It is often said in these post-truth times, that a lie has gone half-way around the world before the truth has put its boots on. Why do lies, fake news and misinformation gain so much more political traction than evidence-based facts? The answer to that question can be found in the world of tribal epistemology.
In 2017, David Roberts of Vox news coined the term ‘tribal epistemology’ to describe a state of mind ’where you believe not what facts or reason or top experts say is true, but what your group or tribe say is true, especially its leaders’. Why bother going to all the effort of seeking the truth out for yourself, when you can hand that time-consuming, tedious task to someone in power, who you believe in and trust and then agree unquestioningly with whatever their version of the truth is instead? But, what if those leaders don’t go to the trouble of seeking out the truth. What if they abuse your trust and lie, would you still believe them because you are one of their tribe?
In Scotland, where the Scottish Government’s own economists have just produced the most brutal set of GERS (Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland) figures ever published, one would have thought that any self-respecting Scottish Nationalist would realise that, given the evidence, the game was up.
Surely, the record-breaking £36.3 billion fiscal deficit (22.4% of Scotland’s Gross Domestic Product) would cause some pause. Surely, the price of inflicting turbo-charged sado-austerity on the Scottish people in order to reduce the deficit in an ‘independent’ Scotland, would be too much even for the most diehard Braveheart to contemplate?
Surely, they would agree with Scottish Labour Deputy Leader, Jackie Baillie, when she said ‘no credible politician can look at these figures and believe Scotland would be anything but weaker outside the Union’.
Of course not. The official Nationalist response to the publication of the recent GERS figures is straight out of the tribal-epistemology playbook.
Starting with the maxim that, ’if you’re going to tell a lie make sure it’s a big one’, Kate Forbes, the Scottish Government’s Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Economy, said that Scotland’s largest ever deficit actually ’strengthens the case for independence’.
The question is not why this outright lie isn’t laughed at, but why so many Scottish Nationalists believe her. Forbes, as the SNP’s spokesperson for Scotland’s finances, is the SNP’s tribal leader for fiscal matters. To her tribe, she is the credible source: she has all the status, the legitimacy, the trust and the power derived from her cabinet position for her tribe to believe. If she denies GERS, it is true to them. If she says a huge deficit is ‘no barrier’ to independence, then it’s true to them.
This isn’t just a matter of opinion. In April 2021, Survation surveyed 1047 people aged over 16 living in Scotland to find out their attitude to the authenticity of GERS.
The following jaw-dropping findings show that the majority of Independence supporters surveyed believe the myths and mendacious falsehoods. Consider your answers to the following statements…
- The figures used to calculate Scotland’s deficit (the GERS figures) are made up by Westminster to hide Scotland’s true wealth.
57% of independence supporters agree, compared to 9% of non-independence supporters
Truth: GERS is compiled by the Scottish Government’s own economists. Before oil revenues disappeared, GERS was routinely used by The Scottish Government as evidence that an ‘independent’ Scotland could prosper. Now it shows a huge deficit, the SNP routinely trash it.
- Scottish tax revenues are understated because of Scottish exports leaving via English ports.
54% of independence supporters agree, compared to 16% of non-independence supporters
Scottish tax revenues are understated because taxes generated by the whisky industry are not properly allocated to Scotland.
66% of independence supporters agree compared to 21% of non-independence supporters.
Truth: See above. There is no such thing as an export tax.
- Scotland is only seen to be running a deficit because some costs outside of Scotland, like HS2 and infrastructure spending in the South East, are charged to Scotland.
55% of independence supporters agree compared to 11% of non-independence supporters
Truth: Scotland is not charged anything for HS2 or Crossrail. In fact, Scotland receives funds as a result of these projects due to ‘Barnett consequentials’.
- Scotland spends more than it raises in taxes.
Only 20% of independence supporters believe this, compared to 46% of non-independence supporters
Truth: In 2020, Scotland spent £36.3 billion more than it raised in taxes. The problem isn’t actually in the amount raised; the issue is that Scotland spends £2210 more per person on services.
These figures stand as an indictment of the post-truth tribal politics of SNP and Green leaders who, rather than face reality, feed their followers misinformation and lies, while trashing credible and reliable evidence based information. Partick Harvie, joint-leader of The Scottish Greens response to Gers is a prime example of this :
GERS is far from being the incisive analysis of the Scottish economy that some make it out to be. Each year the same people leap on it to make the same points about the constitution, when it tells us nothing about the real economic challenges and choices facing us.
Rather than spelling out how Scotland would tackle the fiscal deficit, Nationalist leaders have denigrated the work of the Scottish Government’s own economists, replacing it with vacuous, absurd soundbites. They have radicalised their supporters into believing myths and falsehoods to reinforce their mutual dream of an independent Scotland.
These leaders are either incompetent in finding the truth or they know the truth and deliberately mislead their own followers for their own political power.
Either way, the SNP / Green response to GERS tells us that the economic price that Scots would pay for independence would be austerity lasting for a generation. In order to keep the Scexit dream alive, the truth about the economics of independence has been sacrificed on the high altar of conspiracy theories and lies.
Follow Robert Hoskins on Twiter @hoski67