Glasgow Sloth’s ticket to success


The Glasgow Sloth website launched in late-February 2019

A newly-launched news website based at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow has claimed its first editorial scalp by helping to halt changes to local bus fares which would have hit older students commuting to the city centre.

The Glasgow Sloth website – which says it is dedicated to producing “slow journalism for a fast city” – reported how the McGills bus company had to withdraw plans to limit cut-price fares using its students-only app to people only between 16 and 22 years of age. The plan would have excluded mature students and others on vocational courses who frequently have to travel to campus from work placements well outside the city centre.

Deputy editor of The Glasgow Sloth, Jennifer Jones, said the story arose from a Twitter search by the reporter, Holly McCormack, who spotted the McGills story and complaints on social media about the effect that the price change would have on students over 22 years old.

“It was quite a good story for us when we launched,” said Jennifer. “And that helped people feel that we were approachable and we were actually finding the time to go and chase it up.

“That was really vital.”

Jennifer explained that The Glasgow Sloth hadn’t actually set out to change the bus company’s policy by running the story.  However, she and the website’s reporters are still pleased about the outcome.

“It’s about small victories.

“Sometimes people feel powerless, but these little things like ten Pounds a week, in this day and age, it’s quite a lot of money to be losing.

“It’s not so much about changing things, as highlighting their action.”

The idea of slow journalism has arisen in recent years partly as a response to the decline of local news outlets, and wider mistrust in methods of news production. Some slow news publications, such as The Glasgow Sloth are online only, and focus on local news reporting. Others, such as the quarterly magazine Delayed Gratification are lavishly illustrated and cover both UK and global stories.


Standing on giants’ shoulders

Both journalism and history are often at their most compelling for us when they touch our lives personally.

So, amid bone-dry coverage of interest rates or inflation rates, most of us find our eyes jumping to the section about how any change will affect what’s laughably still sometimes described as our disposable income; or when harrowing footage from the Syrian war makes us hold our children a little closer.

It can be the same with old stories of our trade, or the inspiring lives and work of some of the early giants of our profession upon whose shoulders we stand.

One of those giants is Barrhead-born Helen MacFarlane, the reporter, commentator, translator and activist who became a leading figure in the Chartist movement during the mid-19th century.

After her fiery years of engagement in the working class democratic movement around Manchester and Lancashire in the 1840s and early 1850s – writing for the Red Republican and completing the first translation into English of The Communist Manifesto  – she ‘retired’ into the relative obscurity of marriage to the local vicar in a small village near Nantwich, in Cheshire, where she died in 1860 at the age of 41.


Grave of Helen MacFarlane, St Michael’s churchyard, Baddiley. July 2016

Before I began work in Manchester earlier this year, I’d never heard of Helen Macfarlane, although I had heard of the Chartists – for the first time, many years ago in secondary school history classes. Back then, we were mostly taught about how the Charter had been a challenge to the Whig and Tory orthodoxy of the day (cue a chorus of adolescent yawns!).

I do remember passing references to the Northern Star newspaper, and its editor Feargus O’Connor.

However, I don’t remember hearing quite so much in the classroom about how Chartism was a working class movement for democracy that engaged hundreds of thousands of people from Scotland’s Central Belt, through Cumbria and Lancashire, across the south and east of England, right to the gates of Westminster and the mass rallies, such as in Kennington Park – which many years later became the gathering point for one of the feeder marches on the day of the great 1990 Anti-Poll Tax demonstration.

Nor was there that much either in school about William Cuffay, the black activist and organiser who was convicted of involvement in a bombing plot (mostly on the strength of what even the trial judge thought was questionable testimony from a police supergrass) and transported to the prison colonies of Tasmania.


Image of William Cuffay at The People’s History Museum, Manchester. Visit the #PHM on Twitter @PHMMcr

Nor even about my near-namesake, Peter Murray McDouall, another of the Chartist organisers – by all accounts one of the movement’s most passionate and eloquent public speakers – who also made numerous appearances in court for his pains.

But arriving in Manchester and being asked to devise some lectures about the history of journalism, the Northern Star seemed like a good place to start.

So, the last couple of months have taken me to Helen MacFarlane’s graveside, to the location a couple of miles from where I now live of a Chartist “riot” outside the old Town Hall of Little Bolton (memorial plaque, above), and to the commanding, bleak, windswept summit of Blackstone Edge, where thirty thousand people gathered for a Chartist rally on the hillside in 1846.


