As one million independence supporting Catalans took to the streets to demand independence during La Diada celebrations, the YES movement spent the day arguing about Braveheart. How can two grass roots movements be so different?
For the seventh year in a row two grass roots organisations the Assemblea Nacional Catalana and Òmnium have organised the largest one day event in Europe. La Diada celebrations took place on the 11th of September and this year attracted around one million supporters.
It was, as always, a fantastically colourful and fun day. It’s a street celebration of Catalonia with Gigantes, Castellers, and La Sardana with the Catalan independence flag La Estelada tied to every conceivable living thing or inanimate object.
As a Scot I have mixed feelings when I take part in this type of event. I am in absolute awe of the achievement of the organisers and the passion of the crowd. But I wish those yellow and red flags were blue and white. It would be spectacular if we could have a national day celebration like this in Scotland but, as everyone will tell you, there are just too many buts…….
La Diada 2018 The Coral Demonstration
The organisers know that they have to keep the event fresh and this year the coral colour of the official teeshirt was chosen to remind everyone of the shocking scenes which took place during the 1st October independence referendum. It was a coral coloured tie that “secured” the ballot boxes.
This year, the route packed in the demonstrators, rather than spreading them out across the city or the country. At 17.14pm a massive wave of sound travelled down the demonstration before toppling over a specially constructed symbolic wall: this movement will overcome any and all barriers.
As ever the central focus was the demand for a Catalan Republic but this year the crowd were given extra voice by the imprisonment or forced exile of the organisers of the 1st Oct referendum.
The objectives of La Diada
La Diada is used to re-energise and to motivate independence supporters in Catalonia and to internationalise the cause. In addition the call for the return of the political prisoners was the main focus for the international aspect of the demonstration in 2018.
Among the speakers three prestigious European personalities took to the stage: Aamer Anwar, the acknowledged Scottish human rights lawyer, in charge of the legal defence of Catalan ex-minister Clara Ponsatí; Thomas Schulze, the German university professor recognised for his staunch defence of the Catalan cause in Europe; and Ben Emmerson, the English international and human rights lawyer in charge of the defence before the United Nations of President Carles Puigdemont and other Catalan politicians.
In 2017 around 800,000 took part in La Diada. It would be hard to argue that an extra 200,000 independence supporters have been found since Spain’s brutal put down of the referendum last October. The actions of the Spanish Government continue to recruit supporters to the cause of Catalan independence in much the same way as the main Westminster parties approach to Brexit is pushing more people towards support for Scottish independence.
Could Scotland hold a similar event in 2019
The independence movement in Scotland needs an event of this scale and size. In much the same way as the Catalans we have to internationalise our claim for independence.
How many people would remain ignorant of Scotland’s current position as a Nation (and not a region) as well as our vote to remain in the EU after seeing pictures of a massive colourful demonstration stretching from Edinburgh to Arbroath? Or from Edinburgh to Bannockburn?
We all know the answer. Scotland’s natural beauty and our historic landmarks provide a canvas that no main stream media in the world would ignore. Sure, we run our own independence events in Scotland, however, like a tree falling in a wood, an event only has an impact if people actually see it.
Our current demonstrations
Having a few thousand people march through Dumfries or a few thousand watch Braveheart in the centre of Glasgow just doesn’t excite anyone outside of those already committed to voting YES.
We have an exceptionally motivated and committed grass roots movement in Scotland and with a shared focus we could organise an event of this size. We could. And we should.
Scotland needs a body similar to the ANC
To organise an event of this scale we need an organisation similar to the Assemblea Nacional Catalana. We need elected representatives from the movement who appoint and direct full time staff and we need this now.
There’s rumours that the Scottish Independence Convention have announcements forthcoming, which may point towards this type of professional organisation, but I’ve been told something is “imminent” for at least nine months.
As I look over the front pages of all of the Spanish papers this morning to see this amazing stream of people who packed the streets, I am still filled with the possibility that Scotland could do this. And we should.
If you are involved in a grass roots organisations, perhaps one that is currently discussing the structure of the SIC, and you don’t see the need for a body to help coordinate the movement then come and experience La Diada.
If you are one of the organisers of Hope Over Fear or All Under One Banner and you want your efforts to really, truly make a difference, then pull your resources and get behind one massive national day demonstration. There’s a million reasons to do it.
There’s no point organising an event if you don’t set objectives. And of course you have to have the right objectives. Often this basic element of any event is missing from the YES movement’s events.
