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Andrew Neil

c_boardsRegardless of your politics, the SNP’s stunning election victory may have one very beneficial side-effect: dragging Scotland out of the digital dark ages.

Quite how dark these are was demonstrated by Newsnight Scotland last week. Katie Grant and former Labour hackette Lorraine Davidson joined berouged Andrew Neil wannabe Gordon Brewer in declaring that new media had no impact on the Scottish general election campaign. The “new media” voice was provided by Gerry Hassan, who is a sound cove but a self-confessed late adopter. Quite why Grant and Davidson were inflicted on us, I have no idea. Perhaps they saw an interweb once.

At no point did Newsnicht define what they meant by “new media”: the web, social networks, mobile, email, Usenet or World of Warcraft? And at no point did they point out that far more Scots use Facebook, Twitter et al than watch their wee segment.

Where were the new media experts? Or the people who make a living from this stuff? This is not just me bleating because I didn’t get my fuzzy fizog on the goggle box: there are some very exciting projects in Scotland that could have corrected the programme’s erroneous conceit. How about speaking to someone from STV, who appear to be building a new media deathstar? Or Mashable? Or The Daily Mash? Or The Daily Dust? Or Newsnet Scotland? Or “Scotland’s digital guy” Craig McGill? Or social marketing genius Andrew Burnett? Or one of the many bloggers who add so much to the online debate?

There’s no excuse for this at the well-funded BBC, which has new media talent coming out of its ears. Except for viewers in Scotland, apparently.

We’re all used to the usual lazy, lazy, lazy Newsnicht approach of getting their old pals to jaw on and on, but this time their complacency was cruelly exposed. Because while Brewer and pals were parroting the mainstream media line that this web stuff is just a flash in the pan for geeks and perverts, the SNP were crafting a stunning, historic, landslide victory using … drum roll … new media.

The übersmart Kirk Torrance and digital guru Ewan McIntosh were using social media as it should be used – as a search engine for finding people’s sympathies. The party’s new media team used social networks to identify targets for their offline activity, marketing which made use of an iPhone app to record real-time intel from canvassers. Ewan has documented it all on his websbite and it is a thing of awe-inspiring beauty.

It’s not just BBC that causes despair, though. Before starting the Caley Merc, I worked as a consultant for the Scottish public sector.

Let me tell you, the will to live is a fragile thing indeed.

While working on a ludicrously ill-conceived project that cost a fortune but never came to fruition, I suggested publicising a website by creating a page for it on Wikipedia. This was shot down as “too risky”. It’s your money they’re spending…

I knew I had to get out when I was pitching to a marketing bod billed as an expert on new media. I suggested that the campaign website they wanted might benefit from the use of “tags” to aid navigation. They thought that was a great idea because they’d never heard of tags. This was in 2009. Tags have been commonplace since 2003. It’s your money they’re spending…

And it’s your money they’re wasting on lame website after lame website packed with dull content of interest only to the dreaded “stakeholders”. What’s needed is an immediate “vale for money” audit of all Scottish public sector digital activity to see what has been of use to real people.

In short, with the exception of a few NHS services, there’s only one website needed for the public sector: scotland.gov.uk, which has long been a centre of digital excellence. It’s the place the user expects to find this information, why waste money on building other sites? It’s the content and social connections that matter.

And don’t get me started on the Scottish Government’s digital advertising. We carry SG ads, but only bargain-bucket ones provided by an agency in, you guessed, London. Where’s the public sector support for start-up publications? Why don’t they advertise with Scottish new media outside the cosy arrangements with mainstream media? There’s a lot of hot air from self-appointed new media experts in the public sector about supporting online innovation.

But they don’t put their money where their mouths are. Again, this isn’t special pleading for the Caley Merc. There’s a large, vibrant online content community in Scotland – and it gets very little support from anyone except its large number of readers.

In short, there’s a big job to do to change Scotland’s approach to digital, starting with the Scottish Government’s huge marketing and advertising budgets.

Thankfully, we have a governing party swept to power by new media and who have access to the brightest possible digital talent.

