Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Poll finds overwhelming backing for Craig Murray's bid to save Bella Caledonia from closure

There has been a great deal of shock at the sudden uncertainty hanging over the future of Bella Caledonia, one of the most prominent sites in the pro-independence alternative media.  The concern has extended way beyond the usual suspects in the Yes movement, with even BBC Scotland's business editor Douglas Fraser revealing his high regard for Bella, and suggesting that pro-indy activists have perhaps been funding the 'wrong' websites to date.  That's a rather odd charge given that Bella's last two fundraisers have in combination brought in an absolutely enormous £87,000, but nevertheless Bella's board and outgoing editor have clearly concluded that the current financial model is not sustainable, and that the site may have to close if a workable alternative isn't found.

One possible solution has tonight been floated by Craig Murray, the UK's former ambassador to Uzbekistan, and now a passionate advocate for Scottish independence.  He has offered to take over the site as editor without drawing a salary, and also to cover any running costs himself.  He has also proposed that contributors to the site should in future be unpaid, thus solving the financial problems at a stroke.  That would be a massive change in direction for Bella, which in recent years has set out (albeit not always succeeded) to broadly replicate the mainstream media in how it compensates contributors. 

Christopher Silver was particularly scathing about this aspect of Craig's plan, which he considers to be another example of a prevailing attitude which is "yoking a generation of talent".  I have some sympathy with that view, but ultimately you have to take a step back, and accept that if you will the ends (the survival of Bella), you also have to will the means - and those means will inevitably be shaped by the sustainability of any financial model.  That doesn't necessarily mean going from one extreme to the other in quite the way Craig suggests, but if you want to keep paying contributors, it might mean paying them less, or only paying certain 'big name' contributors, or cutting down on output altogether.  If Bella is not just 'the media' but is also an integral part of the independence movement, it certainly ought to be possible in principle to find people who would be motivated enough to write for free, or for only a little.  But that would probably involve giving those people the maximum space and freedom to pursue their own passions at their own pace (and I say that as someone who has written a roughly equal number of paid and unpaid articles for other websites over the years).  That in itself might constitute something of a culture change for the site.

Anyway, out of curiosity, I decided to run a poll on Twitter to test the enthusiasm for Craig taking over as editor.  The poll still has almost a day to run, but 409 people have already voted, and the preliminary results can only be described as emphatic -

Should the Bella Caledonia board accept Craig Murray's offer to take over as editor and keep the site going for free?

Yes 82%
No 18%

OK, strictly speaking this is a self-selecting 'voodoo' poll, but for a niche concern like this it would in any case be meaningless to attempt to poll a representative sample of the general public.  At least Twitter polls ensure that each account can only vote once, and it's also highly likely that most of the people reached by the poll are active 'consumers' of the pro-independence alternative media.

So if this popular backing for Craig is heeded by the Bella board, what would it mean for the site?  Craig has said that nothing would change as far as the reader's experience is concerned, but a new editor is surely bound to herald at least a subtle change of direction.  I would guess there would be a somewhat 'brasher' emphasis on support for independence in future.  Given that Craig is a former, but not current, member of the SNP, it's likely that the site would continue to be a 'critical friend' of the Scottish Government, but with the criticisms perhaps coming from a somewhat different angle than at present.  (It's worth noting that Craig is also a former member of the Liberal Democrats, rather than a radical left party.)  Ironically enough, one point on which there would probably be no change at all is the site's trenchant support for so-called 'tactical voting on the list', which is the only topic I can ever remember having a direct disagreement with Craig about.

34 comments:

  1. I for one am glad that Mike Small is leaving, there is no other pro-Indy blog writer or editor who has behaved in such a haphazard and contradictory way as Mike Small over the last couple of years. A man who will *not* be told and will *not* listen to the grievances except when you're inside his little circle, and from my point of view became a little bit too self-important to be representing a significant element of the pro-Indy online media presence. I am glad for what Bella came to represent but I really believe it's better off without Mike - his irrational self-importance is evidenced by the fact he wants to close it down because he can no longer run it. Let's see what comes of it.

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  2. I used to comment regularly on Bella but became disillusioned pre-2016 election, It became nothing more than a RISE propaganda arm where any dissenting voices were shouted down. A small coterie of RISE acolytes are carrying on the "good work" and I,for one, will not mourn its passing

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  3. Stopped reading Bella when they called Jim Murphy a "quisling" and I received abuse on the thread for objecting. An admin supported the abusive commenter. As someone who contributed to the birth of the pro-independence blogging phenomenon, I will not miss that particular blog. But I can understand that others might.

