22 November 2009

A fourth birthday

I should, in a way, be celebrating: this blog has reached its fourth anniversary. I'm proud of that: I've blogged the election of David Cameron; the resignation of Charles Kennedy and the election of Ming Campbell; his own resignation and his replacement with Nick Clegg, to say nothing of the coronation of Gordon Brown. I've posted on the fall of Jack McConnell, the demise of Wendy Alexander and the elevation of Iain Gray; the end of Nicol Stephen's leadership and the beginning of Tavish Scott's; I've written about Robin Harper standing down and Patrick Harvie taking his place.

I've seen a Holyrood election; a European election; a General Election that failed to materialise; the Dunfermline & West Fife By-Election, where the LibDems snatched the seat from under Labour's nose; Moray, where the SNP got back on the front foot; Glasgow East, where the SNP pulled off a sensational victory; and Glenrothes and Glasgow North East, where it didn't.

I've found time to write about the first SNP Government, the first Budget to fall, and the passing of the first Asian MSP. And I'm satisfied with most of what I've written.

Who knows what's around the corner?

I have to say, I'm going into the fifth year of this blog in a far warier state than previous years.

Firstly, there's the demise of Wardog's blog. I'll be the first to admit that I was wary of it when it was in operation: I think I'm right in saying that Wardog migrated to the blogosphere from the scotsman.com comments section. And like a lot of bloggers, I have never been a fan of that part of the website - there always seems to be too much venom, too much bile, too much spite. And those that made the crossing brought their baggage with them - particularly Scottish Unionist, an intelligent, thoughtful writer whose blog's demise I did not mark, as he tried to bill himself as supporting the Union but then fell back on attacking Nationalism, then on attacking Nationalists (so if I were to sum up his blog in two words, I'd say "wasted potential").

So I've always held Wardog's blog at arm's length. And I suspect I wasn't the only one to see his blog and those of others from the Scotsman site in that way, to the extent that he did leave a comment praising a recent Scottish Roundup, where he hailed that week's edition as: "At last a comprehensive Scottish blog selection rather than just the usual clique."

You can sense the frustration there and I totally accept and admit to my part in creating that frustration. I'll own up now to looking at the scotsman.com commenters' blogs with the same intellectual snobbery found in the MSM when discussing the blogosphere. Frankly, that section of the blogosphere doesn't appeal to me and my instincts are to keep away from it in the main. As you'd expect from someone blogging on Scottish politics from a distance away, I often have no more than my instincts to follow and I trust them. So I've missed a lot of Wardog's offerings.

But this week, I feel for him: clearly his posts cut close to the bone on a couple of occasions but the MSM tracked down his identity and decided to do a hatchet job on him, to the extent that his job was put at risk and Wardog wisely came to the conclusion that it might be best to call it a day for now. I don't see what else he could have done. But the idea that the identity of any of us is somehow worth the time of journalists is laughable. And the prospect that a job might be put at risk for what he wrote is just plain horrifying. Frankly, I thought we lived in a country where you were allowed to have strong opinions and a job. Apparently, that's no longer the case. Shame on the Scotsman for going to town on this, and shame on Wardog's employers for deciding that expressing strong opinions beyond the work environment should call his positions into question.

And as a result of this intimidation - for that's what it is - the blogosphere has lost yet another member.

But others are going, and they're going right now.

Bucket of Tongues has gone just this week. Malc suspended operations a fortnight ago. And that's not counting the others that, in recent weeks and months, have just fizzled out. Now, that's a part of life, but there's something more troubling going on, as bloggers are now starting to openly question if the medium has a future. Jeff is beginning to talk about the death of blogging. Even Duncan, one of the Scottish blogosphere's godfathers, notes there's something of a change, citing the rise of Twitter.

Now, I tweet, but I prefer the blogosphere. Mainly as - and this post is the proof - 140 characters just aren't enough for me.

And I think that's what will keep the blogosphere going. If you want to really get your teeth into something, this is the place to do it. Blogs will come, blogs will go - we'll see another spike next Spring in time for the Election, only for all the new blogs to fall away by the autumn. The same thing will happen in 2011. Look out for a lot of blogs on local Council issues popping up - then popping down again - in 2012. The blogosphere is constantly changing, adapting to new situations, as new people come into it for all sorts of different purposes, and others leave for their own reasons. While this makes the online medium vibrant, and exciting to follow - you don't know what's round the next corner - it means that there are few constants, there are few anchors or points of reference. The blogosphere doesn't have many things to hold onto.

Which is why I have to be honest: this blog is not one of them.