Saturday’s protest outside BBC HQ attracted around 250 people and saw considerable support on social media – in part down to the ever present Independence Live. But what was the point? Or in event talk, what was the objective of the protest?
BBC Bias Protest at Pacific Quay
It’s no small effort to coordinate a demonstration of this size. Even as the team behind All Under One Banner (who coordinate some huge and important rallies) cut their event teeth, it’s still a challenge. I’ve managed over 700 events, so I know organising and attending every event is time you could be spent doing something else!
The first thing to say about the protest at Pacific Quay is that I would have not advised running it at all. However, doing the planning process one objective should have been penned and communicated to all:
“This protest is being organised not against the employees but against the editorial decisions that appear to be strongly biased in favour of Scotland’s place in the Union and also editorial decisions which seen to “do down” Scotland at every turn. We are seeking a meeting with senior representatives of the BBC to express the views of a large number of Scots”
You have to set an objective this this, otherwise what’s the point?
A pointless protest
Why have people standing outside to listen to a few speeches and wave a few flags unless something meaningful is to come out of it?
Why run an event, if all you are going to do is score a spectacular own goal?
Why look a PR gift horse in the mouth?
The answer is simple: because the event didn’t have the right objectives.
Look again at the objective I suggest and walk through the two possible scenarios:
1. BBC meet representatives from protest against BBC Bias.
2. BBC refuse to meet representatives from protest against BBC Bias. Where’s the PR downside there? It’s a win/win for the movement.
But without objectives we have this:
“We offered the leaders of the protest the opportunity to come in to the building to enter into dialogue with senior managers at BBC Scotland but they declined the offer.”
Made even worse by this:
“I was the person asked and I declined. We don’t want to enter into a dialogue with the BBC to try to repair things…. Do any of you see any buttons up the back of my head? No! We want to see the end of the BBC in Scotland. I hope I made that clear.”
The 11th of September is a holiday in Catalonia for the national day: La Diada. Plans for La Diada 2018 were announced in July.
The focal point of the celebration is always the huge rally organised by the ANC and Omnium, the two largest grass roots organisations that directly support a Catalan Republic.
Plans for La Diada 2018 unveiled
The celebration is different every year in theme and often location. This year the celebration will take place along a 6KM section of one of Barcelona’s main streets. La Avenida Diagonal, a road that pretty much splits the city in two, will be crammed with those in support of a Catalan Republic.
It’s likely that around 1 million people will take part, at what is now, the largest annual single day event in Europe.
A colourful demonstration
As well as a different theme and location there is normally a different colour. This year the colour is Coral, to reflect the ties that secured the ballot boxes during the 1st October Catalan Referendum.
The vast majority of supporters will wear the official La Diada 2018 luminous coral t-shirt. A helicopter will fly the route, taking pictures that will be beamed across the globe. The global press interest will be as high as ever. Front page covers and news bulletins across the world will show images of a million defiant Catalans demanding the right to self govern.
Millions of supporters of the idea of a Catalan Republic will have an amazing day. They will see that their dream is shared by a huge number of Catalans. The event is both a strategic and tactical masterpiece.
The location for La Diada 2018 is well chosen
Many of Barcelona’s most famous monuments and buildings sit close to Diagonal. From Barcelona’s Nou Camp stadium at one end to Gaudi’s La Sagrada Familia at the other, Barcelona’s brightest and best cultural building will come into sharp focus. The pictures remind the world of the immense wealth of Catalan culture.
The colour has been chosen to evoke memories of the 1st October Referendum
La Diada 2018 will remind the world when Catalans had to “brave” the line that snaked outside 100s of polling stations as they waited to cast a vote. It’s like re-running the referendum without the potential for voters being bloodied by Spanish police.
The organisers know that to engage at a regional, national and global level they have to alter the backdrop of the event to avoid apathy setting in (a situation that every annual event has to face): even Europe’s largest annual event can lose it’s appeal.
The event is coordinated, funded and organised by the professionals employed by Omnium and the ANC. As of course it has to be. As an event organiser it would be unimaginable to think of an event like this funded and organisation by part time independence supporters. The stress and the stain would be unbearable, so to would the administrative and logistical burden. The event is a huge undertaking, involves months of organising and costs in excess of 600,000 Euro*
Sure a happy bunch of grass roots enthusiasts could run an annual event, but just imagine the difference? The event would shrink, press would not be invited, managed or housed, helicopters would be replaced by cameras on top of buildings, the PA replaced by a loud hailer. It would be so unthinkable for a Catalan independence supporter than they would laugh at the suggestion: having the most important day in the Catalan Independence calendar run by part timers! Are you mad?