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    1. Congratulations on your theology degree, Stuart

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  4. People could be forgiven for thinking Bella is a pseudo-lefty online mag created by the Daily Mail.

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  5. Bella is a great read. I do not agree with Mike's politics, for all of the reasons everyone else has given, but then I read the Herald every day. Christopher Silver is on the money (or lack of it) but let us support Bella's survival first. Craig Murray has the diplomatic skills to pull this off, and should be allowd to do so.

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  6. If they've brought in circa £85 you've got to ask where has the money gone?
    It's a website - not a print press.

    I don't agree contributors should not be paid. They should be. Sounds as though they may be getting too much at present however. I can't understand how that kind of money isn't enough.

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  7. I agre that Bella is a cracking read but since before the 2016 election I have had doubts about Mr Small's judgement. At this point in time the main aim should be securing a majority for the party most likely to deliver independence.The time for forming new parties is when independence is gained. Mr Small's actions may have had an adverse effect on the SNP vote but it would now appear that he has fouled his own nest.
    On the other hand Mr. Murray would appear to be a safe pair of hands yet with some baggage but not leftist baggage.

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  8. If a BBC reporter supports a site then it has problems, and if a site board doesn't realise attacking the party of the majority of its supporters is a poor strategy then obviously it won't survive.

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  9. Like many others, I was a keen supporter of Bella, both pre and post indyref, contributing money and comment regularly.

    Unfortunately, in the run up to the 2016 election, the site became a mouthpiece for RISE and, as a consequence, anti SNP, a stance which it showed little sign of changing even after, or perhaps because of, RISE's annihilation in the election. At that point, it became questionable whether the net impact of the site was helping or harming the independence movement. There were even examples of SNPbad items from the site being picked up by the MSM which convinced me and many others that it certainly wasn't helping.

    At a time when huge numbers of independence supporters were joining the SNP, alienating large numbers of potential supporters didn't seem to be a sensible strategy for maintaining financial support and so it has turned out.

    I would be sorry to see it go, but perhaps Mike Small's leaving may allow the site, if it survives, to become a bit more even-handed and regain some of the lost trust. Only time will tell.

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  10. I didn't see that poll. It will probably come as no surprise to many people here to learn that I would have voted No.

    I agree with a lot of what is being said above, in particular with criticism of the attempt to turn Bella into a cash cow to give certain pro-independence scribblers a permanent income. However, for many many reasons I do not think Craig Murray is the person to rescue the brand. He has spectacularly poor judgement, no diplomatic skills at all, and is far too interested in the promotion of Craig Murray. He also has material in his background that has been smeared all over the press in the past, and irrespective of whether you think this smearing was unjustified, the pro-union press is all ready to trot the whole thing out again - just as they were when they were salivating over the prospect of his becoming an SNP candidate in 2015.

    It's Darwinism out there and it's not all that surprising that Bella was judged unfit by the subscribers. I don't really mind whether it continues (in a less ambitious and money-hungry way) or not, but I do hope Craig Mudday doesn't get his hands on the brand.

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    1. Oops, fat fingers. Craig Murray of course, that wasn't an intentional typo.

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  11. The Vipper of VippJanuary 10, 2017 at 1:09 PM

    Thought you considered yourself a polling expert? Try pulling the other one when it comes to making a case for the veracity of Twitter polls - they are for entertainment purposes only.

    I wonder if other bloggers, including yourself, should reflect on their role in Bella's downfall. It promoted an alternative, radical and truly left wing vision for an Indy Scotland. However, daring to step outside the blinkered 'both votes SNP' thinking seemed to put it top of the Cosa McNostra’s hit list. There’s been a constant and unfair chipping away at Bella’s credibility since it printed articles in support of RISE and, sadly, you played your part in that.

    No doubt respondents to your poll consider Craig Murray will be a more compliant SNP lickspittle. But hey, who cares about social justice or principles; just toe the line and shut up while the SNP deliver politics for the middle classes.

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    1. The only people who need to reflect on their role in Bella's downfall are those who were running Bella. Nobody else has any responsibility for that. In particular they might reflect on their policy of lining their own pockets to the extent that over £80,000 wasn't enough to keep a bloody web site going!