Sign at the top of Blackstone Edge marking 1846 Chartist rally. (Image: Vince Hunt)

It has also taken me – and some colleagues, along with several dozen of our new journalism students at Manchester Metropolitan University – to the People’s History Museum, which has one of the most exhaustive archives in the country of Chartist newspapers, pamphlets, letters and printed flyers – as well as what is probably the first ever photograph of a political rally ever taken in the UK, that historic gathering of up to 25,000 people in Kennington Park.

You can watch our interview with PHM archivist Darren Treadwell here:

Back in those dusty history classes I don’t remember we were ever taught that much about the pioneering, campaigning journalism that accompanied the movement and grew out of the social and economic upheavals, poverty and suffering of those years – “Hunger and hatred: these were the forces that made Chartism a mass movement of the British working class,” writes GDH Cole (Chartist Portraits. Published by Macmillan, 1941).

However, many of those journalists – Helen MacFarlane, James Bronterre O’Brien, Anne Knight, or Henry Hetherington of the Poor Man’s Guardian – would all surely recognise how their passion and commitment lives on today in the work of some of our best writers and social commentators: from Paul Mason to Laurie Penny and Owen Jones, from Common Space or the Bristol Cable, to Article 19 and NovaraMedia.

This is history that touches us today, informs us, and enriches us all.

#MediaScot – a focus for new community media

Leading figures from across Scotland’s new media sector are gathering at an Edinburgh school today (Friday 22 April) in a unique opportunity to learn from each other about how they can take more control over local news gathering and media production for their benefit of communities across the country.

The “Media in Scotland’s Communities” conference is taking place at Castlebrae Community High School in Craigmillar, organised by the charity Media Trust, where I have been working since late 2013, and the University of the West of Scotland.

The event brings together dozens of media activists, writers and publishers, journalists and academics as well as young film makers and students from Scotland and the UK to begin to map the future for new community-based media in the country.

The event marks the final stages of Media Trust’s 3-year flagship programme, Do Something Brilliant, which has been funded by the Big Lottery Fund, and which has delivered dozens of specialist training workshops to charities, social enterprises and small businesses in every region of Scotland since the project began in 2013.

I have had the unique privilege of travelling from Orkney and Lewis, to Ayrshire and the Borders either to run one of numerous training sessions or to film editions of the Community Channel programmes which I’ve produced, with the help of some outstanding young presenters and reporters, such as Farah Bradford and Ted Simpson (pictured, below).

Farah + Ted

Farah Bradford and Ted Simpson presented the March 2016 edition of the Community Channel’s Do Something Brilliant programme from Craigmillar.

However, we chose to locate this event in Craigmillar because this part of Edinburgh has been the focus of a key element of my work in the last year, assisting in setting up the area’s new hyperlocal news website, the Chronicle Online.

A key opening contribution to the day will come from Kathryn Geels, whose extensive study of the current state, and future of hyperlocals across the UK, Destination Local has just been completed.

Participants at the conference will be running masterclasses and technical workshops in how to produce sophisticated media materials on smartphones, opportunities for crowdfunding new media in Scotland, and the role of education in helping communities take control of media and news in their own areas.

Myself and the other co-organisers, Jennifer Jones and David McGillivrary from UWS, believe the event will help set the national agenda for the future of community media – and new media more widely – both in Scotland and the UK.

As well as the technical workshops, film screenings and panel discussions, there will be a number of stalls provided by partner organisations such as the Thistle Foundation and Digital Sentinel.

The University of the West of Scotland’s mobile campus will be based at the school for the day and will be both an editing space for the journalism students and young film-makers taking part as well as the intake point for contributions from wider flung hyperlocal websites, such as The Bristol Cable.


Castlebrae Community High School headteacher, Norma Prentice

Our enormous thanks go to both the staff and students at Castlebrae for their generosity in agreeing to host the event, despite having also to accommodate students from the local primary school which has been evacuated because of the Edinburgh city-wide schools PFI reconstruction work.

Craigmillar’s Chronicle Online

Training for the Chronicle Online will take place at The White House in Craigmillar

Training for the Chronicle Online will take place at The White House in Craigmillar

After months of planning, Scotland’s capital should see the first community news website of its kind being launched in the city in the autumn, serving Craigmillar and the surrounding area in the south of Edinburgh.

