And so they collapse….

If Scottish Labour found the 2015 General Election a traumatic experience then they might look to result “achieved” by UK Lib Dems for some sort of solace.  Scottish Labour lost 40% of its votes but the UK Lib Dems lost two thirds of its support with some 4 million voters deserting like garden leaves in a strong wind.  The defeat wiped out  all but 8 of its MPs unwinding a generation of political advancement, and so, pushing its support back to where the party was in 1970.  Unlike Scottish Labour which can claim that it lost out to strategy of direct emulation of its polices and values there is no such consolation for the Lib Dems whose vote fled to Labour, Conservative, Green and, to their amazement UKIP.

Why did they do so well?  The answer to that is that the Lib Dems have core vote, a unique reference point in political moral psychology which protected them from achieving 0% of the votes instead of 8% of the votes. More in a moment.

Why did they do so badly?  The got badly lost in moral psychological space as argued here previously.  In the standard model they hooked themselves up to an unpopular Tory government in a time of severely mismanaged austerity and economic recession and were tainted by association.  The difficultly with this analysis is that the Tories won the election with an outright majority and became one of the first governments in a generation to increase its support election upon election.

The Tories are not screwed despite economic mismanagement of the economy because they didn’t cross the moral psychological red lines that Lib Dems crossed so spectacularly and ruinously.  If you are moralised anti-authoritarian voter who voted for the heroically anti-authoritarian Nick Clegg of 2010 with his opposition to tuition fees, detention without trial, the Iraq war the anti-terrorist state (you say security state) and general New Labour authoritarianism and reform (you say privatisation) of public services then you will strategically observe that all of this continued with Nicks’s enthusiastic support post 2010. Also you will strategically reason from your moral intuitions and emotions that the Labour economic policy that he supported in 2008-2010 was abandoned in 2010 by Nick was not a good thing. You saw that and voted UKIP this time.

Conservative voters, their moral intuitions unchallenged don’t strategically reason to not vote Tory, Lib Dem voters experienced cognitive dissonance as moral intuitions were violated, against, what was an identical policy and performance set as the Conservatives.  One goes up the other goes down, really really down actually.

Not everyone is running away, some 10,000 people (30% of the 2015 vote!) have decided to sign up.  A phenomenon also experienced by other defeated Parties.  The Lid Dems fill a distinct political psychological niche, a small one and it is that which they have fallen back to and the people who join now are the fundamentalists who share the same niche (moral psychological) space and want to sustain it.  The existence of this niche is probably some lower bound for the Lib Dems from which they can built out from and recover.

What is that niche?  This blog has referenced two theories of moral psychology, those of Jonathan Haidt with his moral foundations theory and those of Alan Page Fiske with his Social Relations Theory.  Both are work in progress but it is Fiske who explains the Lib Dems.  The Liberal Party of the 19th century stood for liberal values – democracy, legal equality, liberty, fairness as getting back what you contribute.  This Fiske calls EM (Equality Matching) and it is clearly moralised as a form of virtue. In addition 19th century Liberals supported markets and free trade and property rights when that was not the consensuses. Fiske calls this MP (Market Pricing) and some think these things moral necessities.  It is interesting that one of the candidates for the Lib Dem leadership wants to change the name of the party back to “Liberal Party”. There is a record in Government to remember (note the strong EM reference on rights) which needs to be offset a against  the VAT rise but what might be remembered is their bull in a China shop journey across moral psychological space.  Rob Labour in it Governance of millions of votes by invading their space.  Join Government and then shed the anti-authoritarian left votes so gathered to the SNP in Scotland in 2011 to give us the Referendum and Nationalist ignition, shed your anti-authoritarian votes in England to UKIP.  The combination plays to strengthen the Tories whose success threatens a Referendum on Europe and the SNP threaten a Referendum on the UK.  Threatening everything you valued.

What Just Happened?

So Scotland continues to fulfil its global function as the Large Hadron Collider of political psychology with the political electrons whizzing around at the speed of light crashing into each other with spectacular results and the creation of entirely new political structures.   If the Large Hadron Collider discovered the existence of the Higgs Boson particle provided vindication for the standard model of sub-atomic physics then is it possible that a new and powerful theory of political psychology called “the Moral Intuist Theory” which challenges the existing standard model of political accounting, can provide credible insight into the political earthquake which struck Scotland and the wider UK in the recent General Election.  In May of this year in Scotland the SNP won 56 out of 59 Scottish seats up from a total of 6 in the 2010 General election on the basis of threefold increase in its votes from 0.5 million to 1.5 million representing 50% of all votes cast in Scotland.  This result shattered a generation of Labour’s dominance in Scotland (vote share down from 42% to 24%) and left the Labour Party in the wider UK, in a crippled position in terms of obtaining an outright majority in the Westminster Parliament and, consequentially given the Conservative dominance in England, Labour’s entire British social democratic project is imperilled.  Additionally and not trivially, there may not be a Britain as the SNP translates its recent success into a call for a second referendum on Scottish Independence which it may win. Consequential indeed.

To add to the general sense of upheaval and revolution the SNP won the election on a clear policy of ending austerity combined with an even clearer policy of full fiscal autonomy for Scotland which would denude the Scots of the ability to pay for nursery education, primary education, secondary education, all the colleges and all the universities.  Source – here or here.  Intrigued?  Consider some political psychology? But first of course all of this earthquake finds explanation on the standard model – Labour complacency, SNP artfulness, Labour artlessness, contingency, fluke, mishap, error, charisma, big unexpected economic crisis, passion.  All essential to explanation of the revolution but incomplete, add in some cutting edge political psychology to discover why 50% of Scottish voters would have done epic harm to Scotland in order to save it.  Answer in a sentence: they have got some old time religion.

The work of the social psychologist Jonahthan Haidt posits a theory (Moral Intuism) and adduces evidence (Moral Foundations Theory) that can add to our understanding of “what just happened” and in his book the Righteous Mind he brings these ideas together under an intriguing subtitle “How good people are divided by Politics and Religion” that subtitle is the key to the argument below.  For Haidt politics and religion are forms of each other as they ground themselves in the same six moral Foundations:

  • Fairness
  • Harm reduction
  • Liberty
  • Authority (anti-authority and pro-authority)
  • Loyalty
  • Sanctity

The SNP did not get where it is today without building on these foundations with an intensity and ignition which now has now given their politics an entirely revivalist religious character as observed by many political commentators e.g. the estimable Alex Massie.

Moral Intuitist Theory (Moral Intuitists should skip this passage)

Two types of morality a. Ordinary common or garden – don’t steal, cheat, or lie or hit anyone.  Not very important in democratic politics b. Morality as far as politics is concerned is based on the Foundations above – the extent to which each moral calling appeals varies greatly.  Many feel one or two very strongly but most feel them weakly most of the time. Of the strong responders there is a clustering with those inclined to feel Fairness and Harm reduction strongly tending to feel the other foundations weakly.  Those hearing the siren call of Loyalty and Liberty tend to feel Fairness and Harm reduction weakly.  This gives us the left/right pattern which is everywhere in global politics. So we have a Moral Intuition and then an emotion about something being right or wrong and then we reason in support of the intuition.  Strategic Reasoning in support of the emotions and the emotions supporting a moralised worldview, some moral foundations resonate strongly other weakly.