A number of people mentioned as the Total Politics awards were being discussed that they'd have given me a higher ranking if I posted more often. But as I've always said, I don't subscribe to the Iain Dale approach of blogging for the sake of it, every day. In a choice between speaking because I have something to say, and speaking because I have to say something, I go for the first option on most occasions. And today has been one of the rare occasions recently where I've had a lot to chew on and plenty of time to do so.

Firstly, real life is getting in the way: this blog started when I was on the Dole, and needed something to do with all the spare time I had. Then, when I finally got a job, this blog represented a welcome change of scene and pace (and a refuge from a current dragging me into accountancy). Now, to be frank, a change is no longer as good as a rest. I'm just tired.

Secondly, and more importantly, I'm going to 'fess up to something far more troubling. You could almost call it a crisis of confidence. And it was Glasgow North East that put the spotlight on it. Not the result, or the campaign - though as you can see, I was pretty quiet about most of that. No, it was the reaction that brought things into relief. After Glasgow East and Glenrothes, I blogged my reaction at the first available opportunity. After Glasgow North East, it took me around 60 hours from the result to get the post out. That should not be happening.

So what happened? It wasn't that I was too busy, or even too tired that weekend. It wasn't that I didn't know what to make of it. I had all the ideas in my head, but I just couldn't get them into words or onto a computer screen. It was only the fact that I was doing the Sunday Whip that forced me to do that at the same time.

And that's exactly what I produced - a forced post. It wasn't an analysis, it was a box-ticking exercise, getting my reactions on record, taking a look at the main parties. I've never posted simply because I felt I had to before. And I never wish to do it again. If I can't enjoy the writing, I don't know how you can enjoy the reading.

Basically, if the feeling is that there's a paucity of posts on here, I apologise for that, but it's not going to get any better any time soon. This is the first day in a long time that I've been chomping at the bit to get to my keyboard and I don't see another day like this for a while, unless something big happens. At least, not until the General Election.

To put it bluntly, I'm questioning my wish to continue. Do I have the time/energy/creativity/imagination for this at the moment? I'm not sure anymore.

Thankfully, in case I change my mind, I have a reason to press on for now: the Whip posts. These get a surprisingly positive reaction and I do think of them as a useful service, particularly given a minority government where every vote counts and it's worth tracking who actually shows up, and which parties are working with whom on which issues. So it's a project that I'm proud of and is worth pressing on with.

But here's something that's occurred to me: what if, after 2011, there's a Coalition? What if, after that election, someone manages to cobble together a majority? At that point, almost every vote becomes little more than a foregone conclusion, and the Whip is made redundant.

So once that election is out of the way, and all of the dust has settled, that might - might - just be it for MacNumpty.

Thanks to everyone for reading for the last four years. I can be reasonably confident enough to promise you a fifth anniversary, but after that? Hopefully I'll still be able to deliver. But we shall have to see. I only wish I could be far more celebratory.


Stuart Winton said...

Compelling reading.

Not really sure how to respond, except to say good luck whatever you decide to do, and happy birthday in the meantime!

BellgroveBelle said...

Happy birthday - and here's to many more of them.

M said...

Yours is one of the very best blogs which I look forward to every week. You provide thoughtful and erudite analysis and opinion on the political events of the day so please don't go - Scotland needs you at this time!

polaris said...

I'd be sorry to see you go, your blog inspired me to start putting my modest thoughts up there in bytes. However your erudite post encapsulates the dilemma I suspect all bloggers feel - post or not, for the sake of it or the passion of it. Your disappearance would be big loss to the Scottish bloggysphere.

Incidentally I believe Wardog has resigned his lecturing position at RGU. Is any blog worth that price?

Anonymous said...

Wardog wasn't hounded by people in some concerted, establishment orientated smear.

Here's what happened: Wardog posts some defamatory comments about the Scottish secretary.

A news of the world journalist emails him to ask if that is appropriate, given his position at the uni.

Wardog posts the journalist's email, along with a series of sneering comments, accusing the journalist of being mental and saying that if he thinks cunt is inappropriate, then he should hear what he says to his students.

Tom Gordon of the Sunday Herald reads the blog - journalists often surf the blogosphere - and thinks, hang on, didn't murphy just open a new block at the uni where Wardog works. That's a story.

Tom Gordon phones Wardog, looking for a comment.

Wardog posts a sneering attack on Gordon.

Tom Peterkin of Scotland on Sunday reads this and thinks, hang on, there's a story here.

Wardog's employers are approached for comment. They launch an investigation.

