The Total Politics Guide to Political Blogging in the UK 2010-2011The following article appeared as a short chapter in the Total Politics Guide to Political Blogging in the UK 2010/11, which you can purchase for yourself here (and which I heartily recommend).  One further thought – the article was written in July when I didn’t read quite so many blogs, thus there are some glaring omissions, for which I can only apologise profusely (I’m looking particularly at you, Bright Green Scotland, Bella Caledonia and Andrew Reeves).  Anyway, I heartily recommend those sites, and some of the following links as well!

“The state of the Scottish blogosphere is one of change and renewal, of continuation and emergence, and of quietness and controversy.  In short, we’re all over the place.

We’ve seen the focus of much writing shift from Holyrood to Westminster for the UK General Election (and likely back again for the Scottish Parliamentary election next year) which has changed the dynamic of Scottish blogging, with an outsider’s tone, almost – to my mind at least – mimicking the geographical sense of distance between us and London.  We’ve seen the departures from the blogging scene of several of the most prominent voices – and fond farewells go to Scottish Unionist, Wardog, Julie Hepburn and Yapping Yousuf who have wrapped up their blogs.  We’ve seen renewal in the shape of new voices – and old ones returning – maintaining a healthy spread of opinion throughout the Scottish blogosphere.  And we’ve seen controversy on several occasions, which led to the closure of some blogs and (from what I gather) some difficulty with employers.

All in all, an eventful time in the Scottish blogosphere, and yet it appears that (generally speaking) we’ve struggled to maintain the consistency of posting which marked previous years.  With the notable and laudable exceptions of authors at SNP Tactical Voting, Caron’s Musings, Stephen’s Linlithgow/ Liberal Journal, Subrosa and, of course, the fabled Tom Harris, who continue to exceed expectations with daily (and sometimes multiple daily) posts, motivation – and the time it takes – to blog seems to have deserted the majority of us.  Inevitably the lack of blogging has provoked some introspective discussion, with Doctor Vee, J. Arthur MacNumpty and Planet Politics all contributing to diagnose the problem and determining in conclusion that it isn’t really a problem at all.  “We’re in flux, we’ll go off and renew in time for the Holyrood election and we’ll have a grand old time when that comes round” seems to be the view from these luminaries.  And so we shall, for even though the frequency of posting – and the number of contributors – feels like it is down on previous years, we seem to have a little more in the way of partisan balance in the Scottish blogosphere.

Nationalist bloggers still lead the way, with the aforementioned SNP Tactical Voting, J. Arthur MacNumpty and Subrosa providing frequent posts – SNP Tactical Voting covering somewhat more in the way of economic and environmental, and partisan, politics, Subrosa with a focus on more military and, I think, more “high-level” politics and MacNumpty the weekly round-up of all the goings-on in Holyrood and analysis of key events.  More legal and articulate thoughts come from Lallands Peat Worrier while IndyGal, Bellgrove Belle, Calum Cashley and Scots and Independent give the perspective from representatives and would-be representatives of the party.

In Labour’s corner we have the Doctor Who-loving, PR-bashing Tom Harris, retaining his position among the higher echelons of blogs in Scotland.  He is joined by Westminster colleague Eric Joyce, whose frank and funny blog is surely on course to challenge Tom’s dominance of Scottish Labour blogging.  Edinburgh Councillor Andrew Burns still features with his “very brief comments” while activist Kezia Dugdale has moved from the Soapbox to her own website and blogs somewhat less frequently than previously.

The new UK coalition is somewhat more sparsely represented in the Scottish blogosphere, but what they lack in numbers, they more than make up for in frequency.  The Liberal Democrats have the relentless Stephen’s Liberal/ Linlithgow Journal and the eclectic Caron’s Musings, while the Conservatives have councillors Cameron Rose in Edinburgh and Jim Millar in Angus.  Neither party really matched their UK level of success in Scotland at the General Election, and their online presence perhaps reflects that.

Ready for an assault on the next Scottish Parliament election, the Scottish Greens have increased their online presence.  Leader Patrick Harvie established a blog on his website (which carries a recent promise to increase the posting rate) while Two Doctors remains the Scottish Greens most prominent voice.  The party itself have opened a blog on their website, and Aberdeenshire Councillors Debra Storr and Martin Ford have regularly contributed, while Suitably Despairing blogs from Edinburgh on matters environmental and frustrating.  A sizable online presence for a party with just two MSPs – but with designs on increasing that next year.

