Robin McAlpine: Indy supporter – don't fall for the trick of confidence

CommonSpace columnist and Common Weal director Robin McAlpine says there is a lot of bluffing going on in Scottish politics

YES, we're in the middle of an election, but does it seem to you that Scottish politics is dominated by 'confidence tricks' even more than usual? And, importantly, whose confidence is up and whose is down as a result – and why?

Basically, I think that unionists have been hyping their confidence to a degree that seems suspicious and independence supporters have been demonstrating a slight wobble in confidence that seems unrelated to what's actually happening.

So what's going on?

Unionists have been hyping their confidence to a degree that seems suspicious and independence supporters have been demonstrating a slight wobble in confidence that seems unrelated to what's actually happening.

First of all, I want to be clear what I mean by 'confidence trick'. I use the term to explain how central to human decision making the importance of the projection of confidence is, not to cast aspersion about the honesty of my opponents.

Many of you will instinctively know that a confidence trick is a trick played on gullible people by a con artist who identifies their weaknesses and preys on them. But that is an important misunderstanding. That would be a gullibility trick and the perpetrator would be called a gull artist.

The point about the confidence trick is that everyone is susceptible. None of us are immune to the social impact of the projection of confidence (as the whole field of behavioural economics demonstrates). Humans are hardwired to respond differently to the social signals of confidence and certainty than to signals of doubt and fear.

This makes little rational sense – pause for a minute and ask yourself whether you really want decisions to be made by people who are not self-reflective enough to have doubt and uncertainty. Less confidence and more honest doubt would be a good thing for politics.

But in reality, we are subconsciously attracted to people who demonstrate characteristics we rationally know often to be counterproductive, harmful and even the symptoms of sociopathology (i.e., this is how psychopaths behave).

If politicians don't have real confidence, they fake it. Strong and stable, strong and stable, strong and stable, strong and stable.

So if politicians don't have real confidence, they fake it. Strong and stable, strong and stable, strong and stable, strong and stable.

The trick is to work out what confidence is real and what confidence is fake. Sometimes it's quite easy – Trump goes through all the tics of a con artist with a degree of obviousness I find remarkable.

But the Scottish Tories? Who could deny that they are on a legitimate, genuine high? That their success has them oozing confidence?

Eh, me. There are two reasons I'm fairly sure the Tories are overplaying their hand just now. The first is how they're doing it.

One of the features of a con artists is that they are adept at supplying you with lots of information and detail which feels like it is helping you to get towards a destination but which in fact is taking you further away from the destination.

There are two reasons I'm fairly sure the Tories are overplaying their hand just now. The first is how they're doing it.

And the more your attention returns to the destination, the more information and detail you'll be provided. Real confidence takes the shortest route; the confidence trick is always about blind alleys.

So here's my question: if Ruth Davidson is so confident that the mood in Scotland has turned decisively against independence as she suggests, why isn't she calling Nicola Sturgeon's bluff?

Let's be honest – if there is a No vote in a second independence referendum, the Scottish independence movement is almost certainly over for a generation, at least. The SNP would have no reason to hold together and might well not survive as a single party.

The quickest way for a confident unionist to end this for good would be to encourage a second referendum. That's the short route.

Likewise, if Ruth is so keen to heal Scotland's wounds and bring it together, the quickest way to do that would be to stop touring the country promoting images of conflict and division with every sentence.

Here's my question: if Ruth Davidson is so confident that the mood in Scotland has turned decisively against independence as she suggests, why isn't she calling Nicola Sturgeon's bluff?

Pretending the local elections were a referendum on a referendum is so palpably silly that a confident person wouldn't say it out loud. Someone who wanted to build a pretence of confidence, A Team style, out of whatever bits and bobs were to hand might.

The way the Tories have constructed their 'hated second referendum' narrative out of opinion polls that don't really support that stance just increases my suspicion. "Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!"

The second reason to doubt the apparently boundless confidence of Scotland's Tories is, well, facts.

