Being economical with the truth is a booming economic sector
If you really want to comprehend why the Covid Queen’s continues to reign supreme – no matter what she subjects her subjects to – there is a full explanation available that lasts for barely 20 seconds seconds. Rather amazingly, it was provided by one of her favourite courtiers, Angus Robertson, in an interview he gave to the policy editor of BBC’s Newsnight programme Lewis Goodall. The most revealing part of their exchange went like this:
Robertson: There is something going on in and around the Coronavirus pandemic where Nicola Sturgeon and the Scottish Government are seen as being very competent in contrast with Boris Johnson and the U.K. Government, which is not.
Goodall: You talk about being competent. In terms of Covid outcomes I’m not clear the Scottish Government has done any better than what’s happened in Westminster.
Robertson: In the matter of public opinion it has. What really matters is public opinion.
That report was transmitted in September last year. I was almost dozing off on my armchair when it came on, but I soon perked up and pressed the pause button. Did he really say what I thought he said? I rewound and, true enough, Angus Robertson had stated on camera, clear as a bell: “What really matters is public opinion.” Not the most vulnerable Covid-19 victims dying in Scottish care homes because they were rushed out of hospital wards, just in case their beds might possibly be needed by younger patients more deserving of treatment. Not countless people’s businesses and livelihoods being destroyed because the Scottish economy was induced into an interminable semi-coma. Not half the Scottish population struggling to remain sane and remember what basic basic civil liberties were like before the relentless imposition of medical martial law. Not almost 700,000 Scottish schoolchildren having their education seriously disrupted and – in more than a few cases – put at serious risk of neglect or abuse. Nope, none of the above. What really matters is public opinion.
When he uttered those words, I remember thinking what a gaffe. Good on you, Goodall. Took a London broadcaster with oleaginous Oxbridge mannerisms to get it out of him, but at least it happened. Angus is a goner. He’s given the game away. He’ll be toast tomorrow morning. But that didn’t happen, of course. Such a breathtaking statement – by one of the First Minister’s closest allies and confidantes – generated not a single column inch in the Scottish press, nor a single second of airtime on any Scottish TV or radio programme. Nothing online either. Even the sharpest members of the Caledonian commentariat didn’t pick up on it.
Far from getting trounced in Edinburgh Central in the Holyrood election on May 6, Mr Robertson romped home in that longtime Tory seat and is now the Cabinet Secretary for the Constitution, External Affairs, Culture and whatever you’re having yourself. For what really matters to the person who was always going to bring him instantly into her Cabinet is public opinion. And our SNP chieftains have brought that often unruly beast so firmly under their control, they can get away with saying or doing pretty much anything now. The Covid Queen could whip back even the limited freedoms she has finally, reluctantly, returned to us and her crown wouldn’t slip a bit. Because the general opinion among voters is that Nicola is being far more responsible than Boris. Even though, as Newsnight’s policy editor rightly pointed out, governmental responses to the pandemic – and the results – have been pretty much the same on both sides of the Border. Dire.
Doctor shortages are pushing the Scottish NHS to breaking point but rest assured, folks, their will never be any shortage of spin doctors in Sturgeon’s Scotland. In 2019-20 (the latest year for which figures are available) the public image of her shady regime was protected and projected by an army of sixty full-time media handlers, compared to just over 40 in 2016-17. The public bill for this army of dissemblers, deflectors and distorters is about £3m per annum. The figure doesn’t include the sum spent on 15 special advisers, who also play some part in massaging or manipulate public opinion. Even so, when you stop and think about it, £3m a year to control a country is a complete bargain – especially an advanced liberal democracy (or what we once imagined was such).
These statistics are published today in The Times. They were extracted from St Andrew’s House by the paper’s Scottish political editor Kieran Andrews, who spelled out what this means for democratic accountability in this country:
As the government’s press operation has swollen, cutbacks have taken place across most of the Scottish media. The BBC has 34 reporters — 17 for general news and 17 specialist correspondents — meaning even the publicly funded broadcasters have fewer people asking questions than the government has to answer them.
When he asked a Scottish Government spokesman the question why there are so many people on the public payroll doing the job he’s doing, Mr Andrews got a fairly long answer:
Effective communication is an essential role of government. Communications activity is needed to explain policy decisions and provide information to the public about the government and its services. We are operating a wider range of responsibilities than ever before, dealing with key priorities such as the response to the pandemic, EU exit work and change projects including the development of the Social Security Agency, while continuing to protect public services and deliver value for money. It is important that we communicate with the people of Scotland about this work.”
Crafting that lengthy spiel must have generated a lot of sweat on an unusually hot summer’s day. Totally unnecessary. All this mouthpiece needed to say was the same as Angus Robertson said on a national TV network – with absolutely no comeback: “What really matters is public opinion”.