1 November 2013

Scottish Labour: learned nothing, forgiven nothing.

I have an embarrassing admission to make: I rate one of President George W Bush's speech-writers. My social democratic sentiments may baulk at the conservatism he promotes, and we may share relatively few political values, but the Canadian-American political analyst, David Frum, is a sharp cookie.  

Frum has a bit of a tin-ear when it comes to his interpretation of British politics, but whatever my disagreements with him, there's undeniably a mind at work there, which is admirable irrespective of one's political divisions. If you are interested in your American federal politics, Frum's analysis of "why Romney lost" at the Policy Exchange UK earlier this year repays attention. 

Another one of Frum's favourite themes popped into my mind this week, unexpectedly, during Johann Lamont's interrogation of the Maximum Eck at First Minister's Questions in Holyrood.  Frum has helped to popularise the unnecessary wonky-sounding phrase of "epistemic closure" in American politics (or at least, introduced it to "Beltway" pundits).  Seemingly nicked from academic philosophy, in its political application, the idea refers to the effect, when a party and its supporters load themselves up into the echo chamber, slam the door shut behind them, and turn the key in the lock. Frum has the Tea Party dominated Republican caucus in the House of Representatives, and its increasingly eccentric political fixations, in mind.

Inside, all is warm and cosy. Dissenting voices are smothered into silence, or exile themselves from the stultifying fug of its unquestioned, and occasionally dangerously wrong, consensus. The common sense in the room, however uncommon it may be in the country, works its strange magic.  Everyone I know agrees with me, so surely everyone really agrees with me.

I've written about this phenomenon before, in the anti-Nat assumptions of the Oxford college high table.  Such closure is not limited to the right of centre, or to those suspicious of Scottish nationalism. Folk love newspapers and blogs which conform with their pre-existing beliefs (or, if we're talking about folk we disagree with, their prejudices).  If you and your colleagues envisage yourself as an idiosyncratic minority collective, little harm might be done. If, by contrast, your small knot identify yourselves and your opinions with those held by the whole body of the Plain People, the script for trouble composes itself. As one of the madder unsuccessful Republican senate candidates said the other year,  I'm not a witch. I'm you.

In its loopier manifestation, this can resolve into the belief that everyone agrees with me, even if, when given the opportunity, they decided not to.  When challenged, this argument sometimes transmogrifies into a second form: All the people that really count agree with me, even if ... er ... you know ... they didn't actually vote for me. We really won in some important, spiritual, non-real-world sense, while the real victor is a disreputable cheat whose legitimacy is always suspect.  Epistemic closure allows different definitions of success and failure to be applied.

In the United States, the ideological echo is furnished by the rhetoric of Talk Radio, poisonously partisan cable-news outlets, and the willingness of both to depart from ... um ... reality where the facts aren't comfortable to their ideological commitments.  There's no point in pelting folk inside this echo chamber with contrary evidence. Such data can always been shaken off as the lies brewed up by the "liberal media".  Put your unflinching faith in the priests and apostles of your own movement, whether or not they are unprincipled chancers, transparent hucksters or empty-headed reprobates. "Who're you gonna believe honey, me or your lyin' eyes?"

A parallel imperviousness to reality characterised one of Johann's flyaway lines at FMQs this week. She quipped:

"One would think that, having had a fortnight off, the First Minister might have had a think about doing his job properly. The First Minister would do well to listen to the lesson of Dunfermline. The people of Scotland want Scotland off pause; they want him to stop obsessing about independence, and for him to do his day job."

Now, we all know that Labour have been desperately pushing the line that "Scotland is on pause" under this SNP government, however unsuccessfully.  Eminently predictably, Salmond snarked back:

"First, I will address my two weeks off. Along with others, I devoted a huge amount of time during the past two weeks to helping to save Grangemouth, which is a key part of the Scottish economy. I am not quite certain what Johann Lamont’s role was in that, but I thought that her silence was meant to be helpful."

Whatever the observable reality, promote your agenda.  Whether or not the argument looks remotely credible to anyone else, press on with it. You smite for truth and goodness, whatever mere worldly facts disclose.  Even if Salmond was really busting the gut to save Grangemouth - or for the horribly cynical, even if he was only bursting the gut to appear to be trying to save the petrochemical facility - in the entombed Labour mind, the First Minister was really just out on constitutional manoeuvres, neglecting the country. Scotland on pause. You can't win with these people.

Cara Hilton's largely unreported victory speech in Dunfermline spoke for the echo chamber even more explicitly. Reading her preprepared remarks, Hilton suggested that the by-election represented an important waystation on Labour's journey of "reconnecting" with all Scottish communities, "rebuilding trust" in the party. A hard road, she recognised. But one to be trod, with Johann leading the way, like Moses in the desert. So much, so boilerplated. But she went further, hoping that this "reconnection" would mean that :

"... many more Scots will see Labour as the party that we have always been. The party that is on their side. Representing their best interests, aspirations and dreams for the future."

Being an instantly forgettable by-election speech, it is easy to miss just how hubristic and irresponsible this rhetoric is.  The problem faced by Labour, on Hilton's diagnosis, is not their own missteps, or errors, or mediocrity, but the people's loss of trust in the party that was always really on their side. The people misapprehended where their interests lay. If Labour is to win again, the people must change, not the party. Lamont's problems are entirely about communication, not about what is being communicated. That's the political lesson to take from the party's six doldrum years.  Remarkable.

