28 Nov 2014

Favourite Character from a Scottish Book

Book Week Scotland

Who is your favourite character from a Scottish Book?  Let the debate continue!

For Book Week Scotland 2014, the Scottish Book Trust asked the world to vote for their  favourite character from a Scottish book.  This exercise attracted in the region of 3000 votes and the resulting list crowned Francis Crawford of Lymond from The Lymond Chronicles by Dorothy Dunnett, as the champion with 450 votes.

The first surprise was that this wasn't the customary Harry Potter-fest that we have come to expect, and it is clear from the fact that the winner was a Dorothy Dunnett character that ballot-stuffing and block-voting was going on among UK library users.  This is good news as the Scottish Book Trust should be reaching library users, so well done there.
Incidentally it was the realisation, some years ago now, that J.K. Rowling could be tenuously classed as 'Scottish' that gave this whole Scottish Book Lists promotion the impetus it needed to become the salary-justifying jubilee of frivolity that it has become.  But I digress. (More here however!)

What was of interest was how few people voted.  I follow the Scottish book scene and so I've been aware of this vote for the three months the Scottish Book Trust have been plugging it.

And as Philippa Cochrane from the Scottish Book Trust was on Radio Scotland this morning, presenting this as an exercise in fostering debate, I thought I would take the opportunity to actually engage in some debating.

Because I want to call her out on this.  Clicking on an internet poll is not debating.  Spending thousands of pounds to canvas internet users is not creating debate. Thousands of blogs, news groups and charities around the world canvas tens of millions of users every hour on even more jejeune topics than this, and they don't call that information debate.  They call it marketing material.  

I contend that what this new Scottish Book Trust list represents as with their other lists is the creation of radio and televison spots.  What this list achieves in the name of Book Week Scotland, is that it gets  the name of the Scottish Book Trust in the press, which is somehow as taxpayers supposed to make us feel better about paying them.

The Scottish Book Trust has a staff of nearly 50 and resources to market, publicise and spread their projects far and wide. 

Scottish Book Trust Favourite Scottish Character in a Scottish Book
Dressing Up Day
And 3,000 people respond to a campaign that has been repeatedly on Twitter and in the press for months? 

The Scottish Book Trust's reach is immense, so that is in fact very poor.  

Perhaps they should take this as an indication that people are not that interested in their publicity stunts?

Given the costs of a campaign like this (staff, actors, promotion) I would imagine we are looking at the very least at a cost of £2 of Tax Payers' Money per vote, but probably much, much more.  Alternatively, each Scottish Book Trust staff member could have voted 60 times ...

Either way I would like to take Phillipa Cochrame up on that offer of a debate and as a taxpayer, I think that next time I get into a chat about dispatching Trident from our shores I'm going to add that the Scottish Book Trust's expensive marketing lists and other gimmicks go with it.  We really don't need them.
Maybe to prove this point I'll organise a poll on this website for next year, along the lines of: What is Your Favourite Scottish Literary Quango? 
It's already getting to the stage at which there are plenty to choose from.
I already have a List of Asinine Lists of Scottish Book Lists ...


I liked Stuart Kelly's comment in The Scotsman (Friday 28 November 2014):

"One thing does surprise me - there are more heroes than villains or antiheroes on the list.  Has Scotland finally turned away from miserabilist self-vivisection?"

In his quick summary of the list Stuart Kelly therefore managed no less than two digs at Irvine Welsh — go oan yerself big Stuarty! — but as well as pointing out that the list's winners, Dunnett and Welsh, represented 'dark mirrors of the fannish nature of such votes', he's right to continue steering Scottish novelists towards a more ambitious future, or at least one that doesn't waste time, ink and readership on dull questions of identity.

Or is he?  That might be another debate we could be having.