Politics aside, I look forward to a brighter digital day dawning on Scotland.

Want to discuss other issues? Join the debate on our new Scottish Voices forum

Merchant City, Glasgow <em>Picture: Postdlf</em>

Merchant City, Glasgow Picture: Postdlf

As the trendy band comes out with its new, difficult third album, the urban reality of Glasvegas – as you encounter it, while being an everyday, middle-aged pedestrian – is sometimes quite the overwhelming spectacle.

Best place to begin is Charing Cross, advancing east down Sauchiehall Street: a bacchanal of casinos, a scatter of Asian takeaways, every size and shape and theme of bar and club and venue, populated by a nervy mix of students and office workers.

You make a brief, non-commodified genuflection to the CCA (Centre for Contemporary Arts) and the GFT (Glasgow Film Theatre), then it’s down the hill to the glassier and glossier halls of Buchanan Galleries – like a claustrophobic theme-park ride of the world’s biggest brands. And then, if you have the energy, Princes Square and the Merchant City: where the city’s plutocracy (or otherwise credit-worthy) cavort and preen, availing themselves of outer- and underwear shops of Oscar-ceremony standard, with the elephantine Corinthian Club their most available catwalk.

Deep in the labyrinths of eco-thinking at the moment, I’ve been making these regular journeys with my Martian head on. What is all this? Why is it all remotely necessary? You have to push a little further towards the Trongate before things get any less mercantile and fashion-obsessed. Then it’s all struggling galleries, strange comix shops, and the indie-schmindie oasis of the Mono bar and the vintage clothes shop Mr Ben.

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They’re still selling, sure, but at least they’re tapping into waves of history, or corners of quirkiness or obsession – none of the lock-step cuts or patterns that sometimes make Glasgow crowds seem like an army of marketing-programmed clones. And then, if you really keep going, Glasgow Green opens up for you: swathes of green grass, park benches not trying to sell you a damn thing, holding back the towers of the Tennent’s brewery (though not its stench) at the other side.

I sat there the other day, looking back on this brawling, greedy, hyper-retailed city centre, and allowed the most regular thought in my head these days to slowly emerge. How do we ever get from this huge collective investment in conspicuous consumption, to anything remotely resembling a materially sustainable society?

In Glasgow at least, shopping is clearly the main ritual (apart from the fitba’) of inclusion, status and belonging for so many – from the determined families with their fistfuls of Primark and sports-shop bags, to the leggy apparitions slipping into people-carriers with wispy, expensive things dangling from their fingers.

The writer and film-maker Ewan Morrison has been charting this territory with his Tales From The Mall, well worth a visit. But his hipster’s disdain, though eloquent and witty, isn’t enough of a response to the sheer momentum of Glasgow’s (or anywhere else’s) consumer frenzy.

The brilliant Tim Jackson, recently deposed head of the Sustainable Development Commission, has a concise one-liner about the unacknowledged dissatisfactions of consumer living. “We spend money we don’t have, on things we don’t need, to make impressions that don’t last, on people we don’t care about.”

Jackson’s explanation for this grammar of frustrated unhappiness is that human nature is strung across two axes: one goes from novelty-seeking to love of tradition; the other goes from selfish behaviour to altruistic behaviour (and Jackson amasses much evidence to show how credible the whole picture is).

The problem is that our institutions are encouraging us to operate on only half of this picture, the selfish, novelty-seeking quadrants – those institutions being consumer-driven capitalism, aided and abetted by massively sophisticated advertising and unfettered financial flows perpetually looking for a return. We can change these institutions to cover the whole spectrum, says Jackson. We have to, given how much heedless consumption is contributing to trends in global warming and other environmental indicators.

The most interesting part of his argument, from a Scottish political perspective, are the nature of the institutions he proposes as part of the solution. For Jackson, it lies in the provision of strong public services and goods – in particular, well-constructed spaces and environments in which people can come together to enjoy each others company, exchange small trades and enthusiasms, express care and attention to others without pressure of time or money.