The fatal danger of epistemic closure is that it lulls you into the belief that everyone else shares your - often quite eccentric and extreme - ideas, preoccupations and obsessions.  Memo just in: they don't.  That JoLa or her PR stooges still thought that they could get away with pitching such an incredible jibe Salmond's way speaks volumes. As Talleyrand said of the deposed House of Bourbon, sitting in vinegar, stewing, in defiance of the changed realities in the French Republic, "they have learned nothing and forgotten nothing." And forgiven nothing. 

96 comments :

  1. Bravo. You are echoing (see what I did there) sentiments I have long held, but in a more compelling fashion than I think I ever could. I write pretty well, but I can't write like this.

    Broadly speaking, the Echo-Chamber might be a great new nickname for Westminster. As far as I know, I have never taken anybody's support for my political persuasions for granted. I have always believed people have to be convinced - and that they can be - to share my worldview. Partly, that's what drew me to the SNP. It seemed to be the only party willing to listen to the bottom talking up, rather than shouting down from the top.

    A lot of this has to do with the scabrous influence of the print media, who have in my lifetime metamorphosed into a collection of titles utterly convinced of their sway with the common man (Sun Wot Won It) and the parties have adjusted accordingly. Counter that with the image of Eck and the SNP, utterly reliant on playing blinder after blinder to get even fair-minded media comment and you wonder why anyone would want to support anyone else.

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    1. >> Partly, that's what drew me to the SNP. It seemed to be the only party willing to listen to the bottom talking up, rather than shouting down from the top.

      Is this a knowing parody, or it it unwittingly confirming that thing Lallans was talking about?


      ~alec

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    2. Thanks, Craig. A wag on Twitter suggested that the appropriate Scots parallel to the Tea Party is the "Take Cake Party". I imagine Mr Tunnock, and the First Minister, would both be vexed by the appropriation...

      As Alec's intervention above suggests, and as my own references in the text noted, I don't see this sort of perilous echo-chamber routine as the preserve of one side politically or constitutionally. As an episodically partisan Nationalist, I suppose I ought to be leaving Labour to it rather than giving them advice, but the phenomenon seems to interesting and curious to gloss over. A couple of ordinary folk, who'd never dream of using the pompous formulation of "epistemological closure", recently made the same observation. "They still don't seem to have got over it."

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  2. This blog post is simply another manifestation of Scotland on pause.

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  3. An arresting title and an interesting argument. I might proffer the thought that in your desire to characterise Scottish Labour as a version of the Tea Party, you overlook two rather critical facts. First, Labour's position on the constitutional future of Scotland is not a losing position, it is the view of the majority of Scots. And second, Labour won the Dunfermline by-election. With a seven per cent swing! So if your contention is correct, we're succeeding despite our echo chamber, not failing because of it. Which of course suggests there is no echo chamber at all...

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    1. Duncan,

      A few things.

      1. The reference to the Tea Party was a partial analogy in terms of this "echo-chamber" effect both political outfits exhibit. That's not to argue that one is reducible to the other, or indeed that the precise nature of what "echoes" need be your same. Clearly, your ultramontane Republicans have different passions to your Labour MSP for Glasgow Pollok.

      2. I wasn't really talking about the constitution here, but sure - the polls still suggest that, if a vote was taken tomorrow, Yes would lose. I'm of the view, expressed on the podcast at least, if not on here, that if Yes win, it'll be by a smidgeon rather than a surge. Being a soor ploom, unlike my more optimistic fellow-travellers, I'm not convinced my side of the argument will win the majority next Autumn.

      3. Yes, Labour won in Dunfermline. I can't follow your logic, however. Yes, Labour will enjoy some successes along the way. But that the party picks up a seat it should (arguably) never have lost in the first place in prime Labour territory hardly disproves the existence of a pathological self-conceit. Your Labour colleague, Ian Smart, sent me this 2011 piece in response to this one over on Twitter. The House of Bourbon still rules.

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  4. An arresting title and an interesting argument. I might proffer the thought that in your desire to characterise Scottish Labour as a version of the Tea Party, you overlook two rather critical facts. First, Labour's position on the constitutional future of Scotland is not a losing position, it is the view of the majority of Scots. And second, Labour won the Dunfermline by-election. With a seven per cent swing! So if your contention is correct, we're succeeding despite our echo chamber, not failing because of it. Which of course suggests there is no echo chamber at all...

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    1. When did less than 50% become the majority?

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    2. Duncan, there, announcing the result of the match five minutes into the second half...

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    3. Duncan is right. The majority of Scots express no enthusiasm for "independence"

      As for 50%, SNP is the majority party in Holyrood on 46% of the votes cast. On a 51% turnout, that's less than 25% of the electorate. So you could ask: when did 25% become a majority?

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    4. Since it was really 75%. If you don't vote, you voted for the winner.

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    5. Is that's what's being said in your echo chamber?

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    6. So, Stuart, how does that square with your early quip towards Duncan? Your proposition does not have the greater support.

      Your recent analysis of your Panelbase poll wasn't let-down by your using plurality and majority interchangeably (a lot of commenters do this, and the significance of the error can be taken only so far) but on your explaining away those which either went against you or didn't return a strong enough result as arising from the mere public's failure to understand your question (when, if they did, they'd have agreed with you).


