There was a story in one of the independence supporting websites recently that rather shocked me. It was very short indeed and consisted in little more than a series of links to major UK newspapers. Each of these papers was running a story about the SNP. The website simply stated without any argument whatsoever that each of these stories was mad with the implication that they should be mocked and certainly not believed. I read every one of these articles. The journalist who had written each of the stories had made an argument, had cited information, backed it up and had drawn conclusions from that information. Each was a standard piece of political journalism. Like every such story, it would be possible to dispute some details, or disagree with some conclusions. But it is hardly possible to simply dismiss the journalism of highly qualified writers working for some of the most famous newspapers in the UK. This, however, is what is now frequently happening in Scotland by upwards of half the population.
When I was growing up in Scotland, we had a shared truth. We disagreed about politics as we do today, but we didn’t dispute the facts. We disagreed about how to lower unemployment, we disagreed about how to create growth in the economy, we disagreed about whether there should be nationalisation of industry of not. But we shared the truth that, for instance, there was high unemployment. No-one suggested that either the Telegraph or the Guardian were systematically telling lies even if they came to different conclusions about what was needed to be done. Today in Scotland there is no shared truth. There is the truth of No voters and there is the truth of Yes voters, and they rarely meet. We really do live in different countries with a chasm between us. On the one side are those like me who expect the BBC to ask politicians awkward questions, on the other, are those who think the response to awkward questions is to attack the journalist involved and try to get him sacked. Why not just answer the awkward question? No wonder Salmond wants to control the BBC. There would be no more awkward questions.
I’ve been through this before. I remember talking to someone in the 1990s in Russia who ended up crying because she had no idea what was true anymore. So much of what she had been taught in school and as a young adult had turned out to be false that she literally did not know what to believe. It did not matter that information was freely available now. Her confidence in her ability to tell true from false had been shot to pieces. This was a common experience in those days.
The trouble with propaganda is that it’s not always obvious that it is propaganda. If I believe a story to be true, I thereby don’t believe it to be propaganda. But how am I to tell? Try this thought experiment. Take the example of Britain in the 1950s. How many of the beliefs that were universally held then are still held today? Someone from the 1950s with the standard morality of that period would rapidly find himself breaking all sorts of 21st century Western European taboos. If I could travel back in time to the 1950s with the standard 2015 views about issues such as sex, sexuality, faith, marriage, feminism, or even tattoos, I would be considered completely mad. The times we live in condition us more than we realise. It’s only when we go to another place that does not share our assumptions that we begin to see how the time and place where we live can provide a propaganda background to our lives. It was only when I lived in Russia that I realised that I, too, had a set of assumptions that I could not prove, but which I had been taught to accept without question. I found myself living in a country that had not gone through the sixties in the way that we had in the West. Much of 1950s morality had been retained. They had a different way of looking at things. They were able to point out to me that not everything was ideal in the West, that in certain respects we had made a mess of many things. Yet we in the West expect the whole world to believe our truth as if it were the only truth and to follow our path as if it were the only path. People told me frankly that they did not want to go down the Western European path. They did not like where it led. I, too, found myself in the same position as my Russian friend earlier, wondering what was true and from then on I started questioning assumptions.
When I came back to Scotland, there were many things I liked here better. The standard of living was certainly far higher. But I found it oppressive that thought was so limited by convention, that there were things I could write and things that I simply could not write. There were things that were better here, but there were also many things that were much worse. There was propaganda here also. If you’ve ever said the wrong thing and had a twitter mob on your back, you know all about the power of propaganda. The rules of life in the West are enforced quite vigorously. It is not that we have censorship, rather it is that we tend to censor ourselves. We all know what the taboo issues are and so we keep silent about them, or else we whisper when we think there are like minds round about.
The only way to avoid propaganda, even the hidden sort that creeps up in a very subtle fashion is to question every assumption and to be willing to break every taboo. It can cause difficulty at times and incomprehension at others, but it’s the only way to come up with something interesting. Far too much of what I’ve read lately simply confirms someone’s prejudices or tries to fit in with the latest academic fad. The problem is that when people lose the ability to think critically, they are much more open to propaganda even in a society that calls itself free.
I tested this method of thinking last week. I questioned the assumption on which the supporters of the SNP base their support. The result was quite eye-opening. I was trained to do thought experiments and above all to think freely no matter where the thought led. What I discovered last week with my little experiment is that huge numbers of Scots are unable to question the assumptions on which they base their thought. They were unable to respond with reason to my questioning of the assumption and so for the most part responded with fury. I set off a twitter storm that raged because I transgressed a nationalist taboo. Horror of horrors, I had explained logically why Scotland was not really a country. How dare I say that, splutter, splutter! But it is a country, it is! I got an awful lot of assertion. But the majority of minds were quite fully shut and not open to argument on this issue.
It isn’t necessary to have censorship if you can just convince enough people to believe propaganda. The information is all available and the truth is easy to discover. But if you can just convince them that all newspapers are telling lies except those run by the SNP, then they will follow whatever Tsarina Nicola says. Peasants used to weep at the sight of the Tsar, now they weep at the sight of Nicola. They listen to the words and accept her blessing with gratitude. Anyone who talks down Scotland is an enemy of the people, anyone who points out anything negative about the SNP is being negative about Scotland, because the SNP is Scotland’s party. SNP MPs and members are forbidden from criticising the leadership. This is all so familiar. Mobs can appear and disappear whenever they are required or not required. This is dangerous, my friends. I’ve been here before. Anything we might say that contradicts the SNP is scaremongering. Even if we can show through fact and reason that SNP plans would lead to economic disaster, none of their supporters believe us, nor apparently do they care. They have been carefully taught to ignore and laugh at anything in the press that contradicts the SNP. Whatever I write that is critical of the SNP is met with personal abuse. It is anti-Scottish. I am anti-Scottish. I’m lying. Where are you from they keep asking? Are you English? Are you mentally ill? Are you a holocaust denier? Do you support child abuse? Are you a Tory? Are you a communist? Are you a moron? Are you a sock puppet? Are you a mongoloid? I’ll get you, my Effie, and your little dog, too.
SNP supporters now are getting their information from SNP supporting websites that tell them to ignore whatever is said in the press. The SNP can quite literally say anything about Scotland’s economic prospects and their supporters will believe simply because the SNP could never tell a lie. If the truth is negative about Scotland, then the truth is false. What is truth after all compared to not talking down Scotland. But I’m sorry, Nat friends, the truth has a way of catching up with you. Some months before the Rouble crashed I read a story explaining what would soon happen. I told friends in Russia who thought I was scaremongering. But it did crash. People who didn’t get their money out, lost rather a lot of it. My Nat friends believe the Tsarina Nicola who thinks living beyond your means leads to prosperity, that spending ever more money you don’t have leads to wealth. Well, I’m sorry even if you believe the moon is green cheese when you go there, you will find nothing edible.
There are two Scotland’s now and two truths. The one relies on certain popular nationalist websites (“As if someone were to buy several copies of the morning paper to assure himself that what it said was true.” §265) while telling its readers not to read any others. The other finds itself looking on the truth that our neighbours believe so fervently with the feeling that it will all soon end in tears. But the tears are mine, too, for in Scotland now there is very little indeed that we share. Not even truth. Look where nationalism leads.
If you like my writing, you can find my books Scarlet on the Horizon, An Indyref Romance and Lily of St Leonards on Amazon. Please follow the links on the side. Thanks. I appreciate your support.