The near future does not scream out 'good times ahead for Scottish Toryism'. A large majority Tory government is not going to be in tune with Scottish attitudes. Hell, it is already embarrassing Ruth Davidson with its rape clause stuff. Westminster isn't about to become more moderate.

In Scotland, I remain convinced that there is a pretty low Tory ceiling, and I'm pretty sure they're close to it. They only got to where they are by cannibalising their former partners in the Labour Party. Who do they eat next? The Lib Dems are barely a light snack.

If Ruth is so keen to heal Scotland's wounds and bring it together, the quickest way to do that would be to stop touring the country promoting images of conflict and division with every sentence.

Many Scots had forgotten the reality of Tories. We'll have an awful lot more mental tweets from Tory councillors to remind us. The Tories brought back Orange politics to Scotland; few will celebrate.

The economy is basically going nowhere and neither pay nor sense of job security are getting much better. Personal debt is rising and is worrying observers looking for the next economic crisis. Austerity continues to gnaw away at public services and public infrastructure. Trump is not going to be an attractive best friend.

But probably above all, Brexit can only go one of two ways. If its soft, it'll be unpopular because it won't reduce immigration and Britain will still be stuck with a mountain of Brussels regulation through a trade deal. The Daily Mail will be fuming and Ukip will rise again.

If its hard, the short term impact will be at least painful and probably worse than that. I'm no panglossian Remainer, but don't kid yourselves on that a Brexit not on terms agreed by Brussels will be smooth. And Brussels appears to want terms that in themselves will cause substantial pain.

Looking forward, if you are honest about the terrain Britain is going to have to navigate in the near future and you have convinced yourself that it's all going to go swimmingly then that's a sign not of confidence, but of delusion.

The near future does not scream out 'good times ahead for Scottish Toryism'. A large majority Tory government is not going to be in tune with Scottish attitudes.

Plus, the Tories can like it or not like it but Scottish Labour was an absolutely crucial human shield for them in the constitutional debate. When they next reach for that shield, it's going to look quite a lot like Swiss cheese.

I don't want to be too churlish here. I've always said that there are more Tory votes in Scotland than recent times have suggested. I live in rural Scotland, not far from the Borders. It really was a case of the only way is up.

And these have been genuine successes for the Tories in Scotland. We can mock just how puffed up Tories have got by winning 11 per cent of first preference votes in a ward here and there, but politics is about army size and this is an undoubted leap forward for them.

Plus the independence movement really is lacking leadership and direction at the moment. People are getting a bit stir crazy and that sense of twitchy frustration is fertile ground for the confidence trickster.

It can all be turned around quickly. Of course, there is no massive appetite for an immediate second indyref – god knows I don't want one. We need to prepare and make a case. We need to win people over. That takes a bit of time.

The independence movement really is lacking leadership and direction at the moment. People are getting a bit stir crazy and that sense of twitchy frustration is fertile ground for the confidence trickster.

And it's that time which I think the Tories are most worried about. Hence the appearance of that other great feature of the con artist – they want to force your decision into their timescale, not yours.

It's a time-limited offer. This gold-laden ship sails in three hours. If we don't get the prisoner out of his cell by his execution you'll never get all that money. There's a queue of people waiting for this opportunity and if you don't get in fast you'll miss out. You must reject another indyref now, right now, immediately, or it's civil war and nothing less.

This is a Tory moment. I don't want to take that away from them. Like any underdog, they're allowed to enjoy a moment in the sun. But let's not get carried away.

Look forward from here. Assess what's happened and what's to come. Then come back and tell me that the case for the UK is likely to get stronger while the case for Scottish independence is going to get weaker. I doubt you can.

I wish the projection of confidence wasn't so central to human decision making (as I'll discuss tonight at a Festival of Spirituality event in Edinburgh). But it is. So damn it, indy supporter, get your confidence back up and stop absorbing all the bluff.

Unless we screw it up, the next 10 years are ours.

