The perils of blogging

The Scottish Parliament’s newest MSP has found herself getting a bit of attention from the media because of her blog. Anne McLaughlin, known to bloggers as Indygal, has become the SNP’s newest Parliamentarian following the sudden and sad death of Bashir Ahmad.

The first story I saw about her blog in the media was actually not completely negative. The article noted that her blog has attracted a loyal following and seemed to appreciate the eclecticism of the blog.

I do like the Indygal blog. It is a friendly and humorous read. Anne McLaughlin’s new job also means that for the first time a Scottish Roundup editor has become an MSP. I wouldn’t be surprised if a few others become MSPs as well…

The way The Guardian‘s article was written did rather outline the potential for a less favourable spin to be put on the blog.

In other posts, she has branded the colourful Labour MSP Lord George Foulkes as an “ignoramous”, called Labour MSP Frank McAveety “the daftest man in the parliament” and described the historian and nationalist MSP Christopher Harvie as a “splendid nutter”. She branded an SNP councillor in Glasgow who defected to Labour in one uncompromising posting as The Ego.

Today there has been much huffing and puffing over a post from a couple of weeks ago containing “surreptitiously taken” photographs of goings-on inside the Parliament building. On the surface, claims that it damages the trust among MSPs and staff may seem reasonable. But looking at the post it’s clear that it was tongue-in-cheek and rather innocuous. The fuss stinks more of party political points scoring than anything else.

Still, it throws into focus once again the dangers of being a blogger. This is by no means the first time a blog post has thrown a spanner in the works of a political career.

By-election candidate Jody Dunn broke ground in 2004 when she blogged during her campaign in Hartlepool. The Guardian said she was blogging her way to by-election history. Unfortunately for Ms Dunn, it was her own political career that was history after the Labour campaign capitalised on a tongue-in-cheek post in which she described all the locals as “either drunk, flanked by an angry dog, or undressed.”

The Labour Party has felt the effects of ill-advised blogging as well. When Gavin Yates became the then-leader of the Scottish Labour Party Wendy Alexander’s head of communications, he probably wasn’t banking on being caught out by his own communications from the past. His blog had been less than complimentary about the Labour Party. But even though he never wrote anything truly damaging, the media still pounced on it, and it added to the long list of woes that beset Wendy Alexander’s brief period as Labour leader.

It all comes back to that old chestnut — how will an employer react to your blog? This is a sticky one that has long vexed me. Never before have the personal views and lives of people been on such public display. Not just through blogs either. The social networking phenomenon means that people are volunteering information about themselves to others in a way that was never possible.

It is near ubiquitous among people my age. My generation will run into these difficulties first. For instance, how might a potential employer react to all of this freely-available information? One point of view is that having this information out in the open will disadvantage you. But if everyone else is doing it, we are more or less back to square one.

Not quite though. Some people will have their illegal activities recorded on Facebook or Bebo. Others will have pristine profiles that arouse no suspicion, even of the consumption of a quiet pint. But might these people be seen as anti-social and one-dimensional by employers?

With my blog, I have basically constructed a database of my opinions going back to 2002, when I was 16 years old. I’m sure most people are quite thankful that their 16-year-old selves are long forgotten. Might I be disadvantaged by something I wrote three, four, five years ago? It might be something that now seems gauche, or an opinion that today I may not agree with — something I don’t even remember writing.

There have probably never been more laws preventing employers from discriminating against people with certain personal attributes. But ironically, today’s technology enables employers to access a wealth of candidates’ personal information like never before.

The thing is, we all volunteer that information. I think a few people from this generation will get their fingers burnt here. We like to think we are savvy enough to deal with it, but we are still fumbling around in the dark. We are all self-taught and we will make mistakes.

Future generations will be taught by their superiors, in the same way that parents today think nothing of teaching their children about etiquette and other rules of society. If I come to view my decision to blog openly from a young age as a mistake, I would warn any children I had not to. But I would have had no way of knowing.

Similarly, Anne McLaughlin was hardly to know two weeks ago that she would be an MSP and find her blogging activities land her in a spot of bother. I suspect in the long term this will blow over, but we’ll probably see a different style of Indygal — that is, indeed, if she returns to blogging at all.

One of the best Scottish political bloggers around, Kezia Dugdale, took her blog down for a few months, saying it was “far too risky a past-time”. Now she is back in the blogosphere, but “smarter with how, when and what I post.”

Ideally, it would be good if politicians could blog freely, without fearing that it will be used against them in the future. I very much agree with Bellgrove Belle. The faux-furore surrounding the Indygal blog is pretty much a non-story. But — in life in general, but particularly in the highly charged world of party politics — these things will happen.

That’s a real shame because I think people like Anne McLaughlin and Kezia Dugdale do a lot to help engage people in the political process.


  1. All I can say is that I’m glad blogging wasn’t around when I was a teenager, assuming that anyone would have paid the slightest bit of attention to what I said ;0)

  2. There may never have been more laws against discriminating people, but I’ve found from personal experience that some organisations, including ones that claim to know better, still discriminate for no good reason. Mind you, the last employer I had didn’t seem to care about people using Facebook during office hours, so social internetting may not be as much of a problem for the majority as it looks. As long as you don’t blog about your job.

  3. My theory is that you can shoot the moon and publish so much stuff that noone will be bothered to rake through it all, or you can publish under a pseuodonym.

    If you’ve been blogging since you were 16, you’re allowed to change your mind – and anyone who tries to claim this or that about your opinions from back then would be on pretty shaky ground. Especially if you’ve got a series of posts that show how your thinking has changed over the years.

    I don’t spose that’ll stop some folk from getting seriously busted, if they’ve published extreme, or offensive things in the past, but our HR department are certainly a long way away from googling people before they get hired. Maybe they should do more of it?!

  4. […] Anne McLaughlin’s blog made the news when she became an MSP. Journalists trawled her archives looking for anything vaguely juicy, and they found a few interesting comments about (and a few photographs of) other politicians, but not much more. After some of the offending content was deleted, and a brief hiatus, she continued blogging and the whole thing blew over. […]