The Point
Last updated: 05 March 2020. sky thinking for an open and diverse left

Visit our Facebook page

Follow us on Twitter


Recent Articles

In Praise of Beethoven

Arthur C Clarke - A Very Modern Odyssey

Tackling Private Landlords

Investigating the Value Form

The Eternal Dark Heart of Empire

If You Build Them, They Will Come

Framing the Debate - kicking off a discussion on how we use words.

Ashten Regan-Denham looks at the language we use to frame the debate about Independence and progressive politics

In the very interesting book 'Don't think of an elephant - know your values and frame the debate. An essential guide for progressives' G. Lakoff a linguistic and cognitive science expert describes how the political right (he writes about USA politics but the general principles are relevant to us) are much better at 'framing' the narrative, creating a frame or picture using values to present their arguments and make them understandable and compelling. I suggest that more attention needs to be focused on this by the pro-indy campaign. What can we learn from this type of approach?

Last year I attended the Herald Verb Garden event held in the Spiegletent as part of the Edinburgh fringe festival entitled 'The Common Weal – A light from the North' featuring Lesley Riddoch of Nordic Horizons, Robin McAlpine from The Reid Foundation and James Meadway from The New Economics Foundation. It was very well attended, sold out, then they added more chairs and it sold out again. The Common Weal certainly is resonating strongly with many people.

After the event at a very late lunch, this area of framing and linguistics came up. Should we even be using the term 'Socialist' any more? Who knows what it means now? What about 'Neo-liberal'? If you use that you've lost people and so on.
We need new terms to inform this debate. How about using the term 'trickle up' instead of 'the neo-liberal economic model'. I think it could be widely understood, in the way that its opposite neo-lib frame 'trickle down' is.

Trickle up – the mass system wide process whereby the ordinary UK citizen pays via bank bail outs, austerity, theft of pubic goods (privatisation), tax evasion by corporations, overheated property market, low paid insecure work, lack of investment in industry & infrastructure – all the while the media manufacture consent – a transfer of wealth upwards to the rich and the powerful.

What are left wing or progressive values and how might that help re-frame the debate for independence?

• Caring
• Responsibility
• Opportunity
• Fairness
• Freedom
• Co-operation
• Trust & Open communication

Which lead to the principles:

• Equity
• Equality
• Democracy
• Good Governance
• Ethical business
• Values based foreign policy

Lakoff warns 'Do not use their language. Their language picks a frame – and it won't be the frame you want.' On frames – 'framing is about getting language that fits your world view...the language carries those ideas, evokes those ideas.'
He says that people vote on their identity and their values rather than (often) on their own self interest. That people either have a strict father or nurturant parent model or both. 'The goal is to activate your model in the people in the activate your world view and moral system in their political decisions by talking to them using frames based on your world view.'

'Fear triggers the strict father model: it tends to make the model active in ones brain'

Project Fear anyone?

He goes on to say that progressives like to say that if we could just get the facts out there then everyone will come to the right conclusion. Lakoff maintains that is not actually the case. Once frames become entrenched they are very hard to shift as anyone who has ever argued with a Tory will attest, facts just bounce off them!

Examples? Well, the Better Together messaging is 'A stronger Scotland'. The word stronger evokes a national (UK) security/military frame – probably because that is their best case. Staying within the UK means having a seat on the P5 of the security council (at least for the moment) and appeals to the sort of voter who thinks that is a positive or voters who might be prone to worrying about the alternatives.

When we talk about an independent Scotland we need to go on the offensive, reject the other sides framing and language and build a positive image in the mind of the reader or listener, using the values we know they care about.

Because we care about them too.


Ashten Regan-Denham is a member of The Jimmy Reid Foundation and Women for Independence.

External links:

Bella Caledonia

Bright Green

George Monbiot

Green Left


The Jimmy Reid Foundation

Laurie Penny

New Left Project

Newsnet Scotland

Richard Dawkins

Scottish Left Review

Socialist Unity

UK Uncut

Viridis Lumen

Wings Over Scotland

Word Power Books