The post-#IndyRef flourish in new media has seen the creation of a number of politically-oriented websites, as well as the ground-breaking, crowd-funded investigative journalism website The Ferret. However, none of these so far has had the resources – or inclination – to cover local issues, politics or personalities.

The ChronicleOnLine will seek to change that.

Media Trust has been asked to play a part in training new bloggers and reporters on the community news website – from newsgathering techniques and the ethics of social media to video production and podcasting.

It is clear that there is not just a glaring need for more local news online across Scotland and the UK, but a massive appetite in areas like Craigmillar as well as enormous enthusiasm within the community to take part in the project.

Funding for the training has come from the local authority via the Portobello and Craigmillar Neighbourhood Partnership and we hope to bring together local bloggers, students with an interest in media, journalism and coding, designers and game developers, as well as community activists and archivists – all of whom, we are certain, will bring a huge range of expertise, experience and energy to the website.

A series of workshops, held at Castlebrae High School and a local community hub, The White House, has already mapped scores of possible opening stories, news sources and issues which could feature on the site in its first weeks. It is likely some of those involved in these start-up workshops will continue to develop the website through a proposed community editorial board.

As part of the training, Media Trust will again be working with Jennifer Jones from the University of the West of Scotland, applying many of the lessons and techniques in community journalism which we developed as part of our work all across Scotland during the 2013/2014 Digital Commonwealth project. There will be a wealth of local knowledge and practical expertise in community journalism from Phyllis Stephen, founding editor of The Edinburgh Reporter website as well as support from the designer and illustrator, Sonya Hallet.

Organisers of the project, which include social enterprises in Craigmillar, community activists, schools and the local library, hope the site will go online at the end of October.

The first of the training sessions is scheduled for 02 October.

What’s actually wrong with the Scottish media?

Why does it always rain ast demos? Me with NUJ colleagues on anti-austerity protest. Birmingham, October 2010

Why does it always rain at demos? Me (left) with NUJ colleagues on anti-austerity protest, last time around. Birmingham, October 2010

Which should bother us most:

a BBC news executive is shifted sideways (very belatedly) after repeated accusations of bullying and a staff threat to strike if he wasn’t moved?

a perception that the BBC is institutionally biased against Scottish independence and its (especially on-line) supporters?

or the thought that traditional TV audiences are literally dying off and changing viewing habits sufficiently to trigger seismic cuts to public service broadcasting.

There’s an intense and at times highly divisive bebate going on in Scotland right now over control of the media.

But there’s an equally intense debate going on across the UK over ownership of the media and access – and it is one which has been at the heart of a struggle for generations over who controls the media, and over what the newspaper proprietors, ministers, broadcasting moguls and web owners say.

For people like me, it is a massive concern that the views of trade unions and people at work are systematically under-reported in the mainstream media, and especially by our national broadcaster.

We know the story: company CEOs and market analysts get largely uncritical airtime while union reps on picket lines or besuited general secretaries can only expect hostile, frequently ill-informed, questioning and barracking on the same programmes because the trains, ferries or underground aren’t running.

It has always seemed to me not just unfair, but a travesty of any genuine notion of public service news provision.

And it’s not just me, by the way. A more detailed academic study of the issue by the Cardiff School of Jounalism came to similar conclusions.

So, years of seeing trade union, anti-austerity, anti-war, or anti-racism campaigns being under-represented on TV or radio meant I was not surpised (disappointed, yes, but not surprised) that people in the #IndyRef campaign concluded the mainstream media were biased against them.

But is that the most urgent problem right now?

This week, the broadcasting regulator Ofcom released one of its most detailed examinations for years of the state of the sector.

The timing of the report is critical.

The BBC director general Tony Hall this week announced 1000 job cuts at the Corporation because of a £150m shortfall in licence fee funding.

That in turn has triggered fears that this could just be a precursor for yet another jobs cull at the BBC as a result of the renegotiation of the Licence Fee and the wider BBC Charter Review.

It its report, Ofcom found that “[Public Service Broadcasting] PSB channels spent just under £440m less in real terms in 2014 than in 2008” (p 13. 3.1).