      Alienating the majority of their potential readers by constantly punting a fringe no-hope party to the detriment of the party that had a credible chance of an overall majority maybe wasn't all that clever either. People are under no obligation to change their minds and support RISE just because Mike Small thinks it's a good idea.

      Also, for me, the turgid, tendentious, interminable articles full of tyops, mis-spellings and poor grammar were no incentive to go on reading. That wasn't all of them of course, but there's only so much I can take before I wander off. If people are being paid to write and publish, they should at least produce a professional product.

      Of all the negative things that could be said about Craig Murray, and I've said plenty, "compliant SNP lickspittle" is certainly not one of them. He and the SNP have thankfully gone their separate ways. I'm far more concerned that the site would become the sort of haven for tinfoil hat conspiracy mongers and blatant promotion of the persona of C. Murray that his own blog is.

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    2. The Vipper of VippJanuary 10, 2017 at 2:24 PM

      ‘Lining their own pockets’ is quite a statement to make without providing any evidence. At any rate, they were not the most successful crowdfunded Indy bloggers but at least you could see through their online and offline activities Bella was active in supporting the radical thinking needed to deliver a fairer and more equal Indy Scotland.

      Also, no one was obliging Indy supporters to change their minds. Alternative viewpoints were put forward which some people seemed to take personally. Since then there has been a mostly low level, but constant, campaign to marginalise Bella. Death by a thousand tweets.

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    3. Where did the £80,000+ go then?

      It's an interesting progression. Back in 2012-13 people mostly volunteered to do what they could for the Yes movement, without asking to be paid. Yes Scotland had some paid staff but that was about it.

      Then some people got more into it and found the amount of time they were spending on the campaign was eating into their ability to earn a living. Those who were doing fairly popular things like writing popular blogs appealled for small donations to help cover the time they were spending. (Those of us who were simply spending hours counting and bundling and delivering leaflets, and canvassing and having "conversations", hardly had that luxury.) But so far so good.

      I think Wings was the first person to do a fundraiser specifically to provide a salary for him to do the job full-time. He did this because a reader of his blog suggested it to him. He was very clear about where the money was going, including the modest amount of his own salary. He was also clear about how the rest of the money was going to be spent.

      His model has worked spectacularly well. He had a proven track record when he first went into it, and after the first year he had delivered so well that his donations shot through the roof the second year. He's still successful and we'll see how his 2017 fundraiser goes next month. But for his salary he writes most of the content and only pays for things like cartoons and maybe the occasional professional article from another journalist. His hosting costs are high because he has astronomical traffic on the blog. If he was less popular the hosting costs would swiftly reduce.

      It was inevitable, and a good thing, that others picked up this idea. Some very worthwhile things were funded, as well as some things that didn't take off despite being good ideas, and some things that really weren't so clever.

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    4. (contd.)

      Maybe I'm making a false distinction here, but it seems to me that there came a point where, rather than people utterly dedicated to the independence cause simply looking for a way they could devote more time to it, some luminaries started looking at independence activism as a source of income for income's sake. Instead of funding a one-man-band, supporters were to fund an entire symphony orchestra with editorial boards and salaries and fees paid for content that were comparable to those paid by the established press. It was a business model.

      Now that's not wrong and not reprehensible, but it is a different beast from the one-man-band things we'd been funding up till then. If it worked, then great. But it was very ambitious. If it didn't attract pretty big bucks, it wasn't going to work. Actually, it did attract some pretty big bucks, but even that wasn't enough to keep the whole orchestra on the road.

      Nobody who chose not to support this enterprise needs to feel even slightly guilty. In particular, Yes activists who give up large quantities of their time going to meetings and leafleting and canvassing and putting out branch newsletters and so on, do not need to feel guilty. Some people thought they would try and see if donations from independence supporters could fund their lifestyle, and in the end their business model didn't quite make it. That's Darwinism for you.

      The questions I would be asking are, if £80,000 isn't enough to fund the model, what steps were taken to try to conserve the money so that the people who donated it would still see some return on all that cash? If it wasn't possible to fund the editorial board and the stable of writers and so on, was there no discussion about what it was possible to achieve with such a large slice of cash?

      Well, now we've had all the hand-wringing and it looks as if they're just going to go ahead with another appeal and try again. I simply hope that this time they'll try a bit harder to cut their coat according to their cloth.

