The Propaganda State

It catches up with them in the end – the cheats and spinners, the swindlers and crooks. After an organised campaign of vilification against the senior civil servant at the Scottish government, a whole shovel-load of Unionists have been left with their trousers down as the top man at the UK treasury admits he deliberately bent the rules on which the impartiality of British administration is founded.

Sir Nicholas Macpherson is Permanent Secretary at the Treasury and is charged with taking a neutral stance in British politics, while obviously serving the government of the day.

But in a talk in London, Macpherson makes explicit that the view of the British state was that independence was a threat to the fabric of British society and its physical integrity (like a German invasion in 1944 I suppose).  He said that in such an “extreme” case as last year’s referendum, in which “people are seeking to destroy the fabric of the state” and to “impugn its territorial integrity”, the normal rules of civil service impartiality did not apply.

It therefore was imperative that  – in effect – anything and everything could be spun, elided, made up, distorted and omitted. And there you have it. When it chooses, the British state makes up its own rules and, despite not bothering to inform you in advance (perhaps I missed the press release), mounted an all-out attack on the independence movement while pretending to be balanced and fair, while promoting their case. They lied. Who authorised this propaganda assault? Who approved tearing up the rules? Who decided to keep it quiet?

No one here is remotely surprised that the UK would go into ‘war mode’ against the Scots and break every rule it tells the world it lives by but it is rare indeed to hear the guilt admitted so soon. Indeed, it looks like an embarrassing mistake by the British if we find ourselves facing another vote in coming years.  Mind you, we are happy to learn that Macpherson did all this ‘for our own good’ – us silly little Scots who think we might run our country. And what mockery it makes of the Edinburgh Agreement and its Cameron-backed promises.

Item 30.  The United Kingdom and Scottish Governments are committed, through the Memorandum of Understanding 4 between them and others, to working together on matters of mutual interest and to the principles of good communication and mutual respect.  The two governments have reached this agreement in that spirit.  They look forward to a referendum that is legal and fair producing a decisive and respected outcome.  The two governments are committed to continue to work together constructively in the light of the outcome, whatever it is, in the best interests of the people of Scotland and of the rest of the United Kingdom.

Only one side wasn’t. It was planning to cheat its way through the process. Where is the section that declares; ‘the UK government regards independence as a threat to the fabric of society and impugns its territorial integrity. It is therefore tantamount to an act of war which we will oppose by all means at our disposal’?

I also struggle to see how the fabric of British society is threatened by a democratic choice. The SNP offered to maintain the social union, to have no frontier, to share any number of services and responsibilities including currency. It was unionists who howled Foreigners! (How excruciating now for the Margaret Currans and others who said their own family would become foreigners).

We were of course told, us blogging Yessers, that we were paranoid. We were obsessive. We built the state up into a sinister presence when it was just benign old Britain. Who’s paranoid now?

And, for fun, let’s recall all the really paranoid nutters who (publicly) attacked Sir Peter Housden in Edinburgh while their own side was gleefully breaking all the rules in London.

First up is Weasel (Brian) Wilson in the Scotsman: ‘And that brings me to Sir Peter Housden, Permanent Secretary to the Scottish Government and widely regarded as a wholly-owned Salmond subsidiary. Sir Peter’s eagerness to please ministers is well-known, but he needs to be reminded of his duty of care to fellow civil servants.’ And the funny bit is this Wilsonian Holy Willie epistle to his own utterly impartial time. ‘It all seems an incredibly far cry from my days as a minister in the Scottish Office when the delineation between government statements and party propaganda was rigidly enforced and a tension existed between politicians and the civil service, particularly the press office.’ Self-serving crap. I was there as a reporter on the wrong end of any number of contrived spin efforts by Wilson and his toadies. He has been a propagandist all this life. Do you really think he stopped when he could do most damage?

Another Labour slugger with a big boot is Paul Martin MSP. ‘The checks and balances that the permanent secretary is supposed to be providing in his role are being sorely missed and Sir Peter Housden seems content to cheer Alex Salmond on rather than scrutinise his conduct.’

Of course there is no Labour story without the demonic McTernan whose stock in trade is abuse. Ergo ‘What’s happened in Scotland is this extraordinary process where parts of the civil service have adopted the ideology of a political party and promoted it. That’s because of the leadership from the top, of the permanent secretary, and because of the weakness of the UK Civil Service in preventing discipline being applied. I know a lot of really good and talented civil servants who have simply left the Scottish government because they are being pushed too hard and not being protected from political pressure.”

And who’s this popping up with one of the most virulent and personalised attacks of all? ‘Yet again Sir Peter has failed to uphold the traditions of the independent civil service. He is acting more like an SNP lackey than the head of the Civil Service in Scotland.’ Yes, Wee Willie Rennie…

And of course the Great Bore himself, Alistair Darling, as if to prove that the cabal had indeed organised its attack (you know, like the cybernats pelting Murphy with eggs). He told the Commons – to make sure it went into the parliamentary record – ‘The entire effort of the Scottish Government is now being directed towards the referendum. I just do not have the confidence that the permanent secretary … is going to have any control over the SNP at all…’ And, in the Guardian he followed up: ‘They’re getting away with stuff – we’d have been stopped in our tracks by the civil service. He is very fortunate in his permanent secretary. He’s incredibly accommodating.’

From someone who has been rescued by civil servants before and who must have known how his personal friend Macpherson was handling the referendum unfairly, this tells us pretty clearly that posh Alistair really is a shit.

Still, as we now know, all’s fair in love and war and if the Britnats have to lie and cheat to keep themselves in charge, if they have to diminish their own people and traditions to block a democratic vote, then we know them all the better for it. This process really has been enlightening –it has confirmed my own doubts about so-called integrity in government. Yours too?

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