How the YES movement structures the campaign for independence will be crucially important if we are to secure a victory.
It’s been another important few weeks in the soft campaign for independence. On the 6th of October more people marched for independence than had ever taken to the streets. Over 100,000 marched through Edinburgh “all under one banner”
Just over a week later a major fundraising campaign was launched with a full media blitz. A big promotional push for This Is It included articles in print (and a front page splash) and online by The National, plus supporting blog posts by well known indy campaigners, including senior SNP figures.
It would be easy to look at the YES movement and conclude that all is not just well, but positively rosy. But many in the YES movement have concerns about “our” campaigning as we head into a tumultuous year.
So in this post I want to try to look at a few things in detail.
Firstly, the current set up and approach of “the new SIC”
Secondly, to look at our big events.
And thirdly is to look at the approach we are taking to funding our campaigns and our movement.
I won’t apologise for the length of this post as I believe these are three exceptionally important areas to cover. (I’ve added a section at the bottom of this post that lists my experience in these areas, lest you think I am spouting nonsense from nowhere)
I hope this piece opens up more conversations on our movement and gives confidence to YESSERS to question the current set up, to suggest alternatives, and to ultimately do something different.
The Scottish Independence Convention’s new fundraising appeal
I’ve been writing for a couple of years about the need for an organisation to co-ordinate the YES movement. So in this initial stance, I am in total agreement with Elaine C Smith and I do agree with her that a majority of the grass roots support the idea –
“I am always asked about a central place/facilitating organisation/resource hub that can distribute and communicate what’s going on to all the other groups……..That’s what we aim to try and provide.” Elaine C Smith.
However I have to question the current approach as outlined by This Is It. In questioning the set up and structure of the organisation I will reference two similar successful campaigning organisations in Europe.
However, the phoenix that will rise from the ashes of the SIC, will have several very important differences from both these movements.
The most important difference is that the new SIC, as a centralised coordinating body, can not represent the YES movement because it is not controlled by the individuals in the movement.
The ANC can and does reflect the Catalan independence movement because it is “entirely funded by its members: 38,000 “full time” members and over 40,000 “associate members”
So members pay and receive a voice within the organisation. This sounds like an obvious and simple structure for any representative body. Why is the new YES organisation so different?
This representative approach is how political parties, membership bodies, trade unions and trade associations are structured. But this is not how the new SIC is structured. We really have to ask why?
The new organisation will of course have members, but they will not fund the organisation, it will be funded by individuals who will not have a voice or any direct representation.
This seems a peculiar set up for an organisation and I believe we are right to question the proposed structure, even if its taken two whole years to get to this stage.
There may be a whole host of reasons behind the chosen structure, however, if I was asked to design a organisational structure that was funded but not held to account this is how I would design it. I believe the organisers behind the organisation have a lot of background information to divulge.
The second issue with regard to membership, is to ask why there are so few grass roots organisations supporting it at this stage?
The YES movement has hundreds of groups who support independence yet so few are represented. Isn’t this peculiar?
So YESSERS are asked to fund an organisation that seems to have little support from the heart and soul of the movement, the grass roots organisations.
I find this incredibly worrying. I believe we are in danger of having a (maybe even THE) leading independence organisation that has little representation from the movement and little if any accountability.
With this structure we are setting ourselves up for all manner of smears from the Unionist media.
Structure, processes and procedures are boring for sure, but they are important. The movement has to stop and think if this is really the way we should be going.
The body that aims to represent the YES moment in various ways should be a membership body with members having control of direction, messaging and operational objectives.
Do we not have the grand designs or ambitions to set up a similar structure as the Italians?
The Five Star Movement has 135,000 members all of whom pay an annual subscription, and if is from here that the movement is funded. Interesting the Movement refused 40.000.000 euros from the state (as a political party that received 25% of the vote ) so determined was it to not be labelled an organisation that could be bought.
There is a minimum subscription and a maximum amount so that no-one can be accused of offering or accepting money in return for influence. Every member has a direct involvement in the organisation. It’s a fascinating structure.
This shows you the extent that the organisation has gone to be accountable to the movement and to be super clean and above suspicion.
I hope that’s some interesting thoughts on the structure of the organisation and the funding, to help people analyse the new SIC in some more detail. But we have every right to ask, why THIS structure?
So if that’s how it’s structured and funded, what will it actually do?
Well, similar to the lack of information on membership and representation we are a bit in the dark. Where there is a lack of information people will fill in the gaps.
Perhaps the new organisation will have at its core support for groups that are already doing some great stuff but nowhere is that being made clear.
The only details we have is that they seek £180,000 to fund the organisation for a year. An organisation that will carry out –
This is all very vague. It leaves open the possibility that the organisation could play drastically different roles. It’s all down to interpretation at this stage. What does any of this mean? Some details would be very welcome.
If most YESSERS are not going to have direct representation then surely, an absolute bare minimum, should be that they know what they are funding.
In the approach taken so far I believe the organisers have paid a disservice to the 100,000s of independence supporters. There should be much more clarity about the planned role for the organisation BEFORE asking for funding.
And finally I want to look at that annual funding figure as it hints at the structure and approach of the organisation. In a previous post I said it looked like “an analogue organisation in a digital age”, or all very 2014 as a prominent indy voice put it.
In spending this amount of donated money the organisation will use it to pay full time, permanent staff. They will have office space. They will employ the services of a major brand agency. They will be structured like a traditional campaign organisation would have been in 2014 when we lost.
