What now passes for public debate in this country often consists of little more than the application of a pre-ordained set of prejudices to a set of dubious facts.
Could I put in a plea in support of reason – and for good measure, maybe even a little honesty too? They seem to have departed our public discourse and decision-making process of late.
On most days, in our newspapers and on TV, we see politicians and journalists advancing the quite extraordinary viewpoint that a general truth can be drawn from a single set of facts. This is the logic of the infant and the idiot. If the pharmaceutical industry tested drugs on this basis, mass deaths would follow. In my 45-year lifetime as a voter, the real power of our political leaders has diminished dramatically. As we can see only too well, the quality of many of those who now gain political office has correspondingly dropped. Such limited people are not at home with the often difficult task of applying reason to a complex set of facts. It is much easier to proceed on the basis of their many prejudices. But that method almost always produces the wrong result.
It doesn’t help that today’s politicians pretty much demand that the statistics produced for public consumption support the notion that all is going incredibly well on their watch. As a result, for example, we are told every year, that crime has fallen and our university age children are becoming academically more brilliant.
We all know that these statistics are falsified – senior police officers have admitted this in the case of crime statistics. So the facts on which public decisions are based are themselves frequently inaccurate. Such a starting point means that the conclusion will inevitably be wrong.
On the advice of their “special advisers” (who are a downright evil in our political system), our leaders believe that the voting public are too childlike to bear being told the whole truth.
Respect for democracy and logic tell us that sticking to the truth when providing the public with facts would be a good starting point for politicians. Then applying common sense and reason to these facts, would give at least some chance of reaching the right conclusion. After all, that is the method which works for scientists, engineers and those in business.
It seems reasonable to note that the human race, since the times of the Ancient Greeks, has progressed on the basis of the application of reason to proven facts. Is such a method such an alien concept to today’s politicians to prevent them from giving it a try?
Alastair Bonnington is a legal commentator and analyst. He is former BBC Scotland in-house counsel and former honorary professor of law, Glasgow University