In the Scottish context Moral Intuitist Theory provides and answer to central paradox of Scottish politics: formally voting patterns in Scotland track well to the left of England but when social scientists look narrowly and closely at the underlying values such as inequality and attitudes to EU membership the differences dissolve.  That’s what one would expect if politics was rooted in an inherited and truly ancient evolved psychology.

But how did the Haidtian moral psychology of the Scots process events and in turn create events?  That’s a key argument, they feedback loop between events and psychology?

  1. Labour in power for 13 years

The long period of Labour Government was characterised by core delivery on the Fairness and Harm Reduction Foundations but Labour supporters deserted the Party steadily during this period with five million people less voting Labour in 2010 than in 1997.  These were not the five million people the Party claims to have raised out of absolute poverty during that period but it does illustrate a critical weakness of the Left: it has three foundations Fairness and Harm reduction and, ruinously moralised anti-authoritarianism.  The left are all moralised anti-authoritarian some strong and some weak but all opposed absurdly to their own governance to a degree.  Strategic Reasoning of strong anti-authoritarians  – Iraq/PFI/Welfare Reform.  Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democrats tracked hard to Labour’s left for a decade denuding the Labour party of core support.  As the Lib Dems went into government in 2010 this same dynamic of anti-authoritarianism destroyed the Lib Dems and in Scotland this Labour to Lib Dem support crossed to the ferociously anti-authoritarian SNP (they don’t want the UK so how anti-authoritarian is that?).  An SNP majority in the Scottish Parliamentary elections of 2011 gave them a mandate for a referendum.

There is an interesting footnote here – Ed Miliband hoped that disaffected Lib Dems would return to Labour in 2015 to give him electoral victory in the UK.  Some did, but a sufficient amount went to UKIP in honour of their anti-establishment credentials.  Same process as above.

  1. SNP to Labour displacement Strategy

See here, the SNP pursued a relentless colonisation of Labour’s moral Foundations over 15 years, striking out from their core of In-Group Loyalty and Scottish Freedom (Liberty) to attempt to displace Labour on Fairness and Harm Reduction.  This strategy took a fanatical turn in the recent elections when the SNP waited until Labour had published and then issued the same manifesto.

N.B.  Labourites complain of the injustice of the Lib Dems tracking to Labour’s left and gathering votes whereas Labour built schools and hospitals and improved the social condition.  In Scotland there is the same complaint – the first two Scottish Labour governments have record of delivery on Fairness and Harm reduction and the SNP minister could not point to a progressive policy in the 8 years of governance when interviewed.  Moral Intuist theory points to the (long suspected) utterly emotional and irrational nature of political reasoning.  The SNP and Liberal Democrats were able to do epic harm to Labour by pressing the moral foundation buttons harder, more frequently and with more rhetorical passion.  Words are what matter, working families tax credits do not.

  1. Economic Stress from 2009

Haidt’s Loyalty Foundation is not a reference to loyalty to one’s broadband provider but Loyalty to the In-Group.  All civic nationalism and uncivic nationalism is founded here and what in the old days (the fabled environment of evolutionary adaptedness) stressed the in-group, was usually the depredations of the out-group.  The folks from over the hill are invariably the source of our distress.  In England UKIP took an eighth of votes after seven leans years of falling incomes with a two foundation morality Loyalty and Freedom (from the EU).  If virtually no one voted UKIP in Scotland then which Party was the beneficiary of the ancient dynamic of hugging the In-Group in times of stress?

  1. Solidarity isn’t a Moral Intuition

Labourites are aghast at the repudiation of pan-UK solidarity by almost half of their voters in May 2015 but Haidt offers an insight here.  The Fairness foundation in which Labour believes solidarity to reside is not monolithic, different people process Fairness in different ways – Conservatives, he observes agree that Fairness is getting back out what you put in.  The political philosopher George Lakoff has analysed what Fairness can mean:

  • Fairness as redistribution
  • Equality of opportunity
  • Procedural distribution – playing by the rules
  • Rights based fairness  – you get what you have a right to
  • Needs based fairness – the more you need the more you have right to
  • Scalar distribution – the more you work, the more you get
  • Contractual distribution – you get what you agree to
  • Equal distribution of responsibility – we share the burden equally
  • Scalar distribution of responsibility – the greater your abilities the greater your responsibilities
  • Equal distribution of power – one person, one vote

That first definition of Fairness as redistribution means within the in-group.  Our psychologies evolved over millions of years when there were no flows of fish and spears from the folks over the hill and we sure as heck didn’t offer needles sand pots to them.  That makes sense, the United States could not hold if Californians were in a constant state of umbrage over the outflow of fish and spears to Alabama The entire basis of the Labour case for the Union was simultaneously valid, as in 2015-2016 the Scots have their education system courtesy of the UK inflows, but critically there is no psychology underpinning this solidarity as a form of Fairness in respect of a moral worth or moral value which should be venerated.  That is why it was lost.  Pan UK solidarity is for the rational, the higher brain, for the blog or for the seminar or policy paper, it has no underlying emotional support.

5a. Referendum – Labour/Unionists make catastrophic error

The Referendum was the seismic event which reset Scottish politics.  The SNP leader wasn’t wrong to quote Yeats “all is change, all is changed utterly”.   The Unionist Better Together campaign luxuriated in a 70-30% lead in 2012/2013 so decided that the SNP would be more comprehensively beaten by beaten on its own premise – what is good for Scotland.  The welfare of everyone else in the UK and the wider world could be forgotten and the welfare of the Scots was all that mattered.  The effect of this was to collapse the moral basis of the Unionist case and a further undermining occurs when the Unionist had a rational argument with SNP emotional argument on grounds the Unionists themselves didn’t agree with.

At the moral psychological level the Unionists ceded the In-group loyalty to be Scotland and not the UK and this combined with Identity (see below) re-cast the debate in SNP terms psychologically.  The level which matters

5b. Referendum – Identity Question resets loyalty foundation

The Unionist error above was compounded by the central driver of the nationalist upsurge: Scottish Identity versus British Identity.  A blog post here made the case that the voting dispersion in the Referendum is entirely identity based with only two notable exceptions, pensioners worried about their UK pension and long term welfare dependents seeking to escape their poverty by moving to a new country.

As of 2014 one survey found that Scots identity looked like this

Equally Scottish and British 31% More Scottish than British 26%
More British than Scottish 5% Scottish not British 24%
British not Scottish 9%
Other description 5%


This spilt is almost 50/50 but the “More Scottish than British” category is soft in terms of SNP support possibilities.  The referendum required each to vote in terms of this identity, a dynamic deepened by the Better Together campaign authorising “what is good for Scotland” as the only criteria.  Recall that Moral Intuitist theory suggests that voters proceed from the emotion to rationalisations of the emotion and then the vote.

40% of labour voters voted Yes in the Referendum on the basis of identity, shattering pan-unionist Solidarity which as noted above was a weakly held rationalism and not a powerfully underpinned moral foundation such as in-group loyalty.  Those 40% of Labour voters, their in-group loyalty having been reset went on the vote SNP and rationalised this on the basis of the SNP colonisation of Fairness and Harm Foundations.


6.Nationalist Ignition and Religious Revival

If a Haidtian process is underway, that the in-group is reset as Scotland and all other Moral Foundations in turn reference Scotland then it should be expected that emotion follows and then strategic rationalisation of those emotions should follow in turn.  The political researcher Geraldine O’Riordan found exactly this in a series of focus groups for TNS.  She found a tide of emotion around Scottishness: “ the huge growth in SNP support is driven by emotion and identity, rather than dispassionate logic”  in her focus group  “Full fiscal autonomy doesn’t come up once in three hours”  (The awkward fact that Scotland cannot fund its entire education spend).  Not one a hundred people who voted SNP choose to know or understand this: intuition first then emotion then rationalisation and then strategic reason which fits the facts that the support you intuition and ignores those which do not fit.

