Beware Nat-Worming: The Disinforming Explanations for Unionist Success, Failure and BehaviourTweet
A 'Nat-Worm' is a Scottish nationalist-derived explanation for a unionist success, failure or behaviour. It is a brand of nationalist disinformation aimed at 'worming into' the unionist mind in order to mislead it towards a separatist conclusion.
Once we realise that this is a deliberate propaganda strategy of the nationalists, then we can learn to spot the attempts, and ensure they do not affect us.
This article by Alistair McConnachie was posted on this site on 30 March 2015.
This article isn't going to look at the arguments which the nationalists will use against the Union. Rather it's going to look at some frequently heard 'explanations' which the nationalists 'helpfully' provide to explain the success or failure or behaviour of its political opposition – us!
These 'explanations' are deliberately intended to confuse and undermine unionists and unionism. They are intended to seed the minds of unionists, very subtly, with thoughts – about ourselves – which lead to a nationalist conclusion.
We've invented a phrase for this style of Scottish nationalist disinformation, based on the concept of the 'thought-worm' – the sticky idea which has become embedded in your head and which you may have trouble getting rid of. Political propaganda can implant thought-worms deliberately.
Definition: A Nat-Worm is a Scottish nationalist-derived explanation for a unionist success or failure or behaviour. It is a form of disinformation designed to 'worm its way' into the minds of a unionist audience and manipulate it at the rational level. It is spread with the deliberate intention to mislead, and to result in a false conclusion which positions unionism in error, enables the nationalist position to dominate debate, and furthers the nationalist political agenda.
A unionist who parrots such nationalist propaganda has been Nat-Wormed and needs to detoxify his or her mental furniture.
In this article, we're going to give examples of popular Nat-Worms which we regularly see promoted deliberately by nationalists and parroted unwittingly by some unionists.
We'll look at 2 main areas.
First, when nationalists purport to explain for us why a majority voted No, then they are trying to Nat-Worm us.
Secondly, when nationalists purport to explain for us why a particular pro-UK party may not be doing so well in the polls, then they are trying to Nat-Worm us.
Thankfully, the solution to further infestation is to learn to spot a Nat-Worm, and fumigate it before it tries to eat a hole in our brain.
NAT-WORM THEME NUMBER 1: "WHY UNIONISTS VOTED NO"
There are several variations on this general theme. Here are a few that we've spotted and recorded.
Nat-Worm: "Unionists knew in their Hearts they were Wrong"
Nationalists have been well-schooled by their leaders.
In his resignation speech on 19 September 2014, Alex Salmond stated, "When people have a choice, if they're not going to make a choice which perhaps in their hearts they know to be right, there has to be a reason for not making that choice. There has to be a way of offering to people another way forward. I think that's what 'the vow' did for many people in Scotland."
That was Alex Salmond, speaking at his resignation press conference on 19 September 2015. 1
He is implying that we did not vote No because we knew it was the right choice. Rather, we knew it was wrong. We knew 'in our hearts' that we were wrong! But we floundered about for something to try to appease our guilty conscience; something to make us feel better about the wrong choice which we were about to make. We searched for ways to excuse our bad behaviour and the 'vow' provided that excuse for us, apparently.
The idea that we voted No because we believe in our hearts that the United Kingdom is a good thing, and staying together is the best choice for everyone, doesn't even rank as a possibility!
In other words, this explanation is intended to spread the notion that the unionist choice is never the right choice. It is always the wrong choice, and if unionists don't understand that, then they need to be told that unionism is always in error.
Nat-Worm: "Unionists are Sorry for Having Voted No"
Believe it or not, this is another classic Alex Salmond line.
It follows from the first Nat-Worm – the notion that unionists deliberately, or perhaps inadvertently, made the wrong choice. It is intended to spread the notion that we now realise our guilt and we are apologetic for having made the wrong choice.
At the start of 2015, Alex Salmond stated that everyone he spoke to said one of either two things to him; "Thank you" or "Sorry". 2
It seemed that everybody was either graciously thanking him for trying to break up Britain, or we were abjectly apologising in front of him for having made the stupid mistake of wanting it to stay together!
In that simple phrase he simultaneously built up himself and his cause, at the same time as he put unionists down.
We are meant to think – if only subconsciously: "We were wrong, and now we are all feeling guilty and apologising for it. Oh, woe is us!"
Interestingly, we never see the claim that nationalists are now "sorry for having voted Yes". Perhaps some are? That would not surprise us. But it doesn't occur to us to try to be deliberately tricky in this way.
After all, the "Thank You/Sorry" line could have been used by the unionist leaders too. Perhaps they didn't think of it, or perhaps they didn't think themselves so shameless as to get away with it!