It goes on: “Scotland [is] one of the main beneficiaries of the shift in production out of London and the only Nation to see an increase in spend on nations programming, up by 14% since 2008. Nevertheless, higher proportions of audiences here (21%) feel negatively portrayed, compared to respondents in most other areas of the UK.” (3.52.3)

BBC funding figures are notoriously opaque and are always challenged by those in Scotland’s creative sector, but the contrast between the BBC’s financial case and Ofcom’s conclusions about negative portrayal is still pretty stark.

But the most worrying numbers are not part of the Ofcom report. Instead they are being hinted at ahead of next week’s budget: that the BBC will have to take on the £600m cost of paying the licence fee of everyone over 75; and a further £200m if the government rules it is no longer a criminal offence for other households to evade the licence fee.

Remember, the BBC’s licence fee income is around £3.7bn a year.

The Chancellor is sharpening his axe and the all-male, all-white, mainly Conservative Culture Media and Sport select committee of MPs seems pretty unlikely to stay his hand.

And all this is before we even begin to look at the problems facing the press in Scotland, from the “challenging” state of finances at the parent company of the Daily Record and Sunday Mail, to some of the long-term plans being tested out by the US owners of The Herald/Evening Times titles, or alarm over the threat to their revenues and coverage from Google, Facebook and the BBC expressed by the owner of The Scotsman and a stable of local papers around Scotland and the UK.

However, there is good reason for hope that we can challenge this. Or at least some of it.

It is good news that the Scottish Parliament and the government here will finally have a say over the future of the BBC as part of the Charter Renewal negotiations.

But there is another way of taking on these threats from ministers, editors and proprietors.

First, for instance, many months – actually, years, when you count them up – of relentless and dignified argument by NUJ reps at BBC Scotland resulted in the former head of news and current affairs being moved on. He’s been moved on to the office dealing with the BBC’s case for Charter Renewal – which doesn’t inspire staff with a ton of confidence, but they tell me it has already made an enormous difference to morale and output on the newsroom floor.

Another NUJ campaign to prevent a veteran trade union rep from being made redundant at a local newspaper in South Yorkshire led to his sacking threat being withdrawn.

A campaign of industrial action last month at a string of local newspapers across London managed – remarkably – to secure the support of the Mayor, Boris Johnson and a significant number of his fellow Conservative MPs, resulting in talks to withdraw the editorial cuts threat.

I am not surprised that very little of this ground-up, workplace campaigning has been reported by the mainstream media. These are trade unionists, after all.

Nor am I that surprised that Ofcom’s very detailed breakdown of viewing figures and ages, or examinination of Facebook metrics by Ashley Highfield, the Johnson Press boss, isn’t going to light a fire for those working to build a new media landscape in Scotland based on public disenchantment with the post #IndyRef BBC.

But if those leading the debate over the future of the Scottish media after the Referendum ignore this stuff, they risk leading this flowering, new politically-minded media in Scotland into a cul-de-sac where the opinions, skills and careers of the sub-editors, designers, producers, coders or videographers don’t matter.

And that’s not much of a public service, either.

So, it’s time for people to stick up for public service journalism and news – and it’s time to stick up for the BBC.

Mumia needs urgent medical treatment

Honorary NUJ member, Mumia Abu Jamal has spent more than 30 years in jail - much of the time in solitary confinement

Honorary NUJ member, Mumia Abu Jamal has spent more than 30 years in jail – much of the time in solitary confinement. Image via Mumia’s official Facebook page.

Supporters around the world of the jailed African American journalist Mumia Abu Jamal are extremely alarmed to hear that, more than two months after being admitted to hospital because of complications related to his diabetes condition, his family says he is being denied access by state authorities to the medical treatment he urgently needs.

At the time he was admitted (30 March) to an intensive care unit at a clinic near the Pennsylvania prison where he is being held, he was in diabetic shock. The emergency came just a few weeks after blood tests conducted within the prison which his family say should have revealed he was suffering from diabetes.

A report on his medical condition from earlier this month indicates that he remains extremely ill, has lost a lot of weight and is using a wheelchair because of swelling in his feet and legs.

Some supporters say his current treatment amounts to “medial execution through neglect and malpractice” and they want the PA Department of Corrections to allow independent specialists to treat Mumia’s diabetes and severe eczema.

Mumia Abu Jamal was the first person to be granted honorary membership of the union and we are proud to be able to call him a colleague.

It is our view that Mumia is the victim of one of the most notorious miscarriages of justice arising from the civil rights stuggles of the 20th Century.

