Of all the animals of prey, man is the only sociable one.
Every one of us preys upon his neighbour, and yet we herd together.
The Beggar's Opera: John Gay

Friday 12 April 2013

That was then, this is now

According to a decidedly excitable headline today at the Scottish Daily Record*:
Margaret Thatcher snatched £130bn of Scottish wealth as she axed 250,000 of our jobs
Mrs Thatcher, it proclaims, 'reaped a massive Scottish tax windfall' and 'squandered North Sea oil cash on her destructive policies', which, I think, roughly translates as "Let's all share a highly enjoyable outburst of righteous indignation".

Having obligingly done so, the readers will have probably gone off the boil rather by the time they reach the explanation that:
Extra Scottish revenues handed to the UK Treasury during the Iron Lady’s 1980s heyday would be worth a staggering £130billion at today’s prices.
So the figure has been adjusted. Never mind the intervening quarter of a century and the misleading 'as' suggesting contemporaneous events; what matters is that the journalist has an attention-grabbing figure to crown a collection of loaded phrases straight out of the rabble-rouser's handbook.

But wait a minute; what's this?
Finance Secretary John Swinney claimed the figures proved that Scotland’s oil wealth had been wasted by the Thatcher government. 
He said: “The additional revenue paid by Scotland totalled £130billion during the 1980s".
So which is it? And what of the money that has travelled in the opposite direction before and since? Scots may have paid more per head, but don't they get free university tuition and elderly care now? Oil revenues are a complicated question at the best of times but understanding can hardly be helped by such apparent political sleight-of-hand.

When it comes to political speeches, most people don't listen out for the metaphorical small print; they just join in when they like the tune. Look at the crowds of under-30s out on the streets celebrating the death of Margaret Thatcher and you'll see exactly what I mean.

We've become so accustomed to misdirection from our political masters on both sides of the border that
 it hardly seem worth remarking these days, but a combination of disinformation and opportunistic demagoguery cannot but harm the democratic process.

The Scottish people deserve better than this.

*Admittedly you can't judge a country by its tabloid press; the fact that the most read news story in today's online version is 'Doctors say looking at busty women for 10 minutes a day is good for your health' probably tells you more than you want to know about the readership.


  1. In the mid 20th Century I recall for a long period salaries in many parts of the public services in Scotland, notably education, were rather higher than their English or Welsh counter parts. Quite what has happened since and why I do not know. If, however, things have evened up this might well explain a lot of the angst.

  2. An interesting point, Demetrius.

    There was a noticeable political shift in Scottish education towards the end of the 20th century as the progressives gained increasing control; this effectively removed from positions of influence the last of the high-calibre graduates who started teaching when it was a well-paid and high-status profession.

  3. "When it comes to political speeches, most people don't listen out for the metaphorical small print; they just join in when they like the tune."

    I entirely agree. Although we evolved the means to think, it appears to be optional.

  4. AKH ...it appears to be optional

    ...and, as you said in your post today, the politicians prefer it that way.

    (linked here for anyone who hasn't seen it)


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