The dishonesty of Nationalist memes

Meme Definition

It seems that there are no depths to which the SNP and other separatist propaganda groups will not sink. Lies and chicanery are their customary modus operandi. One of the most recent comes from Chris Law, an SNP MP for Dundee, who has tweeted: ‘The Barnett Formula Myth Destroyed – it does not subsidise Scotland’. 

He bases this on a blog post by Gordon Macintyre-Kemp, leader of ‘Business for Scotland’, the sham business organisation which is nothing more than an SNP propaganda front.

It raises the question, yet again: if a separate Scotland would be so wonderful, why do Nationalists have to tell such blatant lies about it? 

An entire industry of nationalist memes, promoting blatant lies, has invaded the online sphere, with enthusiastic graphic artists, as well as those who can simply use a camera and editing facilities, deploying their skills in the service of their dishonest cause. They ply their trade by falsifying or cropping quotations to mean something other than what the speaker or writer was actually saying, or by simply telling lies. Three of these methods come easily to mind. 

#1 Cropped Tweets

We start with a meme attributed to Ruth Davidson, Conservative leader in the Scottish parliament, during the Scottish referendum campaign. This is accurate… as far as it goes. Ms Davidson was pointing out the indisputable truth, that voting yes for Scottish separation in 2014 meant leaving the EU. 

The EU Commission had already written twice to the Scottish parliament to affirm that, if Scotland left the UK, an EU member state, it would, at the same time, in March 2016, leave the EU. There was no mention of any deal being proposed between the EU and secessionist Scotland. The meme states ‘No means we stay in, we are a member of the European Union’. That is, the UK remains a member of the EU. As baldly as that. But Ms Davidson’s quotation has not been given in full, thus changing its meaning.

The true quotation is not so very different – except that Ms Davidson had included a crucial addition that is missing from the nationalist propaganda

…and yes if the Conservatives win the next election… we will allow people to have their say (in a European referendum). 

The possibility of a referendum on EU membership was in 2014 a known unknown, as Donald Rumsfeld, President GW Bush’s secretary of defence, used to say. It was even mentioned in the SNP’s 2013 White Paper, as a bogeyman to frighten people into voting for separation – not that Scotland leaving the UK would have kept it in the EU. David Cameron could not have been clearer, when he announced, in his Bloomberg speech on 23 January 2013, that, early in the 2015 parliament:

We will give the British people a referendum with a very simple in-or-out choice: to stay in the European Union on these new terms, or to come out altogether. 

In similar vein, the businessman and blogger Kevin Hague has had a meme extracted from his blog cropped and therefore falsified. It relates to the Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland (GERS) figures, which nationalists are determined to disparage and delegitimise.

Hague – who is a bête-noir of Scottish nationalists because he has destroyed any economic case they thought they had – is shown saying:

GERS can’t tell us what an independent Scotland would look like. 

This has been seized on by Nationalists, claiming that it undermines Hague’s anti-separatist stance and careful analysis. This quotation is, however, extracted from a much longer piece, in which Hague says, among other things:

The GERS figures provide the foundations on top of which any credible economic case for independence must be built. To those who claim ‘we wouldn’t start from here’, the question is ‘where would you start from?’. 

Where else is there to start from but where we are? As Hague says: 

To suggest that how our fiscal balance would look based on the taxes we’re used to raising and the public spending we’re used to receiving tells us ‘nothing’, ‘almost nothing’ or only ‘relatively little’ about an independent Scotland’s potential finances is frankly insulting to the intelligence of the reader. The figures tell us a great deal about where we start from and the scale of the challenge we’d face.

Cropping Hague’s blog in this way was a deliberate falsification of his argument and is an indication of how feared he is by nationalists. It is also an indication of how determined nationalists are to discredit the GERS, which is accepted as authoritative by any reputable economist.

#2 Doctored memes

This is where what has been said is deliberately distorted to support a dishonest Nationalist claim.

In 2019, Philip Hammond, Chancellor of the Exchequer, made his annual Mansion House speech, in which he said:

I cannot imagine a Conservative and Unionist-led government actually pursuing a no-deal Brexit, willing to risk the Union and our economic prosperity. 

He warned that a no-deal Brexit could pull the United Kingdom apart and would deprive Britain’s next leader of the money needed to end austerity. 

This was converted into a nationalist meme by the usual suspects to read that Scotland leaving the union

would deprive Britain’s next leader of the money to end austerity.

The scam that Hammond was saying that the rest of the UK would be seriously disadvantaged without Scotland’s financial contribution, is outright dishonesty, distorting and misquoting what Hammond actually said for nationalist propaganda purposes. 

#3 Downright lies

Then there are simple lies, such as Scotland paying for HS2 or Crossrail. It doesn’t.

The common Nationalist assertion that Scotland raises much more in tax that it gets to spend is often quoted in memes and was endorsed by SNP cabinet secretary Mike Russell.

However, Russell’s claims were shown by the Ferret Fact Service to be FALSE 

The true figures, from GERS, are below:

But the truth never matters to the Nationalist meme-maker, who simply moves the goalposts:

As a bonus point for those who disparage the GERS, here is the former First Minister’s view of GERS. 

#4 Irrelevant nonsense

Finally, there are memes like this that feed on Scottish exceptionalism as an attempt to show that Scotland is richer than it actually is. I’ll leave it to those who have more time on their hands to go through line by line, but its claims have little relevance to the actual economy, Scotland’s negative balance of payments, nor the £13 billion annual deficit that Scotland incurs.

These are but a small sample of the dishonest propaganda conveyed by nationalist memes to the faithful and to those whom they seek to win over to their cause. It needs to be stressed that the dishonesty involved in creating them is entirely deliberate. I see little reason to doubt that this deliberate dishonesty is encouraged by Peter Murrell’s SNP HQ. It is certainly not disowned by that office. 

Nationalists believe so fervently in their cause that, for them, the end really does justify the means. If achieving secession requires falsehoods and distortion of the truth, then so be it. But that leaves the question with which I started. If leaving the UK is such an attractive proposition, why can nationalists not tell the truth about its ramifications? 

Jill Stephenson is former professor of modern German history at the University of Edinburgh. Follow her on Twitter @2351onthelist

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Written by Jill Stephenson

Jill Stephenson is former professor of modern German history at the University of Edinburgh. She opposes breaking up the UK.

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