I am beginning to notice a healthy air of justified impatience creeping into the ripostes and replies individuals dispense to the enemies of Scotland’s democracy. Reading for the umpteenth time Scotland is an economic basket case, and of no importance to humanity, the dismissive answer comes thick and fast, “That’s just your opinion”.
Supporters of civil rights embodied in self-determination are dismissing casual remarks and malicious abuse without engaging it – the best way to keep attention on real issues.
If on Twitter you might as well block repetition of bland, insistent opinion. They call that an attack on free speech. Well, if somebody broke wind in an elevator you’d take the first exit out, and use the stairs, wouldn’t you?
The same weary, beat up opinion is dragged out day after day. If there’s one thing unionists are short of it’s imagination. The character of their attacks is predicable. Whatever seemed to work last year must work this year.
Challenged, you receive this reply. “Well, that’s my opinion” – as though that in itself is all the justification needed, his opinion is fact. It most certainly isn’t.
Bloggers at loggerheads
It happened the other day between some bloggers and the anti-SNP blogger. He penned a diatribe bewailing areas of outstanding poverty in Glasgow that not once mentioned Glasgow has had a Labour council well into last century. Nor was there any historical context, that, for example, Glasgow’s population numbers exploded when people fled from the Highland Clearances, forced to live on top of the other in tenements.
His essay got a lot of attention and his family’s plight a lot of sympathy. His plea appeared honest if misguided. He had exercised free will expressing his opinion.
It transpired he gained subsidy money by JK Rowling. Free will has damn all to do with it now. He is an employee of a very rich woman. He has to deliver what she expects him to write. His reply to that accusation? “It’s just my opinion.”
Well why make shallow opinion public?
There has to be an element of arrogance behind the compulsion to cast your every banal thought to the crowd. After all, we take umbrage rightly when some two-bit English economist or historian from a third-rate university takes a day off in Edinburgh to tell Scotland it is a small, ineffectual, and awfully poor place, its entire existence dependent on London generosity.
That’s a prime example of an academic playing fast and loose with truth. They forget we have endured over three hundred years of England’s rule that has Scotland where it is.
BBC balance is not two people on a see-saw
The BBC has yet to understand that two opposing opinions do not guarantee balance and factual argument. There are some subjects about which two points of view are not equally valid. That thousands of Highland villages were cleared to make way for sheep, the people dispersed to central Scotland, or abroad, is an historical fact.
For the BBC to have on its Facebook page those unfortunates who had their lives wrecked that they made way for ‘progress’ is not a fact. It’s some idiot caption writer’s opinion, or possibly BBC propaganda.
I should know – three attempts to fund a drama about the Clearances were rejected as ‘too controversial’. The same happened over a docu-drama about the Skye Bridge protestors. One supposes a drama about a Nazi interment camp will be treated in the same manner – too controversial.
The path to self-governance restored is strewn with loose opinion supposedly based on fact, when it is clearly based on hearsay or lies. The lies pile up, and with enough repetition become truth.
Often in apology for vigorous debate, we are apt to add that everybody is entitled to their opinion. Fair enough. Who will deny that solipsism? But some are not entitled to peddle fiction with the excuse it’s only opinion.
And it’s a fatal argument to claim all opinions have equal weight and equal veracity. Opinions without factual evidence have no right to receive respect. They are worthless.
I think a sceptical approach to authority is a good thing, one which has motivated revolutionary change and high ideals. I’m the one, after all, to tell students to challenge authority in all its forms to ensure the people we gave it to – for a short-term! – are not exploiting it for their own ends.
Galileo had his opinion
If we don’t we encourage situations in which the Pope warns Galileo that if he keeps claiming the Earth revolves around the sun he will be in serious trouble, and punished for heresy. Which is exactly what happened – so to escape rotting in a dungeon, he recanted truth, a terrible example to scientists ever since. He still spent the rest of his life under house arrest. It took the Vatican 300 years to admit he was right.
It took Scotland over 300 years to … well, you know the rest.
As far as the Pope was concerned Galileo’s opinion had no merit against the word of the Church. Consequently, a sceptical approach to scientific fact is not at all admirable. It’s dangerous. I’ve always been of the opinion that when experts are agreed on a subject the opposite point of view cannot be held to be true. Galileo agreed with Copernicus’s theory that the earth went around the sun. Their calculations proved it. End of.
To politicians who forget they are elected representatives accountable to the electorate, freedom of speech may include freedom deliberately to lie. They will call it diplomacy. But they had better be on their guard. It also includes the right to be accused of lying.
If a politician’s mandate to implement his policies is eroded because public mood has changed radically, yet he or she is still in a position of influence, they had better exercise modesty, or look forward to spending a lot more time with their family. If they have one.
(This is my shortest essay in ages. Readers may be relieved. But that’s just my opinion.)