Picture courtesy of Documenting Yes

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Comments

MauriceBishop

Thu, 05/11/2017 - 14:02

A second referendum damages the Scottish economy even further. It guarantees a continuation of the lengthy period when nothing gets done at Holyrood. And it is an insult to the basic concepts of democracy. We all voted in 2014 with the understanding that it would settle the matter for a generation.

Nelson

Thu, 05/11/2017 - 16:42

It is an artificial bubble for bubble-heeds. For example, only about 3% of Scots voted for the only political party that campaigned to leave the EU, but funnily enough, 38% voted to leave the EU.

The very obvious lesson is that you can't equate votes for 'unionist' and 'nationalist' parties with support for leaving a union. That recent lesson in reality means that all this nats vs yoons political party stuff may as well be a pile of BS for obsessives.

William Steele

Thu, 05/11/2017 - 20:35

"We all voted in 2014 with the understanding that it would settle the matter for a generation." Not so, Maurice. That was Alex Salmond's personal opinion, which I believe he announced after the referendum.

MauriceBishop

Thu, 05/11/2017 - 20:57

In addition to the statements from Salmond about it being "once in a generation", it is stated three times in the White Paper. And here are just three of many times Sturgeon said it as well:
"constitutional referenda are once-in-a-generation events"
http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2013/aug/24/nicola-sturgeon-scotland...

We won't stop believing in independence if that's what you're asking me. Would there be another referendum in our lifetimes? We've always said its a once-in-a-generation thing.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AWfomb99QKw

“These kind of referendums are once in a generation, but if you’ll forgive me, I’ll concentrate on campaigning for this one.”
http://scotspolitics.com/interviews/nicola-sturgeon

We all voted in 2014 with the understanding that it would settle the matter for a generation.

ritchiethered

Fri, 05/12/2017 - 11:36

You seem to possess a desperate need to be first in the queue constantly moaning and whingeing that the 2014 referendum “…would settle the matter for a generation”. You are a social media equivalent of a nuisance telephone caller.

Democracy flowered in 2014, creating an energy and force that is to the credit of everyone involved. Whether you like it or not, there will be another referendum on Scottish independence – it’s now all about timing. Folks will have the chance once again to vote for or against – that’s what democracy means and you and your lot will not be allowed to subvert it. Who knows, Scotland might still vote against independence – what are you so scared about?

You seem to have difficulty understanding that politicians use figures of speech. Even your side indulges in its fair share of coded utterances – e.g. “now is not the time”, “strong and stable”.

If you had the intellect and cojones to elucidate, explain, and exemplify some of your political principles – i.e. what it is you stand for rather than against – then perhaps your ceaseless, execrable, risible interjections might not incur such opprobrium. However, I don’t recall Common Space ever publishing an article of yours.

Surely you can do better than indulge in surly, snarling, decibel ranting.

Terry.D

Fri, 05/12/2017 - 13:02

“damages the Scottish economy even further”??
Further than what exactly? I assume you mean Brexit since even Westminster’s own figures puts the uncertainty caused by Brexit (before they even triggered article 50) at ten times the levels caused by the entire 2014 referendum and campaigning.

“continuation of the lengthy period when nothing gets done at Holyrood”??
So fighting for free university places and free prescriptions is doing nothing? Is mitigating the worst of Westminster’s ideological austerity measures, such as the bedroom tax and deliberate impoverishment of those on unfair welfare sanctions, also doing nothing? What about providing more affordable social housing over their ten with limited powers than all the previous governments provided in the 50 years previous? Or maybe the largest upgrade projects to our essential road infrastructure which had been side-lined for over 30 years by previous administrations is the nothing getting done you are referring to?

“And it is an insult to the basic concepts of democracy. We all voted in 2014 with the understanding that it would settle the matter for a generation”
Oh my!! If wrongness was a quantifiable variable instead of an absolute I would say you couldn’t be more wrong if you tried.
The basic concept of democracy is a continuous discussion with levels of accommodating consensus which drives social direction. It is not a one off never to be revisited choice. As for everyone understanding the once in a generation concept? Where exactly on any official campaign manifesto did this appear without it being stated as an opinion and not policy? It has been tagged to the YES movement who lost the 2014 referendum so under democratic reasoning, if they did have this as a central pillar in their argument (they didn’t), it was voted down. It was uttered on occasion by Salmond as personal opinion, it was uttered once by the now First Minister again as opinion, it was in the pages of the White Paper and you guessed it, it was in the paragraphs of Salmonids personal statement which again makes it a personal opinion and not policy that was voted down anyway.