We in the NUJ firmly believe the criminal justice system has blighted the life of a man who was clearly targeted because of his work as a campaigning journalist, exposing corruption and racism.

To deprive him now of the medical attention he so desperately needs is a further and unnecessary act of cruelty and inhumanity.

The NUJ has joined other trade unions as well as Mumia’s family and friends calling on the Pennsylvania state Governor Tom Wolf to intervene to allow daily visits to him by Mumia Abu Jamal’s family and to permit Mr Jamal’s choice of medical specialists to treat him.

We are also urging the Governor to take steps to allow him to be released and to put an end to this monumental miscarriage of justice.

Mumia Abu Jamal has consistently denied the allegation that he killed a white officer, and despite a lengthy campaign to obtain a fair trial, his appeals have been consistently refused.

During three decades on death row he has faced the stress of twice being given execution dates – sentences that were later halted following worldwide campaigning for his cause, which also led the authorities in 2011 to commute his sentence to life in prison without parole.

There is a petition on calling for Governor Wolf and the head of the Pennsylvania prisons department, John Wetzel, to allow Mumia’s own doctors to visit him and prescribe treatment for his long-term illness.

My name is…

Tommy Whitelaw lobbies MSPs during a recent event at the Scottish Parliament

Tommy Whitelaw lobbies MSPs during a recent event at the Scottish Parliament

Joan Whitelaw was diagnosed with vascular dementia in 2007.

When that happened, her son Tommy parked his previous life to care for her until she died in 2012.

Those five years have informed his new life.

Tommy Whitelaw is now almost constantly on the road talking to health care professionals, medical students and hundreds of others across the NHS in Scotland and England, telling the story of how one small gesture by a nurse visitor to his mother’s home – when both she and Tommy felt at their most isolated and near to despair – made a colossal difference to how he was able to cope with her declining health and mounting care needs.

Amidst the sometimes harrowing details of how Joan Whitelaw’s physical world changed forever as dementia took its toll, Tommy says the greatest tragedy is how the illness erased a great love story from her memory: how she met and married Tommy’s father and their lives together.

It is an experience of loneliness, of a patient’s world shrinking – sometimes to anonymity – which has also informed a new campaign to try to help restore dignity and self-esteem to hospital patients.

Kate Grainger is a consultant doctor who is also terminally ill with cancer.

Her campaign hopes to encourage NHS staff to introduce themselves by name to help build a relationship with their patients.

She says: “I firmly believe it is not just about knowing someone’s name, but it runs much deeper.

“It is about making a human connection, beginning a therapeutic relationship and building trust.

“In my mind it is the first rung on the ladder to providing compassionate care.”

That connection is something which healthcare professionals in Scotland say they have already begun to make across dementia care.

Ruth Mantle, consultant nurse with Alzheimer Scotland, said: “[It’s about] taking the time to find out what really matters to that person, who matters to that person, who’s the best person to speak to, to get that information.

“We use tools such as the ‘getting to know me’ tool up here in Scotland.

“So, absolutely we can all make those small, little differences to include someone’s experience.”

Pledges to ‘make a difference’ are at the centre of Tommy Whitelaw’s Dementia Carer Voices campaign, which features in the latest edition of Brilliant Scotland series on the Community Channel.

When we filmed a lobby of MSPs at the Scottish Parliament organised by Tommy Whitelaw’s campaign and Alliance Scotland, the new First Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon told us: “Every single, individual pledge that’s made adds up to a transformation in how we care for people with dementia and people who care for them.

“And as long as I’m in politics and as long as I have got any influence in government my pledge is to help and support people who are working so hard to make life better for people with dementia.”

According to official estimates, there are more than 650,000 unpaid carers in Scotland.

Campaigners believe there are in fact tens of thousands more – many of them may not even realise they are a carer.

They hope new legislation – due in the Spring – will help improve conditions for carers across Scotland, through providing individual Support Plans, non-judgemental care assessments and greater responsibilities on local authorities to provide cover to allow carers to take short breaks.

Many also believe one single change could everything for carers: a living wage.

Taken together, they say, both elements would allow carers to manage their role and have a life outside caring.

Said Tommy Whitelaw: “Over and above any policy or strategy, it’s people who change lives.

“And I think the highlight so far on the tour is just meeting those incredible people who are passionate – and compassionate – and want to really do their best to care for people.