The SNP surge is explicable in Haidtian terms, in its colonisation of Moral Foundations of politics for that one half of Scotland who accept its definition of the In-Group.  The religious revivalist nature of the surge (100,000 new members in 2014) is due to capture of the high moral ground.  Look again at the Foundations

  • Fairness – captured from Labour
  • Harm reduction – captured from Labour
  • Liberty – ownership of Scottish Freedom
  • Authority – SNP reaps all moralised anti-authoritarian votes in Scotland and from its position of being the Scottish government it reaps moralised pro-authoritarian votes
  • Loyalty – in group loyalty Scotland not UK
  • Sanctity – wrap oneself in the Saltire and repeat the word Scotland 30 times per day as a daily incantation,

Additionally the SNP is able to posit a secular Heaven: the new Scotland will combine Nordic Social Welfare with Singaporean economic dynamism.  The religious revival is complete.

After the election the UK Prime Minister refused the policy of full fiscal autonomy as it consequences would be too harsh, even catastrophic.  He knew that the Scots didn’t mean to harm themselves and insisted upon their receipt of the unknown UK solidarity flows. This was exactly the inverse of what the surge the revolution was supposed to achieve.

Politics in Scotland is now stripped back to its emotional core, more disconnected from rationality and more attentive to identity than perhaps anywhere else in the world.  How can it end well?


Pending……A Political Displacement Event in Scottish Politics?

Profound political events afford us an intriguing insight into more fundamental political processes at the psychological level.   One such event appears to be underway currently in Scottish Politics with the SNP predicted to completely dislodge Labour from its dominant position in Scottish politics at the May 2015 UK General Election.  The polling evidence suggests that the election (conducted under First-Past-The-Post) will see the SNP convert a vote share of 46% to 46 seats up from 6 in 2010 with Scottish Labour falling from 41 seats in 2010 to dozen or so in May 2015.

An event on this scale would be a political earthquake measuring 9.1 on the political Richter scale.  The 2015 General Election would be followed by the 2016 Scottish Parliamentary elections, where the polls also suggest a major win for the SNP.  It would be hard to deny that the conjunction of these two events would amount to anything other than a displacement event.

Displacement events have a recent track record in British politics when following the Good Friday Agreement which ended the civil conflict in Northern Ireland, the two political parties which led the peace process have been completely eclipsed by fundamentalist parties who did not initially wish to by party to the process.  The catholic/Nationalist SDLP initiated the peace progress and were joined by the Ulster Unionists on the Unionist/protestant side of the divide.  Now some 16 years later the Ulster Unionists (who brought peace to Ireland) struggle to exist having been eclipsed the more fundamentally Unionist and hard-line– Democratic Unionists.  With the SDLP fighting for survival in the nationalist community against a dominant Sinn Fein (who brought war to Ireland).  Two allied but contemporary displacement events which evince absolutely no prospect of reversal any time soon.

The trigger for these two displacements was trauma of the peace progress and the abandonment on behalf of SDLP and Sinn Fein of the immediate objective of Irish Unity and decision of the Unionist side to break with “democratic” principle and share power with a minority, some of whom had clearly been in arms against democratic politics.   The SDLP had four foundation basis in Haidtian terms In Group Loyalty (Ireland), Freedom (Irish Freedom), Harm reduction and fairness in its Social Democratic politics.  Sinn Fein had only the first two of those in its long history but learnt from its participation in democratic politics to inhabit the same Haidtian space as the SDLP, that combined with trauma of peace making resulted in a displacement of their SDLP competitors.  On the Unionist side the Ulster Unionists had two foundations – Authority and In Group Loyalty, but the peace-making trauma led to the selection of the Democratic Unionist whose identical two foundation morality was held more deeply, more viscerally.

Is the same thing happening in Scottish Politics?  Few would dispute that the Referendum was a process of monumental political import which shook Scottish society (not to mention the UK political elite) to its very core.  The defeat of the SNP’s Independence proposal and the loss of its defining political objective might be considered politically ruinous but in fact the SNP emerges from the defeat as the strongest force in Scottish politics and is poised to become the third biggest party in the British state playing the role of political kingmaker and preventing the Labour Party from ever forming a majority government ever again at the UK level.  The similarities between Sinn Fein’s and the Democratic Unionist ascendancy in the face of the defeat of their political programmes is striking.

The sheer scale of the SNP support suggest that they are winning in both the ways in which Sinn Fein displaced the SDLP and the Democratic Unionists displaced the Ulster Unionists.

From the birth of the SNP until the early 2000s it had a typical nationalist two foundation Haidtian profile – In Group Loyalty and Freedom (national freedom).  However, since early 2000 in response to poor electoral results there was a determined and purposeful push into Labour territory when the SNP took on a distinctly Social Democratic hue.  See how this move into Labour space changes and impacts Scottish Labour

Labour to SNP Comparison to 2003

Labour to SNP Comparison to 2003 (2)

Labour to SNP Comparison from 2003

Labour to SNP Comparison from 2003

This colonial manoeuvre  has reaped rich rewards ever since.

The surge in SNP activism and morale is the equivalent of the Democratic Unionist displacement of the Ulster Unionists.  Scots who believed in Independence or voted Yes in the Referendum or feel Scottish and not British are re-stating and deepening their In Group Loyalty and belief in Scottish Freedom because of the Referendum and shock and their dismay at their defeat.   Politics works at the level of intuition and emotion, not rationalism and we reason in support of the emotions.  The origin of the 45% lies in part (as previously argued here) that the No campaign offered a rational argument against an emotional one (rationalised of course).

The SNP surge is so pronounced because multiple Haidtian dynamics are taking place at the same time.  But as if things weren’t bad enough for Scottish Labour a core component of left wing moral psychology explodes in their face as the hard left, full of moralised anti-authoritarianism defects to the position which would most alienate in group authority – Independence for Scotland.   What is the relation of anti-authoritarianism to Fairness and Care/Harm?  Events in Scotland suggest something like this:

Moralised Anti-Athoritarianism

Three political anti-authoritarian  movements have taken place simultaneously.  Firstly, theLib Dems implosion as previously noted, the detachment of the anti-authoritarians disaffected from Labour by its recent stint in Government, to the Lib Dems and then in turn the inevitable disillusionment with the Lib Dems in Government to support for the SNP.  The SNP are in Government in Scotland but hostile to UK In Group Authority by definition.  Adding to this movement are the Greens and the newly energised Hard Left of the rampant Radical Independence movement.    The formal repudiation of UK level solidarity, community and responsibility by so many on the left is more evidence for the above diagram with Fairness and Care/Harm as values being not independent (to coin a phrase) of moralised anti-authoritarianism.  T


Trying not to cross the line from political psychology to politics proper but it is fascinating to note the contradiction between SNP’s advocacy of Independence, and the potentially catastrophic effects of a Yes vote in the Referendum and the fall in oil price in early 2015 combined with the costs of building a new State along with the loss of Union related jobs in defence and the civil service and the rise in the SNP support to stratospheric levels.  Now the central claim of the SNP that with Oil revenues greater than $100 an Independent Scotland was fiscally viable is correct – ask the BBC ,but also note that Oil revenues account for 10-20% of Scottish tax revenue.  The fall in the price of Oil to $60 denudes Scotland of £5 billion according to the Office for Budget Responsibility  but this loss has to be added to the loss in Union jobs from UK institutions and the cost of setting up a new army, social security system, welfare system and so on…estimated at £2.7 billion by the LSE.   This accumulation of costs would have amounted to an £8.7 billion bill to the Scotland which was estimated to become Independent next year.  See the graph to get sense of the catastrophe that would have been underway if there had been a Yes vote

Graph (1)

The hit would have been greater than the hospital, pensions or education budget, greater than the social services budget and defence budget combined.  Any assessment of these numbers would be incomplete if there was no factoring in of the economic panic wave caused by these numbers.  An epic of social distress would have ensued.

