ONE of the very few good things to come out of the 2021 Scottish Parliament elections was the return of Jim Fairlie as the member for Perthshire South and Kinross-shire. There is much to admire about the man. He’s my idea of what an elected representative should be.

His account of the litany of lies and broken promises which characterised the Better Together campaign for the 2014 referendum nicely illustrates his calm, clear-thinking manner (It’s the same old scaremongering every time we move towards independence, Feb 20). One comment in particular gets right to the nub of the matter: “Given their litany of broken promises, it’s staggering the pro-Westminster camp is seldom – if ever – challenged with searching questions about their prospectus for keeping Scotland under Westminster control.”

As I have been pointing out for the past eight years and more, while “Project Fear” may work well as an epithet for the anti-independence campaign and I would neither expect nor hope to change this, the British propaganda effort would be more aptly labelled “Project Doubt”. Without question, doubt was the British nationalists’ most powerful weapon in the fight to preserve the Union at whatever cost to the people of Scotland. It was doubt wot won it!

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It is extremely difficult to maintain a widespread state of fear for any significant length of time. It is not possible to even attempt this without attendant consequences that are unwanted and unpredictable. This should not be surprising. Fear is the primary driver of all human behaviour. It is a massively powerful force. An atmosphere of pure fear is as inhospitable to the human psyche as the void of space or depths of the ocean are to our physical bodies. Reactions to such an environment can range from extreme violence to a torpor of despair bordering on the catatonic. Fear is the nuclear option in the propagandist’s armoury. It should be used seldom and sparingly. It certainly couldn’t be the first resort of a three-year political campaign.

Doubt, on the other hand, is easy to engender and very difficult to eradicate once it has taken root. Doubt is almost self-sustaining. People can live with doubt in a way that is not true of fear. All it takes to plant the seed of doubt in the human mind is a question. This can be illustrated with an example which will resonate with pretty much every person born. Imagine you are going on a long-anticipated vacation. You’ve packed your suitcases, loaded the car, checked that you have tickets, passport etc and are half way to the airport when someone asks if anybody remembered to lock the back door. You KNOW you locked it. But regardless of how certain you are, doubt has been sown. It will not be eliminated by anything less than turning the car around and going back to check that damned door.

As Jim Fairlie observes, the British media seldom if ever questioned anything asserted by the British government or the British political parties are any part of the risibly named Better Together. Quite literally, they could say anything they liked and the British media would parrot it without the slightest scrutiny. Only the most outlandishly ludicrous claims – remember alien invaders? – were quietly set aside. And only after they had first been put out there to affect whatever minds might be susceptible to such transparent drivel.

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This was Project Doubt. The British propagandists knew they didn’t have to disprove any of the Yes campaign’s messaging or prove any of their own. They knew they need only generate doubt. Or aggravate existing doubt. People didn’t have to be persuaded of the benefits of the Union. Neither did they have to be convinced that catastrophe would ensue from a Yes vote. All that was need was a measure of uncertainty in enough minds to swing the vote towards the “safe” option of the status quo.

The corollary to all of this is that while doubt attends the Yes case, no such uncertainty may be allowed to similarly attend the No message. Hence the near total absence of any “searching questions about their prospectus for keeping Scotland under Westminster control”.

Just as the No campaign’s catalogue of deceit, disinformation and dishonesty becomes obvious when set out by Jim Fairlie in characteristically clear manner, so the reality of the anti-independence campaign’s methods is obvious once a little light is thrown upon it.

Even a cursory analysis of the tactics which ultimately worked for the opposing side offers valuable lessons that might productively inform the ongoing campaign to restore Scotland’s independence. There is no sign that the SNP has either conducted the analysis or learned the lessons. Jim Fairlie appears to have an inkling or more. But all outward indications are that the party leadership hasn’t a clue. Their whole approach to the constitutional issue is almost totally unchanged from a decade ago despite the tumultuous developments over those years. One piece of evidence will suffice to make the point. What was the biggest, most important question in the 2014 campaign? What question determined the nature and form of that campaign? What was the big question?


That was the question on the ballot paper. It is the question the SNP+SGP/Scottish Government proposes to put on the ballot paper in any future referendum. Bearing in mind that questions mean doubt as surely as points mean prizes, what is cast as dubious by this question? Have a wee think about that. I’m sure Jim Fairlie will.

Peter A Bell