Saturday, January 7, 2012

Careful, Nick : automatic recourse to 'moderation' might just lead you to Calamity

I just happened to stumble across an excellent blogpost the other day detailing the most common logical fallacies. The examples used to illustrate each fallacy all relate to the bogus arguments deployed by proponents of a legal ban on sex work and/or pornography, but it was a very timely find given Nick Clegg's bizarre attempt to paint the huge number of people who believe in either independence or the status quo as 'extremists' -

"Mr Clegg said the Lib Dems vision of Home Rule represented the views of the Scottish people and argued that those who were for independence, or keeping the current constitutional settlement, were extremists.

“All the evidence suggests that is the mainstream of opinion and the extremists are those who either think that we need to yank Scotland out of the United Kingdom tomorrow, or those who say there should be no further change at all,” Mr Clegg said."

One of the fallacies explained in the blogpost is "Middle ground: the belief that the truth must be somewhere in the middle". Off the top of my head, here's an example...

Proposition 1 - Nick Clegg should be sentenced to thirty years' hard labour for fraudulently securing votes on the promise that the Liberal Democrats would vote against an increase in tuition fees.

Proposition 2 - Nick Clegg should be spared jail for fraudulently securing votes on the promise that the Liberal Democrats would vote against an increase in tuition fees, but should certainly be expected to resign forthwith.

Proposition 3 - Nick Clegg should be forgiven for fradulently securing votes on the promise that the Liberal Democrats would vote against an increase in tuition fees, and allowed to remain as Lib Dem leader for now.

In this instance, hard labour and forgiveness are clearly the 'extreme' options, which leaves resignation as the only moderate, reasonable, sensible course of action. And as Clegg is apparently keen to pray in aid the relative popularity of each constitutional option, it should also be noted that calls for his resignation represent 'mainstream opinion' in Scotland. Open and shut case, methinks - anyone who doesn't think Nick Clegg should resign immediately is clearly an extremist on a par with Nick Griffin.

Incidentally, I was intrigued to see in the Scotsman article that Clegg defines himself (rather like Ken Macintosh) as a 'devolutionist, not a unionist'. But at the Political Innovation conference just over a year ago, I clearly remember Caron Lindsay repeatedly insisting that the Lib Dems are a 'federalist, not a unionist' party. Whatever happened to that? Federalism and devolution are qualitatively very different concepts - albeit both very much unionist ones in the literal sense of the word.


  1. I suspect that the need to ingratiate himself with Mr Cameron has pulled Mr Clegg's federalist inclinations back to the Blairite vision of a parish council in each of the Celtic capitals.

    Maybe that would explain why Michael Moore was inclined to say, "No, no, no", to Mr Salmond's requests for more powers to deal with the economic problems facing Scotland. My initial assumption had been that he had felt himself overcome by desire to become a Thatcherite Tory, so that, later in this parliament when a suitable post became available, Cameron would promote him to a proper job within the cabinet...

  2. Besides the logical fallacy, the rhetoric is very tired. Extremism is a dog whistle for irrational and all the evils that can be summoned up in association with irrational, such as dogmatic, fanatical, and dangerous. For Unionists that always includes a hint that the SNP are fascists.
    No argument is made for the truth of soi-disant Home Rule. Its not said what this notion is or how so many people know about it. There is an (unsupported) assertion of 'evidence' - with the quasi-scientific implication of 'objective', disinterested, rational, and so on; and again the opposite implication of emotional irrational, extreme, just-possibly-fascist, etc etc.

    The rhetoric is really tired and old. And the logic is, as James observes, simply fallacious.

    Behind it is a deep fear of the word 'unionist' that comes from its association with Irish politics - and 'extremism'.

    This fear comes directly from Michael Moore, whose family background was in Northern Ireland, and who is clearly a Unionist Fundamentalist (on the evidence of his outright, hard-line, rejection of everything that has come his way from the SNP).

  3. You may be right there ratzo. I neglected to investigate Moore's background, assuming that either he was working on orders from above, or that he was doing his best to keep a good record with Cameron in the hopes of promotion, or of a safe Tory seat when the Liberals are no longer.

  4. Ken MacIntosh, Michael Moore and now Nick Clegg.

    We're not Unionists we're Devolutionists is the cry.

    It's funny how they dislike being labeled with the cause they're fighting for.

    It's also funny as committed devolutionists that none of them has come up with more devolved powers for Scotland to go in that empty Devo-Max option on the independence referendum ballot paper.

    There's nationalism and unionism. Unionism has two subgroups, devolution and federalism and for Clegg, MacIntosh and Moore to call themselves Devolutionists not Unionists is the direct equivalent of shouting out, "We're not birds we're ducks".

    Sitting ducks in this case.