      ~alec

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    7. I seem to remember the Labour party taking a similar view in 1979 when it was deemed not to be a win unless all the dead still registered to vote since the previous census in 1971 decided to rise from their grave and vote for a Scottish Parliament,
      but they are quite happy to accept an election win based on a low turnout with a single vote taking the prize,

      The SNP beat you GET OVER IT you are no longer the party of choice in Scotland and have only yourselves to blame,

      and I wouldn't crow about Dunfermline if I were you Duncan, or that will come back and bite you on the arse

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    8. IIRC, although Duncan isn't exactly straight out of school, he wasn't even alive in 1979 let alone political active so I fail to see what this has to do with the price of cheese.

      I also recall his having something approximating political maturity. I mean, he doesn't strike me as the sort who still would be screaming and shouting and at his political rivals long after delivering them drubbing as if petty political allegiances are more important than the actual electorate.

      I also would show a bit of self-awareness about accidental victories based on a handful of votes with many abstainers given the slenderest of margins right-down to double figure majorities which the SNP enjoyed on a bare-majority turnout 2011. That thug Walker for one.

      Not crow about Dunfermline? At least he's delighting in it when the victory still is sweet in the mouth. You still are crowing 2011 when the Dunfermliners' gnashers still are firmly in your backside.


      ~alec

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    9. "Is that's what's being said in your echo chamber?"

      No, it's the arithmetical reality. Roughly 75% of Scots are happy to have Alex Salmond as First Minister. If they hadn't been, they'd have gotten off their arse and voted for someone else.

      The same would of course be true had your Mr Gray won the election. But - and I hesitate to understate the fact so heinously - he didn't.

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    10. "when the Dunfermliners' gnashers still are firmly in your backside"

      Bewilderingly, you say that as if it's some sort of achievement worth crowing over. "Government Loses Incredibly Marginal Seat It's Held For Five Minutes In Mid-Term By-Election, To Modest Single-Figure Swing Despite Former Incumbent Being A Wife-Beating Scumbag!" Well, stop the presses and hold that front page.

      Cara Hilton's fib-based triumph, more pertinently, is of no consequence to anything. She's a hapless backbencher in an impotent opposition, with no influence or power whatsoever. Her victory is the very definition of hollow, of importance to nobody but herself and her bank manager.

      The SNP's 2011 result was an astonishing feat, but much more to the point it's still in effect. They still have a majority. They still control the government, to the extent that they can afford to lose some by-elections. The relevance and significance of that fact doesn't diminish with time - at least, not until May 2016.

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    11. I think you're mistaking me for some perfectly crafted opponent of your imagination who's ready to come tumbling down like a jenga stack.

      This has gotta to be one of the most commented on piece on this blog of late. The sheer number of comments coupled with and their emotional, nay, almost tearful nature does indicate that a lot of people have come to see a Yes vote as integral to their sense of identity, with any criticism - no matter how circumspect - of the only credible harbingers of this New Dawn is ramming home the point of eppy-whatever.


      ~alec

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    12. You could try engaging in discussion rather than acting like Kevin the Teenager. Radical, I know, but it is the sort of thing serious debaters try to do.


      ~alec

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    13. Then stop being such a snide, pompous wanker. If your previous post had a point it was far too well hidden in sneering for me to make out what it was.

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    14. D'you kiss your mother with that mouth?

      I have no doubt you know exactly what I'm saying, hence your abandonment of a surperficially playful tone to show snarling aggression to those who DARE hold a different opinion to you. In this case it's a Yes vote, but Orwell had this mentality pegged 70 years ago... it's mostly about hating large groups of people.

      Squirm all you like about Dunfermline. I don't believe for an instant that in 2011 you would have been accepting it was the most marginal of victories. The reason I don't is 'cos 2011 - this "astonishing feat" in your words - was achieved by such gnats crochets of wins, several even tighter.

      ~*adopts Redneck accent*~

      Yow got yow hide whipped and yow got it whipped b-a-a-a-a-a-a-d.

      I would have more sympathy were you not taking it such chuffin' bad grace.


      ~alec

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    15. "I have no doubt you know exactly what I'm saying"

      Then you're stupider than I thought.

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    16. "2011 - this "astonishing feat" in your words - was achieved by such gnats crochets of wins, several even tighter"

      SNP vote share 2007: 32%
      SNP vote share 2011: 45%

      An incumbent minority government increased its vote share by almost half. No, you're right, no achievement there.

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    17. What does that have to do with what I said?

      Answer, by the way, is naff all. I made no comment for or against the relative shows in 2007/11. Whether you're introducing this new line of argument as part of a conscious attempt to mislead and splatter the thread with random information in the hope of winning through default, or if this is the sign of a mind in freefall I don't know.

      Either way it has nothing to do with what you were asked.

      The thing is, you're not exactly hiding you're confused opportunism. You cannot ridicule Lamont's caliber and parliamentary stature and then convince yourself that most Scottish voters are happy with Salmond as FM... maybe if there were a taller Lilliputian, he'd be voted out.

      Like it or not, the "astounding feat" could not have happened without accidental FPtP gains such as Dunfermline. The only way you can dismiss the loss last week as the wholly expected re-gain of a marginal seat and still call 2011 an "astounding feat" is if you are a barefaced liar and gobshite.

