Look! There’s a dead cat bouncing out of Bute House…

Look! There’s a dead cat bouncing out of Bute House…

by Robert Kilgour
article from Friday 19, February, 2021

IRONICALLY enough it was a former campaign manager of the then Mayor of London Boris Johnson who first coined the name of the political strategy that’s probably had the biggest influence on the Scottish Government’s reaction to scrutiny of its performance during the pandemic – or the Scottish Parliament’s Salmond Inquiry. The First Minister and her cabinet have now become the UK’s foremost practitioners of the rather ignoble political practice of what Lynton Crosby called ‘the dead cat strategy’ to distract from and deflect criticism.   

As Crosby reportedly described it, “There is one thing that is absolutely certain about throwing a dead cat on the dining room table – and I don’t mean that people will be outraged, alarmed, disgusted. That is true, but irrelevant. The key point… is that everyone will shout, ‘Jeez, mate, there’s a dead cat on the table!’ In other words, they will be talking about the dead cat – the thing you want them to talk about – and they will not be talking about the issue that has been causing you so much grief.”  

For the Scottish Government the dead cat that just keeps on giving is of course the constitution.  

Devolved education system in decline?  

Don’t worry, there’ll be a referendum on independence soon – then we’ll fix things.  

Economic growth and productivity sluggish?  

Let’s talk about why that’s the UK’s fault.  

Covid business support from the UK Treasury not reaching companies quickly enough?  

Ah but there will be an indyref soon, saving us the trouble of having to pay out any such monies in future.  

We saw the same tactic used with naked opportunism recently. Days after former First Minister Alex Salmond accused Nicola Sturgeon of misleading the Scottish Parliament; on the eve of a national rollout of home-schooling that critics say the government hadn’t prepared properly for; and amid signs that the vaccine rollout was falling behind the rest of the UK – all Deputy First Minister John Swinney could think of to salvage the situation and distract from these issues was, when interviewed by the BBC, was to claim an indyref 2 was, “an essential priority for the people of Scotland” providing an “opportunity to choose how we rebuild as a country from Covid.” It had to be the stiffest, most dead feline of the year thus far. 

Often it will be a massaged poll showing nationalists in the lead; a new date for a referendum; a new energy company or promise to save this or invest in that – none of these issues have to be accurate or fulfilled, they just need to be controversial or big enough news to eat up oxygen that would otherwise go to the problem the SNP don’t want to talk about. 

It has no become so ridiculous that when Sturgeon is in a bind, people now Tweet Angus Robertson asking when his ‘latest’ poll will be in the papers? ‘Tonight or in the morning?’ Funnily, they are often right and it duly appears. 

Let’s be clear. For any government tackling the biggest global crisis in a generation to advocate breaking up the country this year or any time soon should be unthinkable.  

That it’s not – indeed that this line of argument is so wearily familiar here in Scotland – proves that we are somehow getting used to being ‘dead catted’ by a government that seems to put more stock in PR than actual delivery for the people it is here to serve. 

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Robert Kilgour, Founder & Chairman, Scottish Business UK. 


Image by Sveta_Aho from Adobe Stock 

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