For the sake of living lightly enough on the planet – at least to be able to survive its Gaian revenge strategies – we must re-engineer a style of existence that places as much value on tradition and altruism as it does on novelty and me-first-ism.

Now surely Glasgow, from memories of Jimmy Reid to the furthest-flung credit union in Easterhouse, has more than enough of the first two to go around. Gerry Hassan’s much-underrated project of social dreaming, Glasgow 2020, attempted to give voice to a future of Glasgow that was rich with dreams of self-empowerment and collective improvement, vaulting beyond the lights of the latest city-centre mall.

And beyond Glasgow, Scotland surely has a deep attitudinal well to draw on for a new public realm. I attended the tenth anniversary meeting of the International Futures Forum last weekend. The IFF is a curious but powerful mix: a selection of major international policy and business gurus, who come regularly to benchmark their grand theories against places such as Falkirk and Dundee, and the schools, prisons, council offices and arts centres therein.

What they register in places like Falkirk is a desire for social innovation that doesn’t get caught up in false ideological battlegrounds, like Westminster’s current “big-state Good Society versus small-state Big Society”. From San Francisco to Mumbai, these experts marvel at the ability of Scots to start conversations about public improvements that gather up individuals and local groups, businessmen and councillors, to achieve solid and persistent results.

Shouldn’t councils such as Glasgow begin to recognise the contradiction between their espoused socialist history, and the consciousness-fragmenting consumerism that overpowers what should be a great convivial space for its citizens? Can they shift the needle of civic priorities in the city centre away from the chip-and-pin device?

And in defiance of Andrew Neil and his abuse of “Scotland’s cloud-cuckoo land”, and with the beginnings of a low-carbon reset for Scottish society in place, can’t we begin to recognise who we actually are, and what we actually want in Scotland?

It means not being cynical about the tears shed by a first minister when recalling how his father used to toil into the night, preparing insurance claims for miners with injuries or poor health. Is our much derided centre-left policy consensus between the parties a sign of complacency and mediocrity – or it is actually an authentic, robust platform from which even more ambitious policies for a flourishing future might rise?

As ever, from me, independence is the indispensable operating system that will get us there. Still, as Jim Sillars said, we need to take sides in Scotland, as well as take Scotland’s side. Glasvegas – or at least that tinseltown-in-the-rain version of Scotland’s most energetic city – is mostly on the wrong side of the Scottish future. But it needn’t be so.

For more from Pat Kane on Scottish affairs, read his ideas-blog Thoughtland.

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Romulus and Remus: another famous brotherly act

Romulus and Remus: another famous brotherly act

I’ve been watching the Milibandery of the Labour Party leadership battle with more than ideological interest. The dynamics of working with your brother is something I’m very much aware of, having done so with my own brother Gregory over the last quarter of a century, as one half of Hue And Cry.

But apart from the rollercoaster psychology of it all, there’s something about how the Miliband brothers have conducted themselves that has wider implications for how we think about how politics is done, and should be done.

The C4 documentary Miliband of Brothers showed that the boys lived and breathed politics from the breakfast table onwards, under the gentle patriarchy of their Marxist father, Ralph Miliband.

There’s a poignant moment when the father pokes his head round one of their bedroom doors and expresses pained despair at them joining “New… Labour!”

That neither of these comfortably raised Islington sociocrats would echo their father’s exile-driven ultra-leftism (as Tom Devine told me the other week, Ralph’s real first name was “Adolph”) is no surprise. But due to the necessary differentiations that siblings have to make among themselves, we should also expect that two political brothers would make distinct variations on their common theme.

The intriguing question is: after the younger triumphing over the older for a mutually coveted prize, how will they both handle the new power balance between them?

From my own experience of creative partnership with a sibling – which seems to have been a lot more stormy than the Milibands – you have to eventually realise that you each have your own domain of expertise. The main job of the partnership is to support the other in mastering that expertise, all aimed at serving the commonly-agreed goal. For too much of our early period in Hue And Cry, Greg and I were involved in a power-struggle for dominance: who was the real music leader here?