The result - a column in the news of the world on the matter and news stories by Gordon and Peterkin.

Now, this is not an attack on opinions. It's a challenge to bloggers, many of whom launch vicious, defamatory attacks on journalists, accusing them of being labour stooges, to back up their claims.

Wardog had nothing to back up:

his allegation that murphy was a cunt who barged past MPs to get on TV

his allegation that Richard Baker assaulted an elderly person

his suggestion that Willie bain had been less than honest over his council tax.

His blog was not an opinion, it was a series of defamations that would not have made it past a newspaper's lawyers.

Freedom of speech is not freedom to describe people as cunts, thugs and crooks.

Bloggers should play by the same rules - in fact the law demands it - as the journalists they routinely attack.

Tonight, two blogs are running stories attacking peterkin and McColm of the screws as cunts. Completly actionable, of course, and here's hoping they sue them.

And - crucially - guaranteed to keep the focus on Bruce Newlands aka wardog, who probably wishes he'd never started this war.

There is an old adage about never picking fights with people who buy ink by the barrel. It's all well and good being a martyr to the independence cause, but these people are finding there are legitimate consequences to their actions.

Expect more journalists who've been defamed by these people to bite back.

Expect bruce newlands to remain the focus of newspaper enquiries while his supporters continue their defamations.

But don't believe this is politically motivated.

Bill said...

Happy 4th Blogiversary and thanks for another interesting article. With luck you'll still be around to celebrate your 5th.

As someone who will in a few months be celebrating his 8th blogging anniversary I know how difficult it is to keep going. For the first couple of years there were hardly enough hours in the day to put down all the thoughts and opinions I wished to record - since then I've gone through various hiatuses, even going so far as to formally close the blog about 2 years ago, but that only lasted for about 7 weeks until I felt I just had to write about something that had wound me up. Now I write at my own pace, just for me and for anyone else who cares to read; if I don't feel in the mood to write for a few days, or even a week, then I don't.

So in summary, just write as often as you feel comfortable with - I just hope it won't be too infrequently.

Best regards,

oldnat said...

I enjoy reading your blog, but unless you're making a living from it like Iain Dale, then it should never become a chore for you.

There are always the general political blogs like Blether with Brian where you can post, as and when, if you decide to give up this blog.

In the meantime, I'll log on to read what you write.

Snowthistle said...

I've just come across your blog, Directed here by Oldnat. I hope you don't give up I've only just found you!

subrosa said...

I enjoy your posts Will and do appreciate your Whip posts in particular.

I will not comment on Wardog's demise as I feel enough has been said, some of it quite inaccurate of course.

Eddie Truman said...

You gotta keep on keepin on dude.
It's good stuff, folks wouldn't read it if it were shite.

Will said...

Thanks to (almost) all for the kudos - as I said, I'll probably be continuing in some form, albeit a quieter one until my blogging mojo has returned. As things stand, I don't feel I currently have the time to put into bloggery the effort required to get the results I want, but remember that I've given myself an 18-month timeframe (which affords me with lots and lots of wriggle room!). And if I still can't motivate myself after a year and a half, then the blog will pretty much deserve to be killed off!

So we'll see what happens: hopefully something will get my motor running and we'll be back to how things should be very soon. Or I'll trundle to the Christmas break, enter January rested, and ready to start again.

In terms of Wardog, I've said all I want to say, about him, about the situation and about the Scotsman.com/blogosphere crossover (and I recommend this post by Chris) though I'm advising commenters that if you object to Wardog using the C word, then at least apply the principle both ways and have the decency to asterisk it yourselves - I'm looking at the anonymous commenter who presented us with the word in full despite slagging Wardog off for deploying it.

Finally, in terms of the legality of the C word as it's been deployed, I suspect (though I'm no lawyer) that anyone bringing an action would have to prove that the bloggers intended to allege that the journos/politicos in question were integral parts of the female anatomy. If lawyers can't prove that they meant it literally, we're stuck in the metaphorical use of the word, and so in the realm of opinion and comment, where my understanding is that it becomes easier for the defence teams. Publicly voicing your dislike of someone is not, the last time I checked, an offence.

James Higham said...

Hey Will, that's really something. Congrats.

Stuart Winton said...

Will, I think you're right about the profanities in question, but the problem in that regard seemed to be with Wardog's part-time employer, and bringing the institution he worked for into disrepute, sort of thing.

Any action in defamation - very unlikely from a politician in relation to something said on a blog, or they'd never be out of the courts - would have been founded on the allegations regarding the conduct of the politicians rather than the language per se.