“And we’re trying to help them with that story, but also to find out the little things that get in the way of allowing them to do that.

“So along with the pledges we’re asking people: is there anything that would stop you fulfilling this pledge?

“And if there’s a way we can support them, to allow them to fulfil it, we’ll do that.”

Brilliant Scotland will be repeated on Saturday 7 February at 06.00am.

The programme is available on-demand on YouTube:

Navigating consent

Media Trust filmed a training session on consent run by the Rape and Abuse Support group in Aberdeen

Media Trust filmed a recent training session on consent run by the Rape and Abuse Support group in Aberdeen

Recent research by the National Union of Students has found that almost one-in-ten women have said “no” to sex but have been ignored.

It comes amid a vital debate over the issue of sexual consent, triggered by the new guidelines issued last week to police and prosecutors by the Director of Public Prosecutions, Alison Saunders.

The guidelines will require investigating officers to ask alleged rapists whether they claim their victim had consented to sex and if so, how they knew she had given consent.

Filming at a recent training session for students in Aberdeen organised by the Rape and Abuse Support group put the guidance into sharp perspective for me.

The RAS student ambassador Tashana Khan said: “Unfortunately a lot of students around the UK and here in Aberdeen have reported that they have been victims of things like sexual harassment, ranging from street harassment and cat-calling, inappropriate touching in clubs all the way to serious forms of sexual assault.

“So I think that’s another reason why we need to talk about these things and promote active, enthusiastic consent.”

The idea of “affirmative” or “enthusastic” consent has been part of the lexicon of campaigners against sexual violence for some time and groups such as those in Aberdeen will welcome its endorsement by one of the UK’s most senior legal officers.

According to the Crown Prosecution Service, toolkits to prosecutors will “spell out situations where a potential victim may have been unable to consent due to incapacity through drink or drugs, for example, or where consent could not reasonably be considered to have been given freely due to the unequal relationship of the parties involved. For example, if the suspect held a position of power over the potential victim – as a teacher, an employer, a doctor or a fellow gang member.”

When we filmed their training workshop for the latest edition of the #BrilliantScotland series on the Community Channel, RAS violence prevention workers also said that what should be a basic issue of assent is easily complicated by peer pressure, social mores, downright bullying or the inexperience of young students with drugs and alcohol.

RAS worker Francesca Bellei told us: “It is a very simple concept: ‘yes’ means yes and ‘no’ means no.

“But real life often presents us with situations that can seem more difficult than that to navigate.

“We also believe that there are very strong social constructions that tell us things about consent that may not be true.”

The students and the RAS facilitators went on to discuss how the law in Scotland is also changing – even though those changes are not coming quickly enough for some.

Reforms to the Scots law principles of corroboration are likely later this year.

These are partly in response to official figures which showed more than two thousand domestic abuse cases a year could not be prosecuted because of insufficient admissible evidence.

So the RAS campaigners hope their work among students and the wider public will help raise awareness of both consent and corroboration, to help put an end to blaming women for rape.

“For too long,” said Alison Saunders, “society has blamed victims for confusing the issue of consent.

“But it is not they who are confused, it is society itself and we must challenge that.

“Consent to sexual activity is not a grey area – in law it is clearly defined and must be given fully and freely.”

#BrilliantScotland 4 also reports from Fife on the hopes and concerns after last year’s #IndyRef of 16 and 17 year old school students who will become the first under-18 year olds to vote in a general election in the 2016 Scottish Parliament election.

Elsewhere in the programme, we spend time playing “frogs and sharks” with a daring and enthusiastic group of nursery school children learning to ride a bike as part of CTC Scotland’s fast-moving Play on Pedals project.

Brilliant Scotland is broadcast this evening at 9.00pm on the Community Channel, again tomorrow at 07.00am and will be repeated on Saturday 7 February at 06.00am.

The programme will also be available on-demand on YouTube:

Get involved – or you’ll get left behind

16 and 17 year olds will vote for the first time in a UK election in 2016

16 and 17 year olds will vote for the first time in a UK election in 2016

Remember all the talk back in September about how politics in Scotland had changed forever?

Less than five months on and with fewer than 100 days to the next Westminster election, how’s it really looking?

One one side, widespread public scepticism and a wave of community protest have played a large part in the Scottish government’s decision this week to call a moratorium on fracking.