      Nor are you hiding your clear reactionary loathing of the Scottish public with stuff about Hilton the transparent liar. The conclusion to draw is that the voters of Dunfermline are either thick or mendacious. How dare they not recognize your superior insight!

      Perhaps, just maybe people disagree with you not because they're less intelligent or because they're less moral than you. Not even because your lot failed to put-up someone for Dunfermline who hadn't lost three FPtP campaigns, gained a PR seat by default then lost even that when the rest of the map was turning Yellow. Maybe it's 'cos they make choices beyond the ken of your plodding coffee morning mind which likely thinks epistemic closure is what happens to the throat of a peanut allergist.

      And that's before we get onto your mauling of the Panelbase opinion poll which took all that was interesting and noteworthy, and produced a smorgasbord of stupidity... which, considering it was your own poll, was quite a failure to understand Scottish public opinion.

      >> Then you're stupider than I thought.

      Do you have a point or are you just here to snipe from the sidelines? This isn't your Sunday School! You're dealing with grown-ups who can - and jolly well will - answer back.

      You lost Dunfermine. Deal with it. And, by "deal with it", I don't mean "throw a reactionary hissy fit like a spoiled middle-class nobody".

      ~alec

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    18. I'm not in the SNP, I've never been in the SNP, and I've never voted for the SNP.

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    19. You are not the full shilling are you? If you aren't holding the candle for the SNP what the smeg was the point of your previous comment in which you gushed approval for their increased support base between 2007/11?

      You're not a freethinker. You're not an independent mind. It is not only lesser intellects - basically everyone who doesn't show you unerring deference, which considering your obnoxious behaviour here will be a lot of people - who could possibly think that your hitching your wagon to a political cause which has been made All About Alex (not to mention your tearfully aggressive denunciations of anyone who dared vote against him) smacks of an SNPer.

      You are more like a tewwibly wadical undergwaduate whose mind is starting to break-up under the mutually contradictory mass of his own blatherings.

      Now, how about actually answering one of the substantive questions put to you? Instead of seizing on non-points or throwing in new info which [I] could not reasonably have known and crying "ah-ha, see, you're wrong!"

      That's the sort of thing grown-ups and those who aspire to be serious bloggers do. You might think everyone else is credulous enough to be taken in by your sophistry, but we're not... we simply find it pathetic.


      ~alec

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    20. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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    21. I love the way you cannot answer a direct question! Of course you were revealing yourself as pro-SNP!

      The question is, are you merely lying to me/others (understandable when you're losing control of the argument so quickly, but a bit despicable) or to yourself (which is pathetic).

      Confused, ever shifting argument does not necessarily indicate a confused mind, but it often does. That and your quick abandonment of a superficially playful tone to be replaced by snarling aggression - not to mention writing style - reminds me of those weirdos from Militant Ninja Turtles.

      ~alec

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    22. If you'd actually like to ASK a "direct question", in plain and simple English, rather than posting bewildering riddles and screeds of ad-hominem abuse of an oddly personal nature, I'll gladly have a go.

      And don't say "refer to my earlier posts", because I don't have a fucking clue what you were wittering on about in them, as I believe I've already noted.

      And try to keep hold of your temper while you're doing it, there's a good lad. It's best for everyone in the long run.

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    23. There's an unwritten rule that the first person to accuse the other of making ad hominems: a) doesn't know what this term means; b) has been bandying them about themselves.

      As you did with the "pompous wanker" remark. Rules are only for the little people, eh?


      >> And try to keep hold of your temper while you're doing it, there's a good lad. It's best for everyone in the long run.

      What, like losing it and screaming "pompous wanker"? You couldn't make it up, but you just have! For free!

      Yet more blather and inconsequential waffle which doesn't even address - let alone offer a rebuttal - to the various questions I've made repeatedly of you. If you want to spray wee-wee all over the place, clear-off back to your own blog... when you come to someone else's blog, you obey basic rules of courtesy and not contemptuously decide what questions you will not even acknowledge the existence of.

      Like Kevin the Teenager with a crush, you've coo'd that the SNP increased its share of the vote from 32 to 45% 2007/11, that 75% of the voters are happy with Salmond as FM (so you say), that the 2011 results were an "astounding feat", that someone who runs against an SNP candidate is a corrupt liar.

      Golly gosh, how could anyone have mistaken you for an SNP supporter? But, no, you're a freethinker. Not a bloody weirdo who is pathologically incapable about being straight about his own statements.

      Of course, the only reasonable excuse you could have for never having voted SNP is if you're an unctuous 19 year old who was still worrying about those strange things his body was doing at the latest election. If you're a grown-up (chronologically, not emotionally) and haven't vote, what right d'you have to speak on elected governance at all?

      If you've voted but not for the SNP, what good are you for a Yes vote?

      >> Yeah, thought not.

      What's that supposed to mean? Because I wasn't hanging on your every word, ready to reply within minutes, I was chickening-out? You might think that you're important enough to earn a space in everyone's spare time, but most of us grow out of that narcissism aged about seven.

      ~alec

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    24. It means no, clearly you're NOT capable of asking a simple direct question in normal English, with or without a torrent of frothing rage attached.

      I note you still haven't.

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    25. You cannot tell me or anyone what to do, you pathetic middle-class nobody. As for accusations of frothing rage, I think you have to click your heels together to make that true (and stop flying-off the handle and screaming "pompous wanker").

