(Or, "The Rise of the CyberNats!")
One of the things to come out of Kez Dugdale's decision to relinquish the Soapbox (and also, oddly, out of a post on here about Truro & Falmouth - and Calum Cashley's right, my tastes are strange and that's the way I like them) is a consideration of the presence of SNP members on the internet. And specifically, the large presence of SNP members online. Did we force Kezia out? Are we bad for the blogosphere? Why are there so many of us?
Let me think about the last one first.
It's been suggested that so many SNP members have turned to bloggery as the MSM has largely been hostile to the SNP and independence. Perhaps it's that: the emergence of the blogosphere has allowed for more opinions to be seen more often. And if you don't like the comment and analysis the papers give you, why not make your own?
Also, there's a massive school of thought that because the SNP were an Opposition party, and by definition are anti-Establishment, then a medium such as a blog is perfect for supporters.
But these two facts overlook something: yes, the media has traditionally been hostile (with the exception of the Scottish Sun in 1992) to the SNP, and yes, the SNP were in Opposition until last year, but why was the take-off point for the majority of SNP blogs (especially some of the most notable) as late as Autumn 2006? Why did it take so long? Is it a product of the momentum that the party was gaining, that more activists had their tails up, and were willing to take to their keyboards? And why is the number of SNP blogs still heading in an upward direction? Is it just because of the 'honeymoon' period? The media is less hostile to the Party now (but mainly because it dislikes Labour more than it dislikes us) and we are in Government, but still SNP activists are blogging. So it has to be more than just media hostility and opposition.
And what of the suggestion that blogging is co-ordinated, controlled by HQ? Well, I can say right now that I've never had to deal with any co-ordination or control and would make clear to anyone who tried to apply it that they could shove it up their arse.
Consider the Glasgow SNP bloggers: Tartan Hero, IndyGal, Jennifer Dunn, BellgroveBelle, to name but four. One started, it inspired someone else, who inspired another, and so on. This also works for the Edinburgh Labour bloggers, all of whom started at largely the same time. And on both sides, they inspired others, who saw a possible way of getting their own message across. It's not that they got organised, it's not that a decision was taken for these people to become bloggers. One started, and the rest followed suit, one after the other. This is Web 2.0 in action: even the basic act of bloggery has the potential to go viral in the right conditions. And you can look at how different those blogs are now to see that there is no co-ordination: the bloggers themselves are in control, posting their perspectives on their issues.
You do get some attempts at organisation, though: chiefly on an internet poll where a local party activist may send an e-mail to colleagues asking people to vote in it. That's not unique to the SNP though, and it's organised at a local level. So the blogs start virally, not by diktat, and the participation in polls is borne of a few super-keen activists.
And at the other end of the spectrum from bloggers we have the ones who troll about at the bottom of the Herald and Scotsman websites, the real 'Cyber-Nats'. Well, let me just say that the very notion that a political party that is organisationally and strategically capable of winning an election would decide to send out those tin-foil-hat-wearing, venom-spouting, inarticulate nutjobs as part of a tactic to promote the party line is absolutely laughable. The fact that they can see the hostility they're drawing and still carry on as they do shows what complete muppets they are.
You think it's even possible to organise them? Think again. And you think it's only the SNP who have them? Well, only SNP trolls have the name, but there are Labour trolls as well, and Tory trolls, to stay nothing of UKIP and BNP trolls. If I were to hazard a guess at why there seem so many, I'd suggest that it's just that the SNP trolls are more concentrated, focusing on the Scottish outlets, rather than the full gamut of UK-based media options.
So are we, in our numbers, harming the Scottish blogosphere?
Well, no. Firstly, you get a massive range of priorities, approaches, perspectives and styles within the SNP blogosphere (go through my blogroll, pick any five SNP sites, and you'll see what I mean), so we're a fairly vibrant community in our own right, and it'll be interesting to see how things unfold when something triggers a massive internal debate within the party.
That we outnumber the others is hardly our fault, when anyone can produce a blog if they wish. I'll be considering Labour in particular another time, but we can't be blamed if the number of visible Tory bloggers can be counted on one hand, or if the number of prominent Scottish LibDem bloggers remains in single digits (but despite, or perhaps because of that, produces consistently high-quality, readable posts). It's for them to take the initiative, and interested SNP activists shouldn't hold back just because the other parties can't get their act together. It's the absence of the other parties that's causing a problem, and not the presence of the SNP.
And did the Cyber-Nats drive Kez out?
Only she really knows the answer to this, but I'd hazard a no. Now the trolls who keep on making the SNP look prattish on newspaper websites day in and day out did migrate to the blogosphere and did home in on Kez, but that could be because she'd already made a name for herself, or it could be that they do check the blogs, but Kez's posts acted like a red rose to a bull (geddit?) and set them off, foaming at the mouth.
But Kez pre-moderated her comments, and always had the option of zapping them (sometimes she took it and it might not have been a wise course of action; others she didn't and perhaps could have done reasonably enough). Also, the fact that they kept peddling the same approach that just makes the Party look idiotic does suggest a certain pigshite-like thickness about our friends in the Comments section meant that someone with half a brain (and Kez has a full one) could squash them in their sleep. Indeed, it probably suited Kez to keep the comments there and let them stand for themselves. "This is the level of our opponents," she could quite rightly say to her colleagues. Of course, that would beg the question of how Labour lost last year, but nevertheless, those idiots could and should have been a morale-booster to any Labour blogger.
But did it get too much for her? Well, legal threats aside, Kez has never struck me as someone to back down from a challenge or walk away from something when it gets too rough. Rather, her own blog showed that she could take part in the rough-and-tumble just as well as anyone else. She could have taken those folks if she'd wanted. Did SNP activists drive her away from her keyboard? No, she's not the type to be driven away like that, and she wouldn't want to give them the satisfaction.
All the same, at the risk of becoming a lightning rod for the CyberNats - those on the comments pages anyway - let me say this, SNP member to supposed SNP supporters: you are the ones who should be packing up the keyboards. You're doing the party, its cause and its image no good at all. you're making the rest of us, the rational non-headbanging majority, look oafish. Step aside.
The SNP isn't damaging the Scottish blogosphere. SNP members aren't damaging the online debate, but certain 'supporters' on the newspaper websites are damaging not cyberspace, but their own party, and they don't even see it. It's time the rest of us took our image back.
12 October 2008
(Or, "The Rise of the CyberNats!")