“SNP set to win 56 out 59 Scottish Seats” because politics is moral psychology, the alliance of moralised In Group Loyalty and moralised anti-authoritarianism sees the complete inversion of the standard political model: support for parties is a function of policy success or the intellectual vanquishing of their opponents ideas.

A Clash of Sacralities in Paris

The horrific terrorist attack on the offices of Charlie Hebo and a Jewish shop in January provoked a remarkable and notable response from the people of Paris and the wider French population,  in towns and cities all across France, as they took to the streets in their millions to express their condemnation and revulsion (ordinary common or garden morality rather than Haidtian morality) at the attacks.  Also evident in their response was a determination to re-state some values which at some important level are considered sacred in France – liberty and freedom of speech and expression.

That second dynamic is interesting as it mimics the professed motivation of the killers of the journalists – that Charlie Hebo’s satire had insulted the Prophet Mohammed in a literally sacrilegious way.

Of the several moral foundations which Haidt identifies Sanctity is the one which appears to play the least in the politics of developed countries.  A notable exception to this notion of sanctification might be the national flags of countries which is illustrated by the practice of flag burning, actually the almost total absence of flag burning.  Burn your nation’s flag in public and you almost certainly risk assault and arrest.   The sanctification of the national flag and its roots in our moralised psychologies where it appears to enjoy its own separate foundation (Sanctity) and as such appears to justify some exceptions to the scope of our freedom of expression.  (If you are burning your countries Flag some may congratulate you but they are likely to be like you, at the far end of moralised anti-authoritarianism). In developing countries and states based on explicit religious objectives – Israel, Saudi Arabia or Pakistan for example the moral foundation of sanctity is overtly expressed in law and constitution.

The glorious response to the attacks in France saw the reassertion of the Republic’s values of liberty, equality and fraternity or in Haidtian moral foundations theory terms, Freedom, Fairness and In-Group loyalty.  Haidt believes that these values can be held so dearly that they can be sacralised in themselves and that was evident in the commentary and the mass demonstrations.  The re-assertion of Liberty (freedom) was particularly marked in the public reaction.

Some commentators expressed disquiet though about whether the terms of Charlie Hebo’s satire had crossed the line into racism and Islamophobia.  If that was the case the transgression can only take place under the cover of the sacred.  The Moral Foundations of our reasoning can have perverse outcomes and not just in militant Islam.

The Greek Tragedy and the Misfiring of Politicised Moral Psychology

When a politician says something crazy you know that that have been radically misinformed by their moral psychology.  Sometimes comments come in such perfect contrast they illuminate perfectly, opposite but matching errors with the same moralised roots.

In the Guardian online a  video talk emerged of Yanis Varoufakis the new Greek Finance minister speaking in his earlier professorial mode in 2014, were he confessed to his “erraratic Marxism”.  He offered us the view that that “wealth is created publicly but appropriated privately” – classical Marxism of course, which is one tenet he appears to subscribe too in a talk, which to be scrupulously fair, also expresses some skepticism of other Marxist shibboleths.

The Yin to Varoufakis’ skeptical Marxist Yan is the German Finance Minister telling us today that “”The problem is that Greece has lived beyond its means for a long time and that nobody wants to give Greece money any more without guarantees,”  Mr Schaeuble said.

Living beyond your means and appropriating wealth that is collectively owned are stern charges indeed; moralised charges born of an intuition that some things are fundamentally right and others are wrong.  This creates an intuition which drives an emotion which drives reasoning and rhetoric so if you are a Greek fishmonger you are in a tough place, apparently you are simultaneously appropriating other people’s wealth and living beyond your means whilst selling shrimps.

The woes of Greek fishmongers do not end there, in addition to the above gross moral turpitude that apparently inheres in being Greek and being a fishmonger they are governed by two ridiculously misfiring moralised political psychologies.

The easy one first: Professor Varoufakis references fundamental Fiskian Communal Sharing and valourises, venerates and reveres this ancient social model in such a way as to bend the reality of the fishmongers effort to one of theft and appropriation.  No selling of fish in a market stall 100,000 years ago when our (moralised) psychologies evolved, only collective fishing and collective sharing of the fish, so that must be the only moral path in Greece in 2015, obviously.  To be fair once again the Varoufakis he does not evince the standard leftist moralised hostility to Market Pricing relations expected of a full blown Marxist.  You hear it here first the Syrizia government if it survives at all in Greece will split on this very point, with Varoufakis going back to the University to write a book ignoring his moral psychology, thrown out because he is insufficiently  hostile to MP.

Mr Schauble?  First a thought experiment, of the 80 million Germans how many think that the problems of Germany in the 1920s were that they were living beyond their means?





We don’t need to exclude Germans under 10 from the question because of its relative simplicity.  See the graph, when German wealth sank by a quarter was the issue that too many Germans were living high on the hog?  Or did the German state collapse into barbarism because of unemployment and poverty and the economic ruin of the middle class?  Include 5-10 year old Germans if you like…

Mr Schauble looks at this graph, actually he almost does not, but his briefing papers at the German Finance ministry tell him of the 50% youth unemployment in Greece, one in four work less Greeks, the one in three Greeks in poverty, the 25% GDP collapse (not compared with Weimar in the Ministry you can be certain), oh yes and the debt….down since they tried to live within their means after the 2012 bailout authored by Mr Schauable?  No the debt has exploded to Euros 340 billions.  Every day the Greeks live further and further beyond their means.   If the unemployment rate was 35% instead of 25% would the Greeks learn to stop living beyond their means?

Mr Schauble and Mr Varoufaki’s bothe reference Communal Sharing but with the typical left right split which does nor make one right and one wrong but makes them both wrong.  They share category error, in Communal Sharing it was moral to collectively fish and share the proceeds,  but those who never fished and only borrowed fish on the promise of paying back in mussels but failed to do so were morally dissolute.  The morally dissolute must be punished. So we have twin absurdities:  Greece is borrowing fish and not supplying the promised mussels and so must expect moral opprobrium, and for the Greek Finance minister the person who traded the collectively fished fish for mussels is appropriating publicly fished fish.

Two atavisms bearing no relation to the complexity and reality of 21st century economics. There is a liquidity trap in a way that there wasn’t in Greece in 4000 bc , there is public debt now but not when our psychologies evolved, fishmongers are not stealing from anyone, indeed the provision of fresh fish in our communities is a good thing.  No one thinks they are collectively producing in Greece, austerity cause a downward cycle of panic now but did not exist in the early Neolithic when Schauble and Varoufakis ancestors’ screwed up moral psychology were just getting going.

Pity Greece.