Five years later the structure hasn’t evolved. They won’t, in short, be using the resources available to them as part of this massive, creative, powerful movement. To give yourself the task of winning independence and not having @zarkwan involved in helping you shape the brand and the messaging, or not having @phantompower14 involved in your digital content creation seems to be totally bizarre.
There are many hundreds, perhaps thousand who could help this organisation, if it was structured differently.
The organisation should be more flexible. It shouldn’t have large fixed costs like five full time staff and premises. It should operate more as a start up or a digital business. It should be super lean and super mean, because it is being funded by donations (more on the issues around funding your organisation by kindness later)
However, IF it was a membership body funded by subscriptions and other income it would then be wise to take on more fixed costs as it would be on a more secure footing. Under this approach £180,000 could be small change.
If one thing is for certain the next independence campaign will need a dynamic and fast footed organisation ready to respond. The set up of the new organisation does little to demonstrate that readiness. It also must have a democratic mandate and be totally transparent.
I think we can do better.
Our large events including Hoop and All Under One Banner
I’ve written in detail about how our independence events can be better. I’ve also noted how impressed I am with the dedication of the volunteers who run these big events.
I’ve been an events organiser for over twenty years and I’ve written as constructively as possible about our events. It is no mean feat to be able to bring thousands of people out on the streets.
I have however lamented that there is no professionalism and no central resource to fund and run these events. To give you some perspective, The ANC spend 300,000 Euro on PR for their large La Diada celebrations! That’s the annual one, that has 1million demonstrators.
The Five Star movement place events at the absolute core of their movement and have done from its inception in 2009.
Our current approach to live engagement means we can only but dream of organising events that actually achieve any strategic goals. If you want to read more about the how our events can be better check out most of the posts on this blog.
It is clear that how we conduct ourselves at our events will have a big impact on how the movement as a whole is regarded by those open to the possibility of voting for independence next time round.
Our events, in all shapes and forms, will have a considerable impact on our campaign and I believe they therefore deserve some more scrutiny.
Jason Micheal’s piece on AUOB shows a willingness to look at the importance of our events and I urge people to read it.
The two issues that I would like to address here are –
The events that represent the entire movement are not co-ordianted by the movement and
There is little accountability or transparency at these events.
I have to make this point clear. I am not for one second saying grass roots organisations should not organise events, exactly the opposite in fact, but I believe they should have some central resource to help them.
However I do believe that large events should be co-ordainted by a central body or a representative body, not by individuals acting for the movement. And I think I’ve been clear, I don’t think it should be structured like the new SIC seems to be.
The reasons for me are clear –
They are too big and too important to leave to volunteers.
They will never have the impact and the support if they are not supported by the whole movement.
They can never stand up to scrutiny and they lack transparency if they are not properly organised.
It is time to ask how we organise the events where we showcase our movement to see if we can do things better.
How we fund our movement or “the curse of the crowd funder”
As we approach the end of the first week of funding for This Is It the fund raiser passed its first target of £30,000 and is now sitting just over £40,000. So according to the website this is enough for –
“30K will get the organisation started and branded – complete with public engagement research (so we know that undecided voters will be open to what they see when they look at our messages and branding)”
So it looks like its a done deal and the fundraising has done it’s job.
If you want to raise funds for something before you actually have to do much, then crowd funding is the way to go. But to fund an entire movement this way is madness.
We have to find a more secure way to fund the YES movement.
We should not be funding our entire movement on frequent acts of kindness, fundraisers and passing buckets around, well, not if we want to have a successful campaign. We will be in professional campaign mode soon and we have to be professional and that means being secure in our finances.
In Catalonia “paying for things” is part of the independence culture. You pay for membership to have a say in the direction of the movement. An event is run form the money that is raised selling the t-shirts that everyone wears. Campaigns are paid for by the merchandising that is sold.
This is a mature approach to funding a campaign. Again I question why this approach is regarded as “grass roots” in Catalonia and Italy but not in Scotland?
If we want to move to a more secure footing for our movement we have to ask some important questions. What does it actually mean to be grass roots? Should volunteers be doing so much? Is it wrong to ask people to pay for things? Who should lead the movement? And what role should we have in the organisations that represent us?
In August I spent a few days in the south of Italy with members of the Five Star Movement. I wanted to get to the heart of the organisation and how it was structured in the hope I would see more options for what we can do in Scotland.
I talked through our peculiar Scottish issues mentioning the role of volunteers and the grass roots approach, “Grass roots are the volunteers right, they are the engine, but every movement needs dedicated professionals to run it, unless, maybe it’s not serious?” said Paolo.
I assured him he would never meet more serious and dedicated people than those in the Scottish grass roots independence movement but he couldn’t take the step to understand why we didn’t want to professionalise or to make regular financial commitments.
He was also confused when I told him that many people who led in 2014 seem poised to lead again. He told me that this would not happen in the Five Star Movement. This is because they believe that no one is irreplaceable and that people should move over after a period of time.
I nodded and said we have a lot to learn.
I hope it is not too late for the movement to look again at its structures.
I’ve been organising events for over twenty years. During that time I’ve set up several departments in large membership organisations. I wrote a book about organisational structures in not for profit organisations. I have also set up and run a couple of small commercial organisations. I currently run Gallus Events Ltd. which manages Europe’s largest blog for Personal Assistants in Europe, several events and does consultancy all over Europe. I ran my crowdfunded event in 2017.