MauriceBishop

Fri, 05/12/2017 - 13:52

@ritchiethered

"that’s what democracy means and you and your lot will not be allowed to subvert it"

Democracy requires that the participants agree to abide by the result, regardless of whether it went the way they wanted or not.

What is the point of having another referendum when the losing party will just say "I don't accept this, we have to have another in 5 years time and then I'll accept the result"?

geacher

Fri, 05/12/2017 - 13:37

Yet again we have a poster who seems to have a skewed idea of exactly how democracy works. We had that referendum in 2014, and yes, "democracy flowered," but here we are not three years removed from said democratic vote and ritchiethered is telling us that there will be another referendum "whether you like it or not," but that most certainly is not "what democracy means." Democracy means respecting the result of the 2014 vote whether you approve or not. Meanwhile Scotland burns as Sturgeon fiddles, with ever declining educational standards, a failing economy and the worst pc GDP deficit in Europe, but us unionists can garner some solace in that peak SNP as now passed. Polls show that the SNP could lose as many as 10 seats next month and a drop in the % vote to below 45%, yet you would STILL have as drag our sorry country through another divisive referendum.

MauriceBishop

Fri, 05/12/2017 - 13:57

@Terry.D

"Further than what exactly?"
I guess you missed the news, but Scotland is standing on the brink of recession and has decoupled from the trends of the rest of the UK because of the uncertainties that the SNP have created. A snapshot of the views of 800 Scottish small businesses is provided here.
http://www.frenchduncan.co.uk/news/french-duncan-news/indyref2-survey-re...
*80% plus opposition to independence and 80% plus opposition to a second referendum, on the grounds that even holding it damages the Scottish economy.
*80% plus belief that capital will flee if Scotland were independent and 75% plus belief that Scotland would be less attractive to inward investment.
In comparision, "Business for Scotland" is just an SNP front-group made up of a few bogus self-employed people like Michele Thompson who are waiting for a shot at a really well-paid public sector job.

"So fighting for free university places and free prescriptions is doing nothing?"
Those policies were brought in nine and six years ago, respectively.

"The basic concept of democracy is a continuous discussion with levels of accommodating consensus which drives social direction. It is not a one off never to be revisited choice."
What country on the earth has a "continuous discussion" about whether it is going to dissolve or not?

Why did the SNP go out of its way in 2014 to tell us over and over again that the vote was going to settle the matter for a generation?

ritchiethered

Fri, 05/12/2017 - 14:43

Well, there was a general election in 2015, which all sides accepted. Although, perhaps the Tories didn't really accept it as they have cast aside the Fixed-term Parliaments Act to have another GE in 2017. Yeah, that seems completely free of hypocrisy, double standards, political opportunism - such upright, noble people - fabulous role models.

Or perhaps it has something to do with not really getting the result they wanted in the other referendum - the Brexit one where the majority just scraped over the line with only a 2% margin. That's a win, isn't it? Why have another less than one year later?

What they want is a much larger leave vote - and they will say as much when this unnecessary election is over.

So, despite losing the first Independence referendum it's not OK to push for a second when circumstances have clearly and identifiably changed - but it is OK to push for a second Brexit referendum (under the guise of a GE) because the leavers don't like having such a small majority. Hmmm...

One law for Little Englanders and another for anyone else? Seems fair.

geacher

Fri, 05/12/2017 - 14:48

"It was uttered on occasion by Salmond as personal opinion, it was uttered once by the now First Minister again as opinion, it was in the pages of the White Paper...... which makes it a personal opinion and not policy........"
So you saying then that in his guise as First minister Of Scotland, Salmond's statements in the Scottish Government's White Paper On Independence was simply "personal opinion"?
Desperate stuff.

