Blogospheric battles and political punch-ups

My oh my, it’s certainly been getting heated in the Scottish political blogosphere of late. The Glasgow East by-election has captivated us all — and it’s captivated some people a bit too much.

Councillor Andrew Burns can’t remember it being like this during the Dunfermline West by-election. If I was in a cheeky mood I might say that is because Lib Dems are just big soft hippies. (Lib Dem Stephen Glenn disapproves of the current blogospheric Labour–SNP tensions.)

But I think the Glasgow East brouhaha is more to do with the fact that, uniquely, both of the main parties in the running are severely on the back foot. Labour are in big trouble because there is the possibility that this safer-than-safe seat will be lost. This in itself represents a major blow for Labour and they are scrabbling defensively to save something from this election.

Meanwhile, the SNP are in big trouble because they started the campaign by confidently predicting a win. When that possibility is by no means certain, they are going on the attack to try and make sure the victory happens and that a narrow loss (which otherwise would have been a massive coup for the SNP) is avoided.

Jeff has heard it rumoured that the blogosphere will be a prominent feature of the Sunday newspapers this weekend as the fuss over this post by Kezia Dugdale continues to rumble on. In the comments over at Stephen Glenn’s blog, Jeff pointed out that by-elections bring out the worst in all of us (by which he means them). “Delightfully so.”

I’m sorry to say that I’m not so delighted (maybe that is my fluffy Lib Dem tendency taking over). In fact, the rough and tumble of party political debate is one of the things that has made me more apathetic about party politics in recent years.

Two or three years ago I used to get involved in all that verbal jousting with party political types. I’m ashamed to say that I was quite rude once or twice in a manner which was uncalled for. But I did get quite annoyed at the way some people seemed to want to inflame the situation and it was inevitable that tensions would boil over at some point or another. I didn’t really enjoy it. In fact it angered me.

Then I realised what was going on. These people actually enjoy the rough and tumble. They live and breathe it. That is why they became politicians. They love to tear metaphorical lumps out of their opponents rather than debating in a calm manner. If they say something below the belt, they don’t necessarily mean real harm. It is a kind of pantomime. A verbal boxing match.

Then I looked at the nasty election campaigns that political parties so often take part in. The relentless negativity and attacking made me wonder if this is what politicians are really in it for. Just as a boxer chooses to box because he likes to fight, a politician chooses his profession because he likes to fight. Except that a politician doesn’t have the physical prowess.

Not that there’s anything particularly wrong with mental battles. This is what debating really is: a verbal chess game. But it’s okay to do it in a debating society. Is it so cool to do it under the pretence that you’re doing it for the good of the people?

Now onto the right storm in a teacup that is Kezia Dugdale’s blog post. Now I don’t know if the rumour is true or not. I err towards the notion that it’s true. Jeff now seems to think it’s true, and I’m sure he has ways of finding out (relative to me anyway — I have no contacts and no-one ever tips me off about anything *sniff*). Plus I doubt that Kezia Dugdale would post something like that unless it was true.

Clearly, though, her post was ambiguously worded in order to have maximum impact. She made it sound as though the SNP cabinet minister in question (who, it transpires, is Nicola Sturgeon) was completely at fault when it seems as though BBC Scotland were probably equally at fault. Now, according to Tom Harris, Nicola Sturgeon’s big crime is trying to wave the security man away. How awful of her!!

Regardless of the merits of the story (“tittle-tattle” was mentioned in the first comment on Kezia Dugdale’s post, and I wouldn’t disagree with that), I have personally had great mileage out of it as I have been gleefully repeating the story to my non-blogging friends. Incidentally, I have equally gleefully been telling the stories of Labour’s various mishaps as well, before any nats start jumping up and down.

Nonetheless, the story is just a bit of fun really and it doesn’t demonstrate that Nicola Sturgeon has made any serious error of judgement (although, as I said, the original post was ambiguously-enough worded to make you think it might have). In short, it is just a light-hearted sort of “and finally”-style election story if you ask me. A Prescott punch-level story, as Two Doctors points out.

The fact that the next day Nicola Sturgeon apparently asked Kezia Dugdale to retract the post says much more about Nicola Sturgeon than the original post said about Kezia Dugdale if you ask me. What was a minor post on a blog that didn’t say very much about the SNP is now apparently on the verge of being big news (or bigger than it was anyway).

The story has certainly snowballed since then and the Scottish blogosphere has been in about as much of a frenzy as I have ever seen it in. It all reminds me of the Schillings scenario. Wouldn’t it have been better for Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP to take the moral high ground and ignore it?

I have to point out that I quite admire Kezia Dugdale. I am no apologist for Labour, as regular readers will know. But you have got to take your hat off to her. Even though, because of all that rough and tumble that I dislike, no-one enters politics unless they have a thick skin, Kezia Dugdale has to take a lot of flak.

She is practically the only major Labour voice in a Scottish blogosphere that is increasingly dominated by SNP macho-men (dare I call them ‘cybernats’?) who are poised, waiting to throw stones at Labour. I and many others would give up in that situation. You’ve got to give Kezia Dugdale credit for perseverance if nothing else.

Even though her blog is ridiculously partisan and never very critical of the Labour party, you can easily level this criticism at two or three SNP blogs as well (Tartan Hero and Calum Cashley spring to mind). Ideas of Civilisation had a really interesting post about this. Why do people blog about politics, particularly when they are often so polemical?

Related to that, Views from North Britain reminds us that blogging is still a minority activity. So any amount of posting on a blog is unlikely to have much of an effect.

Incidentally, how come Nicola Sturgeon always seems to be at the centre of these internet rumours come election time? I seem to remember during last year’s Scottish Parliament elections the story of her very rude nickname was flying relatively freely…

Update: I have just seen this post from Holyrood Watcher which pretty much sums up the situation.


  1. Hey Duncan,

    Thoroughly enjoyable post there. I just wanted to clarify the line below:

    “Jeff pointed out that by-elections bring out the worst in all of us (by which he means them).”

    Not sure why you are completely twisting my words but i did infact mean “us”. Some of my own posts of late have been low-brow, dare I say even bordering on nasty, but I hide behind the rough and tumble of by-elections as an excuse and, whatever the result on Thursday, I expect from Friday I’ll be back to my naive, fraternal, optimistic best.

    I personally delight in the bad blood of by-elections as it fuels a perverse enjoyment I get from it, much like watching an Old Firm football game or England vs Argentina etc. It’s tribal and winner takes all. The bonus for me is, once the result is in, I don’t really give a monkeys either way. It truly is just a spectator sport. I would support Celtic or England in the above games but if Rangers or Argentina won through then good on them. Same goes for SNP and Labour.


  2. Andrew Burns can’t remember Dunfermline and West Fife being as bad as thise. Oh dear what selective memory he as. Think I may have to compare the literature from the two campaign later on when I get a change. Of course Labour and the SNp were having a right old go at each other there and here. Us ‘big soft hippies’ [I’m slight, a former athlete climbed tenements for 5 hours yesterday before taking a quick break for lunch and haven’t hte hair for hippiedom. No idea where that alusion comes from ;)] in the Lib dems of course were out there getting our message out to the people that matter, the electorate, and we know what happened.

    BTW had numerous people coming up to me yesterday saying that because Ian Robertson wasn’t slinging dirt at the others (unlike Curran or Mason) and answered questions honestly, even when the answer wasn’t easy, that they were voting for him as a result.

  3. Sorry Jeff — that was me trying to distance myself from “us”. Serves me right for making a smarty-pants comment. Smarty-pants comments usually backfire. :-/