Manning Up

Ruth Davidson’s plea that the Tory Party needed to ‘man up’ combined with the Scottish Mental Health Festival to inspire me to speak up about what happened in January when Bella almost closed because I wasn’t doing so well.

Of course the idea that the Conservatives multiple crises could be salvaged by resorting to a reactionary plea to act like a man and ignore whatever mental health problems your facing is bizarre one, but then, they are a strange lot.

In January a number of pressures came together to render me virtually useless. I had a bad year and worse winter and was feeling low. The magazine almost closed eliciting a series of premature obituaries, including this from Martyn McLaughlin:

“At its best, the site seamlessly wedded political coverage to cultural commentary, exploring both with a natural curiosity and fluency. The subject and scope of the articles it commissioned were diverse to the point of being haphazard at times, a necessity borne from its limited means. It also provided a platform for an emerging generation of new voices, many of whom have gone on to forge successful careers in the arts, the third sector, politics, and the media. In keeping with Britain’s centuries old radical press tradition, its band of contributors was a disparate lot. Few had formal journalistic training and they were largely united by a shared background in activism.”

Like Tom Sawyer at my own funeral I watched on as commentators assessed our value over a ten year period and passed judgement.

I was suffering from the stress of online abuse, depression and spiraling self-doubt. The financial precariousness of running Bella with a young family to support as well as the regular problems of being a writer in a highly charged political world became too much for me.

I felt distant and isolated from friends and family and was facing the paradox of being highly ‘networked’ but alone. That’s not a paradox I know.

I was sick of ‘manning up’ and the idea that male strength should be recognised only if it is at the expense of emotion or vulnerability is such a toxic notion it needs to be rejected.

It’s a global phenomena but one to which we add in Scotland an unhealthy dose of machoism with an illiberal dose of Calvinism.

RD Laing said that there was no such thing as breakdown just ‘breakthrough’ and if that sounds better in theory than in practice it was in this case true.

Since then we have stabilised the projects finances launched a monthly print magazine and been shortlisted as one of the top six blogs in the UK, alongside sites which enjoy huge financial backing.

We made this film to try and explain our outlook.

We are launching a series of live events to celebrate our 10th anniversary.

& of course we are appealing for your support to develop and expand the project.

Maybe we won’t get the support we need in which case it will be very difficult to continue. Maybe we will.

But if we don’t we’ll certainly have to close the two large-scale social media platforms we run and the print magazine we publish and the website we created.

It will mean that the public sphere narrows a little bit more and we’ll be facing the reality that the only spaces that get support are hate blogs and those immersed in such tribalism as to shut down any nuance or complexity in political debate. Maybe that’s where we’re at?

Since 2007 we’ve tried to create a fusion of culture and politics and to expand the debate beyond just the constitutional – but crucially also we’ve been trying to reach new audiences and avoid just talking to ourselves.

Over the next few days and weeks we’ll be outlining our plans in more detail. We won’t be ‘manning up.’

Will you support us?





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We’ve got big plans to launch our new site, to launch new publishing and events projects, and to extend our platform of writers – but all of this needs your support.

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Comments (21)

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  1. David McCann says:

    Sorry to hear you have been under such stress Mike. Blogs and sites like these are a bit like texting- they can be impersonal and the reader can never tell how the author is feeling.
    Texting is one of my pet hates, which is why I continually tell my wife to stop texting our daughter and get on the phone and have a blether, lest we loose the use of our tongues!
    However, this is not an option open to Bella, one of THE go to websites for me and many others.
    Keep up the good work!
    It really is appreciated.

    1. Hi David – thanks for the support – I’m fine now – but it does feel good to share and be open about how bad things were.

  2. Rose says:

    I absolutely agree with your take on ‘manning up’. It’s disparaging and utterly limiting. I find it amazing we’re still where we are in society.A friend and I were talking today about the power of the hollywood message – objectification of women (recent tip of the iceberg re’ Weinstein and so on) men portayed as lone mavericks using extreme violence to solve situations. All nonsense.

    I’m very glad Bella has survived and come through, it represents community and democracy. Well done to you, your colleagues and contributors.

    1. Thanks Rose. Its difficult to get your head around ‘vulnerability is strength’ when you’ve been programmed for a long time that the opposite is true. Hopefully we can get support to continue and explore this complexity.

      1. Rose Strang says:

        It’s the essence of publications such as Bella that we make it so!

  3. Iain MacEchern says:

    Pleased to hear your doing well now Mike. Bella is a fantastic site, and one of the best things about it, is that people are prepared to discuss different viewpoints generally with respect of the other persons point of view. This is much better than some groups that just live in a little bubble of like minded people where no real discussion takes place. Keep up the good work.

    1. Thanks Iain. We’d really like to keep up the good work, but we need public support. If we don’t get it we can’t continue. That’s just a reality.

  4. Josef Ó Luain says:

    “Well done” doesn’t go near it. But feck it all … very well done, Mike!

  5. Elaine Fraser says:

    Please donate (anyone who can ) so Bella can continue to provide this much needed space. Whatever happens Mike to have sustained this site for so long and to have given a platform to so many is no mean achievement. Where would we be now in Scotland without Bella and others ?

