openDemocracyUK

Scotland in cyberspace: new media, blogs and public conversation

Gerry Hassan examines the Scottish blogosphere
Gerry Hassan
26 January 2010

The role of the internet and emergence of the blogosphere is much commented upon in the political and media world. Do people such as Guido Fawkes and Iain Dale have a new-found political influence? Will a whole host of Labour bloggers emerge out of the ashes of the party’s election defeat?

In Scotland, there is the influence of the ‘cybernat’ community who have a huge influence. Its black and white zealotry was recently profiled by the Universality of Cheese, run by Mark MacLachlan while he was constituency office manager for Mike Russell, SNP MSP and minister, and his abusive attacks on political opponents.

There is a crisis of traditional media from falling newspaper sales to the lack of sure-footedness at the BBC, which reflects a public culture shaped by a decline in respect for traditional institutions and authority. This week saw the launch of a new Scottish newspaper, Caledonian Mercury or CalMerc as it is known on Twitter, by Stewart Kirkpatrick who used to run the Scotsman’s web pages, which aims to be a new online Scottish newspaper, filling the gap left by the declining Scots print media.

Caledonian Mercury is a brave venture and I wish it every success. The look of it is good and feels professional. I debated on Monday’s Newsnight Scotland with its editor and Brian McNair from Strathclyde University. We talked about the crisis of traditional media brands and the desire for wider public conversation in Scotland and further afield.

I managed to even get in a mention of the absence of alternative voices in the mainstream media on or off the web, and the increasing coalescing of political, media and corporate interests and elites across the world, which some call ‘post-democracy’.

The content of the first issue of Caledonian Mercury is I say with some reluctance a bit lame with two of its top political stories really in effect non-stories. The first was on Jim Murphy, Secretary of State for Scotland, saying Labour was going to concentrate on the Tories in the coming election and ignore the Nats. This on a day Murphy’s department issued a dossier indicating the ‘devolution dividend’ to Scotland, all with the intention of dishing the Nats.

The second was spurious thinking about what has happened to the SNP independence bill which was meant to appear on Monday (Burn’s Night) and hasn’t. The analysis was that the Nationalists could not concentrate on two things at once: getting the budget through Parliament and this bill. It didn’t address that the budget was always going to be at this time, and the Nats openly choose the date of the second.

There is on the web a complete absence of Scottish sites similar to openDemocracy, Compass and Conservative Home, which create or spring from a community of interest and activism. There is even an absence of sites which aggregate commentary and news in the way PoliticsHome does with the UK press.

The Scottish blogosphere is a small world reflecting the scale of the Scottish political community, shaped by the main political parties and their hangers-on. Iain Dale recently listed his top Scottish political blogs and his top five read:

  1. Tom Harris
  2. SNP Tactical Voting
  3. Underdogs Bite Upwards
  4. Mr. Eugenides
  5. Two Doctors

All of these offer partisan party commentary and none of them are rewarding reading for the vast majority of people who don’t inhabit the small, incestuous world of party politics. Is the Tom Harris blog, from a fairly average run of the mill backbench Labour MP representing a Glasgow seat, the best in Scotland? Maybe in the narrow world of party politics it is.

None of my favourites make it on to Iain Dale’s list, even his longer list of the top 300 in the UK, and that is because they cover a wider politics, ideas and culture. Two of the sites I look at and are consistently impressed by are Joan McAlpine’s Go Lassie Go at http://joanmcalpine.typepad.com/ and James Hamilton’s More than Mind Games at http://mtmg.wordpress.com/ which covers sport and culture.

The Scottish Blog of the Year has nominated Joan and James along with myself – and you can vote for any of us at http://scottishroundup.co.uk/scotblogs-awards-2010/ Or of course you can vote for Labour backbench MP Eric Joyce if you fancy. The choice is yours and closing date is Wednesday January 27th at 8.00pm.

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