Special #1: A modern form of campaigning — a look at politicians’ blogs

Hi there, and welcome to the first of the occasional ‘special’ roundups that we will be posting on Wednesdays. Today I have decided to look at the blogs written by candidates in the upcoming elections.

In many ways, the blog is the perfect method of campaigning for a politician. For one thing, it is free and easy to set up a blog, giving politicians the opportunity to campaign from the comfort of their own home. There is no need to print out expensive leaflets or spend time going around doors. Blogs also act really well as a discussion forum. Voters can voice their opinion in the comments section of a blog, where debates can thrive.

Blogs have the additional benefit of not being as intrusive as other methods of campaigning. While some voters may not like to be disturbed by a politician knocking on their door and others may see campaign literature as junk mail, blogs do not force themselves down anybody’s throat. People can choose to read a blog or not.

The flexible format of a blog means that you can write about whatever you like in whatever style you want. Although undoubtedly the traditional methods of campaigning will still be evident, blogs are being used increasingly by candidates as an easy and cheap way to reach voters.

However, some blogging candidates — most notably Jody Dunn — have found themselves in hot water over what they have written. If you write anything that could incriminate you, other bloggers will pile on the criticism.

We have seen that with Councillor Terry Kelly, whose blog became so controversial that it led to a “Terry Watch” movement with members from all across the political spectrum. In the end, a Terry Watch blog was even set up, with the sole aim of dissecting Councillor Kelly’s writing.

Councillor Ewan Aitken also found himself facing a critical blog written by The Basa from Edinburgh Sucks.

So blogs can be an effective means of campaigning for politicians. But they are also high-risk. As such, it is interesting to view the ways candidates use blogs and how they cope with the challenges that blogging can bring.

My favourite politician’s blog is North to Leith by Davie Hutchison, the SNP’s candidate in Edinburgh North and Leith. (Interestingly, the MP for Edinburgh North and Leith, Labour’s Mark Lazarowicz also has a blog.) Unlike many candidates, Mr Hutchison is a frequent poster to his blog. He doesn’t get too bogged-down in local issues either, which makes his blog a deft mixture of campaigning and general political commentary.

Still, his blog provides a real insight into the Edinburgh North and Leith campaign. Take, for instance, his post about the first proper hustings of the election. I like his style, fairly setting out his opponents’ positions while adding his own comments to the mixture.

It cannot be an easy skill, and many politicians’ blogs are — to put it bluntly — quite boring. Most blogs feel more like traditional campaign literature than Davie Hutchison’s. Posts tend to outline slogans and make note of when a Very Important Person has visited the constituency, complete with smiley shakey-hands photograph.

I won’t be so rude as to point out which ones I feel fall into this category, but it is another potential pitfall that candidates have to look out for. If people are going to find you appealing by reading your blog, you need to try and make your blog an interesting read!

It could be interesting to keep an eye on the blogs of Katy Gordon of the Liberal Democrats and Labour’s Pauline McNeill. Both are standing in the same constituency, Glasgow Kelvin. I wonder if many battles will be fought across these blogs.

What has been really notable is just how many blogs dedicated to campaigning for the SNP have emerged over the past six months or so. When I decided to set up the Scottish Roundup, one of my aims were to find SNP bloggers, as it seemed as though the SNP were not well represented in the blogosphere. I think the fact that there are now so many SNP blogs is a sign that SNP members are really confident, with a spring in their step, and a feeling that they can now make a difference.

You can even see this in the title of some of the blogs. 520 votes for Cumbernauld and Kilsyth is written by the SNP’s candidate, Jamie Hepburn. He obviously relishes the fact that he is standing in such a marginal seat, and must be pretty confident of his chances.

On the opposite end of the scale, barring a complete catastrophe, Marion Fellows probably won’t be a constituency MSP come May. She is standing in Jack McConnell’s seat, Motherwell and Wishaw. It could be an interesting blog to keep an eye on, from a truly “anti-Jack McConnell” perspective!

Incumbents also sometimes manage to find the time to blog, although with varying frequency. Alex Neil set up a blog in early March and he wrote a few posts before it all dried up. It is not easy to get into the habit of blogging, particularly if there are a lot of demands on your time. Mr Neil has probably found out that he is too busy with the traditional campaigning methods to dedicate enough time to blogging.

