On being a contrarian

I was pleased to see that Scottish Unionist named me as his number one Scottish political blog. My increasingly sporadic and rambling posts probably do not deserve to be mentioned in the same breath as, say, Ideas of Civilisation or Jeff Breslin, but I will not complain!

Better than being number 1 in Scottish Unionist’s list, though, was the testimonial he gave this blog:

Non-partisan analysis from a thought-provoking contrarian. Fantastic.

Reading that particularly pleased me because it confirmed that I am achieving pretty much everything I have come to wish to achieve by blogging. Over the years I’ve been blogging (since 2002, would you believe), I have spent some time thinking about what I want to achieve as a blogger, what makes bloggers good and what sets them apart from the mainstream media.

One of my conclusions has been that there is no point in being predictable if you are a blogger. There is no point in setting up a little platform to express yourself only to be boring when you climb onto it.

One of the biggest crimes any writer can commit is to give you what you expect. When I started to go off newspapers, it was because the op-ed pages are always full of clichés, sloppy partisanship and ideological tub-thumping. More often than not, you can read the heading, see who wrote it, then practically write the column yourself.

Simply, what is the point in reading what Polly Toynbee has to say about rich people? Because you certainly won’t learn anything. I can only think that the only people who read Polly Toynbee are those who take delight in fisking her on one side, and those who are seeking to have their own prejudices confirmed on the other.

As a blogger — i.e. someone who says to people, “look at me and listen to what I have to say” — I owe it to my readers to be interesting. There would be no point in me writing something bland and predictable — and that is one of the reasons why my posting can become quite sporadic at times. Better to say nothing at all than to say something boring, I think. If it ever got to the stage where I stopped offering anything different, I would find myself with no readers left.

That perhaps means that I am tempted to exaggerate my views and emphasise the areas where I am out of phase with the general public. Indeed I do sometimes use “artistic license”. Often I will put forward what may be seen as an unusual view, though I do so more to ask the question and raise the point rather than because I actually agree with it. However I certainly don’t lie or put my name to something that I don’t believe in.

This is an extension of my “real life” self. I often find myself, almost unwittingly, arguing against my own beliefs in the instance where I agree with the person I’m having a conversation with. There is little that worries me more than agreement. Disagreements are what makes the world go round, and it can all get a bit too cosy if I find myself agreeing too often.

This isn’t because I am a combative person, because I am not. But I am genuinely scared of groupthink. If we all agree about things and fail to challenge received wisdom, we will soon find ourselves being the victim of the scenario we failed to foresee. Either that or we will find ourselves stunted by complacency. Debating issues keeps the mind sharp, focusses attention on why we believe something and reminds us why we reject the alternative. In short, disagreement is a good thing and should be encouraged in my view!

There is also the prospect that people are jumping on the bandwagon and are agreeing for the sake of agreement. You might say that I disagree for the sake of disagreement, but I think that my approach is the safer option. Almost inevitably, the truth lies somewhere between two extremes and I think it is wise to experiment with the balance to see where it lies.

So I was delighted to be described as a non-partisan, thought-provoking contrarian. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

I think, though, that most of us bloggers know all this. The blogosphere is a wonderful place to have a discussion. Our world is a normally respectful one where alternative ideas are discussed with seriousness. It can be a great platform for people who have ideas that are not well represented in the mainstream media.

That is one of the reasons for the existence of that gulf between Joe Blogs and Joe Public. We know there is no point in just regurgitating the views we see in the mainstream media. Our role is to question the mainstream media and consider the alternatives.

The blogosphere is no place for boilerplate clichés and ideological tubthumping. Boring, predictable writers are ignored in this great forum of interesting debate. So let’s see some more contrariness!


  1. First things first, what exactly is ‘fisking’? It doesn’t sound at all pleasant.

    Anyway no surprise that I agree with you (not least because you were nice about me!) that the point of blogging should be to say something which provokes debate.

    I have a large list of blogs on the right of my page, all of which I read at some point, but only a few which I look at daily. And those are the ones where I think I’ll get to read something interesting or enlightening.

    I know that the internet is a political tool so I’ve no problem with parties using it. But I never understand why some people just write blogs that only ever reiterate their party’s latest press release (whether this is praising themselves or criticising their opponents). Surely a link to their party’s website would suffice?

    I suppose at the end of the day successful blogging is like the free market. Those that say something worth reading will hopefully get an audience; those that don’t, won’t.

    p.s. Hope last night was good. Jeff was talking about a rematch come October which I’d love to try and get to.

  2. There is a fine definition of Fisking on Wikipedia. I think it’s fair to say that if it didn’t have a certain resemblance to another word beginning with ‘F’ it wouldn’t be so common a word.

    I do hope there is a ‘rematch’ and that we can meet in October. Sounds fantastic.

  3. Arguing for positions you don’t agree with, Duncan?
    Careful. It makes you sound like a politician.

  4. Nah. Lets focus on the boring, the derivative, the repetitive, the dull…

    Very good points Duncan. The great thing about blogging is that there is virtually no barrier to entry and consumers can find what they like and ignore that which they do not.

    There are plenty of blogs out there that have virtually no debate or argument and are just fun and friendly. Not my kind of blog, but you are always one click away from being ignored as a blogger.