The oldest trick in the book as SNP ministers try to make bad news disappear

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon (Jane Barlow/PA Wire)
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon (Jane Barlow/PA Wire)

IT is the political equivalent of Find The Lady, a ministerial sleight of hand that diverts attention from bad news to good.

Last week, the SNP became the latest party to be accused of timing big announcements to coincide with equally big, but not necessarily positive, announcements elsewhere.

On Tuesday, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon unveiled the biggest shake-up of her ministerial team since the SNP came to power in 2007.

But, at the same time, John Swinney, the education secretary, the cabinet heavyweight tasked with giving all Scots pupils the best possible start, the task the First Minister described as her priority, was shelving his flagship, much-touted reforms.

It was not the only announcement made, possibly coincidentally, possibly not, as Ms Sturgeon revealed the raft of resignations and appointments involving the Government’s movers and shakers.

Did you see what we did there? The other announcements made on reshuffle day as Scottish Government accused of diverting attention – click here to read more

Scottish Labour’s parliamentary business manager, Rhoda Grant, said: “The Nationalists thought the reshuffle would mean they could bury bad news.

“They didn’t want Scots to know the truth that their flagship Education Bill was scuttled before it even left the dock.

“Even more worryingly, they tried to cover-up the fact more than 500 people suspected of having cancer had to wait longer than two months for treatment.”

But a spokesman for the First Minister hit back, describing the claims as “completely unfounded” as there is up to six months’ notice of when health statistics are published and pointed out Mr Swinney made a full statement to parliament.

The reshuffle itself went awry on Thursday when the First Minister was forced to drop appointing Gillian Martin as education minister over an inflammatory blog she wrote 10 years ago.

Labour press officer Jo Moore inspired the term “a good day to bury bad news” after, on the day the Twin Towers were attacked, telling colleagues to use the 9/11 atrocity to conceal negatives stories.

But Andy Maciver, a communications and political strategist, said the tactic is cross-party.

He said: “The opposition can complain about burying bad news, and that indeed is what happened, but they would do exactly the same.

“In our black/white political discourse, burying bad news is rational behaviour.”

And magician Scott Cuthbertson said our politicians are simply using the age-old techniques of trickery.

He said: “Diversion is crucial in magic but you see it all over everyday life because it can be so effective.

“In magic, you are saying one thing but doing something else. I tend to tell a story – you make eye contact, make that connection.

“When you’re asking someone a question, everybody looks at that person to see what they say and when they are doing that it is the chance for me to do some of the things I don’t want them to see.

“Even the words you use are important, they can lead the mind a particular way, and that will be as true in politics – presentation is key.

“You get big and small diversions, some more subtle than others, and they all add up to one big diversion.”