It defies belief, in a way. It’s now been a full week since we mocked Willie Rennie’s embarrassingly clueless claim that an independent Scotland would need to negotiate “14,000 international treaties”, in a feature which was widely circulated and quoted.
So ridiculed was Rennie’s claim that even the Scotsman couldn’t make it stick, acknowledging on Monday that it had been exaggerated by at least 70%, with a maximum of 8500 actually still being in effect, let alone relevant to Scotland. An entertaining introductory package on last night’s Newsnight Scotland even highlighted our particular favourite of the UK’s treaties.
At which point the programme brought on the rare protected species that is Scotland’s only Tory MP, the Scotland Office minister David Mundell.
Here’s what the hapless Mr Mundell had to say on the matter, at 5m 51s:
“What I think the SNP don’t like about the opinion is that it suggests that [independence] is quite a difficult thing to do, because they would be placed in a position of having to negotiate 14,000 agreements.”
It’s easy just to laugh at this sort of stuff. Mundell is a bumbling low-watt-bulb of a government seat-warmer, unable to even recall the name of his SNP debating opponent Derek Mackay a few minutes earlier on Scotland Tonight (repeatedly calling the local-government minister “Donald” instead) and pressed into service because the Tories have nobody else.
But such casual misrepresentation of the facts is no accident. Mundell knew full well that his claim was a lie – his own government, after all, had just that morning published its own official analysis of the situation, and he was on the programme acting as its spokesman. The anti-independence campaign rests on hammering untruths continually into the minds of the Scottish electorate, and Mundell was serving that purpose, utilising the tactic (almost literally, in this case) of doublespeak.
“What is really important in the world of doublespeak is the ability to lie, whether knowingly or unconsciously, and to get away with it; and the ability to use lies and choose and shape facts selectively, blocking out those that don’t fit an agenda or program.”
Mundell was not challenged on his claim, either by Mackay or the show’s presenter Andrew Kerr. People who read neither the Scotman nor Wings Over Scotland – which is to say the vast majority of the Scottish population, despite recent advances on our part – but watched the show will now have only one figure in their head representing the magnitude of the administrative task of independence, and it will be an enormous lie. In short, he got away with it.
A point will come soon when the Yes campaign can no longer ignore the uneven playing field. There have been signs recently that a more combative approach is being adopted. In this site’s opinion, it is both right and necessary, not only in the interests of Scottish independence but also those of democracy.