Nat-Worm: "It was 'the Vow' which delivered the No vote"
The nationalists promote this disinformation because it suggests that the straight-forward case for the union wasn't good enough to win. But studies have now shown that the so-called 'vow' – which is not legally binding on Parliament in any case – is not what convinced a decisive number of people to vote No. There is considerable evidence mounting to show that it had virtually no effect on the result, and we examine the evidence in the References section below. 3
Nat-Worm: "Unionism is one big character weakness"
We spot this Nat-Worm when we read or hear that we voted No because "We are fearful of change", or "We don't have confidence in the ability of Scotland to survive", or "We fell for WasteMonster's lies".
This Nat-Worm defines unionism as founded on generally negative character flaws and traits such as fear, lack of confidence, gullibility and stupidity; and in its more extreme version, because we hate ourselves, or are servile to the point of enjoying our 'slavery'!
We are meant to think that the No vote was a result of these character failings among a large number of unionists. We are meant to think, "Ugh, who would want to be like that? We should join the shiny, happy people on the Yes side."
Nat-Worm: "When Scotland doesn't get any more powers you'll realise you were conned"
This follows from the Nat-Worm that unionism is a form of character failing – in this case, a form of naïve gullibility.
Nats will even masquerade on social media as gullible unionist chumps! "I believed the Vow but now I realise I was conned". Or, "I voted No, but now I would vote Yes".
Or sometimes, they're just earnest seekers after truth: "I really wanted to vote No but I never heard a positive case for the Union"; the subtle implication being that unionism has nothing to say for itself.
NAT-WORM THEME NUMBER 2: "WHY PRO-UK POLITICAL PARTIES MAY NOT BE DOING WELL IN THE POLLS"
Here are some explanations for unionist party 'failure', conveniently supplied courtesy of the Scottish nationalists. They've been heard in one form or another for years.
How satisfying it must be for the SNP to listen to its opposition parrot its Nat-Worms such as…
Nat-Worm: "We lost (or didn't do as well as we wanted) because we didn't embrace the desire of the people for more devolution"
This has been used against the Conservative Party in Scotland since 1999, and to an extent before. It is a nationalist explanation for a Tory failure. It has now become an accepted view among commentators in the media, and sometimes it seems that Conservative politicians have even come to believe it.
Yet it was a Nat-Worm from the beginning! It was intended to prevent the Conservative Party from saying or doing anything to defend the idea of the unitary state; to make them shut up about 'keeping the Union'; and make them just get with the devolutionary programme!
It has been one of the most successful of the Nat-Worms. In the absence of any other explanations, then people will parrot this stuff, without realising that they are undermining themselves as they speak.
Nat-Worm: "Labour is not gaining in the polls because we sided with the Conservatives at the referendum"
This is a tip-top nationalist-derived explanation for a unionist problem, because it is so utterly bonkers. The SNP promotes it relentlessly, as do some commentators in the media. 4
It suggests that by being on 'the same side' at the referendum then the Labour Party somehow actually metamorphosed – actually turned into – Tories! Therefore, if you vote for the Labour Party then you are actually voting for the Tory Party. That is the conclusion that the SNP wants its supporters, and presumably some Labour supporters, to believe.
But really, is there any No voting Labour supporter who does not understand that the Labour and Tory parties were necessarily 'on the same side' at the referendum because they were both campaigning for a No vote! Granted, it would have been wrong for Labour to be on the same side as the Tories…if Labour had been campaigning for a Yes vote!
The main function of this Nat-Worm is to shore up SNP support and keep its Yes voters from returning to the Labour Party – because it makes no sense to the Labour supporters who voted No.
Nat-Worm: "The Labour Party is doing poorly because it is not Scottish enough/not patriotically Scottish enough/not Scottishly Scottish enough in a pro-Scotland Scottish kind of way…in Scotland"
The long-term aim of the SNP is to convert the Labour Party into a pro-separation party.
At present, the wider British solidarity implicit in the Scottish Labour Party's pan-UK socialism is what distinguishes it from the SNP's socialism for Scotland alone.
The SNP is quite happy for the Labour Party in Scotland to try to be as 'Scottish' as possible. Not only does this tend to move the entire political culture towards more 'Scottishness', but it knows that the Labour Party can never 'out-Scottish' the SNP anyway.
After all, in a contest between two apparently identical left-of-centre Scottish socialist parties both banging on about Scotland to the exclusion of the rest of the UK, then the Scottish nationalist one will win every time because it has the unique separatist identity.
The last thing the SNP wants is for the Labour Party to develop an identity as a Scottish and British party and make a rigourous case for both these identities.
If it is to forge a unique identity on the left then the Labour Party needs to develop both these elements, and especially its distinguishing British element, because if it allows a vacuum to develop around Britishness then the SNP can exploit that too.
