Martyn McLaughlin: Parties need to get with technology to catch supporters in their web…

IF THERE is to be a seismic shift in the way politicians reach out to the nation's voters, the revolution began in dowdy surroundings. Ordinarily, Carmichael Hall's modest facilities are used by the Giffnock Theatre Players. Should the occasion prove special, then the redoubtable sisterhood of the East Renfrewshire Ladies' Bowling Association will bust out the mascarpone cheese vol-au-vents.

No such delectable treats awaited David Cameron when he took to the Carmichael's stage last Friday: his only greeting was a gaggle of true blues with well-rehearsed enquiries as to the Tory leader's take on the West Lothian Question. A seemingly ordinary party political event, it was devoid of spirited debate and ignored by the national media. The hacks' absence, however, need not have dispirited the Tory faithful.

At the back of the hall, a small camera relayed the proceedings live across the internet. The webcast was the first time Scotland has hosted a webcameron (do you see?) event. Devised by Rishi Saha, a former hip-hop promoter now ensconced in the Conservatives' communications team, the website is envisaged as a portal into Digital Dave's world. Online are video clips of him at the breakfast bar musing about muesli, coupled with his take on pedestrian policy seldom given prominence in newsprint.

In theory, all of Scotland could have viewed Cameron's Q&A, but the image of a handful of policy wonks sitting in their housecoats and logging on in spare bedrooms across Henley is, sadly, closer to the reality.

At a time when our country's political situation has seldom been more interesting, e-democracy has a long road to travel. For all its New Conservative gimmickry, and frankly dated technology, the inaugural tartan webcameron show must stand as a notable exception. None of our parties seem interested in building a thoughtful, interactive web presence.

Take, for instance, Scottish Labour's website. At the time of writing, its homepage boasts a solitary photo of Rod Hull, sorry, Lindsay Roy, taking his seat in the House of Commons. Next to it is visible Javascript code, which, to those are not tech-savvy, is akin to leaving the L-plates on your car after passing your test. Only political bloggers – mostly right-wing – attract serious numbers of hits, and few parties are willing to affiliate themselves with individuals that may go renegade.

Such amateurism pales alongside the slick and informed use of the web across the Atlantic. During the US election, any number of initiatives were seized upon to attract voters, from Flash games and social networking groups, to YouTube broadcasts and, perhaps most importantly, well-produced online donation sites.

It is online that grassroots activism was at its most active, mainly among the young, well-educated classes that proved an invaluable aid to President-elect Obama and his team. Doubtless, their counterparts here, nearly all of them web neophytes, will continue to bemoan voter apathy and media bias. New media affords them the opportunity to tackle both, but one suspects the East Renfrewshire Ladies' Bowling Association will be quicker to take up regular podcasting.

Saving souls – but only during office hours?

HOW long does it take to find salvation? I suspect the answer is considerably longer than the average working day.

Therefore the Vatican's reintroduction of a "clocking in" system is surely a dangerous route to go down – nearly 50 years after swipe cards were phased out, senior clerics in Rome must again submit themselves to time-and-motion studies.

From office staff to priests, everyone must now clock in and clock out under the new and improved meritocratic body. As of January, meanwhile, a performance-related pay scheme will begin.

It is not known whether Pope Benedict XVI is subject to the same ruthless business efficiency, but surely the new system will introduce an uncharacteristic disharmony across Vatican City?

Pity the poor Father who carries out more exorcisms than any other, yet still finds himself struggling at the end of the month

GIVEN their unrelenting ability to fall out of nightclubs blind drunk and demand ever-increasing salaries, it is difficult to find sympathy for the actors of Britain's beloved soap operas. But the next few months will prove particularly testing times for the members of this elite breed who have fallen on hard times.

Once upon a time, the pantomime was the safety net for Britain's middling thespians. Taking into account the indignity of having children laugh at them in drag (the actors, that is, not the children), the act paid well and gave tainted stars a fleeting flicker. Now, however, the trend is to import the main attractions. Steve Guttenberg, once upon a time the fresh-faced lead in the Police Academy films, is coming to Britain for a production of Cinderella. So too Mickey Rooney, the only child star now in his ninth decade, is paying the bills with panto.

Thanks to their ability to distract us from the important things in life, our soap stars have served us well. Surely now is the time to settle the debt.