      You clearly have wit, so are capable of parsing basic sentences. You've been consistent in arriving at a clear misrepresentation of others' arguments, so jolly well are reading and comprehending their points (just then... well... lying about it).

      Or are you really an unctuous 19 year old who expects lecturers to spoon-feed him information?


      ~alec

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    27. Ah, back to the infantile 'flicking off' quips. They'd have slightly more than zero credibility is that's all you were doing... not "I'm not interested, really really not interested, oh wait , let me say something".

      It's the equivalent of someone who's rushed into a fight, fists brandished, then starts walking backwards calling "come on, take me if you're hard enough!".

      For someone who claims not to understand what I'm driving at or care about me, you're doing a remarkable job of trying to steer the conversation in precisely the opposite direction to what I'm saying... and, most of all, to keep coming back to someone you claim not to be concerned with in order to post two word rejoiners.

      The adage about what happens when someone who merely is thought a fool opens his mouth springs to mind.

      The reason, I strongly suspect, is because you are concerned. Very concerned. Almost terrified at how you and your blog are seen (being a narcissistic, you've got both mixed-up with the cause you espouse).

      A vanity project somewhere between ill-read and of minor importance gets a boost on the SNP.org and other really important blogs. Wow! This is going to be like when SNP Tactical Voting got onto Channel4 News!

      Then it's seen that nasty political thugs occupy BtL, proclaiming their utter disgust for the voters of Dunfermline who can go to Hell; an anti-democratic contempt reflected in your comments here. Then your snarlingly aggressive comments mixed with the intellectual cowardice of refusing to answer a straight question as it might require committing to something.

      You make Ed Miliband look clear-minded!

      You gush soppy love for the SNP then try to back-pedal (not immediately, suggesting you either weren't reading my comments or you were flailing about for anything which could wreck the thread) when I bracket you with SNP support (not the same as being a member. You are inconsistent with the use of "majority" as it suits you.

      When one lie is caught out, you lie and lie and lie again! You make Sgts. Stuart Hinton and Chris Jones look honest!

      ~alec

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    28. So, what was your question?

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    29. Stop playing dumb. You know. You even have responded to some of them, only to claim aloof ignorance a couple of comments later when declined to be impressed by your histrionics... thus revealing yourself to be not only a supercilious dissembler, but a rather inept and dim one.

      The Emperor doesn't so much not have clothes as is prancing around in the street, waving it in front of the horses.



      ~alec

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    30. I really don't. Why not take some of your blood pressure medicine and just write them down in clear, direct English such as a simple fellow like me might understand? Why spend paragraphs and paragraphs ranting petulantly instead of doing that straightforward thing, which would actually get you some answers?

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    31. Yadda yadda yadda. If only you hadn't been effing and blinding in this thread your snide supercilious dismissals of everyone who's not you as being not just wrong but emotionally unbalanced would come across merely as disreputable.

      As it is, you come across as both aggressive and passive aggressive.

      You.

      Know.

      Exactly.

      What.

      I.

      Am.

      Saying.

      You have responded specifically to questions you later claimed not to understand. Do you actually believe your own lies?

      If you genuinely cannot work-out what I'm saying (not that I believe a lying liar, but that's your argument), find a question I've put to you - you can identify it by the inclusion of a question mark, and my saying "this is what I'm asking you" - and ask for clarification.

      Vague, undefined waffle either is the sign of a genuine idiot or the sign of a conscious liar.


      ~alec



      ~alec

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    32. I'm not sure that's a question.

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    33. Goodness, that was shocking. That Alec person. That's disturbed.

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    34. "Goodness, that was shocking. That Alec person. That's disturbed."

      Quite a wild ride, wasn't it? Just for fun, shall we play a game, though?

      "If you genuinely cannot work-out what I'm saying (not that I believe a lying liar, but that's your argument), find a question I've put to you - you can identify it by the inclusion of a question mark, and my saying "this is what I'm asking you" - and ask for clarification."

      Here are all the instances in this thread of Alec including a question mark in a comment directed at me:

      - "Just to get this straight, this is the same RevStu from Wings Over Scotland?"

      Yes. Yes it is.

      - "So, Stuart, how does that square with your early quip towards Duncan?"

      Don't quite understand that one, as the referendum hasn't happened yet so we don't know how many people didn't vote. When it has, we'll all be able to answer it.

      - "Not crow about Dunfermline? "

      Not an actual question.

      - "D'you kiss your mother with that mouth?"

      Yes. Yes I do.

      - "What does that have to do with what I said?"
      - "If you aren't holding the candle for the SNP what the smeg was the point of your previous comment in which you gushed approval for their increased support base between 2007/11?"

      It was an observation of the magnitude of their victory, noting that it had nothing whatsoever to do with a handful of narrow constituency wins. Had they lost those constituencies, the size of their vote would have meant they gained more list seats instead. As anyone with an IQ higher than their hat size would know.

      - "Do you have a point or are you just here to snipe from the sidelines?"

      I had a point.

      - "You are not the full shilling are you?"

      Hard to say.

      - "Now, how about actually answering one of the substantive questions put to you?"

      Right on it, skip!

