Sunday, December 06, 2009

My Lib Dem News article on the bloggers unconference

Alex Foster treated the day with commedable seriousness

From Friday's issue.

Techies and Norse blood at Bloggers' "Unconference"

Liberal Democrats do not like being organised. Nor do bloggers. So when the first get together for Liberal Democrat bloggers took place last Saturday, it was inevitable that it would be billed as an “Unconference”.

And where should such free spirits meet but Edinburgh? As G. K. Chesterton once wrote, "It seems like a city built on precipices, a perilous city. Great roads rush down hill like rivers in spate. Great buildings rush up like rockets."

The select group of bloggers who made the journey to the Scottish party’s office at Clifton Terrace, in the centre of the city near Haymarket railway station, were rewarded with a full and entertaining day.

We argued about the best blogging platform to use, discussed ways of blogging on the move from your mobile phone and were given expert tuition on making podcasts by Liberal Democrat Voice’s Alex Foster.

The Unconference was well supported by the Liberal Democrat great and good, with three parliamentarians looking in to be interviewed.

John Barrett, who will be standing down as MP for Edinburgh West at the next election, was in bright form and upbeat about our prospects in Scotland at that election. He has long been a blogger himself, and spoke about his experience of using that blog to keep his constituents informed.

Interestingly, he does not allow comments on his blog, fearing it would descend into the sort of madhouse you sometimes find online, but is happy to correspond with individual voters by email.

Jo Swinson, the Lib Dem MP for East Dumbartonshire, arrived from the airport having just delivered a speech on the global economic crisis to a United Nations conference in New York. She needed no technical advice from anyone at the Unconference: as well as a website she has a Youtube channel to which she uploads campaign videos. We watched one of her presenting a constituency petition on climate change at the front door of 10 Downing Street.

In between these two MPs, we were visited by Tavish Scott who is the leader of the Liberal Democrats at Holyrood.

His Shetland background and constituency gives him a very different perspective on politics. Here is a man who once travelled with a troupe of Viking in full regalia – the Jarl Squad – to the opening of the Scottish Parliament.

You could feel this Norse blood stirring as he spoke with contempt of Scottish Nationalism in general and Alex Salmond in particular. He was clear, though, that if devolution is to continue to flourish then Scotland would have to start raising a large proportion of its own tax revenues. And he was adamant that England must find a way of combating its own democratic deficit.

Tavish also reminisced about his time in the Whips office at Westminster with future stars like Ed Davey, Adrian Sanders and Norman Baker. He made the experience sound rather like a situation comedy – think The Thick of It meets Men Behaving Badly.

A regular series of unconferences for Lib Dem bloggers would help us learn from one another, encourage debate among Liberals and enable us to find ways of helping the party during and between elections.

But wherever these unconferences are held, it will be hard to compete with the cakes on offer at this first event or with Edinburgh itself.

As Alexander Smith wrote in 1865:
“Living in Edinburgh there abides above all things, a sense of its beauty. Hill, crag, castle, rock, blue stretch of sea, the picturesque ridge of the Old Town, the squares and terraces of the New these things once seen are not to be forgotten.”


dreamingspire said...

Is Norman Baker a star? I struggle to find anything about transport worth having from him, even though he seems to be the transport front bench person. (Yes, I have read the Oct 09 transport policy - it is full of motherhood and apple pie sentiments.)
How about putting the current Dept against Transport on the bonfire - but I forgot, its a Tory bonfire, not a LD one, so you need to urge Cameron/Osborne to do that to DfT.

Max Atkinson said...

That picture of Mr Foster standing next to a PowerPoint list of bullet points doesn't look too promising- and looks like the latest slide show from a BBC News programme in which yet another 'reporter' who's gone all the way across the studio to show us his/her latest collection of awful slides ( - or is using PowerPoint proof that someone's treating the day 'with commendable seriousness'?