  6. Fay Kennedy says:

    As a Scot from the diaspora I have discovered so many important and interesting information thanks to Mike Small and his contributors. I hope Bella continues and that support is forthcoming. There are so few undertaking the commitment to do the job that journalism is supposed to do and this site is an exemplar of what can be done.

  7. Tony Rozga says:

    Mike your points on ‘manning up’ are so important, there will be many that read your piece and reflect positively.

  8. Douglas Scott says:

    Shocked and saddened to hear how stressed out you had become Mike, but relieved that you have recovered and determined to continue with Bella.

    I have been an intermittent financial contributor but will now set up a monthly direct debit.

    Bella is needed so much more than ever

    Warm personal regards Mike and I hope you and Bella continue to prosper.


  9. john young says:

    Off topic there are many many weinsteins out there,but many many more wannabees prepared to sacrifice themselves at “the altar of mammon”,they allow themselves to be debased then come greetin about it,I,m sorry in most cases they have only themselves to blame.

    1. Redguantlet says:

      John Young:

      You’re a total idiot, man….

      A young woman wants to be a actress, it’s her dream, she has spent years training for it often, at great cost and sacrifice, and she gets lured up to the hotel suite of the most powerful independent film producer of his time, who is more than twice her age and four times her size, to be subjected to outrageous sexual abuse…

      You should be fucking ashamed of yourself mate… the trauma Weinstein has caused women has ended the careers of at least several actresses that we know of. There are probably hundreds more. It wouldn’t surprise me if there was even a suicide among them…

      You know NOTHING about abuse and its devastating consequences.

      John, away and stick your head down the lavvy and flush….

  10. Willie says:

    The term man up when used in the way that Davidson does exemplifies our little hard nut Tory soldier.

    Indeed there were, and still are, many of her compatriot soldiers, who having done what they did, were not man enough to take the emotional consequence and blew their brains out.

    In fact when her good friend Fluffy Mundel was having a bit of a crisis about coming out, he too was clearly a bit of a wimp lacking the Ruthie will to remain mentally strong. a wus needing to man up.

    But mental illness is a try serious business. It does not just arise with bereavement, personal relationship break down or hardiness. It arises to because of medical reasons and it can afflict any one of us – be it the strong, the weak, the clever, the. It so clever and it is most definitely not the preserve of those who Ruthie thinks need to man up.

    Support, counselling, and medication is what’s needed.

    And without it, in Ruthie’s aggressive world where everything can be sorted by toughness, and a harsh economic system like the USA where some sixty million do not have any health care, she might care to reflect on the regular occurrences of mass murder by gunmen who have toughened up.

    No wonder she sat across that tank gun barrel, legs astride it like it was a big tool.

    A typical Conservative really, but saner people know better, and know how a society should conduct itself.

  11. Robert says:

    Mike, this is one of the best UK sites I know, where I come to read the ideas and opinions I can’t find in the Guardian or the now fatally debased Independent. That you’ve managed to keep it all going on a shoestring is an extremely impressive feat. Now I learn that you have a young family too — which (in my experience) is an even better way to consume an unlimited amount of time and energy. Which makes running a project like this still more impressive.

    Happy Birthday and here’s to another decade.

    1. Thanks Robert – great to get some feedback.

  12. donald ferguson says:

    Thanks for speaking out about this Mike. Viva Bella!

  13. Ian S says:

    Dear Mike, it was back when you were thinking of closing down I finally became a contributor. I recognise how important Bella is in Scotland, where I’ve lived all my forty odd years. In my opinion we never had a sane media outlet until the blossoming of new media during the independence referendum.
    This site is much more important than that single issue and we desperately need it and others like it.
    I recognise the issues you are talking about so very much. I am myself trying currently to come to terms with life, emotions and mental health, having also been programmed to believe deeply that male vulnerability is an anathema. This is a deeply dangerous conviction and I believe its effects can be seen in the high suicide rates among men in their early forties, an age where issues can come to a head.
    I hope to be reading Bella for many years to come. You are appreciated more than you might know. I hope also to see the back of the tabloids and vacuous politicians who think manning up is a solution. I suspect I will be waiting some time though. Thanks for trying.

    1. Thanks for your support Ian – will try and keep trying

  14. W Brown says:

    “It will mean that the public sphere narrows a little bit more and we’ll be facing the reality that the only spaces that get support are hate blogs and those immersed in such tribalism as to shut down any nuance or complexity in political debate. Maybe that’s where we’re at?”

    Ah well.

    A long time ago I heard Michael Marra explain and sing ‘chain up the swings’.

    It’s a fine song and Michael Marra was a great artist, one of the best. But I wish now that I’d met up, and asked if he thought also that we all do a bit of ‘chaining up the swings’. I’d like to think that he would have given the ‘right’ answer.

    From the place where we are right
    Flowers will never grow
    In the spring.

    The place where we are right
    Is hard and trampled
    Like a yard.

    But doubts and loves
    Dig up the world
    Like a mole, a plow.
    And a whisper will be heard in the place
    Where the ruined
    House once stood.

    As for depression – it’s a b*gger, and no mistake.

    Or, just in case you think I’m being ‘right’ – “People who are depressed have something wrong with them” – now if that doesn’t raise a smile – – –

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