I wear two hats when I write this blog of mine. First and foremost, I manage a small charity in a small Scottish town called Dumfries. Ours is a front door that opens onto the darker corners of the crumbling world that is Britain 2015. We hand out 5000 emergency food parcels a year in a town that is home to 50,000 souls. Then, as you can see from all of the book covers above, I am also a thriller writer. If you enjoy the blog, you might just enjoy the books. The link below takes you to the whole library in the Kindle store. They can be had for a couple of quid each.

Saturday, August 9, 2014


When you think about it, a big part of growing up is learning how to see through propaganda. From the very get go of our lives, we are bamboozled by all kinds of misinformation. Early lessons tend to be some of the hardest as we come to terms with the fact that our parents have sold us a line about Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy. Then we have to learn the tough lesson that most advertising is a big fat lie. Remember those times when your eyes would be seduced by a poster on the wall promising the biggest, juiciest burger you have ever seen only to be  presented with a shrivelled up excuse of thing? Remember how fantastic lots of toys looked on the tele ads and how desperately disappointing they were when you opened them up on Christmas morning?

My first official encounter with the nuts and bolts of the dark art came at the age of 15 in a shabby Blackburn classroom where my history master talked Stalin and Goebbels and the era of totalitarian propaganda. I was fascinated and had enough faith in my teacher to buy into the idea that this wasn’t the kind of thing we Brits would ever do. Did I buy into it with the kind of blind fervour a Hitler Youth fanatic would have shown? No. I can’t say that I did. By the age 15 I was already pretty cynical.

Then came Joe Strummer and Paul Weller and The Clash and The Jam and a reasonably rebellious youth and I was probably pretty cocky about being the kind of guy who would see through the propaganda of Maggie and her minions.

But I was wrong.

I discovered just how wrong on a summer holiday road trip to Eastern Turkey in 1981. From Calais to Konya, it seemed like there were posters of the slowly starving Bobby Sands on every vacant wall. I had been brainwashed into fully believing that Bobby was just another Irish nut job who deserved contempt. With hindsight I find it astonishing to see how duped my younger self had been. How could anyone fighting a terrorist campaign against US be seen as a freedon fighter? Well they could and Bobby Sands was.

Over the last 33 years I have become ever more cynical until I now find it hard to believe a word that comes out of any mouthpiece of the Establishment. I saw the lies they told about the City of Liverpool when it tried to stand alone against Thatcher’s wrecking ball. I saw the lies they told about the North when it became a police state in the time of the Miner’s Strike. I watched a quarter of a century of lies in the wake of Hillsborough.

Lies and propaganda. Propaganda and lies.

And now with 18 September drawing ever nearer, we are once again in the midst of vast swathes of misinformation and disinformation.

And opinion polls.

Propaganda is all about persuading people that what is plainly obvious and in front of their eyes is in fact not obvious at all. No Germans had ever met any of the evil looking hook nosed Jews depicted in Joseph Goebbels posters. Of course they hadn't. Nobody looks like that in real life. The Jews they had actually met looked and talked just like they did. And yet a barrage of propaganda persuaded them to disbelieve the experience of their own lives and buy into the evil visions of the Nazis. It was a hell of a selling job that laid the groundwork for Auschwitz when you think about it.

So what has that got to do with opinion polls about the coming referendum vote? I think quite a lot actually. No matter how many public meetings are packed out by the 'Yes' campaign, the major polls hardly ever move. No matter how many people wear ‘Yes’ badges or put stickers in the their cars, the major polls hardly ever move. Think about conversations you had six months ago. Things were very different then for anyone on the ‘Yes’ side of the argument. It was a perfectly normal thing to met lots and lots of people who would tell you they were in the ‘No’ camp and had no intention of moving anywhere.

Does that happen any more? Not to me. And doesn’t seem to be happening to anyone else I talk to either. Instead everyone seems to be having a very different experience. How many people have you heard say that everyone they talk to seems to be supporting ‘Yes’? I bet it is lots.

More and more people are also hooking onto trying to wrack their brains to see if they know anyone who started out as a 'Yes' voter only to move to the 'No' camp after checking out the facts. Have you heard anyone say something like this - 'My heart was telling me to vote for Independence but now I have taken a careful look at the facts, my head is telling me I have to vote 'No'. I bet you can't think of anyone. I certainly can't. Nobody ever knows anybody who fits this particular profile. But we all know plenty of folk who are taking the journey down the opposite side of the road from 'No' to 'Yes'.

But still those national polls never move an inch. 'Yes' is always a mile behind. 'No' is always a shoe in. And I think more and more people have got to wondering where on earth all these 'No' voters are to be found. They certainly aren’t wearing badges or fighting their corner in the pub or the works canteen. Are they in fact a vast hidden army? Or are they a figment of somebody’s hopeful imagination? Maybe they are like that supposed army of evil hook nosed Jews who Doctor Goebbels warned his fellow Germans about?

And yet despite everything, the propaganda still works and it still works on me.

Two days ago I picked up a tweet from Stuart Carroll reporting that a poll of voters in the South of Scotland showed that 'Yes' was a mile ahead. 48% Yes. 39% No. The poll was undertaken by Survation and it turned out that it was paid for by the Sunday Mail. My first instinct was to assume it was a skewed SNP poll and probably wildly optimistic. But then…..
All week, regional polls have been appearing from all areas of Scotland. ‘Yes’ is well ahead in the Highlands. ‘Yes’ is well ahead in the North east. ‘Yes’ is well ahead in Glasgow.

And then I had what is a pretty obvious thought. How would the poll have looked if it had been the first poll I had ever seen? Well, I guess it would have looked pretty well exactly like I would have expected it to look. Why? Because as I go about my day to day life it feels like ‘Yes’ is miles ahead. Everyone I seem to talk to seems to be revved up to vote ‘Yes’. In fact, had I never seen any other poll, I think I would have been slightly surprised by the fact that ‘No’ was scoring 39%. It doesn’t feel like 39%. Go on. Think of 10 people you know. Are 4 of them about to vote ‘No’? I bet you find it hard to name four. See what I mean?

All of which makes me feel petty certain that the national polls from the national newspapers are nothing more than desperate propaganda. Will it work? I doubt it. In fact, I think it will have the opposite effect to the one the 'No' commanders crave. It will make everyone voting ‘Yes’ even more determined to turn out and keep fighting. People will wonder just who the hell are the six out of ten people who are still determined to vote 'No'? They will assume these people must be from somewhere else because round here it seems like everyone is on the ‘Yes’ side.

I am confident that this will be yet another piece of failed propaganda which will backfire in the faces of those who have commissioned it.

We used to be told that the world was flat and we would burn in hell if we missed church. We used to be told that black people were genetically inferior to us and it was our God given mission to round them up as slaves. We were told that the Hillsborough catastrophe was caused by bestial, drunken fans who urinated on the dead. We were told that Saddam Hussein had the wherewithal and desire to hit us in 45 minutes flat. We were told that Jimmy Saville was a borderline saint and a charity hero.

In the end most big lies tend to fall apart. The lie of the national polls will be shredded on September 18th.

Oh and by the way. The South of Scotland is supposed to be the great Unionist heartland.....

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