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The Masks of the Political God by Luca Ozzano

Emotions and Audiences: Understanding the Rhetoric of the Scottish National Party

Political Engagement
Michael Scanlan
University of Glasgow
Michael Scanlan
University of Glasgow

The emotional appeal of populism in discourse has been studied mainly in relationship to the use of fear, anger or shame (Rico et al. 2017; Salmela & von Scheve 2018). Whilst acknowledging the emancipatory potential for these emotions in left-wing populism, the focus has remained upon the populist leaders who encouraged a popular resentment against the elites in their polity. There is little attention paid to how the populist rhetoric uses emotions to build its discourse about the mass-elite divisions. This paper addresses that gap in the literature and aims to analyse the ways in which the populist rhetoric employs emotions in the conceptualisation of the people and of the elites. Its central argument is that populists build their appeal to the people on positive emotions such as hope and optimism, while the political elites are conceptualised through negative emotions such as resentment and distrust.With this argument, the paper moves beyond the classic understanding of emotions in populist discourse and illustrates how the rhetoric is not always based on anger, resentment and fear, but has instead adaptive and strategic features. The qualitative analysis focuses on the single-case study of the Scottish National Party (SNP)’s time in government from 2007 to 2018. The empirical evidence comes from elite interviews carried out with members of the SNP who currently hold or have held in the past positions of influence in policy, communication and party organisation.
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