Moralised Pro-Authoritarianism – Collectors’ Edition

Sometimes there are those perfect moments in politics when the foundational moral intuitions which support the superstructure of politics are laid bare for all to see in their stark rawness.   The archaeologist digs layer by layer to find the foundations of the discovered ancient site.  The layers are peeled back and eventually the original foundations can be revealed and identified, often times the site is much older than previously imagined.  Political Conservatives have the sense that their own in-group, culture, identity or (and this is a fairly recent technology) the Nation ought to command our esteem on the basis of its inherent moral worth or value.  They have, in other words, a moral intuition that properly constituted authority is a social good.  Over time of course their beliefs about what properly constituted is, has evolved through hierarchy to feudalism to monarchy to democracy.

Now when the Senate Intelligence Committee reported on the CIA Detention and Interrogation programme revealing widespread abuses amounting to torture the response from the Conservative news broadcaster Fox News on the day of the release of the report induced the type of shock and cognitive dissonance associated with foundational moral intuitions about the moral goodness of the United States being cast aside.

See an instructive two minutes here

Torture is “depravation and water boarding and so on an so forth”, “playing Christina Aguilera and water boarding” and the “United States of America is awesome”.  The flip side of seeing moral worth in your in-group is seeing the depravity of your enemies with crystal clarity.  If there have been failings then the cause of the failings is the wickedness of the enemy.  Of course the North Korean government justifies its own use of Detention and Intelligence on the basis of the moral actions of a just authority defending the state against it’s evil enemies.  North Korea however does not have a Senate.

This Fox News revelation of ultra strong moralised pro-authoritarianism attitudes is not typical of political Conservatism, even in the United Sates. There must be with all these intuitions a spectrum with some Conservatives weakly pro-authoritarianism and others more strongly so.  Strong enough in total though to fundamentally shape right wing politics and attitudes everywhere and at times.

On the left as observed in an earlier post on this blog and here that the political left is characterised by the inverse process of strongly and weakly represented moralised anti-authoritarianism.  Strong moralised anti-authoritarianism is famously represented by Noam Chomsky, perhaps the most famous social scientist in the world.  For Chomsky unlike Fox News, the “United Sates is a terrorist superpower” and “whatever the establishment is, I’m against it”.

The theory of moral intuitions hold that people reason to support their emotions and emotions in turn support moralised intuitions about right and wrong.  A recent news story perfectly illustrated both this point and the pro/anti authoritarianism dichotomy of the left right split.  The biggest news story of the 21st century was the decision of the US and some allies “a coalition of the willing” to invade Iraq on the basis of its possession of weapons of mass destruction.  In the immediate aftermath of the invasion and for some years afterwards no weapons were thought to be found and the left critics of the war rejoiced, reasoning that an inherently corrupt in-group authority had been exposed in its corruption and malevolence, the possibility of honest error being excluded. On the right this  difficulty was over-looked and many American rightists were simply happy to assume that they had been found using a sort of fill in the blanks confirmation bias.

In Autumn 2014 the NYT reported that Chemical Weapons had indeed been found but the liberal NYT asserted but that they did not constitute as justification for the war in the terms set out as the program found was an old one and not a new one as alleged before the war.  Broadly the left refused to acknowledge the find in spectacular display of confirmation bias in not seeing what you choose not to see.  If authority didn’t lie then we don’t want to know.  The response of the right was more muted and more interesting. One commentator (weakly pro-authoritarian?) saw vindication but most on the right stayed silent. The reason for this was the fact that weapons found had been made by technology supplied by the US when Iraq was a US ally against Iran in the 80s.  Bad news for the moralised pro-authoritarians: the US supported a genocidal tyrant with the means to make weapons of mass destruction.

The story died, the prospective vindication of the single biggest even in the 21st century was homeless.  The left didn’t want them found and the right didn’t want US weapons whose creation they facilitated found. No one wanted this news, or hardly anyone wanted this news suggesting that Haidt’s authority foundation is salient and its pro-anti split more so.

Lost in (moral psychological) space the UK’s Liberal Democrats are faced with electoral collapse

The UK’ Liberal Democrats (LD) are in an unusually interesting place political place.  In Government, as part of the Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition at Westminster they are considered to be in the midst of a grave crisis one which, by some of the more unfriendly assessments, could see them wiped out as a political force losing all but a handful of their 57 currently held seats in the 2015 election.  In the 2010 election they took 23% of the vote, their best ever result, but they are now languishing on between 7 to 9% according to the latest polls

Polling Organisation Lib Dems Con Lab UKIP GRN
Ashcroft 7 31 31 18 5
Populus 8 34 36 13 3
You Gov 8 32 32 18
Com Res 9 30 30 19 4

By any accounting a 60% collapse in support is something of huge significance which needs explanation, particularly because it the main driver of the extraordinary numbers in the UKIP column.  Almost 15% of the 2010 electoral vote has floated free of it previous embrace of the LD and much of it has found a home in those startling UKIP totals.

In the standard political reckoning the Lib Dem’s woes are accounted for by the unpopularity of being in government at a time of austerity, by the breaking of pre-election promises and their identification with Conservatives which alienates left wing voters.  Those broken promises are significant see here and here, so was the 2010 tactic of running against austerity arguing that it could be mitigated or softened and then in Government the Lib Dems were party to actually deepening austerity by cutting 25% faster than the Labour government had proposed.  This later policy caused the recession to deepen and delayed recovery and extended  austerity, exploded indebtedness  by several years in the UK.

So if breaking your promises and making policy errors are the drivers of a 60% decline in popularity then the Conservatives,  rather than being down 10% on their  2010 showing would be down a very great deal more.  The difference in the way in which types of voters react to the same events needs explanation at the moral psychological level

Conservative voters revere and valourise authority, right wing parties tend to strengthen in Government for this reason.  Right wing voters are high on in-group loyalty  and this leads them to rationalise and reason in a way which is supportive and sympathetic to authority, so economic failure and broken election promises on the part of the Governing right are more easily forgiven and rationalised.  Recall Haidt, reason follow emotions which follow moral intuitions.  This phenomenon in itself accounts for a key strength of the political right in global democratic politics, success in policy or the economy is readily recognised and rewarded by right wing voters whereas policy failure can be overlooked more readily.  Now the UK’s Conservatives are challenged by UKIP who are banging on the Authority and In Group Loyalty foundations for all they are worth.

If right wing voters reason to forgive right wing governments then the inverse, has been spectacularly true and ruinous for the Lib Dems.  Moralised anti-authoritarianism and weak or non-existent in group loyalty have wrought destruction on their political prospects.  Reason follows intuitions so the moralised anti-authoritarian have little difficulty accepting “policy betrayal” such as on £9000 per year student fees as vindication, of a type which is deeply salient and of intense emotional  pull.

The Lib Dems were able to denude Labour of several million votes by tracking to Labour’s left across 1999 to 2010.  Labour in 97 had 13.5 million votes to 5 million for the Lib Dems whereas in 2010 Labour had 8.6 million to the Lib Dem 6.8 million.  This blog argues that politics need to be understood both in Haidt terms and Fiske terms.  The Lib Dems ripped up Labour’s support base by tracking stronger on Fairness and Liberty and more strongly anti-authoritarian as well as more fundamentally CS and EM with outright MP hostility.