No, the Catalans are not mad. But the Scots are. Amateurism rules, and our independence events make a tiny ripple on the smallest of ponds.
*rough estimate given to me by the Head of Press, ANC, in 2017.
Probably the most seismic political event in Scotland since the referendum result in 2014 took place on Wednesday: the walk out of all 35 SNP MPs in protest at the process laid down for the EU Withdrawal Bill.
Now you can look at these “events” in one of two ways. The first is how Andy and Fiona felt:
The second is the way that almost everyone else, outside the Independence bubbles on Facebook and Twitter, did: absolute silence or totally ignorance.
Events in Scotland
This was the movement’s immediate physical response to the Westminster power grab from the Holyrood Parliament. Maybe 600 people is a lot. Maybe it’s nothing. But I want to look at Jason’s point:
So what if we were to plan a march to London or a human chain across Scotland, who exactly would plan it, market it and organise it?
My day to day life is organising other people’s events or advising them on how to organise their own events. I’ve been doing that for almost 10 years. I’ve been organising events for over 20 years. As you can see from other posts on here I bang on about events quite a bit.
It would almost definitely be beyond the wonderfully committed volunteers of HOOP and AUOB. It would be almost exclusively advertised through two social media platforms (operating in the Indy bubble) and our other dedicated indy mediums like The National.
The National YES Registry would I am sure use their platform to support: but again this concentrates on the already converted and committed.
The organisers would not have access to the largest email database of independence supporters (held by the SNP) They would have no funds to advertise the event, unlike their Catalan cousins who have 300,000 Euros to advertise their La Diada celebrations. No cash to pay for professional PR. In fact vey little of the things that are needed to make an event like this truly successful. Passion and dedication only gets you so many attendees.
The Independence movement needs a dedicated, professional organisation to coordinate, support and offer resource to the movement. If one existed, similar to the Catalan National Assembly we would be able to answer Limmy’s Tweet:
We would be able to say. The Scottish National Assembly will be organising a Human Chain across Scotland in August. Images will be shown world wide. It will cut across Edinburgh during the Edinburgh festival, bringing the issue of Scottish independence to a world wide audience in our capital.
We need a body like this. Even if it just organises a few large annual events. We need to, as Limmy says, do “something”
Please drop me a note or comment if you support the idea of an independent body to coordinate the YES movement.
Owing to the success of the AUOB march in Glasgow in May, views on events dominated the YES supporting media and filled Indy blogs for the full week after the event. Every article showing the power of events to the Scottish independence movement.
We all got quite excited about the massive turnout, and it really felt like the movement received a jolt of energy. This shot in the arms was especially noticeable online.
I believe an annual event like this is crucial for the YES movement and I have some thoughts on when that should take place, which I will save for another post.
As someone who has organised events for over twenty years, I have seen organisers and organisations caught up in a post event high. Almost overnight we have all got very excited about the power of events or as we event professionals like to grandly call it, live engagement and communication.
The power of events to the Scottish independence movement
Ive been writing for a while about events for the YES movement so I am delighted to see more in the movement acknowledge their power. Bringing like minded people together to discuss, plot, challenge, laugh, debate and plan is the fuel for every successful movement: it’s the reason that the right to free assembly is always at the top of the Dictator’s banned list.
We aren’t quite up against a dictatorship but the YES movement certainly has its challenges getting our message out, and this is why our events must not waste the opportunity in front of them.
The AUOB march was of course just one of scores of different YES events that took place in the first half of May. The next major YES event is The Gathering in Stirling on the 27th May and before that loads of other YES events will take place across the country, all doing their bit to build the case for an independent Scotland.
Our movement has to include a huge effort to physically engage the wider electorate, as it’s really the only field of communication where we can play on that level playing field.
How to compete against the Unionist dominated Main Stream Media
The main stream media in Scotland and the UK speaks with an almost universal voice and this brings it a huge amount of power. But thankfully, it’s not just the frequency of a message that has an impact but also the emotional connection, and that’s were events can help level that playing field. Events which are more of an experience have an emotionally bigger and more positive impact than more traditional events.
If you are thinking about running a YES event please drop me a line to arrange a chat and we can make sure that the format you choose will achieve your objectives. But most importantly keep organising events!
Marches are about numbers and with so many in attendance at the May AUOB march it’s been hard to avoid. And that is all down to the amazing work by the AUOB organisers. Huge respect. They have done what politicians and political parties have been unable or unwilling to do: put independence back on the agenda.
