Politicians generally don’t lie. The accepted wisdom is that they lie all the time, about everything; its almost a prerequisite for success in the cesspit of political life. They twist words and statistics, spin news to suit their agenda, avoid answering direct questions and carefully construct sentences which promote their schemes while skirting barely acceptable levels of honesty. But they rarely tell an outright, bare-faced, demonstrable untruth.
Personal integrity plays a part but the potential consequences of such actions – as history has shown – can be severe and would deter all but the most blasé politicians. Chris Huhne, Jeffrey Archer and Jonathan Aitken to name but three have all paid the price for their deceit and the dogged determination of the media to pursue the truth. Broadcasters and the press have been a safeguard against the excesses of self serving public servants. The question must be asked, in the most important debate in Scotland’s history, why our politicians have been permitted to lie regularly and with impunity without censure or reproach?
Government officials and MPs have access to data and information not generally available to the public. They are backed by institutes, academics and offices chock full of researchers. When they lie they know they are lying; they are not mistaken, they are not confused, they do not have the wrong end of the stick. They know. When unionist politicians claim that privatisation in England would not affect the Scottish NHS they know that is a lie. When they say Scotland could not use the pound they know they are deceiving you, me and everyone else, regardless of wether we intend to vote Yes or No. In another discussion at another time they would be brought to book and their deceit laid bare in the full glare of public condemnation but this debate is different; the media know the truth but publish the lie.
The media in the UK are powerful. They can make or break careers. They can affect election results. They can determine what we know and what we are allowed to know. They are still the main conduit of news to the public despite the rise of alternative sources such as social media which can suffer from misreporting and malicious posting. In this debate newspapers have knowingly published headlines which they knew to be false, the BBC have knowingly reported news they knew to be untrue; a consensus has been reached by the media and the establishment that the desire for Scottish independence is undesirable, wrong and must be attacked. The motivation for such complicity is ultimately irrelevant; reasons can be found. The willingness of those in power, those who control what we know, to demonise and attempt to subvert a democratic movement should worry us all.
Those intending to vote no may rejoice at having such power on their side. They may see the complicity of the media and the establishment as proof of their righteous cause and validation of their beliefs. They are right because they are told daily that they are right.
What if the powers that be decided they were wrong? What if their considered and educated opinion was deemed to be unacceptable? What recourse would they have?
We are right to be concerned about the effect of government cuts on the most vulnerable in our society. We are right to be concerned about the future of our parliament and the potential for loss of control within the union. We are right to be concerned about our health services, education and jobs. We are right about all of this but that may not be the most serious implication of a defeat of the independence movement.
When government and media conspire to subvert the truth, when they can lie with impunity and mislead the population then democracy is lost.
That may be the true cost of a no vote.