In the standard model the Lib Dems are suffering from opposing Labour to its left and now governing on the same space or the right of the same space.  Perfectly true but the questions is why should that be uniquely ruinous for them?  Parties position themselves tactically all the time and shape-shifting is as old as politics itself.  The argument here is that the Lib Dem had such spectacular success in destroying Labour support by positioning across Haidt and Fiske moral foundations with a different emphasis of that to Labour.  Now, in Government they have not simply adopted some different policies but have moved in moral psychological space in such a ways as to spell political disaster for them, voters may not recall the broken pledge on VAT but they sense the shift in the moral basis of their position.

Some key movements in moral psychological space:

Policy areas under Labour met with Lib Dem hostility

Labour Policy Moralised Foundations Lib Dem in Government
  Haidt Fiske  
Liberal Interventionist Wars In Group LoyaltyAuthoritarianism MPAR Fought a liberal interventionist war in Syria and against ISIS in Iraq.  Adopting Labour’s Haidt and Fiske moral reference point.
Welfare ReformEducational ReformHeath Reform

Public Sector Reform

MP All these reform processes have been continued by the Lib Dem and Tory coalitionLid Dems in opposition evinced moralised hostility to contract change – hostility to MP
Redistribution Fairness CS The Lib Dems campaigned on poverty and exclusion but in Government they are unable to re-distribute at all.  (The one policy success of increasing personal tax allowances is offset by it being paid for by increasing the regressive VAT tax )
Security/Terrorism Authoritarianism AREM The Lib Dems have continued the Labour government security policy supporting detention without trial under a different name.The unique selling point of the Lib Dems is there strong EM reference but this has been systematically under-mined by there security policy.
Constitutional Reform EM Classic Lib Dem EM reference which cannot be pursued over Tory hostility
EU policy EMMP Classic Lib Dem EM reference and enthusiasm stymied by Tory hostility

Argument summary: governing under austerity and breaking election pledges are not fatal to a Party’s political prospects (see the Conservatives)  but what is critical is the way in which moving decisively across political moral psychological tramlines is felt by voters.

Conflicting In-Loyalty Identity Drives Scotland’s Referendum Result

Conflicting In-Group Identity Drives Scotland’s Referendum Result


After several years when support in Scotland for Independence from the rest of the United Kingdom hovered around the 30% mark for several decades in opinion polls, the final result in September’s Referendum was much closer than many observers had predicted in the months beforehand, at 45% saying Yes to Independence with the No to Independence at 55%.  In the weeks beforehand however, the outcome was considered too close to call but this appears to have been due to a systematic error in opinion polling for one staggeringly untechnical reason: opinion polls are based on sampling past behaviour and there had never been Scottish Independence Referendum before so there was no historical data to sample. So the polls showing a Yes majority in the several weeks leading to the poll were flawed but induced the No Campaign’s Unionist Parties to pledge an additional transfer of powers to Scotland giving the Yes side the ability to argue that the resulting No vote was conditional on an acceptable transfer of powers.  The “acceptable” here having the meaning acceptable to them.  And they say opinion polls don’t influence the results…..

In an earlier post it was argued that the success of Yes was explicable in political psychological terms as their ability to underpin their rational reasoned argument for Scottish Independence with their unstated but powerful emotional one, whereas the Unionist parties decided, as a tactic, to forego the emotional component of their argument for the Union, and crucially, accept the Nationalist frame – what is good for Scotland. Now political perspectives flow from emotions through feelings to intuitions about right and wrong to values and then onto rationalisation and reasoning to policy. The gift to the Yes campaign was intense moral coherence along all six moral foundations: Care, Fairness, Freedom, Loyalty to Scotland, rejection of Authority (the Tories, the Union and the Westminster parties) and the Sacralisation of the Saltire from which the Yes campaign was never 20cm distant.

A feature of the campaign was the panic reversion to emotional and moralised arguments on behalf of the No campaign when former Labour Prime Minister Gordon Brown joined the campaign late on. It was probably too late to make a difference though and possibly struck a discordant note.

Since psephology and polling is set up to analyse the electoral salience of the government’s education reforms it is hard to deduce direct evidence of these moralised psychological factors around identity in the vote.  However, there is much indirect evidence of people voting their core identity (Haidtian Loyalty foundation) as either Scottish, or mostly or completely British.  Lord Ashcroft polls found that 74% of Yes voters could cite disaffection with Westminster and 70% agreeing that all decisions about Scotland should be taken in Scotland.  British identity in Scotland is strong and drove the No vote with one third of people saying they are equally British and Scottish, sometimes 23% of people living in Scotland are exclusively self-identified as British.  Here is Professor John Curtice’s analysis of how identity drove voting:

“Meanwhile, people’s sense of national identity was also reflected in how they voted. In Ipsos MORI’s two final polls, no less than 88% of those who said they were Scottish and not British voted Yes, compared with 65% of those who said they were ‘More Scottish than British’ and 26% of those who felt ‘Equally British and Scottish’. Amongst the two remaining small groups, only 9% of those who said they were ‘More British than Scottish’ identified themselves as Yes voters, and just 13% of those who said they were British and not Scottish.”

More evidence about the moralised nature of the debate is in the sheer antagonism that it actually generated in reality, in noted contrast, to the official line (media, campaigns, parties, Governments) that the Scotland was in the middle of a wondrous democratic renewal and was conducting a forensic examination of what it takes to create a good society. This was shown in the finding by You Gov that 45% of No voters felt intimidated by the Yes campaign.   That doesn’t happen when you are discussing child care policy. Incidentally, if this was rational argument how many people changed their mind, switched from Yes to No after reading Paul Krugman in the NYT and took down their Yes posters?  It is physically unimaginable. No one changed their mind, their decision was reached either quickly or slowly but there were no switchers.  In Group Loyalty is going to jump horses Krugman or no Krugman.

If the referendum was about health, public spending, unemployment and the economy then a class distinction in voting might be evident.  But it isn’t:

Yes No
Social Class ABC1 C2DE ABC1 C2DE
Ashcroft Polls 44 47 56 53
You Gov 41 50 59 50
Actual Result Overall 45 55


Other Moral Psychological Aspects of the Referendum Vote


In addition to the core “Scottish not British” third of Scots we have –

Moralised Anti-Authoritarianism

37% of Labour voters and 39% of Liberal Democrat voters voted for Yes to the compete dismay of those two parties.  Now some of this was poor Labour voters with nothing to lose voting to change everything. The Liberal Democrats have a crisis of their own authorship, campaigning to Labour’s left and governing with the Conservatives to the right of their positioning of the 10 years prior to 2010.  These factors alone though cannot explain why Labour voters in particular would abandon their previously felt loyalty to British working class solidarity.  But it is argued here that attitudes to authority are pervasive in driving voting patterns and hostility to in group authority in particular is ubiquitous on the left.  What better way to express hostility to in group authority (currently the Tories) than by voting Yes?   Many Liberal Democrat voters are ex Labour voters so the same moralised anti-authoritarianism is present as an explanatory factor in their referendum vote as well.

As you proceed left the moralised anti-authoritarianism component grows stronger: the hard left in Scotland ex-Bennite Labour, the Trotskyists and Communist were all driven to abandon their previous dedication to British working class solidarity and supported the Yes campaign, explicable only by the emotion of anti-authoritarianism.

The International support for the Yes campaign was weak – North Korea and the demented Ukrainian separatists.   But the International left evinced the identical split to the one in Scotland with main stream Social Democrats looking on aghast at the prospect of separation with a minority of hard leftists supporting separation such as the lifelong foe of authority Noam Chomsky.  Foes of authority outside Scotland urged a Yes vote.

