16 December 2007

A difference in approach

One of the good things about doing the Roundup is that you get a chance almost to step outside yourself, and take a wider look at bloggery in and about Scotland. In doing that, you can see how different groups of bloggers approach things differently, and the past few weeks have been a good example of this.

In the past couple of weeks, we've seen Wendygate - where bloggers and politicians have been lining up to throw eggs at Wendy Alexander over party political funding - and Trumpgate - where the SNP Government has come under fire for how it has handled Donald Trump's proposal for a golf resort in Aberdeenshire.

So both parties have found themselves under the microscope. However, the reaction of the few Labour bloggers, and the many SNP bloggers, could not be more different. In the main, it seems that Labour bloggers (and, curiously, LibDem bloggers) have, to a degree, circled the wagons over Wendygate - though have been incredibly quick of the mark over Trumpgate.

Conversely, SNP bloggers have been pushing Wendygate, but - and here's the difference - many of them have also been willing to take a look at the Trump story. Now the tone of the Trump posts is different: as it's the SNP being attacked, SNP bloggers are, logically, having to defend a position rather than attack someone else's, but the posts are being made.

Why is this? I've raised this contrast with a couple of people, and one explanation I've heard is that the sample size of SNP bloggers is simply larger: that there are more SNP bloggers, so if a certain percentage is likely to post on uncomfortable subjects, then that means more SNP bloggers will be ready to step up and do so, simply because there are more SNP bloggers. It makes sense.

Another approach is to look at the psychology of the two parties: the SNP are still buoyant after getting into Government and good poll ratings. SNP bloggers, then, feel more confident, and are in a better position to tackle the tough issues and even launch counter-attacks, as the reaction to Nicol Stephen's pursuit of the issue bears out. The fact that there are more SNP bloggers out there will help: more active participants in bloggery will give them a sympathetic hearing. Conversely, Labour are reeling somewhat after losing power and grinding to a halt in the polls, and facing a number of difficulties both internal (staffing) and external (Northern Rock, the missing discs, the election that wasn't, and so on). Morale, you'd assume, is lower so Wendygate is not what they needed and they realise that blogging on the subject is just asking for more trouble, especially in a blogosphere which currently seems to be dominated by SNP supporters, with Tory backers coming a close second. To post on this, if you're Labour, is to dip your toe into very murky waters.

And Trumpgate is not yet the PR disaster for the SNP that Wendygate has been for Labour, though a week could change things, so as yet, it's hard to compare the two stories. Next week's papers will give us a clearer idea of wht's going on, and how that affects the blogosphere will emerge as the week goes on.

The benefits of the SNP approach are that the SNP point of view is put out there - a case for the defence - and that until now, SNP bloggers who have discussed both subjects can't be accused of hiding from tough issues: they're willing to post about Wendy Alexander, but they're willing to risk taking flak by posting about Donald Trump. On the other hand, the SNP position in this case can be defended right now: SNP bloggers feel confident to come out and challenge the notion that there has been any wrongdoing, and aim their guns at Nicol Stephen. What happens if - and I hope it doesn't happen - there's something really nasty in the future? Can the SNP blogosphere sustain this strategy if it becomes more difficult? And in this case, posts on subjects like this can generate comments - nasty comments. These generate arguments, which generate rows, which generate out and out flamewars, which no one really wins. Are SNP members ready for that?

Labour's reticence avoids that difficulty: no posts means no comments, which means no arguments, which means no flamewar. Also, it means that Labour blogger have an approach which is guaranteed to let them avoid having to defend the indefensible at a later date. But the Labour case goes unstated, so all blog readers get on a subject is a one-sided view, with universal condemnation aimed at Wendy Alexander. With no one willing to stick their neck out and publicly defend her, the blogosphere's overall opinion is one of hostility. There is nothing to counter-balance that. And it makes moralising over the Trump affair difficult: "How can you get on your high horse," readers can ask, "when you have nothing to say about the morality or otherwise of Labour actions?" Labour bloggers' relative silence over Wendygate makes their stance on Trumpgate look more than a little hollow.

The phrase "judge not, lest ye be judged" springs to mind, but it seems that SNP bloggers are happier to be judged, and willing to make their case. And Labour are still letting the blogosphere be dominated by criticism over Wendygate. It's probably no surprise that I'm saying this, but at the moment, the SNP approach seems to be the better one. Though time will tell.

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