      - "Rules are only for the little people, eh?"
      - "What, like losing it and screaming "pompous wanker"?"
      - "Golly gosh, how could anyone have mistaken you for an SNP supporter?"
      - "If you're a grown-up (chronologically, not emotionally) and haven't vote, what right d'you have to speak on elected governance at all?"
      - "If you've voted but not for the SNP, what good are you for a Yes vote?"
      - "What's that supposed to mean?"
      - "Because I wasn't hanging on your every word, ready to reply within minutes, I was chickening-out?"

      These all seem rhetorical.

      - "Or are you really an unctuous 19 year old who expects lecturers to spoon-feed him information?"

      No. No I'm not.

      - "Do you actually believe your own lies?"

      I haven't told any lies.

      That seems to be all of them. Anything else you'd like to know, Alec? Here to help.

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    35. Oh, and:

      "find a question I've put to you - you can identify it by the inclusion of a question mark, and my saying "this is what I'm asking you" - and ask for clarification."

      The words "this is what I'm asking you" do not appear anywhere on the page, except in that line and the instances of my quoting it.

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    36. I was looking for the questions too but I couldn't find them. It would have been interesting to hear what they were because that would have made for an interesting discussion. There seemed to be a lot of shouting and anger but not much more. I got the impression of someone who actually is quite envious of you and your audience. Someone who thinks being rude is the same as being witty. And someone who is trying very hard to imitate the style and manner of a person that he secretly admires and wishes he could be like. Problem is he can't write or construct a coherent argument.

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    37. On the happy side, it looks like we've cleared up all his queries.

      Delete
  5. Isn't this epistemic thingy just a slight twist on our old friend 'Groupthink' as coined by Irving Janis? From wiki

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Groupthink

    'I use the term groupthink as a quick and easy way to refer to the mode of thinking that persons engage in when concurrence-seeking becomes so dominant in a cohesive ingroup that it tends to override realistic appraisal of alternative courses of action. Groupthink is a term of the same order as the words in the newspeak vocabulary George Orwell used in his dismaying world of 1984. In that context, groupthink takes on an invidious connotation. Exactly such a connotation is intended, since the term refers to a deterioration in mental efficiency, reality testing and moral judgments as a result of group pressures.'

    The study of self-delusion is a fruitful if depressing one in both religion and politics especially - cant see that Scottish Labour are any better or worse than anyone else, especially within the echoing tents of the independence debate. How ever we play with words, such self-reinforcements surely reflect constants in human nature.

    The Talleyrand quote is a common misattribution; see

    http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Charles_Maurice_de_Talleyrand-P%C3%A9rigord

    I'm afraid I incline to the dark view of Talleyrand, a not uncommon type in public life -anywhere.

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    Replies
    1. I'd say arising from similar thought processes but distinct. Groupthink seems to be the tendency to go with the flow whilst this thing Lallans is talking about is surrounding yourself with people like you, and projecting your views onto the wider population.


      ~alec

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    2. Mibbies aye, but it is a twist on something already there in Groupthink - the group reinforces itself by reaching out to gather others within the shelter of the fold, a characteristic of proselytising religions - and the indy movement seems to me to be a classic proselytising religion, complete with prophets, heretics, and an absolute lack of humour.


      And I refuse to embrace a term like 'systemic closure'!


      A passing thought. I wonder: did the end of the SNP conference have a blunting effect on the SNP performance at Dunfermline? The singing of the Red Flag at the end of Labour bashes may do wonders for the wonks but the people watching on telly flinch. Similarly, Eck's revivalist moment of destiny address and the 'Now's the Hour' dirge may have cheered the faithful but I bet it didn't play so well among the normals catching it on the news.

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    3. The two certainly overlap. Yet, as Lallans said AtL, this eppy malarkey derives from academia, so although both can offer insights into discussion on the political merkat, they can be taken only so far.

      Lack of humour can be seen in the WoS Panelbase poll which, where popular opinion sided with summat they supported, this was triumphantly identified. Where it didn't, it was explained away as either resulting from the wrong question (cf. if only we'd specified that support for nuclear power was contingent on having a plant in their postcode - just like anyone supporting the continuation of Grangemouth must commit to a refinery behind their garden shed, oh wait - they have answered correctly) or inescapable nastiness despite all cajoling (cf. actual majority support for workfare despite loaded questions indicating support for the slave labour which workfare is not) or surprise that opposition to nuclear weapons is not as high as expected (presumably 'cos they've convinced themselves that they're channeling public opinion).

      When I've asked supporters on other blogs about this discrepancy, the sarcastic teenager has kicked-in and begged the question that was I advocating this-or-that because of a couple of percentage points on some pissy opinion poll. No. I am, however, revealing an attitude which because the speaker's commitment to such polls is opportunistic when and only when it conforms to their self-centred views, then it assumes others are equally cynical.

      Some of us believe in Parliamentary democracy and not lazy recourse to "consensus" when it suits.

      Another consideration would be the assertion that the Internet has offered a space for differing viewpoints to come together and converse. Yet, so often with political blogs, likeminded individuals find their own corners, and the resulting discussions may differ in scale rather than substance.

      The same might happen in party conferences, as you said.


      ~alec

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    4. "Where it didn't, it was explained away"

      You appear to have mistaken the exercise of asking questions with one of making assertions.

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    6. >> You appear to have mistaken the exercise of asking questions with one of making assertions.

      Right back at you. At least I don't snip sentences to leave-out the bits where the one I'm quoting would have been seen to make their case.