Moralised Pro-Authoritarianism

Supporters of authority outside Scotland urged a No vote.  The Australian and Canadian governments, the EU was coldly hostile to Yes and the Obama administration directly intervened against the Yes campaign.

In the UK pro-authoritarians such as the Conservative and UKIP Parties and Northern Ireland loyalists were passionately on the No side.

The Greens and Communal Sharing

Moralised anti-authoritarianism is present in Green politics and that was a factor in their presence in the Yes campaign but also the Greens in Fiskian terms have a more fundamental Communal Sharing ethos, hostile and indifferent to Market Pricing.  For the Greens an Independent Scotland can be poorer and more economically strained but as long as it more equitable that is OK, and they are happy to be frank about this.

Moralised Binding and Blinding

In neat piece of blinding the Labour politician Douglas Alexander complained that the Yes campaign was full of emotion, but what else could drive a Labour’s politician’s defence of the solidaristic UK flows other than emotion which undergird the sense of fairness?  Everyone is attuned the irrational emotional conduct of their opponent’s position whilst wholly unaware of why it is they are defending tax credits.

The Yes campaign wholly forgot to engage with the core Unionist sympathy the UK.  No attempt whatsoever was made to understand or emphasise or assuage the hurt and grief that would be caused by the end of the Union to two million Scots.  Instead they were told that Scotland would be like Norway, have better child care and lower business taxes.  The Yes campaign bound together in moralised self-righteousness was blind to these Unionist sensibilities.  Worth repeating that: people concerned about the loss of their British identity were told that Scotland could be like Norway.

Incoherent Rationalisations

The evidence that reason is supporting emotions rather than emotions supporting reasons comes when political arguments are truly incoherent.  Some Yes campaigners argued that the risk in not becoming Independent of the UK (and therefore automatically leaving the EU) was that a UK Tory government might arrange a referendum to leave the EU.

Confirmation Bias

Believing what you already believe when you are presented with evidence to the contrary is one of the enjoyable mainstays of political campaigning.  The contradictory evidence is rejected and the original belief is held all the more dearly. In a spectacular example of this new leader of the SNP/Yes campaign appears to believe that the referendum was won. She says “Let me make a confession. While I was never complacent, I did believe up until polls closed that ‘Yes’ would win.”  She appears to be now proceeding on the basis of the earlier belief rather than the facts.  She certainly doesn’t process the result as the settled, self-determined will of the Scottish people, rather that something incongruous and a little puzzling has happened and needs to be re-done to iron out the crinkled reality.

Other Psychological Aspects of the Vote

Optimism and Pessimism

A key tactic of the Yes campaign was to be resolutely upbeat and optimistic on the basis that in other political contests the more optimistic message usually won out.  Certainly the No campaigns rational objections often sounded like pessimism.  The psychological point would be that Optimism/Pessimism is psychological trait so did the intensely optimistic tend to side with Yes, and was this offset by the pessimists voting No?  Does anyone know whether anything like this happens? 

Tough and Tender Mindedness

It can’t be claimed that tough minded realists voted No but can a case be made that the possibility of a new country, a new dawn, a completely new beginning and a nation brimming with possibilities was attractive to the tender minded?   A new dispensation shorn of the old constraints and full of possibilities would facilitate the idealism favoured by the tender minded.

Woman’s Risk Aversion

John Curtice is puzzled as to why women voted No so convincingly at 58% but the entire basis of left politics is the rick averse nature of women voters and their greater attraction to risk reducing welfare provision.   They would process the Scottish Independence argument as the more risky and therefore less attractive option.

Scotland Isn’t Listening

This slogan on a T Shirt of YES campaigner “Scotland Isn’t Listening”.  He meant that Scotland didn’t need to listen as its collective mind was made up but this blog will offer the explanation that he was publicly not available to rational arguments and reason as his moralised psychology had already informed him the right thing to do.  Now the exact same thing happens on the NO side but perhaps with less frequency; as argued in an earlier post the central error of the NO campaign was to accept the frame of the YES campaign, underpinned as it is with all the emotions and moralised intuitions  that motivate and drive Nationalist politics everywhere.  In accepting the Nationalist frame the NO campaign offered a rational and reasoned debate shorn of the emotion and moralised psychology which underpins their politics.  Now it should be observed that that the NO campaign accepted the Nationalist frame on the grounds that it could be readily beaten and that indeed it was better to beat it in its owns terms as this would have made the YES defeat more comprehensive.

Now on the eve of the poll the opinion polls are showing a narrow lead for NO with the YES position transformed in recent weeks to one of almost parity with NO and the real possibility of outright victory.  Note that if politics isn’t about Moralised Psychology and about reasoned debate then why did two years of debate, billions of words, a tsunami of argument, the publication of the white paper and all the campaigning make no difference in the polls?  Why did the polls move only when possibility of the vote loomed?

Even if the NO campaign had understood political psychology sufficiently to see the danger in its stance it could not have abandoned its frame of rejecting the Nationalist offer through the weight of argument, what was needed was a second campaign group tasked and framed in such away as to push the emotional strings behind the pro Union argument.  Imagine a Campaign to Save the Union directly addressing the moral foundations of our politics in addition to NO campaign’s rationality, noting that the UK is a Nation State and all the emotions and intuitions which support Nationalism also play here:


Haidtian Moral Foundation YES Campaign Better Together (Rational argument) Campaign to Save the Union
Harm/Care The priority for a new Scotland would be a radical extension of childcare provision. The institute for Fiscal Studies says an independent Scotland would face a £6 billion black hole in its finances, child care budgets would be undermined by the costs of creating a new state. The welfare state was founded in the UK and the 63 million people are the guarantor of welfare spending.  The UK NHS is a global success.  Pensions, disability benefits and support for poorer workers have risen markedly in recent years.  The struggle to achieve welfare protection was not won in Scotland but UK wide and its continuance is best served on a UK wide scale.



Haidtian Moral Foundation YES Campaign Better Together (Rational argument) Campaign to Save the Union
Fairness An Independent Scotland would be a fairer Scotland. Any fairness would be undermined by Scotland’s weakened economic position as it has no currency of its own. The UK is a national community with bonds of solidarity and responsibility which cannot beabrogated with justification.    Wealth flowed to Scotland from other parts of the UK for 300 of the 307 years because of a commitment to fairness and equalisation. It is unfair to abandon the flows the minute the high price of oil reverses them. 

Introduce to the debate the people who would suffer injustice as the UK’s  solidarity  flows are weakened due to Scottish secession .


Introduce to the debate the people in the EU in Greece who would suffer from the absence of Scotland’s wealth flowing to Greek structural funds




Haidtian Moral Foundation YES Campaign Better Together (Rational argument) Campaign to Save the Union
Loyalty A YES vote is the definition and quintessence of In Group Loyalty No answer A NO vote is the definition and quintessence of In Group Loyalty for the beloved Union



Haidtian Moral Foundation YES Campaign Better Together (Rational argument) Campaign to Save the Union
Authority Authority plays in two senses, for Authority and against Authority 






No answer Address moralised anti-authoritarianism on the left by insisting that Workers of the World cannot disunite, there are no exceptions



Haidtian Moral Foundation YES Campaign Better Together (Rational argument) Campaign to Save the Union
Liberty The campaign is about Scottish freedom No answer The UK is the founder and guarantor of political liberty, “the mother of the free”. The long tradition of freedom in the UK something to be proud of and is threatened by the creation of a new state.
Haidtian Moral Foundation YES Campaign Better Together (Rational argument) Campaign to Save the Union
Sanctity Never be more than 20 cm from a Saltire No answer Never by more then 20 cm from the Saltire and the Union flag, flown simultaneously














Scottish Independence Referendum and the 62% rise of the YES Vote

On September the 18th some 4 million Scottish voters will go to the polls to say whether they would like Scotland to become an Independent country and effectively secede from Her Britannic Majesty’s United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.  As Joe Biden would put it “that’s a very big….a big  deal indeed”.    Intriguingly the secession debate is framed in such a way as to compose a platonic ideal of pure rationalism – the Unionist parties (Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat) in a fit of liberalism have conceded the right of secession to Scotland should it choose to opt for it.  A right, hitherto unheard of, but that is one of the strengths of an unwritten constitution: you can make things up as you go along and do so quickly when interests converge.

