Behind the scenes at the Catalan National Assembly

The ANC is without doubt the heart of the Catalan independence movement. I believe we need a similar organisation in Scotland. A non political, well organised, funded, staffed and supported core organisation.

Cycling down past the Sagrada Familia, towards the coast line that skirts Barcelona, through the thinning late morning traffic, is a wonderful way to head home after a meeting. However, the trip was also slightly dangerous as my head buzzed with amazement at just how incredible successful the Assemblea Nacional Catalana had been in forcing (or at least facilitating) the push for Catalan Independence.

The ANC is a civic society that brings together people from all parts of Catalan society. The ANC has one aim: to win, peacefully and democratically, Catalan independence.

My hour long meeting with the ANC had been with the Head of Press on what was a beautiful April afternoon. Their office on Carrer Marina sits on the edge of one of the hills that guard Barcelona. My decision to take the bus, rather than jump on the BiCi (the city’s almost free bike hire scheme), seemed ever the wiser as we gradually snaked higher and higher into the hills.

Living in Barcelona you will find the ANC hard to miss, especially during the build up to their massive million people plus strong “La Diada de Cataluña” demonstrations, which take place every 11th September. Of course I’ve attended a few of them and I’d even bought a demo t-shirt or two.

the diada event 2013
Now is the time

As I put together a live engagement strategy for the Yes Campaign, I can clearly learn a lot from the ANC’s approach to events.  However, I also believe the entire Independence movement in Scotland has a lot to learn from, what is, a similar struggle here in Catalonia. The ANC is without doubt the heart of the Catalan independence movement. I believe we need a similar organisation in Scotland.

Behind the scenes at the Catalan National Assembly

The ANC is like a Yes Scotland that didn’t dissolve. Strikingly the ANC was formed in March 2012, just two months before Yes Scotland; one organisation grew to greatness and one disappeared.

In order to for the wider Yes movement to learn from the ANC, I’d like to initially compare it to the organisation set to lead the grass roots (non political party affiliated) independence movement in Scotland: the Scottish Independence Convention.

I hear that things are a foot with the SIC. This is great news, as for many within the movement, the SIC is a mysterious, celebrity led group, existing only (if you don’t scroll past page one on Google) on Facebook. However, the SIC does release the odd press release and organise the odd event like the “Build” conference.

I assume the revamp of SIC is on hold until after the June General Election and this will hopefully give those at SIC an opportunity to pause to reflect on the meaning of a “grass roots” movement and to learn from their daring Catalan brothers and sisters at the ANC.

The Catalan National Assembly inside the building

As the ANC has been in operation for almost five years it wouldn’t be fair to directly compare it to the SIC; to do that would be to place Queen of The South on the same field as Barcelona: the ANC and SIC are simply in different leagues. Hopefully after the revamp a comparison may look less awkward.

Behind the scenes at the Catalan National Assembly
The Press Room at ANC Head Quarters

The key facts on the ANC:

  • 584 local assemblies
  • 38 foreign assemblies
  • 52 social and professional interest-based assemblies
  • The national secretariat consists of 77 elected members who sit on various committees. Heads of committees meet weekly.
  • The group is “non political” and has no official relationship with any political party.
  • It is entirely funded by its members: 38,000 “full time” members and over 40,000 “associate members”
  • They have offices in Barcelona, with ten full time staff.

Impressive for an organisation less than five years old, and this shows the scope of what is possible for a grass roots movement pushing for Independence.

So what of Scotland and its grass roots organisation? Who should lead and what should that movement look like?

Well, as far as I can see no one is asking “the movement” who should lead. So I tried to start the ball rolling. Although hardly the biggest sample (Twitter poll below) it seems to me that our movement is saying only one thing clearly: we want / need a grass roots organisation. It is less clear which organisation should lead, or how that organisation should be structured.

#scotref events

From June onwards everyone within the movement, not just a select few, should be involved in helping to create and structure the organisation that will lead the #ScotRef movement. If that body is grass roots in name, it has to be grass roots in deed.

