the Yes movement are happy to parrot the narrative provided by the British media. There is a corrosive tendency to respond to criticism by retreating from whatever is being attacked. Far too many in the Yes movement either don’t realise or refuse to accept that the British establishment is attacking these things precisely because they are vital to both the independence project and the progressive agenda.

Some in the Yes movement need to learn that, when the British parties and their accomplices in the media attack Nicola Sturgeon and/or the SNP administration they should not see this as an opportunity to flaunt their non-SNP credentials, but realise that it is in their best interests to defend, insofar as they are able, Scotland’s First Minister and the Scottish Government. Or, at the very least, to desist from joining in the attack.

What I take from Dr Black’s research is not so much the failure of the Yes campaign as the success of the British propaganda machine. The research itself seems to have been influenced by the British media narrative. It appears to start from the assumption that the Yes movement must look inward to find and address its own failings. It is my contention that we’ve already done too much of that. Political campaigning is not about pandering to public attitudes. It is about changing those attitudes. It is about challenging preconceptions and prejudices. It is time now to look outward to identify and exploit the weaknesses of British Nationalist ideology. It is time for the Yes worm to turn. It’s time to go on the attack.

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22 thoughts on “Challenging attitudes

  1. Pogo

    I couldn’t agree more. We need to take a leaf out of the Catalan book and literally get out on the streets and demand change call out the No vote for what it was – a sham and a disaster for Scotland.

    Start painting a Vision of a different country where the potential of the country can be realised rather than being constantly on the defensive.

    Not getting bogged down in data to justify this that or the other.

    Brexit is not going to pretty the way It is turning out we should be able to do this!

  2. LC (Lorna Campbell)

    Well said, Peter A. Bell. I came across this strange (or, perhaps not so strange?) phenomenon when I was told, in the first instance, that the elected Tory MSP “was a gentleman”, meaning a landed lower-rung aristo, and, in the second instance, “stopindyref2 was what I wanted” and when asked why, the person simply could not answer. You know when the propaganda has worked because people’s wee faces get that glaikit look. You are forcing them to think for the first time about their choice. This, I would hazard, is one of my biggest bugbears about the aftermath of 2014: we simply did not force people to think about their NO choice and let them off the hook. We do not require just to get verifiable facts across, but we also need to challenge deep-rooted prejudices and certainties. This is what I mean by forcing people to stand in the cold winds of reality: it will be painful, and some might even call it un-PC; what it is, is dismantling the deep-seated lies and untruths that pervade all Unionist and British claims of superiority which are based on little more than old-style imperialist colonialism. We are not better than anyone else; we are no longer leaders in a fraught world; and we are certainly not regarded with respect by anyone. Anyone who wishes to support the Union because he or she can find fact-based reasons for supporting it has my respect, but all those who go on and on supporting something that is inherently bad for them – and bad for all those they deny independence to – should be forced to face up to their own underlying unwholesome reasons for supporting a dying entity – the old order – that has all but gone, but that is still manifest in so many of our people across these islands who hang on to its coattails and refuse to face the reality of their own – and our – dire situation.

  3. Geejay

    Another well reasoned argument and analysis. As well as creating a “vision” (Pogo), exposing the consequences of “NO” and asking the questions of the Unionists which the propaganda sheets and BBC refuse to ask, we do need to have some answers ourselves. But we also have to be mature enough to say, which most politicians won’t say, that some questions are unanswerable – like the price of a postage stamp in 20 years time – but that the whole purpose of Independence is that the answers to questions like this will be under the control of the Scottish people and will be made in the best interests of Scotland.

  4. Mike Fenwick

    Peter … may I offer this post from here:

    “One of the conclusions in The National today – Dr Iain Black “… the currency option cannot be the pound as in the minds of these voters this is controlled by the UK and the Scottish Government can’t deliver it.”

    That is why, precisely why, this initiative was started. If the Scottish Government can’t deliver it – who can? The answer is every YES Group and every YES supporter. It is YES who can create, adopt and agree to use an independent Scottish currency, not after independence but now.

    The next stage: To every YES Group across Scotland – please expect an invitation to take part in the next stage of this initiative very shortly.”