      But it's still Darwinism. If Wings doesn't keep up the standard that has the donations flooding in, then Stuart will go back to videogames journalism or some related activity. It's all about generating the content that makes people want to support you. If you can't do that sufficiently, then that's not the fault of the people who have decided not to support you.

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    5. "I wonder if other bloggers, including yourself, should reflect on their role in Bella's downfall..."

      "and, sadly, you played your part in that"

      Nice try, my friend. Doubtless your verdict on the Hitler Diaries was that the people who exposed the forgery were to blame, rather than the forgers themselves. You may well be correct that Bella's systematic attempt to con people about how the electoral system worked was detrimental to the site's reputation and popularity. I'm afraid that's something you'll have to take up with the outgoing editor of the site. I make no apology whatever for doing my level best to expose that stunt for what it was.

      On the bleat about "this isn't a proper poll", try reading the blogpost - I addressed that point directly.

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    6. I entirely agree, James. If person A thinks Bella's efforts and output were worthwhile, it's up to them to support the site. If support is insufficient to sustain the enterprise, there's no use berating people who didn't think the site was doing a good job!

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  12. Glasgow Working Class 2January 10, 2017 at 1:09 PM

    None of the Nat si propoganda is working so it may as well close down. The Nat sis should get out and about instead of this conversation nonsense. The Scottish people do not want to be beholden to the euro and the Bundesbank. Knickerless needs to remove her surgical tights they are restricting her brain.

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    1. Ah, the stench of chewed crayon and shrill desperation...

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    2. Glasgow Working Class 2January 10, 2017 at 8:58 PM

      The crayon is mightier than anything you Nat sis have had to say since Brexit.
      The crayon says you fash have lost the referendum and brexit is going to happen.
      The crayon says you Nat sis are scared to go for another referendum.
      And may the crayon be with you.

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    3. Shriller and less coherent by the day...

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    4. GWC2, Stuart Campbell, Craig Murray -- isn't it time that we heard from a real nationalist who hasn't spent decades taking the southern shilling?

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  13. I would start with reinstating all the banned members, there must be 100s. A new start might bring them back and a wish to contribute :)

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    1. I didn't realise it was that bad. I never got banned - what did I do wrong?!

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    2. Did you agree with everything, that would help LOL BTW don't get me wrong some of the articles written were brilliant, I just know many folk that were banned :)

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  14. Pro Indy blogs closing down, indyref ruled out in the only year in which it could have averted a Scottish exit from the EU, and indycamp refused their appeal - even with Jesus on their side.

    It isn't going well for the septic separatists.

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    1. I'd be surprised if Bella actually closes down, the indy-camp was legally closed down (nothing to do with a lack of interest) and there was never any intention of having a referendum in 2017, only to lay the groundwork for one in 2018, 19 or 20.

      If this is all you've got to predict the demise of the Indy movement then you're not so much desperate as hysterical.

      Despite a wall of SNP/indy-bad media stories, the beatification of the sacred Ruth and the "nothing to see here" treatment of the hapless Kezia, support for independence remains higher than it was in 2014.

      Just think what will happen when people switch back on to the issues. The tissue thin unionist arguments will be laid bare, Ruth Davidson's Nasty-Party links will taint the NO campaign while Kezia Dugdale's flip-flopping like a landed salmon on every issue will undermine it.

      No wonder unionists are cacking themselves over the prospect of another referendum. Only a relative handful of people need to be convinced of the obvious advantages of independence to win it for Scotland.

      If unionists believe talk of another referendum is such a bad thing, why is it all they want to talk about?

      "Me Bungo Pony"

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    2. Glasgow Working Class 2January 11, 2017 at 7:52 PM

      Bungo Nat si bhoy Unionists are talking about it because you fash have been bumping yer gums for dunkeys about it now you are shiting yerselves. We are rubbing it in. 2017 was your chance to leave the Union and get into the EU.
      The fact is is your MP'S and MSP'S are rolling in the dosh under the Union. All they have to do is keep the faithful on board and pretend there will be a referendum some time. Your leaders know Scotland will be impoverished outside the UNION and the EU.

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    3. Told you Bella wouldn't shut down :)

      "Me Bungo Pony"

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  15. Aw look at that. We've given the yoons a wee straw to clutch.

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    1. You make more sense than the troll.

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