Readers of this blog will be familiar with the example of Alex Salmond's "We'd have been £8bn better off over the last 5 years" trope - repeated ad nauseam long after it had been shown to be complete nonsense. If you missed it I cover the detail of that calumny here > Alex Salmond's Shameless £8bn Lie.
Another striking example is the SNP's resolute refusal to acknowledge the 2012-13 Government Expenditure & Revenue Scotland (GERS) numbers published in March 2014 (6 months before the Referendum). Those figures didn't fit their chosen narrative and their response was so brazen as to be almost admirable - they just kept quoting the old figures instead. In fact this "carry on regardless" approach served them so well that they still maintain it even now, 11 months after the "new" figures were published.
Allow me to illustrate:
Stewart Stevenson (@zsstevens) is a highly experienced1 SNP MSP who appears particularly wedded to this approach of carrying on regardless of the facts. Stewart has over 4,700 Twitter followers and to his credit he engages with those who disagree with him. Today - after getting awfully confused about the difference between taxation and expenditure - he Tweeted me with the following
@kevverage Scotland's per capita deficit lower than UK;s. Success from moving money to capital investment.
— Stewart Stevenson (@zsstevens) February 27, 2015
Well now: that "per capita deficit lower than UK's" statement is demonstrably false. The table below summarises the only figures you need to know to follow this. They are direct from GERS (published in March 2014) and are completely uncontroversial; if you don't trust me see Footnote 2.
As anybody who's been paying any attention knows, Scotland's deficit per capita (of course including our geographic share of oil revenue) was about £500 worse than the rest of the UK in the most recent year's stats. In fact it's been worse in three of the last four years. It's probably also worth mentioning that these figures are of course before the crash in oil price; as I've discussed here there is little doubt that our deficit per capita will have deteriorated even further versus the rest of the UK as a result. That's not an observation I take great pleasure in; it's an unfortunate truth.
Now you might think he's just made a simple mistake; he's a busy man, maybe he missed the fact that GERS figures were updated 11 months ago. But then I recalled an exchange I'd had with him quite recently where I pointed him towards the up-to-date figures (this is part of a lengthy exchange in which you can see he was actively engaged and very specific about his definitions and source)
@zsstevens @Shinsei1967 @Haitch7 And spend £1,200 per cap higher too. Come on: we're not idiots.
— Kevin Hague (@kevverage) January 17, 2015
@zsstevens @Haitch7 are you a little out of date? Latest GERS Scotland higher per cap deficit > http://t.co/ht4wrISUuh
— Kevin Hague (@kevverage) January 17, 2015
So we'd had this exchange; he'd assumed he could bluff his way through and was caught out; the actual data was clearly highlighted for him. And yet today he goes and repeats the same falsehood. It's almost as if he doesn't really care about the facts.
In fact a quick search reveals his consistent willingness to assert facts that are contrary to published data: these two tweets are from August 2014, 5 months after the GERS figures above were published. This was in the heat of the indyref battle when surely all politicians were closely attuned to the figures on our economy? Do we seriously think he was misrepresenting this data by accident?
@iainmacwhirter @GordonMccaskill Deficit certainly illuminates failure of UK. Scotland's would, even worst case, be lower per capita.
— Stewart Stevenson (@zsstevens) August 8, 2014
@paul__stretton @BruceHenderson2 @YesScotland Deficit already lower in Scotland than UK. 7th ¬new
— Stewart Stevenson (@zsstevens) August 28, 2014
I particularly like his use of the phrase "even worst case"; to adopt that authoritative tone when you have such a loose grasp of the data demonstrates remarkable chutzpah - and not in a good way.
You might think he just has an unfortunate habit of making demonstrably false statements and failing to learn from his mistakes; but if that were the case how would he keep getting re-elected?
Of course the truth is more depressing and frankly more sinister than that. These Tweets are symptomatic of a wider malaise. Mr Stevenson is just one of many politicians (and campaigners like the odious Wings Over Scotland) who have discovered the effectiveness of choosing a few simple lies and sticking with them regardless of the facts. They've realised you don't have to be burdened by telling the truth; if you, your colleagues and your acolytes repeat a lie often enough it will penetrate the public consciousness, be simply accepted as a matter of fact.
Something needs to change. If you're not angered and outraged by elected representatives behaving in this way then you should be. If we've reached the stage where we just blithely shrug and accept that politicians are willing to lie when it suits their purposes then - well - then we get the politicians we deserve.
Incredibly when directed to this post the response from Mr Stevenson MSP was this
@kevverage @murdo_fraser Wrong again - Page 14 in Wee Blue Book has necessary references including A Darling.So in response to a post clearly highlighting and sourcing figures via GERS an SNP MSP cites the Wee Blue Book (as published by the notorious Cybernat Wings Over Scotland). Of course the Wee Blue Book uses 2011-12 numbers despite the fact 2012-13 numbers were available 5 months before it was published (and as I show above the two preceding years also show us running a worse deficit).
— Stewart Stevenson (@zsstevens) March 1, 2015
It would be hard to imagine a more striking demonstration of precisely the behaviour I am highlighting in this post.
If anybody doubts that the Wee Blue Book is hopelessly inaccurate I suggest you read this: Wings Over Scotland: An Apology
1. Stewart was elected to the Scottish Parliament in 2001. Between 2007 and 2012 he held the post of Minister for Transport, Infrastructure & Climate Change and - according to Wikipedia - when he was elected as the SNP member for Banffshire and Buchan Coast in 2011 "His 16,812 votes represents the largest share of votes cast in a Scottish Parliament constituency with 67.24%"
2. I've covered the GERS stats (their definition, evolution and interpretation) in painful detail in this blog. If you have the stomach for it you can lose yourself in the numbers here > Scotland's Economy and here > Yes or No: Makes No Difference. Fortunately the figures you need to know to follow this story are very simple indeed and can be sourced from the GERS report here