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    7. "Right back at you. At least I don't snip sentences to leave-out the bits where the one I'm quoting would have been seen to make their case."

      I'm finding it harder and harder to have even the slightest idea of what you're talking about.

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    8. >> I'm finding it harder and harder to have even the slightest idea of what you're talking about.

      Perhaps that's a failing on your part.


      ~alec

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  6. "Everyone I know agrees with me, so surely everyone really agrees with me" isn't such an unusual position within groups.

    It perfectly sums up the attitudes of most of the Nats I know who don't believe the opinion polls telling them they're well behind public opinion, probably because they only talk to other Nats.

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    1. Tell me ahem Braveheart how many no campaign sites are there again, and can one post a critical comment on the Better together campaign website without being instantly banned? why does the Better together campaign pre select who gets to go to your public/secret meetings and you say the yes campaigners are talking to themselves,
      sir I give you Prestwick I rest my case.

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  7. Seems to me that an 8% gap between yes and no is easily bridgeable.

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    1. Is that what's being said within your echo chamber?

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  8. Braveheart:

    If, as you say, less than 25% of the Scottish electorate voted for the SNP in 2011, how much less than this voted for the Labour Party? The majority of those who voted, voted for the Party wot won it. Why bitch about it because it happened to be the SNP?

    I'm all for making voting compulsory b.t.w.

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    Replies
    1. David, not bitching. Of course the Nats got more votes than anyone else, that's why they are in Government.

      I was merely replying to Stu who asked "when did 50% become a majority" and pointing out that the SNP is in power on a minority vote.

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    2. Just to get this straight, this is the same RevStu from Wings Over Scotland?

      If so, he certainly thinks that less than 50% (often, considerably less) is a majority.

      ~alec

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  9. Rev Stu Im surprised at you,
    your implication that the glitterati of the better together campaign were worthy opponents was easily blown away by the petulant and childish comments from DH and (snigger) Braveheart
    the level of debate here (sorry Lallands Peat Worrier) is akin to a school yard at playtime
    of these glitterati
    well, there is plenty of glitter and not very much else

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    1. >> the level of debate here (sorry Lallands Peat Worrier) is akin to a school yard at playtime

      And you aint in a rush to ring the bell on the squabbling weans.

      ~alec

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    2. I'll get my tawse, mortarboard and gown. I've been told that I have the unforgiving profile of the ruthless dominie.

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    3. "your implication that the glitterati of the better together campaign were worthy opponents"

      I implied that? Where? It wasn't intentional, I can assure you...

      Delete
    4. Lallans, mebbe a much much younger Mr. Chips ;)


      ~alec

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  10. Sorry LPW it was a bit rude to say 'misattributed' with the regard to the Talleyrand quote - I have been known to misquote in my posts!

    Also re lack of humour I exempt of course your good self and a few others such as Natalie and the Burd - and Ian Smart can be funny also. Generally though indygab is not a field of merriment.




    ReplyDelete
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    1. Bah! Every decent quotation turns out to have been misattributed, the original thought belonging to some plain fellow, consumed by history and reduced to peaceful obscurity. The reptilian, cynical figure of Talleyrand ought to have said it, and that is good enough for me. ;-)

      On the "groupthink" point, I can see the overlaps. The abstract horror of "epistemic closure" was just really an entre into the phenomenon I was trying to capture here, with an analogy. I'm really not sure whether I'd insist on the term, if I sat down in sober epistemological reflection. The important aspect, as Alec notes above, is the accompanying projection. It isn't just the bouncing sounds of the group, comfortable within its circumference, but the idea that that circumference really holds the Plain People of Scotland within its bounds, even if the Plain People tell you to get stuffed. See further, the inevitable psychological fallout for some pro-independence folk, if Scotland votes No next year.

      Delete
    2. I think I've got it now LPW thanks - I'd rather worry peat than go through that thicket again- mercy!

      Delete
    3. >> The important aspect, as Alec notes above, is the accompanying projection.

      I have to say, I feel you might be succumbing to it as well. By all means criticize Lamont's remarks (although, as I've said elsewhere, Salmond's quip reflects a difficulty in dealing with criticism or reality of the situation surrounding Grangemouth), but she was quite within her rights to savour the moment.

      This was a stonking success, with a healthy turn-out for a by-election and a clear undeniable majority. It wasn't one of those accidental victories as with 2011 with barely into triple figures if even that. Again, fair enough if you want then to say that the vote that's all that matters for the appointment of an MSP, where the main Party is the one which goes on to form Government.

      That's how things work. A little bit of self-awareness wouldn't go amiss, though, when it's been so close... suggesting there still is significant discord. This is less directed at you than it is the likes of Stuart who elsewhere has retreated to the insistence that the 2011 results remain in effect.

      There's been a lot of discussion over the decades and centuries as to what democracy really means. One thing it most definitely does not mean is getting elected, and then doing whatever the hell you like until the next election.

      There are people who I respect in disagreement. Then there those who I admire in disagreement. You'd fall into the latter category. In the case of this AtL piece, though, I do think it's a case of someone not being quite as astute or clever as his writing.