The media have also upped their game in Scotland, with Brian Taylor’s analysis at the BBC probably the best of its kind.  The Scotsman’s Steamie blog has seen collaboration between journalists and some of the Scottish blogosphere’s more frequent writers, though the latter’s contribution has lessened as the project has gone forward.  Joan McAlpine’s Go Lassie Go blog is as informed as it is exceptionally well-written (and independent) while Alex Massie’s Spectator blog always makes for interesting reading.  Newly arrived this year is Gerry Hassan, whose mix of academic and journalistic is a welcome addition.

Finally, there are the non-aligned – those many bloggers who are perceived as (or perceive themselves as) aligned with no political party.  I like to think I’m one of this band, but critics will inevitably have me in a couple of different camps.  Bill’s Comments Page – entering his eighth year blogging – deserves special mention for his longevity.  He sits on the centre-right but with less of a focus on the Holyrood bubble than most, especially since he spends some of his time looking at Scotland from sunnier Spain.  Also on the right, the inimitable Mr Eugenides makes a serious, funny and oftentimes crude examination of the political classes and finds them wanting.  In another life, he’d be a script-writer for a political satire in the vein of The Thick of It.  Jess the Dog is another who straddles the centre-right, probably with a more favourable inclination to nationalism than those previously mentioned, while Freedom and Whisky is a libertarian (and not a librarian as the original draft of this suggested!).  Doctor Vee does, I think, tend more towards Liberal Democrat politics though you probably wouldn’t pick up on it through his eclectic collection of posts.  He is also the mastermind behind the Scottish Round-up, a weekly collection of the best of Scottish blogging.

Ideas of Civilisation has recently returned to cast a philosophically unaligned eye over shenanigans while the Scott at Love and Garbage does the same from a legal perspective.  Political Dissuasion seems to be angry about most things political while Planet Politics is also anti-politics.  Both provide measured analysis, and both add much to the debate, while Underdogs Bite Upwards has become more vocal and outspoken in a similar role.  Finally, though he’s been around since 2007, Dispatches from Paisley has increased the frequency of his posting, particularly up to the election and provided non-partisan analysis, while Scot Goes Pop is perhaps slightly more aligned but no less balanced for it.  All in all, we have a fairly balanced non-aligned blogosphere, with voices from both right and left.

So those are the main protagonists – some changes, some renewals, new blogs and old.  As for the controversy, well, it has come in several forms over the last year.  In January, Universality of Cheese author Montague Burton (aka Mark MacLachlan) wrote some not-so-flattering posts about certain politicians – some of it not so different to what you might find on some of the more mainstream blogs at UK level.  However, his identity as an aide to a Scottish Government minister was uncovered by investigative journalism, and uproar followed, including all sorts of legal aspects which this humble blogger didn’t really understand.  In a similar case, Wardog, after his identity was uncovered, chose to shut down his blog after his employer didn’t take too kindly to being associated with his political views.  Micro-blogging also provided controversy in Scotland when Stuart MacLennan, Labour’s candidate for Moray in the May election, was sacked after tweeting some ill-advised rants, while SNP Tactical Voting found himself in a bit of hot water for discussing postal vote returns, though that was much quieter on the news front.

As we move on into the next electoral cycle, the focus will turn more towards Holyrood and the upcoming Scottish Parliament election, as well as the AV referendum, scheduled for the same date.  Along the way we’ll probably lose some more established writers, discover some new talent, see the frequency of posting ebb and flow and court more controversy along the way.  A dull time in Scottish politics this is not, and though blogging here has almost taken a short break in the past few months, we’ll return with a renewed focus and energy.  At least, that’s what has happened in the past.  As for the future, well, if I knew how to predict that, I’d be a lot less poor.”

NB – Stuart Winton, of Planet Politics also had a piece included in this year’s collection, a tome on the decline of the Scottish blogosphere.  If you like your blogging with a side portion of pessimism(!) I recommend his article, which he has published in full here.