Archive: BBC Scotland

I was interested in this recent article about SNP MSP Kenny Gibson’s comments about Reporting Scotland (via cobaltmale). For him, BBC Scotland’s flagship news programme is too parochial. Apparently the way to fix this would be the creation of a Scottish Six.

It would mean you would have less of the Mrs-McGlumpha’s-cat-caught-up-a-tree-type stories that you sometimes get on Reporting Scotland.

There would be things presented from an international perspective rather than at present, which is still on occasion mind-numbingly parochial in my view – that would be a better way forward.

Before proceeding, I should point out that I am in favour of the Scottish Six. But I do have one problem with the idea.

I don’t follow Kenny Gibson’s logic that by increasing the length of Reporting Scotland, you will have fewer cat-up-a-tree stories. Sure, a Scottish Six would cover all of the important international news and UK-wide news that is salient to Scottish viewers. But then what?

I would guess that on most days, that would fill 40 minutes tops. Don’t forget that a Scottish Six would remove any “Englandandwales”-only stories, which could easily trim five or ten minutes off the Six on many days.

Given that the current Six O’Clock News-and-Reporting Scotland slot is almost an hour long, it seems to me that there would be a lot of time to fill. When you consider that it is followed by the dire One Show, filled with its own type of cat-up-a-tree stories, the problem is accentuated. It’s bad enough having half an hour of dross on prime time BBC One. We don’t want even more.

Maybe it is a prestige thing though. A confidence thing. Part of the nationalist argument is that Scotland has latent abilities that are locked up as a result of its participation in the union. Maybe they also think that a Reporting Scotland with an upgraded “Scottish Six” status will result in the producers and journalists coming up with a better product. Who’s to say that’s not possible?

Perhaps the most lamentable thing about Reporting Scotland is not so much the quality of the programme, which I think is not too bad. The main problem is the fact that I couldn’t honestly tell you that today’s Reporting Scotland was all that different to the programme that existed before devolution. It is still presented as a local news programme; a disposable appendix of the Six.

This adds to the perception that the Scottish media has, counter-intuitively, withered in the devolution era. Faced with more news to report in the form of a devolved Parliament, Scotland’s media has in fact failed to step up to the plate and is by most accounts weaker than it has ever been.

Unlike the newspapers, Reporting Scotland is funded by the license fee. So it doesn’t feel the pinch in quite the same way as commercial outlets. Maybe there is an opportunity for BBC Scotland to fill the gap that is being left by Scotland’s media by going ahead and launching the Scottish Six.

There is still something inside me that doubts that the Scottish Six could successfully fill an hour-long slot. When you watch Reporting Scotland, most days they are already talking about sport (almost always football, and usually just Rangers or Celtic) just ten or fifteen minutes after the programme has started. With more time to fill, we might have to get used to the real cat-up-a-tree stories.

I had a great time yesterday at the Edinburgh Twestival, an opportunity to meet other local users of Twitter while at the same time raising money for charity: water.

A comment I heard a lot from other people was that the event wasn’t quite what they expected. It certainly wasn’t a total geekfest as some may have expected. BBC Scotland’s tweeter noted the friendly atmosphere in an article about EdTwestival on the BBC News website. It felt a bit like a gig really — just one where people were staring into their iPhones a lot.

The venue was a bit odd. It was somewhat posher than I was expecting, and I was rather peeved that only expensive beers appeared to be available. I can tell you it was the first time I’ve ever paid £4 for a pint. I know Edinburgh is supposed to be expensive, but phweesh! I’ll have to stay on 99p Deuchars at Wetherspoons for a while to balance things out a bit.

The main action was happening in a room which appeared to be the outside on the inside. Or something. I only realised we were “outside” when I saw people smoking. There is an experience I’ve not had since 2006. The strange environment also prompted many to note how cold it was. A toasty atmosphere, but a cool temperature.

Meanwhile, I had trouble finding my way around. I was rather desperate for the toilet. I hadn’t been since I left my house at around half past three, having spent the couple of hours since I arrived at Edinburgh in deep discussion with a new acquaintance in a coffee house. I was becoming rather anxious to dispense with it.

So I started to wander around looking for the toilets. But they were nowhere to be seen. I consulted the floor plan, where I immediately found toilets on the second floor. So to the second floor I went, but when I arrived there I couldn’t see any signs to show me where to look after number 1. So I did what any sane person would do: stumble around until finding something that vaguely looked like a toilet.

I thought I had struck gold when I came across a door that had “GENTLEMEN” written on it (although it’s usually better not to dabble in the gold stuff in the toilet). Sadly, life is not so simple. As I reached for the door a person asked me where I was going. “Toilet,” I grunted rather impolitely, as I was rapidly running out of time. I was then asked something about an interview. I can’t remember exactly what my response was. Probably something like, “I don’t know, just let me take a piss.”

Suspicions grew further when there was no lock on the door. And there was a shower in the room. Had I begun to lay a yellow cable in someone’s en suite bathroom?

Possibly. I don’t know. While my Austin Powers-style jet was in full flow, I gradually realised what had happened. The room was being used by one of the sponsors (I forget which) of the Twestival for filming interviews. When I say “the room”, obviously I don’t mean the toilet itself. The room containing the toilet. That would have been really weird, though things were awkward enough as they were.

So when I came out I apologised profusely and to be fair the least I could do was go through the interview. Thankfully it wasn’t too bad, although I am now cringing at some of the answers I gave.

So that is a warning to you. If you see me on some website somewhere looking a bit flustered and awkwardly answering questions about my Twitter habits, it was my post-tinkle chit chat. Someone please warn me if it turns up somewhere.

That mishap aside, though, I had a great time at the Edinburgh Twestival. I met some cool people. It’s quite unusual to be recognised by the Twitter username on my name badge rather than something more traditional such as my face. I had a great chat with @Sarabian who recognised the name doctorvee not from Twitter but from this blog — specifically my posts about Woolworths.

There was also much fundraising fun to be had. Sadly, the raffle threatened to descend into farce when all of the tickets drawn were orange 3XX — whoops!

There was an auction where some of the items went for some rather low amounts, especially given it was for charity. Obviously everyone was saving up for the British Grand Prix tickets, which went for £300! Well out of my price range unfortunately. I sent a tongue-in-cheek tweet about it.

One of the coolest things about the EdTwestival was a projection which displayed all tweets mentioning #EdTwestival. Otherwise, I was locked out of the Twitter world. My phone is a bit of a relic so it was SMS only for me. But I saw my brother’s reply to my tweet about the British GP auction on the projector! That was a nice moment.

There was some good music from Peter Gregson, Plum and Epic26 — all new acts to me, and fun to discover. Unfortunately, the power went down while Epic26 were playing, and by that time I had to run for my train.

I also had to cut short conversations with @Sarabian and @happyseaurchin. Sorry guys! That’s the miserly First Scotrail for you though.

Overall, Edinburgh Twestival raised over £3,500 for charity: water. Not bad at all! And well above what the tweegies in the west raised. Which is what counts. Right? ;)

I’d love for there to be another Edinburgh Twestival soon. It was a great evening. Hopefully by the next time I will have improved my mingling skills. And I won’t take a slash in the wrong toilet.

At work, we are given a choice between working on Boxing Day or working on the 2 January. I have always opted to take 2 January off, even though I tend not to drink much on Hogmanay — certainly not enough for me still to be hungover two days later. Sure enough, this year I have no plans to see in the new year with a bang.

(Even if I did, I probably wouldn’t be able to attend, as I’ve been hit by some winter disease that has taken it right out of me. Yesterday I was sent home from work, and when I got home I went straight to bed and accidentally fell asleep. This was at around 16:30. I stayed asleep more or less right through until 08:30 this morning. I feel better today, but still in no form to celebrate properly.)

Nonetheless, it feels right to work on Boxing Day rather than 2 January, even though I couldn’t articulate a reason why. I don’t know if this is some kind of subconscious Scottish patriotism, the day being recognised as a holiday in few other countries. Maybe it’s just because it’s later, and I want to save it up to enjoy (time discounting wouldn’t be much of a factor, as I filled in the form months ago). Or maybe it just indicates a preference for New Year as a holiday over Christmas.

It has to be said, Hogmanay is pretty naff. To be frank, we could do without the twee BBC Scotland fiddle-me-dee extravaganza. Only an Excuse? ceased to be funny about a decade ago, and lost all relevance to me as I lost interest in football. The other side is not much better, as if the BBC thought that making us suffer most Fridays of the year with Jools Holland on the box wasn’t enough.

But there is still something special about Hogmanay. I think it stems from my memories of it as a child. It was more or less the only day of the year when I was allowed to stay up late. For a nightowl like me, it was amazing. And sometimes I even got an extra special tipple with which to see in the new year: Irn Bru.

Mind you, it’s not as if childhood memories of Christmas are exactly dire. But I think it is easier to fall out of love with Christmas as you become an adult. Gleefully receiving presents makes way for having to give presents. Your eyes are opened to the stress everyone puts themselves under. People get hung up on creating the perfect Christmas, which I would have said rather ruins the mood, which is supposed to be cheerful.

Some people are forced to spend Christmas with family members that they don’t like, and possibly don’t even see for the rest of the year. For some, Christmas Day is a day of dreary, dreaded routine.

Perhaps most importantly, Christmas brings with it a whole suite of naffness. Tacky tinsel, Christmas cards with garish depictions of Santa Claus, and a list of terrible Christmas songs as long as your arm.

Despite the twee TV, our attitude towards New Year is much simpler. You go out with your pals, get blootered and take two days to recover. And perhaps most importantly, there are no bad Paul McCartney songs about New Year. Awesome.

So happy new year everyone! Thanks for sticking with the blog through the dry patches. I might make it my new year’s resolution to update more often. Then again, that was my resolution last year as well…

Last week Ofcom gave ITV the go-ahead to cut regional output by 50%. Today ITV have duly gone and cut 1,000 jobs, almost half of which will come from regional news. ITV plc looks set to reduce the number of its regional news areas from 17 to nine.

It does make you wonder about the future of regional television, if it even exists. I have personally never been a fan of regional television, and I say that even having lived all my life in a very distinctive part of the UK. I might be the wrong person to ask though. I’m no fan of the “idiot box”. Next year, when F1 finally goes back to the BBC where it belongs, I will probably be able to say that I do not watch commercial television at all.

But regional television, it is fair to say, is not exactly pain-free viewing. More often that not, you can tell the programmes were made on a minuscule budget, and they are generally pretty naff.

Of course, back in the day, most ITV programmes were “regional” in the sense that they were made by one of the ITV franchisees. But the best programmes went out on the network and were therefore aimed at a national audience, with UK-sized aspirations and UK-sized budgets. As such, programmes that were aimed to serve a particular area were, almost by definition, sub-standard. I do wonder quite what the point of such programmes is.

It is slightly different for regional news. I can understand the appeal of having a separate bulletin dedicated to the news in a particular area. But the thing is that the regions are always too big for the bulletins to have a truly ‘local’ feel.

The ITV region I live in, STV Central, stretches from approximately where I live to Fort William while encompassing the massive populations of Edinburgh, Glasgow and Strathclyde. Watching the bulletin, you would get the impression that hardly anything ever happens outside of Glasgow apart from the politics stuff which happens in Edinburgh. Even many of the political programmes, both on STV and BBC Scotland, are made in Glasgow rather than Edinburgh. If you live anywhere else, it can feel pretty alienating.

The BBC has never even attempted to split Scotland up into regions and Reporting Scotland essentially aspires to be a national news bulletin. The problem with even this is that there either isn’t enough news to report or there isn’t enough budget. Even Scotland, with its large area and separate institutions — most importantly, the Parliament — apparently doesn’t have enough going on to properly justify taking up 30 minutes of the schedule.

Whenever I watch Reporting Scotland, they seem to spend about five minutes per programme trailing what’s coming up later in the programme. Around five minutes into the programme, they are already talking about sport. And then they are normally only talking about football. Jimmy McPhee is in the airport today ready to depart for his meaningless match. Big whoop!

Another problem with regional news — especially on ITV — is the fact that the regions do not seem to be very logical. I’ve already talked about the huge area covered by STV Central. At some arbitrary point in Glenrothes, probably depending on how far behind the hill you are, you stop receiving STV Central and start receiving STV North / the old Grampian. Why is that then? Is Glenrothes more relevant to Aberdeen than to Glasgow? That’s not clear to me. Bearing in mind the fact that much of the population of Glenrothes is or was Glasgow overspill, it doesn’t seem quite right.

Of course, that is nothing compared to the abominable “Border” region which straddles England and Scotland and takes in the Isle of Man for good measure. That is an anachronism if ever there was one. You can tell the ITV regions were originally drawn up about sixty years ago because that would never wash today. I am no nationalist, though I am a little bit of a conspiracy theorist, and one has to wonder if it was a deliberate choice to have one ITV region that took in these three political entities — a 1960s equivalent of saying “North Britain”.

It is probably wrong for me speak for residents of the ITV Border region when I don’t live there, and I can well believe that there are many people who, having grown up with Lookaround, feel very attached to it. But for me, if I lived in the south of Scotland, with legislation affecting my life being made in Edinburgh, I think I would prefer to get my news from a Scottish city rather than Carlisle.

Of course, as Cllr Fraser Macpherson points out, that situation will be even worse under ITV’s new proposals. If ITV get their way, the Border and Tyne Tees regions will be merged. So Scots living in the Borders will not be getting their news from Carlisle — they’ll be getting their news from Gateshead.

The problems of the ITV Border region are recognised, with the existence of a ‘Border Scotland’ opt-out. From what I gather, this incorporates a news segment dedicated to Scotland and editions of Scotsport. What a faff that is though. Would it not just be more sensible to go the whole hog and recognise Scotland as a distinct entity? Every so often SMG express an interest in buying the Scottish bit of the ITV Border franchise. I kind of think they ought to get on with it, particularly if it’s only going to merge with Tyne Tees otherwise.

There are two big reasons why the situation is such a mess. One is geography. I am sure there are bureaucrats somewhere or other whose dream is for the ITV regions to be transformed so that they match the government office regions of the UK. At least that would be neater, and at least that way Scotland would have its own ITV region.

The problem is, those pesky hills get in the way. There is a clever map of the ITV regions on Wikipedia, and as you can see you can’t actually draw many meaningful borders between regions. The map looks like a mess.

The big reason, though, is of course money. Maybe back in the 1960s and 1970s owning an ITV franchise was a license to print money. Today, ITV leaks money like a sieve. Richard Havers traces the change back to the introduction of satellite television. This sucked advertising revenue away from ITV and spread it thinly across hundreds of smaller channels.

Since then, the ITV companies have merged and merged and merged until they became CarltonAndGranada before becoming the ITV plc we all love to hate. Scotland was not immune either as Scottish Television swallowed up Grampian to become SMG (now STV Group) and subsequently almost merged with UTV.

It now no longer makes financial sense for ITV companies to pour money into making news programmes. Economies of scale dictate that the regions will become fewer and bigger until they cease to be regional at all (and as I argue above, perhaps that has already happened).

I think it is time to give up on the idea of regional news programmes, at least on ITV (though Scotland can probably sustain it thanks to its status as a nation, relatively large population and separate political system). But if regional news must stay on television, perhaps it would be better to think of it as a public service that the BBC alone should carry out. I know that ITV is a PSB too, but they are considering giving that up because they think it costs them too much now. The writing is on the wall.

Besides, if I want to know the local news, where do I go? I certainly don’t watch Scotland Today if I want to find out what’s going on locally. I would buy The Fife Free Press or just visit a local news website. These options are probably far more cost-effective way to get local news.

Apart from that, dare I say that local news might be one arena where people turn more and more towards citizen journalists?

I don’t like to dwell on Iain Dale’s poll. As Longrider pointed out in the comments, it is of no real importance anyway. However, the first of Iain Dale’s category lists — media blogs — got me thinking. Why are there so few Scottish media blogs?

As far as I can make out, the list contains two blogs based on Scottish politics run by mainstream media organisations. One is the rather good Blether with Brian from the BBC’s Brian Taylor. The other is The Herald‘s politics blog (though going by Iain Dale’s list it is only Douglas Fraser’s entries that meet with approval). I have to say that while I was very aware of Brian Taylor’s blog, I was only vaguely aware that The Herald had a political blog.

You might think that two entries in the top 30 of Iain Dale’s poll is not too bad. But when you look more closely at some of the other entries, things don’t look so good for the Scottish media. Wales has no fewer than four blogs in the list: David Cornock, Betsan Powys, Vaughan Roderick and 07:25 to Paddington.

Three of those come from the BBC Wales politics department. In Scotland, Brian Taylor is the only BBC political journalist that I know of that has a blog. Even then, I suspect that Brian Taylor was asked by BBC News Online to start his blog. Blogs by the political editors of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland all started within a very short period of time of each other, as I recall.

What interests me more though is the poor showing of commercial media outlets. Wales is represented by a blog from WalesOnline. Also on Iain Dale’s list is a local blog run by David Ottewell of the Manchester Evening News.

So where are the Scottish media blogs? I don’t think I would be alone in saying that I think The Herald‘s blogs are rather limp and half-hearted. Of late, Douglas Fraser has only updated once every fortnight or so (although, yes, I know it’s the summer — but there have been a lot of Scottish political stories too). Robbie Dinwoodie is much the same.

Scotsman.com is even worse. It has no proper blogs. It does, from time to time, call articles blogs, but they have no permalinks and no comments — just a normal page with some date headings. Worse still, many opinion pieces are behind a paywall, which means that bloggers — even if they can be bothered to fork out to read it in the first place — will seldom link to them and engage in the debate.

I doubt things will improve in this area. Ever since Johnston Press took it over, they have seemed determined to treat Scotsman.com like it is the website for a tiny local newspaper. The perfectly good website was replaced with Johnston Press’s own template which is used for all of their local papers, just with content from The Scotsman shoehorned in. This kind of approach to the web, which will be an increasingly important part of The Scotsman‘s business in the future, does not bode well.

I am sure the Sunday Herald used to have a separate site for blogging and comments. I don’t think I imagined it, but I can’t find any sign of it now. Mind you, I’m not surprised — it wasn’t very good.

It needn’t be like this. Despite claims from some that bloggers and the MSM are competing, this is simply not true. Blogs and the MSM are complementing. There are plenty of excellent, high-profile blogs run by media outlets based in London. The Spectator‘s Coffee House, The Times‘s Comment Central, The Telegraph‘s suite of politics blogs, The Guardian‘s politics blog and Comment is free, Nick Robinson and many other blogs from the BBC.

And Iain Dale’s list shows that they don’t have to be based in London, with respected blogs coming from other parts of the country. Why is there not more coming from Scotland?

It has to be said that the honourable exception is Brian Taylor. He seems to enjoy blogging and it is certainly a great place to catch up with recent political shenanigans. But what about everyone else?

Anyone who has read this blog for long might get the impression that I am anti-mainstream media or anti-journalism. I don’t blame you for thinking this because I am always blaming this, that and the other on the media. I’ve done it twice this week alone, even in this period of “light blogging”.

I must come across one of those awful people who always manages to blame everything on the media. But while occasionally I have a beef with certain aspects of the mainstream media, I know that it would be grossly unfair to tar all journalists with the same brush.

Look in the comments section on any major website, and you will find loons aplenty. I used to be a big advocate of letting people comment on MSM news articles. I thought the BBC’s terrible Have Your Say was just a one-off accident due to the fact that it was among the first major attempts at allowing comments on MSM websites. Now that comments are commonplace, it is clear that it was a mistake to believe that it would enhance accountability or improve debate.

The first time I truly realised that comments on MSM sites were almost universally awful was when Scotsman.com introduced them. I wrote about it at the time. The comment box obviously just attracts loudmouths and morons. Anyone looking for good debate would be sorely disappointed.

This isn’t just a problem with the media. Anyone who has read the comments on huge websites like Digg or YouTube will have probably found their inner misanthrope jumping out and despairing about the state of humankind. It seems as though the bigger the website is, the worse the comments are.

Anseo at North to Leith has written a brilliant post about the comment sections of both Scotsman.com and The Herald‘s website.

I`m getting more than a wee bit pissed off at some of the bloody loonies who leave comments on the Scotsman and the Herald’s websites. I`m know a great many of the Scottish Press Corp and on the whole they have my respect. Are there those who are members of the Labour party? Yes, but there are also members of the SNP – and party membership generally among the press corp is very very low…

Some so-called cyber-nats (if they actually are nats and not simply flamers or stirrers) seem to take any story which has any criticism of the SNP as evidence that the journalist behind the piece is some form of Labour ‘fellow traveller’.

Which, in short, is total pish.

Anseo’s description is sadly true. Visit the Scotsman or Herald comments sections and all you will find is a bunch of shouty SNP / independence supporters whining about the great unionist conspiracy and generally making themselves look a bit stupid.

I have sometimes wondered if there is some kind of Ron Paul-style alert system telling SNP activists whenever a relevant story is published. But if this was the case, they would surely have stopped by now, because they will have realised that anyone reading the comments will just get the impression that SNP supporters are a bunch of morons — which isn’t the case.

The likely explanation is that there really is an army of people waking up and visiting the Scotsman first thing in the morning to fire off a few diatribes. I would say they are people who have too much time on their hands, but that’s not necessarily the case because they obviously don’t spend very much time constructing these sledgehammers.

I highly doubt there is any institutional political bias in the Scottish media. My guess is that there are fair few Labour supporters working in the Scottish media, but this is surely a reflection of the huge base of support Labour has in Scotland anyway. In fact, I am surprised that the SNP haven’t been given a rougher ride in the media as a whole since they won last year’s election.

It can be a fun game to guess which parties the major journalists support. But it’s just that — a game. Readers of Brian Taylor’s excellent blog will be aware that he leans to the orange side — but only in football. In politics? Who knows. He is very even-handed. It would be like knowing who David Dimbleby votes for.

These accusations of bias can affect more than just politics. Sport is a prime example. Just look at the many people who (either with their tongues in their cheeks or not) accuse various football pundits of secretly supporting Glasgow Rangers. Chick Young doesn’t really support St Mirren, they say. It’s all a smokescreen as part of the great Rangers conspiracy.

As Anseo points out, the reality is almost certainly that the main political commentators are not aligned to any particular party at all. After all, that is the case with most people. Indeed, I am rather suspicious of anyone who identifies too closely with a political party.

Anseo’s conclusion is neat, and brings us back to the subject at hand:

So to all those supposed cyber-nats out there if you fancy putting your own brand of loony views on the internet…get a blog (like the rest of us loonies)…and try and at least engage in debates rather than simply abuse.

I couldn’t agree more. Increasingly it looks as though introducing comment facilities on media websites are a mistake. They add either no value or negative value to the website. I am not the only one to have come to this conclusion.

A couple of months back a story caught my eye where an expert in online discussion said that some newspapers have made a bit of a hash of introducing comments to their websites. Robert Marcus reckons the problem is the lack of community:

News sites should be wary of comment areas being dominated by campaigners or those seeking ‘their name in lights’, a phenomenon that can occur because of a lack of ‘friendliness’ and community between readers and journalists in this area, he added.

I personally think it might be to do with the size of websites. If a website has a large audience (and therefore a large number of contributors), then the only way to attract attention is to use attention-seeking tactics. Nuanced debate will inevitably fall by the wayside.

I agree with Anseo that people who want to scratch the commenting itch should start up a blog. Despite my bleak outlook on user generated content on the MSM, I still believe that bloggers have inherent qualities that lead to good debate.

Okay, so some blogs are not all that great, and we can probably all think of some big blogs that have bad debate. Cassilis wrote about this last week:

Can there be any more dispiriting a sight than the phrase ‘Comments (86) – Add your own’ – you just know there aren’t 86 insightful observations there (you’ll be lucky to find 6) and the exchanges no more deserve the term dialogue than a rowdy pub brawl does. The invitation to ‘Add a Comment’ feels like being tapped on the shoulder at a football match and asked why you’re not shouting with the other 40,000….

This is the same problem that faces all other websites — the bigger the website, the worse the debate. But for the likes of medium sized blogs like this, and upstarts, blogging is a breath of fresh air and the comment sections are generally good.

There are a few reasons for this. Firstly, blogging is a skill; it’s difficult. How many of us have seen upstart bloggers give up after a couple of weeks? Secondly, bloggers are held to account in the comments section and by other bloggers. You have to be prepared to defend what you say. As such, what you say has to be robust and sensible enough in the first place. Thirdly, trolls get ignored on their own blogs — it’s only when they go elsewhere that they can get any attention.

I admit that this is a rather elitist approach. But if you want good debate you have to set the barrier at an appropriate level.

The loons who dispose of their verbal diarrhoea on popular websites are polluters. Websites like Scotsman.com and The Herald should perhaps consider removing the comments facilities.

But that needn’t mean there should be no discussion about their stories. In its place they could — and should — have a system like pingbacks or a Technorati widget so that readers can see what bloggers have to say about the story. The standard of debate would surely rise.

In the wake of the Alisher Usmanov affair, bloggers have been talking a lot about British libel laws. I won’t write much about this, because I know as much about the law as an ass.

David Farrer wrote a letter to the First Minister noting that Scotland has a separate legal system. He suggests:

Scotland can gain a competitive advantage by introducing robust laws that protect freedom of speech for both individuals and companies.

Possibly not to do with libel, but I remember one strange instance from around ten years ago when, bizarrely, the only way to get access to a particular UK politics story was to watch Reporting Scotland. For several days, nobody knew the identity of the cabinet minister whose son had been caught in possession of cannabis.

Then one day (I can’t remember why, and my web search skills have failed me here too) Scottish newspapers began to write about it freely. That day Reporting Scotland carried the story that the person was Jack Straw’s son. This is despite the fact that the story was nothing to do with Scotland. Meanwhile the UK-wide news still had to skirt around the edges. A couple of days later the game was up and people in Englandandwales were allowed to publish the story as well.

This is interesting then. Perhaps one day we could find ourselves in a situation where webhosts based in Scotland will not feel under pressure when they are bullied by dodgy billionaires with pushy lawyers. British bloggers who are perhaps not so keen to sign up to a United States-based webhost may find they can get as much freedom of speech right here in Britain, just north of the border.

So as I mentioned in this week’s Scottish Blogging Roundup, a new website has been causing a bit of a stir among certain circles — just not the right ones.

YouScotland was launched amid a blaze of publicity. Well, a blaze by the Scottish internet political community’s standards. Apparently the people behind the website appeared on The Politics Show and some other media outlets (although I didn’t see any of it).

The website is all mouth and no trousers. The tone they use makes it sound as though we are on the verge of some kind of cyber-revolution or something. “Join us and change the world!” seems to be the gist of it.

The only problem is that it is impossible to find out exactly how they want to change the world. There is a vague mention about “reclaiming the Home Rule agenda from a Scottish establishment that has so patently failed,” but that is hardly a new idea.

There is a founding statement that you can download — as a Word Document or a PDF. I really don’t know why they couldn’t just put it all on a normal web page to make it more accessible. There is nothing on the Word / PDF document that actually required it to be a Word / PDF file. They are just making visitors jump through hoops for no reason.

Even once you’ve waited the age for the file to download and Acrobat Reader to fire up, you’re still left pretty much none the wiser. The aims are banal:

Debate – more of it
Democracy – more of it
Transparency – more of it
Education – more of it
Enterprise – more of it
Conservation – more of it
Accountability – more of it
Bureaucracy – less of it
Politicians – less of them
Perks – less of them
Injustice – less of it
Waste – less of it
War – less of it
Prejudice – none of it

Freedom – more of it

You would have to spend a long time looking for anybody who disagreed with a single word of it. These are just vague buzzwords. They tell us nothing about what the group stands for.

Going through the entire twelve page document, all we really have is a broad — but not very strongly expressed — support for independence. It is hardly as though Scotland needs another independence movement — there are already plenty of them. So it’s difficult to tell exactly what the big deal is supposed to be about YouScotland.

I’m not even convinced that the people behind YouScotland even know what their aims are. I think they just want to be the next big thing, but have no idea how to go about it, other than setting up some bombastic website.

…in part, we are modelling ourselves on the web based citizens’ movement, www.moveon.org…

But visit the actual MoveOn.org and you see a site with real purpose. They thought of the issue before they set up the website, and they have clear goals that they want to achieve. You might even get up and do something. YouScotland just makes you scratch your head.

The whole website is unenjoyable to visit. Take a look, for instance, at the blog. Why do they feel the need to keep on changing the font? As you can probably tell from the design of this blog, I don’t mind a bit of colour. But with so many changes going on with the font on this page it really is difficult to read.

And I’m not a grammar fascist. I don’t mind the odd typo here and there — we all do it. But greengrocers’ apostrophes are all over the place.

It’s number 1 objective – to get Gordon into No 10

It’s number 2 objective – to keep Tony out of jail

It’s number 3 objective…

Soon afterwards the author makes howling geographical errors with “Dumbartonshire” [sic] and “Dunbarton” [sic]. To think that these are the people who think they can kick-start another enlightenment!

This post at Applied Planetary Engineering suggests that the “steering group” only appeared on The Politics Show due to their media connections. So much for YouScotland — this is a clique’s Scotland.

And they don’t have the first idea about how the internet works. They say they want a bottom-up movement. “We see our role as facilitators”. But if they want that they should tell people to set up their own blogs so that they can speak for themselves.

YouScotland looks like a vanity project more than anything else. “Make your voice heard — JOIN NOW” says a graphic in the top left of every page. But if people want to be heard they need to actually say something. Not join a shaky website whose biggest contribution to online political debate has been to beg for donations.

If a bottom-up movement will be created, it will create itself. That’s, uh, kind of how bottom-up movements work. It wouldn’t be bottom-up otherwise. YouScotland is trying to tell people what their movement should be and then asking people to join, and oh by the way give us a donation. (NB. It is FREE to set up a blog!)

They are dressing themselves up in lots of internet buzzwords that sound out of place.

The technology behind YouTube now allows us to “broadcast ourselves”, e-Bay, sell for ourselves, Google, find out for ourselves, Sky+ watch for ourselves, and i-tunes sing for ourselves.

i-tunes [sic] allows us to sing for ourselves? It is a music player for crying out loud; just an evolution of the CD player. They are wrapping themselves up with all this new-fangled interwebs business, but at the moment it looks like they don’t have the first clue about it.

It is like watching your dad dance. These people think they’re down with the masses by namedropping websites like Bebo and YouTube. But they are actually embarrassing themselves by highlighting just how little they know about how genuine internet communities form. A mass internet movement won’t rise just because some clique told it to!

I’m not sure if I’m being too harsh. Maybe the website does indeed have laudable aims. It is early days after all, and it might end up being highly influential come May (although I doubt it).

But I’m not the only one expressing doubts about the whole project. Richard Thomson sums it up really well:

But am I alone in thinking that the idea there’s somehow a mass ‘collective will’ out there, ignored by politicians, but which can be brought to bear by a website, is really keech of the highest order?

Small Nation: Citizens’ media or geek plaything?

Perhaps someone from the group that has founded this can give me a bit more information on exactly who they are and where they are coming from, politically?…

I just had a look at some of their survey items and I am a little uncomfortable about the tone of some of these such as antagonism to “road pricing” and “traffic wardens” – this sounds like narrow minded, grumpy old conservatives! What about global warming – don’t you give a damn?

Applied Planetary Engineering:

The site was supposed to be accessible for those with the minimum of computer experience. Not so, it was very unintuitive, links did not work, the site was unfinished for a launch and very difficult to navigate…

The idea was laudable, but if you are going to try to create a revolution in cyberspace, the first priority should be your site and software is at least basically up to the job. This Google blogger set up was better, as in easier to use for a visitor, than their revolutionary cyberspace offering.

Commenter Jim Flynn on YouScotland:

All the best to YouScotland – a great idea, but please check your spelling – it’s Pollokshields!!!

Commenter Ken Mailer on YouScotland:

I have just registered and am finding my way around your website. Although taken by the idea, I have no idea who you are or where you operate from.

Interestingly, nobody responded to Mr Mailer’s point.

The person who seems to be most excited by it all is Jessica Smart — the thirteen-year-old daughter of Alan Smart from the “steering group”.

I really hope I am proved wrong about this, because the Scottish internet community is punching below its weight at the moment. I covered this at length when I decided to have a go at re-initiating the Scottish Blogging Roundup.

It seems as though things are improving. But the fact that YouScotland, a rather inept attempt, is the project that’s made the biggest waves in the media makes me want to bury my head in my hands. Is this really the best that Scottish internet users can do? If so, we are in trouble.

That’s right. I, along with CuriousHamster, am starting a roundup of Scottish political blogs. It might sound a little bit passe, but this isn’t just bandwagon-hopping. There are several reasons why I think it’s time to start a roundup of Scottish blogs.

I was struck by a recent article written by Iain Macwhirter, The Scottish Media is Doomed. It paints a sorry picture. There have been massive job cuts in the current affairs departments of BBC Scotland and STV (Scotland’s only major broadcasters). Newspaper circulations are spiralling and Scots are increasingly turning to English publications for their news. (Neil McIntosh has some views on Iain Macwhirter’s post.)

And this is all happening at just the time when it shouldn’t be. The still relatively new Scottish Parliament is responsible for a lot of the legislation that affects the country, and power will now probably only ever move from Westminster to Holyrood. Yet the spotlight on Holyrood is getting dimmer. Surely more accountability is needed.

You think you know what I’m going to say. Scotland’s citizen journalists to the rescue, right? Uhh, not really. At times the Scottish blogosphere feels incredibly sparse. It’s not too difficult, with a bit of effort, to find Scots blogging about politics. And when you do, how often is it about Scottish politics? And when you do find them, there is little doubt that the Scottish political blogosphere isn’t quite as vibrant as the Westminster-orientated scene.

And where on earth are the representatives of the country’s second-largest political party, the SNP? Just about the only decent SNP blogger I can think of is Stuart Dickson, who was responsible for the excellent Independence blog, which sadly hasn’t been updated for a year. Indeed, the Scottish political blogosphere is almost as notable for the great bloggers who have fallen by the wayside. Remember Lost in Westminster? Lost is the word.

Maybe I’m just missing all the great blogging going on out there. That’s part of the reason why I want to start this roundup. I want to discover new blogs and hopefully get a bit more of a community going, with more discussion between bloggers of all hues — particularly with the Scottish Parliament elections gearing up in the coming months.

As I mentioned, there’s no way I’m doing this on my own. Not only is it a bit questionable of me to elect myself as saviour of the Scottish blogosphere, the roundup wasn’t even my idea! Of course there is Tim Worstall, king of the roundups. But Stuart Dickson and CuriousHamster already had a go at a Scottish Political Blogs Review over a year ago. That’s why I chose to invite CuriousHamster to contribute to the new roundup.

We’ve not yet sorted out all of the ins and outs of how we’re going to do this, but I see no point in hanging around. If everything goes to plan, the first roundup will be posted here on Sunday morning.

I’ve already been thinking about what posts I’m going to include but I’ll need your help aswell, particularly if you know of a good Scottish blogger who isn’t in my blogroll. If you want to nominate your own or somebody else’s post, please do email me at  . If you ever need it, my email address is always in the sidebar.

Eligibility? I don’t see much point in being too restrictive, so I’ll adopt the Craig Brown approach — the most tenuous link to Scotland will do. If you’re from Scotland, living in Scotland or just writing about Scotland, it will all be fine by me. Hell, it doesn’t even have to be a blog. But the focus of the roundup will be on Scottish politics, so common sense should be applied.

Also, I’m hoping to make this roundup a little bit different to the usual “here’s a bunch of links I threw together at lunchtime” malarkey. I did say ‘hoping’. You’ll see what I have in store though, and remember that the comments box is there for a reason.

Scottish Blogging Roundup

Not another post about Sky (I really can’t be bothered, although it will be a shame for cricket to be away from terrestrial television), but it’s about the BBC’s regional / national / whatever news policy.

I’ve spotted two posts on this today. The comments at Freedom and Whisky are filled with people wanting a BBC England. I always found that request a bit puzzling, as I have mentioned before on this blog. See, for instance, this post (you need to scroll a bit until I start talking about BBC England).

I just don’t see what advantage a BBC England would have over the existing BBC. The reason there isn’t a BBC England is because in England they have regions. A lot of people complain about the whole concept of regions, but I don’t know what the problem is. Frankly, I’d love for Scotland to have BBC regions because that would save us from being subjected to tokenistic non-stories about sheep in the Outer Hebrides. Then they could provide something resembling a local news service. If they were to get rid of the BBC regions to be replaced with a BBC England, the viewers in Cornwall would have to endure stories about the local news in Newcastle and vice-versa. How would that help anyone?

I happen to believe that the BBC has the balance wrong though. With devolution, the 6 O’Clock News increasingly has too many Englandandwales-specific stories. I think a ‘Scottish Six’ (but keeping the 10 as a Britain-wide broadcast) as I have described in this post would do just nicely.

Of course, there are those who would like to separate the BBC into pieces completely, and this is where the SNP come in. Alex C at Land Of The Nearly Free has a little moan about how he as a Scot in uninterested in cricket which is why we should never see this stuff on the television. Well cricket is actually very popular in Scotland — see the post below.

If some SNP supporters were in charge of the airwaves we’d probably be subjected to 24 hour caber tossing and documentaries about fishermen. Or yet more Chewin’ the Fat spin-offs. I know I’d rather have the cricket thank you very much.

Hector Maclean commenting at Land Of The Nearly Free notes the killer reason why chopping up the BBC would be terrible.

…when it comes to world news I am not confident that a Scottish broadcaster could match the resources that a UK wide one has, and consequently it would not come up to the standards I as a viewer have grown accustomed to. I would therefore not wish to lose my access to UK wide broadcasts.

Indeed, you only have to look at Scottish TV who have trouble enough covering their own ITV region, never mind world news.

I thought that ITV’s regions were a lot more offensive anyway. Take the Border region for instance. Can anybody explain that? I can’t stand regional (or national, if you must) television anyway. Apart from providing a local news service (which is fair enough, especially when we’ve got devolution), all that BBC Scotland has brought us, as far as I can tell, is River City, and the most overrated ‘comedy’ show known to man, Chewin’ the Fat. As for Scottish TV… well, the sooner it’s swalled up by ITV plc, the better.