Did we get a fearbomb this morning? Or are we supposed to be still reeling from the news that Lloyds bank and RBS will have to move their headquarters to England if we vote for independence. Well I say ‘reeling’, it was more of a tsk and raised eyebrows saying “Och there they go again”.
Weren’t we told last week that our financial sector was too big and that made us too much of a risk for the UK Treasury to think about a currency union? So that means if the big risky banks move south then it’s a good thing, right? And this is some EU law isn’t it – but I thought we were going to be expelled from the EU … This fearbomb’s going the way of the last one, and the one before that. Even the directors of Z-list horror movies know that you can’t keep introducing new plot elements that contradict what you just said in the previous scene. That doesn’t make the fillum scarier, it just makes you giggle and eat more independence popcorn.
I feel hard done by if we don’t get a fresh fearbomb every morning because they don’t keep. They have a very short shelf life, and quickly go off, by which I mean rank, smelly and rotten as opposed to exploding and destroying all the yes votes in the vicinity.
So far the fear bombs have had the opposite effect to the one it says on the tin, they’re actually causing the yes vote to increase. It’s a bit like the MoD announcing they have a fearsome new weapon, drop it on the battlefield and it explodes into bijou cafés and flower gardens where British soldiers discuss the futility of war and start a peaceful campaign for democratic elections.
But really, this was all quite predictable. And oor ‘wily’ [or some other adjective denoting grudging praise] Furst Meenister knew that all along. That’s why he insisted on a long campaign. It’s all to do with a very basic feature of human psychology, habituation.
Years ago, when I still had hair and didn’t need reading glasses or driving glasses – the ultimate admission that you’re now an auld git – I studied anatomy. Human anatomy, deid bodies getting dissected and the like. The first class we had, a couple of students fainted, one threw up. But after a few weeks you’d go into the class to see a pile of human legs on a dissecting table and say “Och that’s gross,” then turn to your friends and say, “Here, have you got any more of thae sticky toffees? I’m a bit peckish.” The grossness of human legs had a very short shelf life, although they did lie on that dissection table longer than was probably necessary.
Of course, if I had walked into a room anywhere else and saw a pile of human legs, I’d have run away screaming as fast as my skinny legs could carry me, in case they were next to end up on the table. But anatomy labs are where you expect to see dead bodies, so they no longer occasion surprise, shock, or horror. And the lecturer did have an uncanny resemblance to Hermann Munster, which didn’t really help create a sombre mood on account of the muffled laughter.
The bodies used in dissection labs are donated by people who have left their bodies to medical research. No one was murdered or had their grave robbed. The dead bodies were no longer frightening, instead lessons were learned from them, and it was by learning those lessons that we showed respect for the wishes of the deceased who had donated their bodies. Burke and Hare are long gone, they moved south to safe Tory seats in Homecountyshire ages ago. There was no rational cause for alarm, but human remains are powerful, they provoke a strong emotional response. Emotions are not rational.
But the point is that even the most potentially fearsome thing on the planet – a pile of yer actual human body parts – loses its power to shock after repeated exposure, when it becomes expected. This is even more true when we find out that the human legs are actually waxwork models which on closer inspection don’t even look that real.
And so it is with Westminster’s fearbombs, which are nowhere near as fearsome as a pile of replica human body parts, and certainly far less consequential. We’ve come to expect fear and doom from Westminster and the UK media, and are now habituated to it. The scares have been seen to be fabricated so often that no one would notice even if there was some real meat in there lurking somewhere in the plastic and paint of a made up fright – although there’s far less meat in all the fearbombs so far than you’ll find in the average bridie. And they’re really not helping their own case by doing such a good impression of the Munsters.
Nevertheless, we can expect a lot more fearbombs in the coming months. It’s the only weapon Westminster possesses. In the run up to the referendum we’ll probably see a change in tack, and we’ll hear many more vague promises of unspecified jam. By this time, at least according to Better Together’s strategists, Scotland will be a quivering mass of jelly which will sook up any sop quicker than Alistair Darling fills in his expenses claims. But they have miscalculated the psychology of habituation.
Better Together has turned into the bitter auld guy who sits by himself in the corner of the pub, everyone knows he talks pish, and he’s been doing it so long that no one feels the need to humour him any longer. Project Fear may have total control of the mainstream media, providing a rich seam of daily scares for Westminster to mine, but the yes campaign has it trapped between older and younger strata – the oldest stratum of face to face campaigning, and the newest technologies of social media. We’ve already squeezed the life out of them and deprived them of room for manoeuvre. The pressure is only going to increase until Westminster is crushed. Every time they let off a fear bomb, a little bit of Westminster dies.
Listen closely, in the cracks of Alistair Carmichael’s voice you can hear the creaks of a cave roof that’s about to collapse. Meanwhile more and more of us are getting peckish for the sticky toffees of independence.