Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Lies, evasion and misleading

On Comment is Free, Iain Macwhirter is critical of an inquiry by the Scottish Parliament into whether first minister Alex Salmond may have misled it:
The idea that politicians could be forced to tell the truth is absurd, and anyway politicians rarely lie – they just bend the truth a bit to make it fit. The real charge against Salmond is not that he misleads parliament but that, week in week out, he refuses to answer questions, and instead gives MSPs lectures on his own unimpeachable rectitude.
You could agree with all of this, except that it isn't really the point. No-one is saying that politicians should be forced to tell the truth, just that they might be held to account if they don't. Yes politicians refuse to answer questions, as Peter Preston described yesterday.

But it is in his related assertion that politicians rarely lie but merely bend the truth that Macwhirter shoots down his own subequent argument that working out what truth is involves an intractable philosophical inquiry. Politicians do lie, as he implicitly admits, and lies can be proved. On most other occasions, like the one in this case, they bend the truth. In this case, the charge is misleading the parliament, which is also short of lying. Just because the Scottish Parliament seems to have picked a case in which the accused may not be guilty does not mean that the charge can never be proved and is not worth proving.

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