It got a lot easier for me when I realised that, while we write the songs together, Greg’s production and arrangement talent reigns supreme. I should focus on being the best singer I can be, and take a holistic view near the end of a recording process, than try to micro-manage decisions that I’m frankly not expert enough to do.

Let’s push this analogy tentatively (and as much for fun as anything else). What may be the problem for the Milibands is that both are equally qualified – both can be, as it were, lead singer and keyboard player combined. Both practised their political riffs at an early stage by taking a Politics, Philosophy and Economics degree at the same Oxford college. Both set out on separate but conventional paths of political advice and policy development within New Labour, (the elder allied to Blair, the younger to Brown). Both ended up with significant Minstries (whether diplomacy or environment).

So yes, the Milibands were always in the same group. The leadership contest for them was more like a duo that’s temporarily “taking a rest” – the problem being that each had their own own solo album out, and both of them were contending for the same top music prize. (Maybe Ed’s record is more scratchy-indie, and David’s is more orchestras and session-players). The question is, now that the younger one has won the Mercurys, with all the evident status and power that confers, will the older one want to join the old outfit again? Or will he prefer to follow his own creative path?

Risible analogies aside, there’s one strong reason to want them to resolve their own psycho-drama (no matter that David M refutes that there is one: believe me, there’s always psycho-drama when brothers work together). During their campaigns, they both cast up visions of a gentler kind of male leadership that has real consequences for policy.

The elder proposed that at least one Cabinet post could be a parental job-share – clearly aimed at Ed Balls and Yvette Cooper who have a young family, but intended to set an example to work-life balancing throughout the organisations of these islands.

David M’s “Movement for Change”, embracing faith and community groups like London Citizens, brought a noticeably different, less aggressive tone to Labour activism – something his brother has praised in the last few days (along with The Caledonian Mercury!).

And Ed Miliband’s appeal to the “squeezed middle” of British families – for whom the cycle of mortgage-overwork-overdebtedness-consumerism is clearly undermining their quality of life – should be able to open up a solid critique of the Coalition’s cuts as increasing their insecurity even more.

But changing the vocabulary and metaphors in which a social-democratic politics can be voiced is a crucial task for the Labour Party (and something their now-triumphant Compass grouping will be pushing for).

In Scotland, the SNP have always been able to cushion their centre-leftism in the language of Scottish patriotism and nationhood. This has its own automatic and worthwhile emotional appeal (the Scottish variant is certainly more robust than Gordon Brown’s weird Ukanianism), as long as it’s handled with dignity and care.

From within the political village – where loathsome creatures like Andrew Neil get to orchestrate the media debate – it’s easy to sneer and recoil at the protestations of brotherly love that the Milibands are making (and will make) to each other, no matter their own eventual political arrangements. But we should realise just how powerful this language of love and connection might actually be. The early Cameron, and his Saatchi-trained marketing advisors, knew this well – and tellingly, in yesterday’s speech, Ed M also brought the L-word into his vision of the “good” (as opposed to the “big”) society.

If tied to a left politics that genuinely addresses our anxieties about the state of our relationships – personal, familial, communal, maybe even global – and what structures can help sustain and improve them, the “new generation” of Labour might use their time in opposition well.

If anything’s required in the midst of general chaos – the music business and the politics business at least share that – it’s strong, mutually supportive and ultimately unconditional relationships. It’ll be a shame if the Milibands can’t work it out. I can personally testify that it’s a great background for common endeavour when it does.

For more on Scottish affairs from Pat Kane, visit his Thoughtland blog.

Photo by: XiXiDu

Photo by: XiXiDu

What’s the optimum time to go to bed on Election night/morning? Do you stay up all night? Go out to the pub and sleep through the whole thing? Or try the endurance test of watching the television coverage? Every man has his limit. The exit strategy was formulated at the following times:-

8.59pm When C4 runs its first “Kirstie and Phil are back” ad. We know. David Cameron pencilled her in for his First Cabinet next to Carol Vorderman.