    I hope as this next stage (in a series) in establishing an independent Scottish currency is started, that both the doubts of those who voted No, and indeed even the doubts of those who voted Yes, both perhaps harbouring doubts surrounding the currency issue, will 1) diminish, and 2) eventually be removed, as each stage is rolled out. .

    1. Peter A Bell Post author

      I’m with you on this, Mike. But it’s important to stress that the SNP didn’t get it wrong on currency in the first referendum. At that time, maintaining the currency union was, on balance, the sensible option. Things have now changed. Not least because, having been offered this option, the British have rejected it. So now the Scottish Government can go ahead with another option without the risk that Unionists will insist they should be maintaining the currency union.

      It’s like the thing about having a ‘devo max’ option on the ballot in 2014. The story was that Alex Salmond wanted this, but Cameron said no. What actually happened was that Salmond didn’t want that ‘second question’ but, because it was the most popular option amongst voters, he didn’t want to be the one to knock it back.

      The history books will tell the story of how brilliantly Salmond manipulated Cameron.

      1. Ayrshirelass

        I agree but devomax was also not within Alex Salmonds gift but was in Cameron’s and he refused to be drawn into that little game
        That it was ruled off the ballot paper but then resurrected it in the final few days of the campaign to get the No campaign over the line was illegal.

        That was bad enough but then to turn round and make sure Scotland got nothing remotely resembling devomax was the turning point. Had they delivered on devomax , the Uk probably would probably remained intact.

        Cameron has been hoisted with his own petard and has probably done more than any other person , save Thatcher, to break the union. May is currently overwhelmed by Brexit not surprisingly but she is also being very badly advised on Scotland.
        Luckily we have Alex Salmond on our side. He knows what Westminster is capable of.

  5. Bill Dale

    I fear that this is another example of misguided research. Time after time in the independence referendum campaign and since then I have asked people their opinions on independence. Some said “we need more information on the case for it, for example on Scotland’s financial viability”. I would reply just supposing for a moment that that was not an issue, would you support an independent Scotland? Often the response would be something along the lines of ”no”, I would say may I ask why? “ I don’t like Alec Salmond/Nichola/Sturgeon.”

    Providing more information to such people is playing their game. They belong in the “the union forever” camp. We need to recognise this and concentrate on people who are capable of being convinced. Oh, and we don’t do this by providing more information. We need to reframe the debate in terms that does not repeat the MSM lies and attack lines.

    This is what we are working on at the moment.

    1. Peter A Bell Post author

      I totally agree that we have to accept there are some people who will never be persuaded. And I’m not sure it’s a good idea to try and persuade these people. If we formulate our arguments for them, it may be that we’re presenting the wrong arguments, or presenting the arguments wrongly, to the No voters who are persuadable.

      1. LC (Lorna Campbell)

        Utterly agree with both you and Mr Dale. Persuade those whom we might have a chance of persuading and leave the rest to their own devices. A waste of energy and time otherwise.

  6. Bill Purves

    All you need to push is, the facts about oil and gas production since the discovery of oil and gas in SCOTTISH waters, that the Scottish parliament will set all taxes, collect all taxes, and spend all taxes for the benefit of the SCOTTISH PEOPLE;
    Forget about what you want said taxes to be spent on until INDEPENDENCE has been achieved.

  7. Big Jock

    It mentions proving competence. The SNP have done this for10 years, so that’s baloney. No matter how competent the MSM will report it as incompetent anyway.

    I think Nicola should have held firm. She made victory in the GE look like defeat. Now the MSM use it over and over again to beat her.

    We need to get Indy Ref 2 back on track not sidelined. Brexit could take years. It’s not about process it’s about democracy. We voted remain and that seems to have been forgotten.

    1. Peter A Bell Post author

      I have to admit that the 2017 general election was not handled well. But, to a certain extent, looked worse than it was because we’re so accustomed to the SNP doing it right.

      You’re absolutely right about Brexit, though. It has come to be represented as the main reason and justification for a new referendum. Which it isn’t. This is largely done to the media, however, and their tendency to simplify everything. I’m not sure there’s anything the SNP could have done to prevent this.’s better just to roll with it. If the media are presenting things in a particular way, it may be that it’s easier to go along with them rater than get into a big off-topic debate.

