The Referendum on 18th September will be your first ever vote. So it's a good opportunity to find out about how politics works. I mean how it really works, not the theory.
You can see a good example of how it works in the "Plan B" issue that has been top of the news this week and last. As you know, this is about Scotland and the pound.
Alastair Darling asked Alex Salmond 20 times, during the infamous TV debate "What is your Plan B?"
In interviews and statements, Mr Darling and his BT colleagues have focused on the "lack of a Plan B." And now there is a poster campaign about the lack of a "Plan B."
What is going on?
Mr Darling is a clever politician. He knows that it is relatively easy to make people worried. You just have to find out what scares people - so he and his team will have been surveying and questioning people to find that out. And they will have discovered that (as Bill Clinton said) "it's the economy, stupid" that most people are concerned about. So they have picked something big and obvious like "the pound in your pocket" (these are favourite politicians' phrases - hence the inverted commas), and a catchy phrase about "Plan B." This is propaganda.
Propaganda just means information that is used to persuade people of a point of view, or to act in a particular way. It has been used for good and for bad through history, and comes in every flavour, shape and size. The "Plan B" campaign is a good example:
How Do I Know It's Not Butter?
You can check whether or not something you hear, read or see is propaganda. Here are some easy tests:
Is this stuff everywhere?
Effective propaganda is widespread - so you can expect to see it everywhere. You'll see it in Facebook and on Twitter, in the newspapers, on the TV and in adverts in the street. "Commentators" will talk about it, long and often. "Analysts" will appear to, er, analyse it. Propaganda works when it is everywhere.
Are you feeling emotional?
Propaganda is often designed to make you feel emotional. So emotional that you stop being rational. I hope that you never live through an era when there is the worst type of propaganda - that which engenders hatred - but you may feel twinges of fear or anger. The "Plan B" story makes people worried, and that may be enough to trigger them to vote "safely" for the status quo.
Is someone trying to make me do something?
All through history propaganda has been used to make people do stuff. Before you were born, Mrs Thatcher created a war with Argentina over a tiny archipelago of islands called the Malvinas. I remember standing in Charing Cross Station in London seeing the Sun newspaper headlines about the "Argies" and realising that I was in the middle of a propaganda campaign. The Government wanted me to feel that Argentina was our enemy. But I knew that Argentina had for years been a friend of the UK. There was and is a huge population of Britons there - I think it has the largest population of Welsh-origin people in the world (I mean, more than are in Wales!) But the newspapers, the TV, the radio, were full of bad stuff about the "Argies." This was propaganda.
Look the other way, at the stuff they are not saying
If you think you are being fed propaganda, look the other way. Think about the stuff that is NOT being talked about. Politicians often try to hypnotise us - like rabbits in the headlights - and the "Plan B" campaign is just such a trick. BT are shouting about the lack of a "Plan B" but they are NOT talking about, well, everything else! They are NOT talking about the health service, or poverty in Scotland, or the £4bn-per-year Trident missile, or making a fairer society, or free university education, or…
Get the idea? Propaganda tries to grab your attention. Turn away, and think.
Think it through, for yourself
What happens when you think it through for yourself? Can you see the flaws? Walk through, in your mind, what would happen if Scotland voted Yes on 18th September. There would be a massive negotiation afterwards. England would want some oil, Scotland would want rid of the Trident nuclear bombs, England would want access to Scottish fishing grounds, Scotland would want a currency union on the pound… It would all be negotiated.
What the politicians are doing now is they are preparing themselves for that negotiation. They are trying to get into the best position to negotiate with the winning side. Scotland can use the pound if it wishes - it's an international tradeable currency and can be used anywhere in the world. But the Scottish Government wants more; it wants a currency union. Darling knows this, so he is making it hard to get. Salmond is also focusing on the pound because he wants the voters to support Scotland's demand for currency union. No-one is admitting to any Plan B, Plan C or Plan D because to do so would look like weakness in the negotiations that will follow the vote.
When I think it through for myself, and look away from the propaganda I see Scotland's poor. I know we could have a better Scotland in which the poor are not abandoned. That's why I want a Yes vote.
And This, Too?
And you'll have worked out the logical conclusion. It's all propaganda. This letter included.
So what do you do? Think for yourself! How do you want your country to be governed, in your lifetime? (You know my answer!)