      ~alec

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    4. LPW suggested a wee while back that the only question about Dunfermline would be the size of the Labour majority and was right of course. I think it was a pretty respectable majority though I think stonking apples even more to the Labour gain in Hamiton Sth the same day which seems to have attracted little attention -

      Hamilton South council by election LAB GAIN from SNP
      Lab 1781
      SNP 1120
      Con 322
      Christian 133
      UKIP 86

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    6. 'I think stonking apples even more to the Labour gain in Hamiton Sth the same day which seems to have attracted little attention'

      Perhaps because a gain based on a 0.3% increase on first preference votes would be hard to call 'stonking' under even the most torrential deluge of epistemic closure?

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    7. The problem with diminishing the Dunfermline result is that you're doing the same and more to the wheen of squeaky bum SNP victories across previously Labour seats.

      This isn't epistemic closure. It simply is patent opportunism.


      ~alec

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    8. Ach Dunfermline was a fine result for Labour, no getting away from it - as Alec says, the SNP have made a far bigger fuss about much smaller squeaky bum victories.

      I would add that the consensus among observers seemed to be that the SNP had a good candidate - would be good for all of us to have people like her at Holyrood and indeed the same goes for the Tory.

      I noticed one Tory moaning that the 900 odd votes for UKIP should have been theirs, which I doubt. UKIP may have lost their deposit again, but also again tanked the Greens. Dunfermline indicates yet again the possibility of UKIP displacing the Greens as Scotland's fifth party at Holyrood.

      Delete
    9. Honest question, Edwin, just how good is Somerville? I have no idea of her personableness or competencies in named fields, but she does seem to have made of a habit of losing elections even when the campaign team is handed her on a platter.

      Maybe this is a failing in system which favours party wonks on election, but one really does need an ability to come across as likable (the Labour MP for Dunfermline springs to mind).

      As for anyone's rise over the Greens, I wouldn't say no. UKIP may be interesting as, thus far, the SNP have based their fondness for Europe on nothing apparently more complicated than it's not Westminster and lots of people in England seem not to like it.

      See the WoS Panelbase poll which suggests they're badly wrong.


      ~alec

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    10. I''e no real knowledge of the lady, but this was an impossible task and I thought - as a distant observer - she made a good fist of it. The murmuration from the hacks seemed to single her and the Tory out for note. There is a wee thesis to be written on how the Tories self-destructed over the last 20 years in terms of candidate selection but they seem to have got over that now.

      The Greens are in a difficult place: my councillor is Martha Wardrop and excellent she is but in Holyrood terms they are heading for oblivion.

      Delete
    11. In fairness, no matter how well someone might fit into Holyrood (or any elected chamber populated by people who've played the party system), the question that should be asked is... "nice, you've been a campaign organizer or Spad. What else can you do?"

      As for Wardrop, I would hope then she joins a serious Party. Preferably one which doesn't have leadership candidates who stand in front of Nazi flags.


      ~alec

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  11. According to the Tea Party they actually won the cliffhanger in the Congress/Senate. Bracket them with the insignificant JoLa and we can see how the losers invariably say they actually won. If it makes them happy then fine, but someone/anyone retaining their marbles thinks differently. Hopefully the people of Scotland can recognize bullshit when they see it.
    Good thought provoking article that I enjoyed reading .........ta!

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  12. Caramba!

    Teasing SLAB vanities with visions of evil 'merkin groupthink then reversing it back over them like an alleszermalmende panzer tank....little wonder the shrieks of infamy! on here today. LPW you naughty naughty man.

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    1. The interesting thing about this post is that it isn't about "independence".

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  13. Serious question.
    How many postal votes did Labour have in Dunfermline?

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    1. >> Serious question.

      Tell that to the Marines.

      There is summat creepy about this complete lack of grace in defeat with the attendant dismissal of the Dunfermline electorate as mere cardboard cutouts.


      ~alec

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    2. It has nothing to do with a lack of grace, Alec.
      I hate the fact that as an ex Labour party member, I have absolutely no trust in the party. They have become a part of the corrupt establishment. Watching them do whatever it takes to gain power is very sad.

      Delete
    3. >> It has nothing to do with a lack of grace, Alec.

      Oh, that's settle it. What demonstrable events are you referring to? What makes you think that the Dunfermline voters are not capable of making their own decision?

      And, given you're an ex LP member, it's a bit of a tautology to state that you have no trust in it.


      ~alec

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  14. Shirley-Anne moves on to pastures new. Tom Hutcheon says this will raise concerns over lack of women in YES Scotland. Sure you, LPW, raised these concerns when she was selected. Labour Candidate poor, Johann Lamont, up the proverbial creek without a paddle, Falkirk selection, Unite and now the lay offs coming at Grangemouth. Dont have to be a genius to work out which workers will be shown the door first. I'm quite depressed really. When I moved back to Fife 15 years ago people believed in the power of politics, now when I look around there are maybe a couple of dozen activists spread between the main parties and they are all bus pass fodder like me.

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  15. "So you could ask: when did 25% become a majority?"

    RevStu "Since it was really 75%. If you don't vote, you voted for the winner."

    So your position is that 50% is not a majority but 25% is?

    Clever. : )

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    1. It's fun watching you try to understand things, Councillor.

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    2. This really does show your lack of seriousness in any political discussion. No effort to engage, no desire to argue your own point... just reflexive sigh after reflexive sigh.


      ~alec

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    3. When I said " clever : ) ", I didn't really mean it.

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    4. I'm beginning to appreciate the phrase "far too clever for his own good".


      ~alec

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