This is clearly not a problem for all candidates though. Councillor Angus Nicolson’s blog is positively prolific, with what feels like around a dozen posts per day. I wonder if this approach is a bit too overwhelming, but Mr Nicolson manages to write about a fairly wide variety of subjects, and you are bound to find something that interests you sooner or later.

A similar style is employed by David Meikle, Conservative candidate for Pollokshields. His is quite an irreverent blog, with plenty of short and snappy quick-fire posts. Like the best bloggers, he manages to be relatively entertaining while setting out his opinions.

Blogging probably works best as a voice for perceived minority interests. Perhaps that explains why right-leaning and pro-independence blogs take up quite a large proportion of Scotland’s major blogs. Notably, there is seldom much support for the Government in general — either on a UK-wide level, or in Scotland.

But it is not impossible to find Labour candidates blogging. Councillor Donald Wilson is standing for Labour in Shandon in Edinburgh — though posts are few and far between. A more regularly updated Labour blog is by Kezia Dugdale, who is not a candidate herself 4th in the Lothian regional top-up list, but is also closely tied to Sarah Boyack’s campaign in Edinburgh Central.

Also worth noting is Councillor Andrew Burns, who has actually titled his blog “Really Bad Blog”. Full marks for self-deprecation — even though Cllr Burns’s blog is not particularly better or worse than most councillors’ blogs!

Nor is it impossible to find Liberal Democrat politicians blogging. Take Cllr Fraser Macpherson who is the councillor for Tay Bridges ward in Dundee.

Blogging is also giving independents a voice on the internet. Perhaps this gives them a better chance, given that there is no party machine willing to fund their campaigns. For instance, Julie McAnulty is standing as an Independent Health Candidate in Coatbridge and Chryston

Quite a different proposition is offered up by Adam Lyal (Deceased) of Adam Lyal’s Witchery Tour Party. Mr Lyal is posing as a ghost in the Lothian region. Don’t be put off by the seemingly novelty nature of the candidacy though. He appears to be a big supporter of reducing MSPs’ wages, so it might be worth taking a look if you like the idea of smaller government.

Those politicians who don’t quite have the stomach to go the whole hog and set up their own blog are still getting in on the action though. The Scotland Votes website has got a blog where candidates are writing some posts in the run-up to the elections.

I have left until last possibly the most high-profile blogging politician, who funnily enough represents one of the smallest parties in the Scottish Parliament. Colin Fox’s blog is actually not bad. It has plenty of information for constituents, as well as acting as a space to promote various campaigns and demonstrations that SSP supporters might be interested in.

Although Colin Fox doesn’t write all of the posts (I think), and the fact that it inevitably toes the SSP party line, his blog strikes a good balance. Maybe it could do with updating a bit more often though.

I think that is quite enough from me. Below I have listed the other candidate blogs that I know of but haven’t mentioned in the post. If I have missed any out, please feel free to leave a comment.

Scottish Parliament elections

Council elections

Various candidates are also blogging at Holyrood 2007.

Just a quick note to say that Sunday’s roundup will be written by David Farrer of Freedom and Whisky. And since today’s roundup was a ‘special’, it will be a roundup for the whole week. So nominations please to scottishroundup@gmail.com.

6 comments

  1. You said to comment if you’d missed any out – what about Indygal and the Tartan Hero? We update every day and we’re both standing for election 🙂

  2. Yes I appreciate that it’s not immediately obvious when I’m talking about chocolate and the nesting instinct 🙂 Thanks for adding us on 🙂

    Grant is Glasgow North East.

  3. I’m impressed by Mr Adam Lyal (deceased) of Adam Lyal’s Witchery Tour Party. For an ex-highway robber who has ceased to be, he is incredibly good with his MYSPACE site! I saw him the other day on Princes Street, with what looked like a ‘golf sale’ sign. I thought – what a joke – until he spoke. This ghost is very articulate. His campaign to reduce MSPs salaries down to the minimum wage seems to be a serious quest.