9.19pm Channel 4’s Election coverage is under way. The 15th round of applause for the sixth decent gag of the night.

9.39pm Edwina Currie is cooking up Eton mess on C4’s political Come Dine With Me. So is Prime Minister Cameron, possibly.

9.55pm Dimbleby is in situ, Alistair Stewart is barking instructions on ITV and on BBC Glenn Campbell seems to be in a room on his own.

9.58pm Andrew Neil is on a boat announcing he will be interviewing Piers Morgan. Iceberg urgently required.

10.12pm Work experience students play a game of pass the parcel-meets Deal or No Deal meets It’s a Knockout as they run into a Sunderland gymnasium with boxes full of votes.

10.21pm Peter Mandelson uses the phrase “in principle.” Mandelson. Principle. That’s a new ‘un.

10.31pm Bruce Forsyth turns round on Andrew Neil’s boat and shouts “nice to see you to see you….”

10.32pm Everyone talks over him except two people who mutter back… “nice?”

11.07pm Kirstie Allsopp, with nice understatement, on ITV, says that the mansion tax would be “like a nuclear explosion in central London.” That’s why Cameron wants her as an adviser on property, and not national security.

11.44pm George Osborne says on BBC that Labour Party “needs, to coin a phrase, get real.”

11.49pm George Osborne says on ITV that Labour Party “needs, to coin a phrase, get real.”

11.52pm Update on UKIP leader Nigel Farage’s broken ribs, damaged sternum, chipped spine. But you should have seen the pilot.

11.57pm No-one mentions that the people outside polling booths at 10pm might have been turned away because they thought it was Oddbins

00.06am Text from a friend – “Edwina Currie won Come Dine With Me.”

00.12am Joan Collins turns up on Andrew Neil’s boat and says “Yay! David Cameron.”

00.17am David Dimbleby: “We need some results to come in. I don’t know..um. It’s all a bit chaotic.”

00.21am Ken Clarke in a Nottingham gymansium gets cut off by Paxman and snorts “Oh well, we can’t miss a shot of Gordon Brown in Kirkcaldy. We had footage of David Cameron in a car earlier.” Man has a point.
Paxman drawls “that’s the magic of television.”

00.28am Dr John Reid is pontificating on ITV. “What do you do when everyone loses?” Sack Tony Mowbray? Definitely thinking about bed now.

01.11am That noted parliamentary expert, Louie Spence from Pineapple Dance Studio, gives C4 his views on the election.

01.28am Alistair Stewart interviews his second Miliband of the night. Where’s my duvet?up

01.34am Shock result. Gordon Brown wins. Only in Kirkcaldy & Cowdenbeath, but a win’s a win. Time to give up . Not something he’s planning on…

By Dave Hewitt

Cornish pasty: A touch of Adam Boulton. <em>Picture: hammer51012</em>

Cornish pasty: A touch of Adam Boulton. Picture: hammer51012

So, three Thursdays, three leaders debates. Who won? Did slick presentation hold sway over clunky awkwardness? Did the heavyweight approach see off self-assurance? Was it a victory for hype over content, spin over substance?
It’s your call. You, the people, decide.

No, I don’t mean the party leaders. The Brown vs Cameron vs Clegg thing has been done to death, and it never came close to feeling like an edition of The Brains Trust. Which of the three channels won – ITV, Sky, or the BBC? Or, to look at it another way, which compère came out on top: Alastair Stewart, Adam Boulton or David Dimbleby?

I must confess to only having watched around half of each debate live. For three Thursdays in a row I caught the opening exchanges, then was distracted by domesticity – doing the dishes, defragging the laptop, that kind of thing – before dutifully sitting through the final exchanges and perorations.

Not ideal for post-match analysis, admittedly, but surely the way the debates were widely watched. Only geeks, wonks and psychiatric inpatients will have sat through all 270 minutes of the thing.