On the other, the swings and roundabouts of the Smith Commission mean that young Scots will become the first under-18s to vote in the Holyrood general election next year, but still won’t get near a ballot box in May 2015.

However, there’s palpable impatience to have a say among 16 and 17 year olds who are just as informed, inquisitive and engaged as their parents or elder brothers and sisters about the future of Scotland as a whole as well as their own communities.

Jack Baker – a student at Woodmill High School in Dunfermline – said: “The world is changing.

“So everyone – no matter how young you are, no matter how old you are – you have to be involved with the change, or I think you’ll get left behind.”

For the latest edition of Brilliant Scotland – to be broadcast from this Sunday (1 February) on the Community Channel – we went to meet students at Woodmill High because one of them, Erin Rooney had made a film last year encouraging young people to register to vote – and to examine the issues carefully in the run-up to the September #IndyRef.

“People need to get informed,” she says now, looking ahead to that historic Holyrood election in 2016, which will see 16 and 17 year olds cast a vote for the first time ever in a general election anywhere in the UK.

“They definitely need to look and see what they want, and not just go for it when it comes to voting.”

Says fellow Woodmill student Beth O’Reilly: “I think [politicians] could sway my vote if they were more engaged in social media.”

Another, Kenneth Peffis, believes it is a mistake for politicians to take young voters for granted: “You didn’t see the politicians walking around schools [during the referendum campaign] seeing what young people are thinking or asking 16 or 17 year-olds about how they’ll vote.”

As part of the programme, I’ve been working with student and journalist Ted Simpson, from Edinburgh University. He is editor of Nomad magazine and has been my political correspondent for this and a pre-#IndyRef report on young people and politics in Scotland.

Ted says: “Politicians need to play their part in reaching out to young voters, be it through social media, regional student forums or visiting schools to talk to students about the issues that really matter to them.

“This way, young people can continue to be engaged in politics.

“And they’ll know that their vote – just like in the referendum – really can make a difference.”

Part of the Brilliant Scotland programme features drop-in Gaelic classes at the Coffee and Craic café in Glasgow

Part of the Brilliant Scotland programme features drop-in Gaelic classes at the Coffee and Craic

Engagement in social media is a thread running through much of this fourth edition of the Brilliant Scotland series, from the Facebook postings by Scottie dog shop mascot Gillebrìde at the Coffee and Craic social enterprise café in Glasgow, to the tireless blogger and dementia care campaigner, Tommy Whitelaw.

As the Director of Public Prosecutions Alison Saunders issues new guidelines for police in England over how they investigate issues of consent in rape cases, we join a workshop on consent and prevention of sexual violence by student ambassadors for the Rape Abuse Support campaign in Aberdeen.

I’ll write a bit more about this early next week.

Elsewhere in the programme, we also spend time playing “frogs and sharks” with a daring and enthusiastic group of nursery school children learning to ride a bike as part of CTC Scotland’s fast-moving Play on Pedals project.

Brilliant Scotland will be broadcast at 9.00pm on Sunday 01 February and repeated at 07.00am on Monday 02 February and again on Saturday 07 February at 06.00am.

The programme will also be available on-demand on YouTube:

Digi film-making – a quickfire workshop for #Citizen2014

Filming with digital inclusion activists at the near-legendary Kirkwall Library (Orkney, May 2014)

Filming with digital inclusion activists at the near-legendary Kirkwall Library (Orkney, May 2014)

The current generation of smartphones is often called the Swiss Army Knife of community media – a stills camera, video camera and editing suite, audio recorder and mixer, keyboard, web portal and social media dashboard all in one package, depending on what apps the user has installed.

Of course, none of these functions can replace a high end DSLR camera, still less a recording studio and a newcomer to these apps and this kit is no substitute for an experienced photographer or sound engineer. However, community media is often about getting the very best results from budget-level equipment – and for many community activists and voluntary organisations, that will mean using what you have in your pocket: your phone.

This evening’s workshop is a quickfire, hands-on introduction to how to get the best from your smartphone for short on-line video making: a rough guide to framing shots, capturing good audio and editing.

If you are planning to be part of the #Citizen2014 community newsgathering project, we hope the workshop will be a useful introduction to on-line video and a chance to meet others in the #Citizen2014 crew. Coffee tin tripods are optional, but we will point participants to some of the on-line guides and resources which will help build and refine your skills.

We are at Beyond The Finish Line on Trongate. The workshop starts at 6.00pm.