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 worked 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. Conjecture is not fact.
Bloggers at loggerheads
It happened the other day between bloggers and an anti-SNP blogger. He penned a diatribe bewailing areas of outstanding poverty in Glasgow that not once mentioned Glasgow has had a Labour council govern it for decades well into this century. Nor was there any historical context to his argument, that, for example, Glasgow’s population numbers exploded when people fled from the Highland Clearances, forced to live on top of each other in poorly built tenements with no facilities.
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 had accepted subsidy money from JK Rowling. Free will had damn all to do with it. He’s an employee of a very rich woman. He has to deliver what she expects him to write. His reply to that accusation? His views are just his opinion. I’m sure if he’d chosen to write a critique of Rowling his grant aid would dry up overnight.
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. We should tell such people their opinion is unwanted. After all, we take umbrage when some two-bit English economist or historian from a third-rate university takes a day off in Edinburgh to tell Scotland it’s a small, ineffectual, awfully poor place, its entire existence dependent on London generosity. 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, people dispersed to central Scotland or abroad, is an historical fact. For the BBC to have on its Facebook page that those unfortunates who had their lives wrecked to make way for ‘progress’ is not a fact. It’s some idiot caption writer’s opinion, or possibly BBC propaganda.
The path to self-governance restored is strewn with loose opinion supposedly based on fact, when it’s clearly based on hearsay or lies. The lies pile up, and with enough repetition become truth.
In apology for vigorous debate we’re apt to say everybody is entitled to their opinion. Who will deny that solipsism? But we’re 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’re 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 demand definitions and source information before we engage opponents we encourage situations where truth is lost.
Pope Pail V warned Galileo that if he kept claiming the Earth revolves around the sun he’d be in serious trouble, punished for heresy. Which is exactly what happened. To escape rotting in a dungeon Galileo recanted his thesis and conclusion, he swallowed the truth, a terrible example to scientists ever since. It did him next to no good. 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. Galileo agreed with Copernicus’s theory that the earth went around the sun. Their calculations proved it. End of. 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
To politicians who forget they are elected representatives accountable to the electorate, freedom of speech shouldn’t include freedom lie or to subvert truth. Calling it diplomacy is just hypocrisy. They’re safer exercising 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.)