    2. Ayrshirelass

      The ‘ mistake’ in my view was not capatlising on the 56 MPa in 2015.
      Westminster trampled all over Scotland in the Scotland Act yet very few people in Scotland were made aware if it thanks to our poisonous media.

      It is the elephant in the room and won’t go away.

      1. toby lerone

        Also, BBC Scotland news rarely reported on the good work being done by Scottish MP activities in Westminster eg WASPI, and if the BBC did report, it was done negatively.
        The 56 had so little impact nor positive media coverage they might as well not be there

  8. Born Optimist

    I agree wholeheartedly with what you say and from my limited time ‘back home’ towards the end of the Indy campaign it was clear to me that there was no concerted campaign from YES capable of countering the constant stream of Unionist rhetoric in the media, including the BBC. Next time, although there are still many around who ‘favour’ NO or are uncertain and claim to want information what they really need is a touch of reality regarding the Union. Every argument that was pushed against YES can now be turned around and work against them (apart from the size of the country – but its potential is what counts) . So many claims were made about how strong the UK was, etc and so many lies told people just need to be reminded how these turned out, and reminded regularly as memory is a fickle thing that falls into line with feelings and feelings will be under attack continually.

    I noted on Twitter tonight that Indyboy has massive media packages for sale including many of the brilliant poster type material taking the Union to task. These need to be mass produced for use by YES groups, as does the Wing’s WBB. The National also has had tons of relevant articles: photocopy them or download the digital edition and run off hundreds.

    As you pointed out there also needs to be a strong, appealing narrative. This has to be tested on focus groups. For starters how about ‘Scotland can be Bigger, Bolder, and Better (than Britain, needless to say). We have the renewable energy, oil, export more than import, we can take risks and know we can make a success of our own country, and offer a better life for the many not the few (to pinch Labour’s line). With no need for peers in the House of Lords, no Trident, shipbuilding on a par with Norway instead of aircraft carriers destined to scare the sh** out of some unfortunate individuals on the far side of the globe. If the will is there, the gravy train will be smaller and hopefully non existant.

    Issues like Brexit, the Barnett formula, Border Posts, Spain and Catelonia will muddy the waters but I’m sure the contacts made by the Scots Govt can be asked to speak up in a neutral voice at least to counter anything Westminster can deploy. How this information will be distributed will undoubtedly again be up to YES groups and new and existing blogs (I’m sure many new ones will originate once the campaign gets going).

    Somehow there also has to be a means of countering visual media like the BBC – people are too accustomed to accepting the voice of authority has a south east of England accent. Demolish this by pointing out again the misleading and medacious statements that originated from the BBC, ITV, celebrities, and foreign spokepersons. Get a wide range of respected Scottish speakers in public places. Update London’s Calling. Artists have to make a splash. Fun, fundraising events will be needed aplenty.

    Finally, it needs to be remembered that when people ask for facts, they don’t want statistics – they want to be convinced, and you can only convince them if what you say is related to their own life. I hate to say it, but a lot of people still need educating in order to wean them away from a belief that what happened a 100 or even 50 years (WWII, etc) ago will provide a guide to what will happen in the future and what’s in their best interest. I think the events of the last three years should convince them of that. They have already lost one out of every six or seven pounds in their pockets due to devaluation and inflation will soon bite more chunks out of their income and savings.

    We’ll have to face up to issues about borders, currency, embassies, etc. Activists ought to be practicing their arguments on every issue they think they are likely to be challenged on. And I’d like to think the SNP will throw away the rule book and refuse to let media events turn into party political events – not four unionists against one nationalist. Ditto, expect Westminster to play dirty and respond in kind.

    Its getting late and its time to turn in. In sum, Better Together has been Bollocks. Let’s be Bigger, Bolder, and Better. I’m sure other readers can improve on this and provide material for discussion.

    1. grizebard

      it needs to be remembered that when people ask for facts, they don’t want statistics – they want to be convinced …

      This is exactly what I felt at the time, and still do. Most ordinary people aren’t interested in delving into the minutiae of an issue – any issue – so amid a welter of opinions, some well-founded and some deliberately misleading, their plea for “more information” musn’t be taken literally but rather seen as a desperate plea for reassurance.