So the debate proceeds, the nationalist SNP arguing that Independence is good for the people of Scotland, and the Unionists argue the contrary in spirit of reasoned rational enquiry and debate.  One question, one examination, one issue – the welfare of the Scots.  Truly miserable conditions for moral political psychology it  would seem.  The campaigns line up under the banner YES Scotland and Better Together.  They each publish mountainous amounts of detailed argument, which in a pre-Internet age would have had a measurable adverse environmental impact.

So the Unionists parties offer the “right of secession” deal for tactical reasons, 2 to 1 ahead in the opinion polls they believe that the beloved Union is not in danger and that a powerful and potent political opponents’ strongest card, indeed its raison d’etre can be neutralised and undermined for a generation by its deserved defeat. And then the relative generosity of Scotland’s treatment in the UK can, if necessary, be addressed in shall we say, a more considered light post victory for the Union.

Anyways, after a year or more of campaigning under this liberal secessionist frame the opinion polls have shifted, according to the You Gov polling organisation, from from 29% YES in Aug 2013 to an astonishing 47% YES on the 1st September 2014.  This is 62% increase in the YES vote over the course of the period in which the Unionist parties conceded the right of secession to the SNP and more importantly conceded the terms of the debate – rational, unemotive, reasoned discussion on the future of Scotland.  Now, with the publication of the latest poll the Unionist parties are in a state of panic as the YES vote climbs to within touching distance of victory.

One obvious explanation for the rise in the YES vote is that they are winning the argument pure and fair: now there are dozens of newspapers and blogs debating that question without (as you can imagine) any unanimous conclusion and whilst intellectual triumph for the SNP is perfectly possible in principal; it is also the case that if politics is more about emotion, values and intuitions than rational debate as per the thesis in Jonathan Haidt’s The Righteous Mind and an argument approved of here, then the decision of the Unionist parties to allow the nationalist frame “what is good for Scotland” was to crucially and critically denude their argument of its moralised emotional basis.  It also had the effect of allowing the YES side of the argument complete ownership of emotions and intuitions which underpin its arguments.

The senior Labour politician Douglas Alexander sensed the emotional component in the YES argument and expressed his frustration in The Guardian.  Now all politicians believe that they are the repository of enlightened reason and their opponents merely vessels for ancient and discredited emotions.  Alexander though, senses that the YES campaign has emotional traction and No campaign hasn’t.  That was the price the NO/Unionist campaign paid for agreeing to rational argument on your opponents terms.  Their terms are emotionally underpinned your emotional leavers have just been abandoned in favour of a debate of extra competencies in respect of a parliament whose competencies aren’t even generally understood  in the first place.

Which emotions and intuitions are in play in the Scottish referendum debate and how have they benefited the YES campaign? Haidt argues and provides evidence that there are these several moral foundations from which we process our emotions, move to intuitions and then onto post hoc rationalisation.  Consider them in the context of the Scottish Independence YES/NO campaign:


Now this foundation shouldn’t be playing at all in the referendum since the existing Scottish devolution settlement covers this area expressly: social services, health and safety, the criminal law, transport, health, and education.  Formally there is no additional benefit to the Scots from Independence however, the SNP and YES campaign have said that one of the prime benefits of Independence would be improved child care.  As a rational argument this doesn’t make sense, if the SNP wanted improved child care they could do it tomorrow given their majority in Scottish Parliament but when they tested this policy in their focus groups it obviously had strong emotional resonance so they decided to put it as the centrepiece of the campaign.

Haidt argues that Hare/Care moral foundation is rooted in childcare so the SNP score a direct emotional hit.  The NO campaign is left with the weak debating point about legal competencies – no emotion there.


Central to the YES campaign has the been the claim that an Independent Scotland would be a fairer one (they mean fairness as redistribution), central to the NO campaign has been the claim that this objective is undermined by he economic uncertainty of the YES case.  Now economics isn’t a moral foundation and economic arguments resonate weakly due to their complex and arcane nature.  The simple claim about greater fairness in an Independent Scotland goes directly to a moral foundation of politics and resonates in favour of YES.


Haidt means by this some people have strong moralised affinity to their In-Group and this is the entire basis of patriotism and nationalist politics.  Now, oddly in Scotland there are three national affinities Scottish, British and Scottish British.  The Unionists cripplingly gave the right to repudiate Britishness to the YES campaign allowing them to hold onto their (Scottish) moral foundation of In Group loyalty.  From that moment on the polls rose in favour of YES with the NO campaign saying that reasons to remain British are not love of country but  are rather to do with the efficaciousness of North Sea tax policy.  This patriotism card plays out to only one side of the argument dripping, as it is, with emotional salience and resonance.


This moral foundation plays two ways in Haidtian political psychology both to the benefit of the YES and to the detriment of NO.  Some people revere and respect authority, they do what the are told.  The YES campaign is the Scottish government, it issues the White Paper, instructs the vote, gives the out the formal information leaflets, that will play strongly with some.    The opposite dynamic is here – moralised anti-authoritarianism seen powerfully as motivating the far left and guess where the Scottish far left is  – one the side, the YES side, where they can most effectively stick it the UK government, this can be as much as 5% of the whole electorate.


The NO campaign registers absolutely zero here and YES again score the purest direct hit since what is the campaign about if not for Scottish FREEDOM?


In the rich West this moral foundation continues to play weakly but one manifestation of still remains and that is the national flag.  In the Referendum campaign the YES campaign uses the Saltire whilst the NO campaign hides the Union Flag behind its position paper on Environmental regulation.  Again advantage YES.

Another non Haitdain point about political psychology needs to be made and this is taken from Our Political Nature by Avi Tuschman.  There are four types of voters, uncontroversialy there are ideologues of left and right and centre, identity voters (probably referencing Haidt’s loyalty foundation), wallet voters who vote for the government when their living standards increase and the last group, about 25-30% who almost never vote.  With this last group the key point is “almost never”, they will vote if the issue is simple and salient; now, no issue was ever so simple and salient and binary as Independence for Scotland, the YES campaign can fish in this pool and the NO campaign, conceding that the Union can be abandoned, can hardly catch any fish in this pool.

If the YES campaign had an emotional edge in its appeal to patriotism that would be widely accepted but what in fact has happened that YES campaign has had monumental emotional advantage by playing across the entire band (all six) of intuitions about right and wrong, rooted in the moralised psychology which inform our politics.  It was the compete misfortune of the NO campaign to cede this moral basis of politics, by agreeing to rational debate.

Next on Politics is Moral Psychology what a psychologically literate NO campaign should have done……….