For those unfamiliar with ‘astroturf’ campaigns, it is the creation of the illusion of broad popular support for a political cause through well-financed public relations and advertising techniques. This contrasts with ‘grass roots’ campaigns, which are veritable expressions of wide spread popular support.
For a vivid explanation of the role the astroturf group ‘No Borders’ played in the 2014 referendum, watch London Calling between 12:40-19:10.
During the Brexit campaign, some group no one has heard of called the Constitutional Research Council funneled at least £435,000 through the Democratic Unionist Party in Northern Ireland, with no disclosure requirements. This money was not spent on campaigning in Northern Ireland.
According to this article, the CRC is headed by former vice-chairman of the Scottish Tories Richard Cook, who in 2012 was head of Cook Consulting with ties to Saudi Arabian intelligence. I’m sure he has plans to be involved in the coming Scottish independence referendum.
This is another unfortunate US import: dark money. Political parties, public relations and consulting firms, and astroturf groups receive and spend unlimited amounts under no meaningful legal regime, and employ it in the most vile of ways.
In addition to the CRC, scotlandinunion.co.uk is poised to play a role in the upcoming campaign. According to filings, SiU was incorporated on the 28 November 2014, presumably just after the unionists saw that Scots had not gone back into their wee box after the referendum. It is registered at 272 Bath Street in Glasgow, a virtual office it happens to share with hundreds of other companies. It is headed by management consultant Alistair James Cameron, who is also a director of Braeburn Consulting with a virtual office in Aberdeen, Britscot Ltd registered in Surrey, and Forth Sector Development Ltd registered in Edinburgh. I wonder where he actually lives?
We also observe that Scottish Labour has dismally launched TogetherStronger.scot at their conference this weekend. While I could not in good conscience take their ‘pledge against a second independence referendum’ to get further access to the site, their weak and bleak video can be seen here.
So as Scotland progresses towards a second independence referendum, it is important that voters are aware of these groups and the potential for employing the dark arts of politics during the campaign, financed by shadowy billionaires. All citizens can do some digging into these groups as I did, and begin to piece together the dark-money astroturf groups which will inevitably seek to sway public opinion against independence. Contact them. Ask them about their sources of financing. Shine as much light as possible during the campaign.
Unfortunately, these groups are merely a cog in the unionist propaganda machine. As we saw with the collusion between Vote No Borders and the BBC, they depend on the unionist media to diffuse their propaganda. Therefore, especially during the coming independence campaign, citizens and pro-independence media must be vigilant in exposing these groups. The media who cite their statistics and claims must also undergo scrutiny to make sure they are publishing valid information.
In any case, it is fascinating to ponder who would actually lead the next ‘No’ campaign. The very notion that the names of Ruth Davidson and John McTernan have been bandied about shows how bleak the prospects are for a second ‘no’ victory. There is no one alive who could make a positive case for the union, because to the extent it ever did it no longer exists.
This will make the role of the dark money astroturf groups even more crucial, and their contribution to the campaign even more squalid.
Let’s call them astrotyoons and see if it catches on.