|Jackie Baillie - Treating voters like idiots|
I had me a little Twitter-spat last night with "Scottish" Labour MSP and Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Health, Jackie Baillie. Nothing remarkable in that, I hear you say. And it's true that Ms Baillie is one of the more irksome nonentities populating the seats at Holyrood which should be occupied by the opposition. But I surprised myself by the degree to which I was offended and annoyed by her interventions. In general, I regard politics as a pragmatic business in which emotions have at most a peripheral role. I tend not to get worked up about things, preferring reasoned analysis to emotional reaction. I think with my neurones and not my hormones. So what did Jackie Baillie say to push my buttons?
Looking at the exchange again in the cold light of day I realise that what pushed my buttons was the fact that she tried to push my buttons. What irked me was the way she tossed a figure into the discussion in full anticipation that it would provoke precisely the Pavlovian response that she wanted. It was the way she treated me, and by extension all voters, as if we are all shallow-minded simpletons that she can manipulate with casual ease. Most offensive of all, however, was the laziness of it. Such is her contempt for the people she is supposed to serve that she doesn't even consider it worth the effort to formulate an argument or prepare a defence of her position. She just assumes that nobody will think beyond the "trigger figures" that she throws at us.
In this instance it was one of Baillie's well-rehearsed, but ill-thought, pre-packaged sound-bites about alleged reductions in the number of nurses working in Scotland. A claim which is invariably associated with the phrase "patient care".
The context isn't hugely significant in this instance. What struck me was the way Baillie just took it for granted that (a) people would simply accept the figure and the assertion without question - despite her not entirely enviable record for accuracy and honesty; and (b) none of us mere plebs would have the wits to think beyond her own shallow analysis and ask "awkward questions". To what does this number refer? Is it nurses only? Or does it include others such as midwives? Does it refer to nurses and possibly others across NHS Scotland? Or does it refer only to those in hospitals?
What is the source of the figure? Where is the authority? What is this "reduction" relative to? In what way is patient care impacted? If staff numbers have in fact been reduced, to what extent is this explained by changes to the way services are delivered?
I could go on. But I think you get the point. It seems clear that Jackie Baillie has no more interest in such deeper analysis than she has genuine concern for either the NHS staff involved or the patients whose care she baldly asserts is suffering. It's all just grist the mill of "Scottish" Labour's bitter resentment at the loss of their entitlement at the hands of the SNP (Andrew Anderson Johann Lamont and the politics of resentment).
What Baillie offers is not a political argument or a policy critique informed by concern for the welfare of health service providers and users, but an angry lashing out motivated by bitter, irrational hatred of a political enemy with the arrogant assumption that the general public can be induced to join her in this intellect-free antipathy by the simple chanting of a well-worn mantra provided by her spin-doctors.
But Baillie is far from unique in this insulting assumption that the general public are a bunch of dullards to be herded like sheeple. The reason her trivial nonsense grated to such a surprising extent was the fact that it is representative of a phenomenon that I seem to have been encountering a lot in the British nationalist press lately. A low-grade propagandising that is offensive not most for its being total pish but for the effrontery of assuming that such palpable pish might be persuasive.
Arguably the most notable exponent of this use of "trigger figures" is The Telegraph's Scottish Political Editor, Simon Johnson. Another individual who imagines his own hate-fuelled idiocy to be the norm prompting him to treat his readers as hate-fuelled idiots.
Take this recent piece, for example Alex Salmond spends £370,000 on entertaining. Leaving aside the almost comically clumsy attempt to insinuate that the Scottish Government had tried to keep the information about it's entertaining expenditure secret, the article simply states the amounts spent as if it should be assumed there was something wrong in this. There is no attempt to put the data into any kind of context. No comparable figures for other periods or previous administrations are provided. Us dumb hicks are expected to respond with pre-programmed righteous indignation without ever asking any of those awkward questions that are the essential tools of the enquiring mind.
And just to prove that the foregoing was not merely a momentary lapse on the part of an otherwise competent journalist, Johnson is at his indolent, sub-tabloid inanity again today in a piece under the headline, Scottish civil servants get 'golden goodbyes' worth up to £250,000. Again, it's just trigger figures absent any context or analysis published in the expectation that they will provoke a given reaction among the mindless proles.
In both instances Johnson is aided and abetted in his insultingly simplistic string-pulling exercise by politicians from the unionist parties only too eager to put themselves in the same baw-heid bracket as Jackie Baillie by dutifully supplying an appropriate quote.
I am not an idiot. Unlike Baillie, Johnson and his Britnat quote-whores I don't imagine the people of Scotland to be idiots. I believe we are perfectly capable of dealing with complex issues in an informed and rational debate. I certainly believe we are worthy of being treated as mature, thinking people. I know we deserve better than Baillie and Johnson.