If nothing else, there was the toilet problem. As noted by my partner – who stands and delivers lectures both to students and to me – 90 minutes is a long time to be stuck behind a lectern. Quite aside from the risk of fainting – those hot studio lights, the absence of any Dave Allen-style chairs – what if someone needed the loo part-way through? Was there a little soundproof booth just offstage?

Adverts would have solved this, not that any were allowed. This formed part of the great slab of 76 Rules, along with Rule 27b: No member of the audience shall be described as “bigoted” (at least not on air), and Rule 51c: No leader will wear a T-shirt bearing the likeness of a rebel leader such as Alex Salmond or Che Guevara.

ITV and Sky should, however, have insisted on being allowed to stay close to their commercial roots – while the BBC could have included their own kind of ads, too. A trailer for Dr Who slipped in every 30 minutes would have provided politicians and viewers alike the chance to scurry loowards.

As to the sets, they were interestingly different. ITV’s looked a bit showbiz, as was surely right – again a case of playing to strengths. The result, however, was that the three leaders stood there like contestants on Blind Date.

Sky set things up in similar fashion: Murdoch has, after all, nabbed much of the old ITV audience. The oddest thing here was the fragmented Union Jack backdrop, as if UKIP or the BNP, in compensation for their absence, had been let loose with paintpots and plywood.

The BBC, with the distinct advantage of going last – and hence having seen what did/didn’t work – took the more classy approach, holding their debate in an academic hall built long before commercial television was a gleam in Lew Grade’s eye.

The BBC did however opt for a weird, swirly, colour-changing backdrop, 1960s disco-psychedelia in mood. This was distracting, especially – and I’m not sure why – when David Cameron’s long plasticky face was seen in close-up.

Hamstrung by the 76 Rules, the moderators struggled to be more than mere ciphers. Alastair Stewart struggled too hard, adopting a comedy shouted-interruption method. With Gordon Brown one-tenth into his justification of foreign policy or some other tediousness, Stewart would yell “Nick Clegg!” Given that this method only works for party games, the leaders ought to have been made to scurry between an ever-decreasing number of lecterns each time Stewart barked an order.

The following week, on Sky, Adam Boulton did much better. Personally, I’ve always warmed to Boulton – a bright, big slab of a man, chiselled from a mixture of granite and Cornish pasty. He was the only one of the moderators who chose to remain seated, although it was unclear whether this was an attempt to achieve gravitas or because his legs had given out.

Dimbleby, in the third week, was just Dimbleby: establishment made flesh. Wearing very well for 71, he steered his usual steady course, and avoided swapping any Bullingdon Club anecdotes with his fellow member Cameron.

One wonders how much bickering there was beforehand, how much jockeying to get the gigs. Boulton was surely a shoo-in for the Sky show, his only rivals being the Jeffs – Randall and Stelling.

Dimbleby, with his Question Time pedigree, similarly had the Beeb version nailed down. Jeremy Paxman or Andrew Neil are too abrasive, Jeremy Vine would only have signed up had he been allowed to wear his cowboy hat, while for John Sopel – whose day as Heir to Dimbleby must surely come – it was one election too soon. The excellent and underrated Gavin Esler would have been another option.

The ITV version offered the most scope for change. I watch so little ITV these days – really only the Champions League and How Clean Is Your Donkey? – that I didn’t know who to expect come the first of the debates. Was Sir Trevor McDonald still available? Sir Alastair Burnet? Gordon Honeycombe? As it was, Alastair Stewart, perhaps nervous at being first on, had the air of a man trying a bit too hard. His days as host of Police Camera Action! have left their mark.

Given the wall-to-wall blokeishness, to have had a woman in charge must surely have been worth a punt by one of the channels. One of the Kirstys (Young, Wark, Allsop, Gallacher), or – given that the BBC debate focused on economics – Stephanie Flanders. Lorraine Kelly could have been entertaining on the ITV edition.

So, who came out on top? Opinions vary, just as with the actual politics. For this particular floating voter, Sky and BBC both had their merits, with the shouty ITV show lagging behind.

Overall? Too close to call, really. I predict a re-run within a year.