We've already seen signs of this happening! At the SNP Conference on 28 March 2015, Nicola Sturgeon made an apparent attempt to appeal to the rest of the UK.
So to people in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, I make this promise. The SNP stands ready to work with you in making that positive change for all of us…We will work with everyone, wherever they may be in the UK, who wants to see greater fairness and prosperity at the heart of their communities too. 5
However, her real audience was not intended to be the rest of the UK, but supporters of the Scottish Labour Party; people she knows are concerned about the UK, and not just Scotland.
By trying to put her polices and concerns in a wider UK context, she was trying to suggest that she cared about the rest of the UK too. She was trying to steal Scottish Labour's 'British' clothes…and its voters!
So long as the Labour Party remains a pro-UK party then Scottish Labour needs to concentrate on its strength, which is its sense of, and commitment to, a wider British, as well as Scottish, political solidarity. It needs to recognise the Nat-Worm which pretends it's not Scottish enough!
Nat-Worm: "The unionist parties do badly because they talk Scotland down"
This follows on from the 'not Scottish enough' Nat-Worm. Not one single pro-UK party does this, but this doesn't stop the SNP and its supporters from pretending that they do.
Indeed, it is they who constantly do down Britain and oppose its prospects as a united country.
The aim of this piece of disinformation is to make us think that the way to 'do better' is to focus entirely on contemplating the Scottish navel, instead of the big British picture. The SNP want us to move the focus of all our considerations onto the SNP's home turf – Scotland and Scotland only. They don't want us thinking about the rest of the UK because that is 'the away turf', which they don't play so well on.
Nat-Worm: "So long as the Labour Party in Scotland takes its orders from its masters in London then its allegiance will always be outside Scotland"
Again, this follows on from the 'not Scottish enough' Nat-Worm. It is an attempt to get Labour to give up on its sense of Britishness and move towards a separatist position.
Nat-Worm: "The 40% threshold in the 1979 referendum proved the Labour Party did not care about Scotland"
This one isn't heard so much these days, but it used to be all the rage. It still makes an occasional appearance.
The threshold is a very sensible constitutional and democratic device which should be uncontroversial in its exercise. Nationalists, however, can get hysterical about it – because it made them lose!
If they can rant aggressively about it then they know they can frighten people away from pointing out that it was actually a proper democratic thing to do.
Politics is a lot about "rhetoric" – the art of using language to persuade others.
The SNP is very good at telling its opposition what to think! This is made much easier by the fact that its opposition is split politically – and consequently split rhetorically – 4 ways (Labour, Lib Dem, Conservatives, UKIP) – and often doesn't know what to think or say anyway!
For example, both the Leader and Deputy Leader of the Labour Party in Scotland are on record as saying that they do not even consider themselves to be 'unionists'! 6
This suggests an unwillingness to understand, or further develop, the case for the union at a fundamental level. Such an ideological vacuum provides a perfect entry point for a Nat-Worm explanation.
In the absence of unionists having clear ideological leadership, then the SNP is happy to step in and provide it.
Nat-Worming is a form of disinformation intended to implant spurious explanations in our unionist heads.
The SNP wants its political opponents to parrot the explanations for unionist success, failure or behaviour, which it supplies. After all, the only thing better than promoting your own propaganda is listening to your political opposition parrot it back.
Learning to spot how Scottish nationalists use rhetorical tricks to explain unionism to unionists is a political necessity. Otherwise we can be fooled by the smooth, apparently plausible, words.
Now that we know about it, we can learn to spot it!
Can you think of any other Nat-Worms? Contact us and we'll consider highlighting them…
1. Quoted in Lindsay McIntosh, "A 'vow', the Union and unheard voices", The Times (Scottish edition), 28-3-15, www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/news/uk/scotland/article4395659.ece
2. David Knight and Ashleigh Barbour, "Salmond: The Big Interview. 'Voters regret picking union'", The Press and Journal, 8-1-15, p.14.
3. A recent report from the Scottish Referendum Study told us what most of us understand instinctively. Here are some extracts from the report in The Scotsman (27-3-15):
An Edinburgh University survey of more than 4,500 people has revealed that just 3.4 per cent of No voters said the offer of more powers was the main motivation for their decision. Rather, it was No voters' feelings of Britishness and their doubts about the economics of breaking up the UK that led to them rejecting Scottish independence…
The reasons given for voting No contrasted dramatically with Yes voters' perceptions of why their fellow countrymen and women did not support independence. As part of the exercise Yes voters were asked to identify what they believed had motivated No voters. The study found 41.3 per cent of them replied "Westminster leaders misled Scots over more powers"…
Since losing the referendum, Mr Salmond has suggested that "the vow" underwritten by former prime minister Mr Brown in the dying days of the campaign was the key factor that halted the Yes Scotland juggernaut. In interviews, the former First Minister has said the vow was the turning point.