 

Searching for ScotRefEvents

Let’s start with this scenario. I am a possible “Yes” supporter. I voted “No” in 2014 but my faith in the Union has wavered. I still have my doubts, but I am willing to engage to find out more. I would like to go to a few events to find out some more information. I’d like a list of upcoming events, that would be helpful. So, where do I start?

Google generic search

If searching for ScotRefEvents I would surely start with a Google search:  “Independence events in scotland 2017″ would seem like a reasonable search term. However, no list of relevent events is to be found. Links to the fantastic Independence Live and the equally magnificent Woman for Independence appear. Following the link to Independence Live’s Facebook page ends here:

A dead end in the search for upcoming events

The Woman for Independence link does show THEIR upcoming events, but of course this is far from a definitive list of events for the movement.

You won’t land in the right place with a general search term, so you have to get pretty specific to find an event on Google, and even when you do, you may not land on a live event.  A search on “events about a Scottish currency 2017” lead to an Eventbrite (more on Eventbrite below) page for an event that took place in Galashiels in March. Close, but no cigar.

So, here we are, no nearer to finding any future events (apart from the Woman for Indy: “Knit Your Own Pussy Hat”) To be honest, we can’t be too surprised at not finding individual events. The Search Engine Optimisation needed to drop a local event onto the first page of Google is beyond the reach of most indy groups, and paid for adverts on Google are a non starter.

As I noted above, we did find an event on Eventbrite, via our Google Search, so let’s look at that platform in detail.

Eventbrite

Eventbrite is the Facebook and Google for Events. It is effectively a micro search engine for events, or as Eventbrite calls them now, “experiences”.

Running your event on the platform that sits behind the world’s most popular search engine for events will increase the number of people who find it. Not only are people able to find your event directly via the platform, but your event is likely to rank higher with Google if it is on the Eventbrite platform. So, let’s take a look.

I used the search above and found the following events:

As you can see, it wasn’t long before Eventbrite suggested the totally irrelevant (second recommendation is way off!) but at least I found one live event that would, in our scenario, be of interest to that possible “Yes” voter, the CommonWeal event. But that’s it. One event.

So at this stage, I think it’s fair to ask the following question: As a movement are our events easy enough to find? Well, not so far,  so let’s have a look at finding our events via Twitter?

Twitter hashtag

Most people use hashtags to find specific areas / things of interest on Twitter. The most obvious #tag would be #ScotRefEvents but that leads to “no results”. Searching on “#ScotRef” leads to thousands of tweets. Using the search function for “scottish independence events” again leads us nowhere.

Unless you are following a specific Yes leaning organisation (and in our scenario this isn’t that likely), you aren’t going to see anything about their events. There is of course some chance of finding out about an event as people retweet information. But we can’t rely on that as a way for people to find our events. Twitter, at the moment, seems like another dead end. So let’s have a look at the most popular social network: Facebook.

Facebook

Last year Facebook really beefed up their events offering with EventMangerBlog suggesting that “Facebook Will Change Events Forever”, it is a platform that event organisers can’t ignore. For many of the grass roots events, Facebook is THE destination page for their events. So, surely, it should be easy for our No voter to find our events. But no, it’s the same old story:

ScotRefEvents
Dead End here as well.

I used two different search functions. The generic one and the event specific one. Searching on “Scotref Events” did, finally, return a live independence event! The GNW Scotref launch. I am sure this is a great event! But after such a long drawn out search our No voter would probably be too tired to attend.

So, searching via Google, Twitter, Eventbrite and Facebook our potential Yes voter found TWO future events. That’s it. TWO EVENTS. I know we can do better than that. There’s little point putting on an event if no one knows about it.

It is crucial that we engage as much as possible with those who seek information and engagement in a live environment.

For our movement we can’t do the field of dreams: “build it and they will come”, we have to think about how people find our events and we have to do all we can to help them find them. 

If you are interested in contributing to my work on a live engagement strategy for the YES movement please get in touch.