MauriceBishop

Fri, 05/12/2017 - 15:16

@ritchiethered
"Well, there was a general election in 2015, which all sides accepted."
Elections and referendums aren't the same. We have to rerun GE's constantly in order to hold the elected representatives accountable. Referendum are meant to be rare and are supposed to settle discrete, momentous questions. The reason you conflate them with GEs is you can't think of any other excuse to keep on putting the question until the "right" answer is return.

"Although, perhaps the Tories didn't really accept it as they have cast aside the Fixed-term Parliaments Act to have another GE in 2017."
You typed "cast aside" when you meant to type "followed". The GE is being held because 2/3s of the Westminster MPS voted for it. The SNP could have organised opposition to it, but instead they cowardly abstained.

"Why have another less than one year later?"
We aren't. Again, you have to conflate GEs with referendums because you don't have a leg to stand on.

"So, despite losing the first Independence referendum it's not OK to push for a second when circumstances have clearly and identifiably changed "
We knew about the possibility of the Brexit referendum when we voted in 2014. That didn't stop the SNP from telling us that we were voting to settle the independence matter for a generation, with no caveats.

geacher

Fri, 05/12/2017 - 15:29

Ah, I see the problem here...you are not appreciating the not too subtle differences between General Elections and Referendums, and the last time I looked there was plan in operation for another EU referendum. If (and it is a big IF) there had been a growing clamour for indyref2 post brexit from people who would change from a No to Yes because of brexit in the event of another referendum, I would maybe concede your point, but there ain't...you cannot just demand referendum after referendum because you don't like the result of the first one, and that is what you are doing.

ritchiethered

Fri, 05/12/2017 - 16:18

Don't understand why Unionists prattle on and on and on about not having a second independence referendum. There will be a second referendum - I don't recall putting a date on it but it will happen at some near-future time. Democracy in action. Regular plebiscites give people power and keep politicians on their toes. The more we have, the more powerful we ordinary folks become.

You will be quite within your rights to vote against it should you choose to do so - that, too, is democracy - a living, active political organism.

What works in a democracy is taking an active role. Look at Farage - he kept going and going and going until he got his wish. Nobody has said that he didn't accept the various gubbings he suffered in previous general elections - well not in public. Nobody has said that he has acted undemocratically by continuing to campaign ceaselessly to leave the EU - ditto. Why, then, all the moaning and whingeing about a second referendum?

What is not democratic is subverting the will of an elected parliament - whether in Edinburgh or Westminster. The Tories are trying to do so in one place and have already tried it on in another - until they were slapped down.

Tories and Unionists would have a much stronger case if they explained what they are for and not what they are against. It's dead easy to say "our opponents don't know what they are doing but we do" or "you don't want to take the risk of running things for yourselves".

Peddling fear, disquiet, and misery is easy - and very lazy. It's considerably more difficult - and more courageous - to stand up and paint a vision of a "can do" society. Those that try are serially demonised and denounced by a right-wing dominated and controlled media. What kind of country and society have we become?

What's wrong with a policy to continue running down the NHS? I'm sure many might welcome the opportunity to reproduce the fantastic successes of the NHS in England and Wales.

What's wrong with a policy to restrict immigration to such an extent that a country will dive into negative birth rate? If you are looking to see what baleful economic consequences might look like, then tinker around with spreadsheet models involving factors such as servicing increased demand on health/welfare/community care public services based on a diminishing tax base.

The numbers game is moot - depends on their sources, who is using them, and their purpose for using them. There is no single database. What ought to concern you is why we seem to have such awful-looking statistics.

It could all have been so different - and better. For instance, Norwegian governments have never touched a penny of oil revenues, Instead they chose to invest offshore - and now have virtually no debt to speak of. Nordic nations in general enjoy top-class public services fit for purpose, a burgeoning private sector maintained and developed by close government ties and willing co-operation. Compared to us, they have eye-wateringly high levels of taxation, yet they still enjoy standards of living we can only dream of. It's not all milk and honey but these countries are a damned sight better-off on most indicators you care to mention.

