The idiocy of the demonstration had no bounds. The racists (for there can be no other description) intent on dividing us against each other flew Saltires to assert their Scottish nationality and railed against visitors from England – who for all they knew might even have been Scottish (or for that matter from foreign climes).
If it was not racialist by asserting Scottishness above “English” people then why the Saltire flags? If the point was about relative risk why not gather on the last southern layby on the M74 before the English border urging Scots from Dumfriesshire (where there is now an elevated risk of Covid-19) to not travel into England?
One can only conclude that these are people who actually want a physical border between Scotland and England – and would happily impose penury upon all of us that the restrictions on free movement of people and burdens on trade that such border posts would bring about.
The vision of the Black Knight, rendered limbless from demanding self-defeating fights then claiming “it’s only a flesh wound” would become reality – or the Popular Front for the Liberation of Caledonia debating “what have the English ever done for us” springs to mind.
Indeed the absurd Monty Python ridiculousness of it all was clearly lost on the participants – who would have to drive into England to be able to turn back and access the A1’s first northbound carriageway in Scotland to harangue travellers coming into Scotland. Whae’s like us – in Scotland at least, the madness of crowds now comes with a free Irony bypass.
But why were they there? What led to such an event happening?
Surely it had nothing to do with the First Minister making a highly divisive argument out of thin air by stating she reserved the right if required to put into quarantine any visitors who crossed the United Kingdom’s administrative border from England into Scotland – all because the lockdown was about to loosen in England while she cannot yet let go her control of Scots’ behaviour under her limited jurisdiction.
The First Minister also says she wants “alignment with the UK” – what? The last time I looked Scotland is in the UK, neither an honorary member nor associate member but a fully immersed, joined-at-the-hip member of the United Kingdom. I could say fully paid up member but that would in fact be disingenuous, for Scotland is a net recipient of funds from “Club UK” – we pay our membership but get far more back in grants and benefits in kind year-in, year-out. The coronavirus billions bear this out.
Yet, for all the Scottish Government has undoubtedly managed the Covid-19 pandemic very badly, our First Minister enjoys positive personal ratings and the SNP benefits in the polls.
Many people are baffled by this turn of events. I for one am not and swear neither is the First Minister nor her huge entourage, for they know exactly what they are doing and why they are doing it.
At times of national despair or crisis the public looks instinctively for a strong leader to calm their nerves by being unflappable; they look to get through the everyday challenges by supping on the self-confidence of the leader; they want decisiveness in decision-making and they want to believe that what they are being told is the unadulterated truth. Further, in Scotland the foregoing is set in an ever present constitutional context that the government uses to maintain a febrile political atmosphere where our government brooks no criticism and insists that any faults be measured against our neighbour, no matter how irrelevant.
From my near forty years’ experience of public relations I can identify at least seven guiding principles in the First Minister’s behaviour. The first is to remember that in the communication of politics public perception IS reality, no matter how distant the perception may be from the truth of what is actually happening.
The second is that in shaping the public’s perception EVERYTHING is political – even though it must be stated ad nauseam that nothing is political. The denial that it is political is in itself a political statement.
The third is that every news item, no matter how small or irrelevant must be channelled through the First Minister, unless she decides otherwise. The focus must be to elevate the decisive control of the leader and to combine this with the occasional common touch that emphasises humanity – such as the reading a pile of novels (but never scientific briefings, because apparently there are none).
The fourth principle is remembering that exerting control, even excessive control, will be viewed far more favourably as a strength to be welcomed when there are risks – real or imagined – than being relaxed and optimistic about the inherent good sense of people to make the right choices. People look for strength and caution, not stuttering bluster or indecisiveness or flip-flopping.
The fifth is that control of the information flow is paramount; ranging from the rationing of what information is made available (through restrictions on access and the ability to question it when it is released); to defining its context, by setting it against the performance of other jurisdictions (especially England) even though this will undoubtedly be comparing lemons with mangoes; to deliberately confusing the definitions of what information is used (using repeatedly hospital deaths after Covid-19 testing – rather than the larger figure of all deaths of those diagnosed as having been Covid-19 positive).
The sixth is to abuse anyone who doubts the sincerity of the First minster by doubting their patriotism, by claiming the high ground of putting the nation first (especially before politics, profits or preferment) and especially belittling others as anti-Scottish.
The seventh is to use advisers and arms-length organisations that should be outside of partisan politics to repeat the same arguments and messages of the First Minister so that her sage-like judgment is ever reasonable even though it has been calculated to maximise political advantage. This might be in defending the covering up of the Nike Conference Covid-19 swapshop or the lamentable track and trace that followed – or willingness to reveal the seminal occasion ever existed.
These principles explain why Sturgeon is riding high, but, as Alex Salmond might tell her, the higher one rises the greater the potential fall.
l Brian Monteith is editor of ThinkScotland.org