But one of the study's authors, Professor Ailsa Henderson, said the research suggested differently. She said: "There is clearly a divergence between the perception among Yes voters that the offer of more powers was an important aspect of the campaign and reality of how No voters reached their decision.
"The issue of 'more powers' is not cited as the main reason for voting No. However, Yes voters are convinced it caused a loss of nerve leading to support for the Union."
The findings from the Scottish Referendum Survey is to be presented today in a seminar at Edinburgh University's Department of Politics and International Relations.
Prof Henderson and her co-author Professor James Mitchell will deliver the research. The other members of the research team are Professor Chris Carman of the University of Glasgow and Dr Rob Johns of the University of Essex.
Last night Dr Johns said: "It is not unusual for a misleading narrative to develop about what swung an election or referendum. According to our data, anyone who thinks 'it was the Vow wot won it' is exaggerating, to say the least. However, once these narratives develop, they can be hard to shift."
Tom Peterkin, "Gordon Brown vow 'did not sway referendum result'", The Scotsman, 27-3-15, pp.10-11, www.scotsman.com/news/politics/top-stories/gordon-brown-vow-did-not-sway-referendum-result-1-3730601
This further backs up evidence from a study by University of Glasgow economists, Ronald MacDonald and Xuxin Mao. They used Google Trends, a tool that traces terms people plug into a search, to analyse the significance of key events during the referendum campaign.
The authors were quoted saying: "There were claims that the television debate broadcast by the BBC and the interventions of three main Westminster parties, especially in terms of The Vow, determined the referendum path and contributed to the subsequent No victory. Interestingly, we find that for this final period in the referendum process that neither The Vow nor the last TV debate had any significant effect on the final voting results."
Martin Williams, "Academics: The Vow made no difference to indyref result...it was the currency issue", The Herald, 12-2-15, www.heraldscotland.com/news/home-news/study-the-vow-made-no-difference-to-independence-referendum-result.118329207
Even the former leader of the SNP thinks it made no difference. Asked what impact the vow made, Mr Wilson said: "Zilch. I think it's a myth. I've never found people pay too much attention to constitutional proposals, they tend to focus on how they would do economically."
Magnus Gardham, "The Vow had 'zilch' impact on the referendum, claims former SNP leader", The Herald, 10-3-15, www.heraldscotland.com/politics/scottish-politics/the-vow-had-zilch-impact-on-the-referendum-claims-former-snp-leader.120312064
Writing in The Herald, Magnus Gardham pointed out that Mr Salmond and his SNP's claim that 'the Vow' was decisive in delivering a No vote is wrong. As he stated:
The idea The Vow was as decisive as he claims is highly questionable. If it changed the minds of 400,000 people, you'd have to accept that almost every reader of the Daily Record was a Yes supporter on September 15 but voted No three days later.
There is solid academic research to support the view The Vow - or previous promises of further devolution, for that matter – did not change the game. The Future of the UK and Scotland project at Edinburgh University, drawing on polling by YouGov, found that two weeks out from the referendum 39.9 per cent of voters believed more powers would be handed to Holyrood following a No vote. In the final week, the figure rose to 40.5 per cent, suggesting The Vow had relatively little impact.
Magnus Gardham, "Salmond is wrong to claim The Vow was a game-changing promise of devo max", The Herald, 10-1-15, www.heraldscotland.com/comment/columnists/salmond-is-wrong-to-claim-the-vow-was-a-game-changing-promise-of-devo-max.115841979
4. For example, Kevin McKenna, "Can Labour do enough to woo Glasgow Man back to the fold", The Times (Scottish edition), 20-3-15, pp.10-11 at 10.
5. Nicola Sturgeon's address to SNP conference, 28/03/2015, www.snp.org/media-centre/news/2015/mar/nicola-sturgeons-address-snp-conference
6. Leader, Jim Murphy has said, "I have never been a unionist. It's never been my political tradition."
David Clegg, "Scottish Labour leader Jim Murphy insists he is 'not a unionist'", The Daily Record, 14-1-15 at www.dailyrecord.co.uk/news/politics/scottish-labour-leader-jim-murphy-4973610
Deputy Leader, Kezia Dugdale has said, "The first thing I would say is that I don't define myself as a Unionist, it's not what shapes my politics. I voted 'no' because I felt Scotland would be a fairer, more just place as part of that Union."
Magnus Linklater, "Saturday Interview: Kezia Dugdale", The Times (Scottish edition), 17-1-15.
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