If you read the column in the NotW - which makes painful reading - there Euan McColm essentially says that Wardog was lying and couldn't substantiate the claims.

Thus it's conceviable that Wardog could sue the NotW if he could substantiate his claims.

Other than that it's just the usual court of public opinion sort of thing conducted via the press, which basically portrayed Wardog as a hate-filled cybernat, but juxtaposed this with his real life respectable persona.

A salutary lesson for extreme blogging.

Ted Harvey said...

A hearty happy birthday to you. I have previously posted my appreciation of your blogging output and I would like to add a few observations on what you said this time.

I share your worries about what happened to Wardog with regard to ‘are you no longer allowed to have an opinion and a job’ (and if I were Wardog I would be investigating my legal recourse against my employers for their alleged knee-jerk public response to journos’ enquiries.

I couldn’t help noting that the one attempted justification for the attacks on Wardog was made by and ‘Anon’; and wasn’t it a suspiciously well-detailed (exhaustedly so) treatise?

I do wonder about the motives and morals of the journos involved in this and other cases of persecuting bloggers. The unpleasant truth is that many conventional journos and presenters are just plain scared of the power of bloggers and just want them removed from the scene. Even otherwise highly regarded journos such as Ian McWhirter can seem to lose their generosity and sense of balanced judgement when it comes to blogs and bloggers.

There again, the bile that passes through the Scotsman comments section is truly at times awful – the Herald for awhile was equally bad but pre-registration seemed to calm that down. But what is this telling us? Perhaps that the genteel but manipulative spinfest that passes for ‘official’ politics is now utterly discredited and out of touch with the language and other nomenclature used by the those in real society? For example, how many readers read Wardog’s (wrong-headed) description of Jim Murphy in the context of what that video footage was allegedly showing and thought “yes you’re right, he is a bit of a …”

And anyway, for me on the very rare occasions I have scanned conventional print media of the likes of the Daily Mail, I find some of their content to amount to no more than bile (maybe their journos are really bloggers disguised as journos?).

I go along with your not blogging-everyday-for-the-sake-of-it. I know it’s supposed to be a golden rule of blogging that you do so to retain visitors. But my own judgement is that return visitors can be assured so long as the posts are of quality (such as yours), and so long as the blogger is not giving off signals that it is just a wee bit of egotism from them when they can be bothered.

I can appreciate the problems of motivation and the resources demands on you. What about if you decided on a far less volume, but with predictably regularity in addition to your Sunday Whip? i.e. your Whips and then a piece every second Tuesday or something like that?

Twitter so far as I can see is going to remain that – just twittering.

I see an interesting dynamic at work inthat Twitter will cut out many of the more facile and self-preoccupied type of blogs – meaning that the blogshere might be left even more of a market place for the more thoughtful/stimulating/informative/entertaining, or whatever, value-adding type of blog.

Anyhows, I have tentatively at times mulled over the possibility of entering the world of blogs with one of my own – so I’ll have to read up on some SAS’s urban deep camouflage techniques first, lest I become persecuted by the journos

I really do hope that you will feel able to carry on with what I believe is a unique and uniquely
valuable blog.

Aye We Can ! said...

very thoughtful post,

Wardogs plight a real shame. But we should all learn from it and move on.

Expressing opinion has always come with a price, especially non Labour ones in Scotland.

One rider: just as there is no one "blogger" community or "cybernat" one, there aint a single Scottish journo one either. They are quite a diverse bunch.

Mr. Mxyzptlk said...

You take life too seriously..

remember it's joke just a joke

Dark Lochnagar said...

I haven't really read your blog as much as I should have because basically there are only so many blogs you can look at in a day if you are also contributing to your own. Ones that are not updated daily tend to be left behind because you have to wait for them to load and it's the same post as three days ago. It of course depends what you blog. You tend to wait until you have a serious point to make while I comment on current affairs which is a lot easier. Maybe if I could type quicker, I could be bothered writing a diatribe. :-)

Alec said...

What's your view on Labour thuggery in Renfrewshire.


It seems that this fellow has previous.



Allan said...

Excellent post. I agree with quite a lot of points made. I can see where Wardog is coming from, even if i can't condone the coice of language.

Happy blogging anniversary.

Anonymous said...

You'll have noticed Montague Burton deleted his comments. And his blog. Now why would Wardog's champion do that?


Scottish Unionist said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Scottish Unionist,

Montague will not thank you for this support. He might accept donations to his legal fund, however.

Scottish Unionist said...
This comment has been removed by the author.