Saturday’s march was an huge success. There’s no other way to look at it. Mike Small summed it up beautifully in a piece written the day after the massive rally.
On the other end, the stuff on the main stream media was all stuffing made of sour grapes and it was great to see Manny Singh (one of the AUOB organisers) in CommonSpace directly challenge the article in The Herald which argued the demonstrators “had got it pretty badly wrong”
The organisers and the demonstrators hadn’t got anything wrong. Yet.
I’ve been organising events for over twenty years and I currently work with a host of different organisations across the globe to help them run better events. For anyone interested in my background you can see the type of stuff I do and what I regularly blog about on my company website.
I’ve been following the YES movement, blogging and learning from the live engagement strategy of the Catalan independence movement and I have some caution about the three AUOB marches that are scheduled to take place over the summer. I hope that the organisers and the wider movement will pause and consider my points.
To measure success you have to set the right objectives
I will try and not make this sound like an event management lecture. Before you plan an event the first thing you should do is set objectives. Any march can have a few objectives and they are generally achieved by one means: having a lot of people there. I detailed the importance in numbers in a blog post after the 2017 AUOB march. It was simply amazing to see the huge increase from 2017. The objectives were achieved by a vast number taking to the street.
Here’s what the AUOB organisers are planning next:
“The next All Under One Banner independence march will take place on 2 June in Dumfries, one week before SNP Conference, and Singh was keen to emphasise the importance of supporters attending demonstrations outside of the central belt to “prove that this is not a localised movement, that this movement is willing to travel and show up in big numbers all across the country.”
In event speak, Manny has laid out the objectives of the event. And unfortunately the event has been designed to fail.
On the 3rd of June the MSM will be full of articles saying “less than X” attended. “As we saw in the 2014 vote, independence is really confined to two large industrial cities” “This is no mass movement, in less than a month numbers have dropped by X amount” The headlines will be written already. If a march doesn’t attract more than it did last time it’s easy for the momentum to stop. Or at least look like that.
Now of course, I could be totally wrong, and I really hope I am. How amazing would it be if more attended the march in June! But I would bet against that. And even if I am wrong, the organisers should still avoid the risk of it being smaller. That’s just a sensible approach that any professional event organiser would take. There’s no need to walk straight into the trap already being laid.
However, I fear it’s already too late. The march will go ahead, advice will be unheeded, and the MSM will happily gloat over the diminishing returns from marches.
Regional events are crucial to the success of the movement
I completely understand why the AUOB organisers have come up with the idea of marches across the country and I totally agree with the objective behind these events: “Let’s demonstrate that there is a demand for independence across the country” That’s a great and very important objective, however it is the format of the event (the marches) that is wrong, not that objective.
The default position for movements is to march, sometimes it’s right, but often it’s wrong. In the case of the AUOB their efforts would be put to much more effective use if they organised different format events, and I want to make this clear, they absolutely should keep running events.
So what should the YES movement do?
The organisers should focus more on dynamic formats with the objective to be visually powerful and to grab headlines. The organisers should totally stay away from drawing attention to the numbers. Leave that to an annual event and let that one be about numbers.
I normally spend a week or so with an organisation asking question and understanding the particular issues that will affect how they run events, so I am at a bit of a loss to suggest real alternatives, however I won’t shy away from coming up with some ideas or certainly examples that would super charge regional events and shift the focus away from the numbers taking part.
The Catalans understand this. They have an eye for the dramatic.
But here goes, here’s my regional events strategy for the AUOB team!
Over a six month period events should be coordinated. They would take place at different times and would highlight one particular sector of the Scottish economy. The objective would be something like this:
Using regional events will show that the movement is national. Each region should highlight the experience, impact and importance of a particular sector to the Scottish economy. The objective is to highlight Scotland’s wealth – visually and powerfully. We have to dispel the idea of “too wee and too poor”
So, this leads to events like this:
Using bottles of whisky to spell out “Independence has a cask strength case”
Same with oil: “Barrels of evidence that Scotland will thrive as an independent country”
Or with salmon. “If someone tells you Scotland can’t thrive as an independent country it’s probably a bit fishy”
These displays could be heavily promoted in advance or could be guerrilla style campaigns.
Now as I said, I am not as close to the organisers or the movement as I would like to be (being based in Barcelona for the foreseeable future) so I can not list these as suggestions, only as the “type” of event that would have an impact.
These types of events also nicely side step the traps being set for our moment as we try to capitalise on the momentum created by the fantastic work done by the AUOB organisers.
