O’Neill has drawn attention to a new blog, written from a unionist perspective, entitled The Dark Eleventh Hour. I must confess that I’m a little unsure as to what the author, ‘Union First’, means by his mission statement, carried at the right hand side of the blog. Presumably over weeks and months, he (I’m judging by his choice of photo to illustrate a story about a cannabis seizure) will outline in more detail what the broad terms of this manifesto entail. He is clearly opposed to ‘poor and weak governance’ delivered by the current arrangements at Stormont, however, choosing Germany in 1933 as an archetype of people ‘throwing off the shackles’ of such government is an unfortunate analogy, to put it mildly.
Nevertheless, assuming that the intention is not to endorse Hitler’s rise to prominence, it is good to see another unionist voice arriving in the blogosphere. There is a good spread of Northern Irish unionist blogs in particular developing and the strength of unionist blogging has been reflected in Iain Dale’s list of UK political blogs. On Redemption’s Son, Ignited has put forward the notion that a Unionist Home site, drawing together material from the various unionist blogs is now the way forward. This is certainly an idea to be considered. As yet, I suspect, mainly Northern Irish blogs would define themselves primarily as unionist, but there are exceptions, for example the excellent site Scottish Unionist. From my perspective, to make any Unionist Home viable, it would need to assemble material from unionists across the United Kingdom.
To examine Northern Ireland specifically, 5 of Dale’s Top 10 Northern Irish blogs are unionist. In contrast three are nationalist, with only one written from a republican perspective. The Top 100 list for the whole of the UK contains no representatives from nationalism, whilst three specifically unionist blogs join Slugger in the list. Three Thousand Versts was voted 70th, Unionist Lite is only a few places behind, at 74th and Redemption’s Son comes 86th. Last year, to my knowledge, no unionist blog found itself in the top 100 and this blog weighed in at 224.
Slugger O’Toole is Northern Ireland’s biggest blog by any standards. It is the only site which seriously aspires to complete coverage of Northern Ireland’s politics and attempts to reflect views from across the political spectrum. Slugger’s contributors offer a diversity of opinion, but the comment zones are disproportionately dominated by republicans. Yet Balrog is the only republican blog within the Northern Irish top 10 and its content is an appalling brand of tub thumping sectarianism and abuse. There are, from the evidence of Slugger’s comment zones, articulate republicans who wish to give their views on the internet, but they are certainly not starting blogs. In contrast there are a number of good moderate nationalist blogs, ranging from El Blogador to The Belfast Stoop.
Similarly, there are no blogs, to my knowledge, which are written from a predominantly DUP perspective. The bulk of unionist blogs which have achieved some recognition are written either from a liberal unionist, if not explicitly Ulster Unionist, outlook or from a dissenting, hard-line viewpoint. Only Fair Deal, on Slugger O’Toole and Our Kingdom, consistently writes blogs sympathetic to the DUP, but these are not carried on a standalone platform.
Given that the DUP and Sinn Féin are Northern Ireland’s two biggest political parties, the lack of blogging in their favour is a little puzzling. Possibly it is because both parties operate in a centralist, authoritarian fashion and do not encourage members to interpret their message individually. Alternatively it may be that although they garner support, their messages are simply not compelling ones to propagate.
Update: Total Politics has available a PDF of the Guide to Political Blogging, which includes a State of the Irish Blogosphere piece by Mick Fealty. It's a negative article which simultaneously seems to refute the view that journalists setting the blogging pace is a positive thing, whilst also according far too much reverence to their blogs (Stephen Dempster's blog! Please!). If blogging is a bottom up activity, what's wrong with a diversity of blogs, none of which are full-time? Mick would do better to stop looking at who writes the various blogs and start reading what is on them. And while he's at it, perhaps a look on his own doorstep, where an ex journalist is overrunning Slugger with quantity rather than quality, might be instructive.