      Lacking reliable, honest media and a sound basis for decision, many folk either resort to herd logic (“what is the popular view?”) – hence the political term “momentum” – and/or look towards someone they feel does have a good grasp of reality and in whom they feel they can safely place their trust.

      That’s where effective publicity and astute leadership come in.

      I also very much agree with the article comment:

      Political campaigning is not about pandering to public attitudes. It is about changing those attitudes.

      We advance on the front foot, not on the back foot.

  9. Robert Graham

    With 99.99% of the media at their beck and call , they still haven’t accomplished anything , we haven’t went away , nothing they try works ,

    Now that must really worry them , for once woken up and made to realise they were lied to people never return to the unionist fold , they are gone for ever never to return .

    Oh Dear How Sad .

  10. Born Optimist

    I’m sure all committed Yessers are familiar with the brainstorming list of suggestions I wrote earlier but for any other readers there is one point I omitted. Although something may arise from the SIC meeting on 4th November, in the absence of any strong national YES campaign there is a way to counter absurb claims and media falsehoods on a national basis. the National Yes Registry (NYR) App allows groups to liase. If these decided to regularly counter claims such as that of Labour yesterday (on the basis of one strong supporter of a ban on fracking) to claim ‘ownership’ of the motion, they could do so. Responding appropriately by getting responses out on the streets on a daily basis would highlight deficiencies in the Unionist argument and also publicise the case for YES.

    The Truly Scottish TV online channel may also be one to watch.

    But the essential element is a meaningful and emotive narrative that projects a good future for an independent Scotland regardless of the problems that arise in the initial stages of setting up a new state. Political writers/spin doctors are presumably currently trying to get their heads around this notion. Makes me wonder what else the SIC has been/will be funding in addition to Dr. Black’s focus groups. I’d like to think they were doing more work on attitude change. There are strong, deeply held attitudes, resistant to change and others less entrenched. It is the latter that need to be worked on as it is these the media relentlessly.reinforce and yet were countered in 2014 – it often being said, the more accurate information people received the more they were likely to move to YES. This seems at odds with reiterating Information overload as a problem. It presumably is only a problem if that information is designed to confuse or is overwhelmingly biased in favour of goals one does not really desire e.g. desire for independence undermined by masses of negative information.

    We’re back to the WBB and the like. Accurate, honest, information that refutes and counters propaganda ought to carry the day.

  11. Dorothy Bruce

    I have decided that we need to start with our own members, so I am producing a newsletter for my SNP branch that gives stories/links that I feel will be of interest. These are easily gathered from Twitter, and can include a wide range of items to appeal as well as links to videos. Well-informed, enthusiastic members multiply our activists and can help counter media manipulation and spin when repeated by family and friends.

    Recently I was involved in a Twitter discussion about the large number of people totally unaware, it seems, about how a country is run, believing Scotland exists on handouts from Westminster. So I think we need to go back to basics and show in a simple memorable way how Scotland raises money and is then given some back to spend. We also need to highlight how the Scottish government’s choices have meant folk here are much better off than their friends and relatives down south who still pay for prescriptions, university education etc.

    Sometimes in our enthusiasm we can make ‘facts’ very complicated. Instead our message should be pared down, easily understandable and memorable, backed by further facts if folk ask. Make it too complicated and folk seems to switch off. So simple, straightforward messages and imagery that hammer home the fact Scotland is a wealthy country, can afford to be independent like other countries, and can provide a good life for all who live here.

  12. Big Jock

    One thing I have learnt over the years, is that you can’t persuade a fundamentalist unionist to vote yes with reasoned argument. You would be as well being a one legged man in an arse kicking competition. You are never going to win!

    After the referendum I simply stopped arguing with the haters and fundamentalists. Oxygen is precious to me, so they will not waste mine. We aren’t ever going to persuade closed minds.

    We win this by engaging our energies on the young, Scottish businesses, universities and students, parents, EU nationals in Scotland and people who are feart of going alone. Dyed in the wool Brits don’t see the point in independence as they don’t view Scotland as a nation.

    Target the open minded and leave the closed minds in their own narrow little world of Little Britain and empire.

    As Mark Twain said:” Never argue with a fool, they will beat you with years of experience”.

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