As ever, I am happy to spend more time engaging with anyone organising events that support Sottish independence. Just get in touch.
March’s #HandsOffOurParliament demonstration will show everything that is great about the YES movement, and at the same time will expose some of the handicaps that we carry with us. I have a few suggestions that will make the most of the event.
A beautiful thing will happen in Edinburgh on the 23rd March, something that shows the best of the YES movement. A few months ago it was nothing more than a conversation topic between a few Scottish independence activists on a bridge. Three months later a few thousand people will create a human “hoop” around the Scottish Parliament. If anything sums up the YES movement’s power and passion it is this ability to turn words into actions.
"Democracy is under threat in Scotland. However, Westminster politicians are building their case on exceptionally shaky ground, and they know it: but they can easily ignore, and fend off other politicians. They can bin newspapers and ignore partisan news reports. What they are unable to do is to show the same intransigence in the face of a seriously determined street movement. Just imagine 50,000-plus linking arms around Holyrood to "protect" democracy."
I am certainly not claiming any credit. It’s easy to have an idea (this post has a few more) it’s much harder to actually get out there and do it. The credit must fall to those putting these ideas in to action (my thanks to one of them in particular, Cliff Serbie who was frank with me in answering my questions)
I currently live in Barcelona and this has its disadvantages when trying to do what you can for the YES movement but it also has advantages. Being up close and personal with the Catalan independence movement offers me a very different perspective on political events in Scotland. If you are going to pass on some tips you may as well learn from the undeniable masters of mass movement street politics: the Catalans.
My suggestions and observations are based on my twenty years organising events and my experience of the dynamic fight for self-determination here in Catalonia.
I know Scotland and Catalonia are in many ways similar however they are also very different. I have taken those differences into consideration when making my suggestions in this post. I am not going to suggest that we should aim for 250,000 taking part next time! That would just be daft, but there are things we can do. Starting now, with over a week to go until the HOOP event.
March’s event should be the first but not the last HOOP
Before jumping to conclusions I contacted the organisers via their Facebook page (and they have seen and “signed off” this post) to find out a bit more about their plans. As you would expect they are but a group of dedicated activists with little time and even fewer resources for such a big event. It’s typical of our movement, and I covered some of the issues with this volunteer approach last year when I looked at the All Under One Banner rally.
Where I see issues with this DIY approach, many in the movement see beauty. The idea of the true grassroots, scrimping and saving and “doing the best they can” is romantic to many Yessers. I don’t share that opinion: we have a few hundred thousand minds to change and I think a professional approach to all that we do will ultimately be more successful. I truly believe that our events can have a big positive impact on many potential YES voters.
So with my total respect for the people who are doing it and my belief that some professional support would make things even more powerful I present my suggestions.
1. Limit expectations and the size of this HOOP event
The organisers have done everything you could expect of a volunteer team. They have had coverage in The National and The Scotsman and are increasing the awareness daily on social media. A couple of thousand taking part would be an amazing achievement. However, as we all know to our chagrin, demonstrations numbering in the few thousands are unlikely to make an impact on the MSM. I know that we will all see the usual Tweets: “where are you BBC”, but the organisers shouldn’t be distracted by that. The main objective should be to galvanise the YES movement and make this event a catalyst for a similar event that is much bigger and bolder.
2. Start raising funds by selling a badge
At the moment there are no plans to collect funds (the organisers asked me to make this VERY clear) at the event. This approach is of course very grassroots, the idea that people pay for things! It’s a romantic notion but campaigns that are not directly supported by private funds or political parties need to raise money from those passionate about the cause.
If the organisers are really to do anything that breaks outside our of YES leaning networks we have to raise money.
Selling this for a few Euros is a simple and effective way to raise funds. I am sure with a week or more to go the organisers could source or make something that they could sell for a coupe of quid at the event. Or perhaps someone reading this post could do it for them? The organisers need to sell them, account for the sales and hold on to the money for a while.
Why is money so important when fighting a campaign? The Catalan National Assembly organise the massive La Diada events every September 11th. They spend €300,000 on advertising. Yes, that’s what you have to spend to get a crowd in a country as likely to demonstrate on the street as they are to buy a beer! Money talks and we really have to make our voices heard. This event is a wonderful opportunity to start to raise funds for an upcoming campaign.
Following the event these little lapel badges (whatever they look like) could be either sourced directly from the official supplier, as the official ones are here, or made by groups and sold across Scotland, with funds being sent to the HOOP Foundation (which of course at the moment is a figment of my imagination). