Who Scotland?

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.

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