Starting with Thatcher, who used oil revenues - billions - to plunder and decimate manufacturing industry, raze communities to the ground, and wage war on miners, successive Governments have taken the money and spent it - mostly on the wrong projects.

Whether all that can be changed through independence remains to be seen. But Tories remaining in power at Westminster will almost certainly see more - considerably more - of the same. That's a really great prospect. A second referendum can settle it one way or another.

ritchiethered

Fri, 05/12/2017 - 16:28

The Tories don't give a hoot about pedantic definitions between referenda and general elections - they don't have to when they have their apologists to do it for them. The Tories will use whatever term they want as long as they look like profiting from it. Calling a referendum a general election might satisfy those of you who crave for peace, quiet, dictionaries, and the status quo - but there are others who see the emperor's clothes in very different light.

MauriceBishop

Fri, 05/12/2017 - 16:47

@ritchiethered

We aren't prattling on and on. We accept that the 2014 referendum settled the matter for a generation and therefore the matter is closed.

To do other wise is to insult the concept of democracy, whilst also damaging the Scottish economy and insuring another long period of wasteful inactivity from Holyrood.

geacher

Fri, 05/12/2017 - 17:07

"What ought to concern you is why we seem to have such awful-looking statistics."
Got that right, and that is why we should not be considering giving this incompetent bunch in Holyrood any more powers. Why they cannot/do not use the extra powers they have!

MauriceBishop

Fri, 05/12/2017 - 17:12

@ritchiethered

"The Tories don't give a hoot about pedantic definitions between referenda and general elections"

Referendums and general elections are categorically different. It is the opposite of pedantry to point out that you descend into incomprehensibility when you conflate them.

ritchiethered

Fri, 05/12/2017 - 17:44

No confidence, then, that the Tories might ever have a shot at running Holyrood? Dogs in a manger - we won't ever have the chance to run Holyrood so nobody should. Having power and applying power - not that simple.

ritchiethered

Fri, 05/12/2017 - 17:47

Opposite of pedantry - I'll take that. Thanks for the compliment. The Tories and doublespeak - made for each other.

florian albert

Fri, 05/12/2017 - 21:58

Robin McAlpine has written an article complaining that the Tories are exaggerating the level of their electoral support.
This is what politicians of every hue do. They employ spin doctors to influence the media to report events favourably.

Instead, Robin McAlpine would do better to examine the continuing failure of the Left in Scotland. The Left has been in decline since the Referendum. It is now little more than a cheer leader for the SNP. If the SNP falters, as it may well, the Left goes with it. It is similar to France where the Left found itself lined up in support of a Blairite banker.

Trying to build up the Orange Order as a political bogeyman is absurd. This story, which started in the Sunday Herald, was ridiculed in The Herald today by its Chief Reporter, Gerry Braiden.

Nelson

Sat, 05/13/2017 - 12:24

florian - fair points, but I think there seems to be almost no political debate in Scotland nowadays outwith which brand of flag politicians want to persuade people to wave on their behalf. Personally, I find it unhealthily obsessive, and boring.

As for left-wing Scotland - I think the meaning of the term is a bit of a joke nowadays. You could easily argue that Edward Heath was a lot more left-wing than Nicola Sturgeon, and possibly on a par with Jez Corbyn.

rosspriory

Sun, 05/14/2017 - 19:23

Its the economy, stupid.
NOTHING ELSE MATTERS
ADVISE THE COUNTRY THEY WILL BE BETTER OFF IN AN INDEPENDENT SCOTLAND.
WHY HAS NO ONE HEARD OF "Beyond GERS" and The White Paper Project?
Ross

MauriceBishop

Sun, 05/14/2017 - 20:36

The SNP don't care about the economy.

"The case for full self-government ultimately transcends the issues of Brexit, of oil, of national wealth and balance sheets and of passing political fads and trends." - Nicola Sturgeon

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