‘Capture them young’ - the watchwords of demagogues down the ages

‘Capture them young’ - the watchwords of demagogues down the ages

by Tom Gallagher
article from Wednesday 1, August, 2018

IT CANNOT HAVE TAKEN MUCH for Nicola Sturgeon to have talked one of the many compliant third sector groups into collaborating with her in a propaganda stunt with young people. On 12 September she will hold a special parliamentary session of Question Time in the Scottish Parliament for a hand-picked group of youngsters. 

I have been in the visitors’ chamber at the same time as school groups and I wondered what the bluster, enmity and partisanship that is so often part of this rancour-filled occasion was doing for their formation as young citizens?

This is just one of many outreach activities which the SNP is directing towards young people. Indeed we are about to enter ‘the Scottish Government’s Year of Young People’. As Professor Jill Stephenson has pointed out, it is part of the ruling party’s tireless effort to act as a ‘corporate parent’ for Scottish children.    

Dismal educational figures show that the SNP is not unduly concerned with providing a good education to enable those youngsters to thrive as adults. Instead it seeks to enmesh children with its own obsessions no doubt in the expectation that at least some will permanently embrace them. Thus it persuaded another state-funded NGO to set up a panel that would give the views of 8 to 18-year-olds on Brexit to the Scottish Government. 

One of the reasons why democracy across much of the West is in trouble is the fact that, increasingly, political establishments relate to citizens not as individuals but as part of groups.  The youth of Scotland are a strategic group which the SNP is keen to manage. The priority is to entice enough of them into the independence camp so that through time Scotland’s exit from Britain becomes unstoppable.    

Thanks to Baden Powell and the scouting movement, young people were encouraged to develop their personalities in constructive ways. Politics played little part and this is perhaps why authoritarian regimes were quick to suppress such groups that existed beyond the reach of the state.  

Sturgeon relates to kids and young people not as a scout mistress but as a commissar. She would appear to be urging young people to follow her own path. She has been in politics since the age of 16, which means that while still only 48 she has already been in politics for four decades.    

She is evidently relaxed about introducing politics into the smallest areas of life. This hyperactivity has been encouraged by the European Union perhaps to make up for the shrinking appeal of its own transformative project of a single European state.  But no ruling group in Europe is as intent as the political regime in Scotland to use groups and the institutions of the state as instruments designed to accomplish its main political objective.    

A Polish philosopher and former MEP, Ryszard Legutko has written The Demon in Democracy’ in which he argues that democracy is becoming the plaything of mobilised groups in order to secure what are very often a very narrow and unpopular set of interests.

He argues that there is increasing affinity between contemporary democracy and former communist systems due to liberalism having evolved into an ideology committed to major oversight over peoples everyday activity. He provides evidence for interest groups imposing agendas that intrude far into the private lives of citizens. They become the chief props of increasingly out-of-touch ruling parties. Language, gestures and thought are redefined in order to allow the march of progress to continue unimpeded even though fewer and fewer citizens see anything in it for them.    

There is an emphasis on public relations and the media to enable an optimistic message to be rolled out by the state even if alert citizens can easily spot the misrule and neglect in areas where the state is supposed to have central responsibility.    Ground down by successive policy failures ever since the 1991 Maastricht treaty made it a semi-state, the EU is nevertheless imbued with this missionary zeal. It uses, the media, the third sector, higher education and even big business in its effort to manage the European citizenry.    

Arguably it was Benito Mussolini (1883-1945) who, a century ago now, was the pioneer in encouraging citizens to take their lead from the state and its various offshoots.  

Despite the hype, he was a disaster as a manager of Italy’s affairs. Without any real knowledge of economics, he had a chaotic governing style. His twenty years in charge were lost ones for Italy.  

Yet an aura still hangs over his rule thanks to the energy he threw into propaganda at home and abroad. He even tried to bend science and culture to the fascist will, arguing that there was no room for independent thought.  Anyone who disagreed was howled down, pursued and sometimes killed.  

He was a charlatan who imposed his own bombastic personality on a country, grotesquely claiming to have unique insights into the challenges of the modern age.    

Equally inflated claims are now being made by apparent democrats who use the machinery of the state in similar ways to him. Critics of interventions into society, often involving prohibitive laws, can end up being dubbed ‘cruel’, ‘disgraceful’ or ‘un-scholarly’ (words directed at me by a nationalist much in the news last month) or whose online presence is sabotaged which happened briefly to the regular pro-Union blogger Effie Deans.  

It is necessary and absolutely legitimate to ask why there are similarities between the Scottish government under the SNP, the EU as it encounters headwinds on its historical long march, and authoritarian regimes of the past.  The need to do so increases when an incompetent government like the SNP’s tries to prolong its own life by capturing the unformed minds of the young. A harmful example of manipulation is being offered.    

Once again Nicola Sturgeon needs to cease using questionable means to realise what is an impractical goal, Scottish independence and, however reluctantly, get on with governing a country with huge and mounting problems. 

Photo: Alan Rennie

Tom Gallagher is a retired political scientist who lives in Edinburgh. He published ‘Scotland Now, A Warning to the World’, in 2016. His 14thsingle-authored book and debut novel, ‘Flight of Evil: A North BritishIntrigue’ came out in the spring.His twitter account is @cultfree54

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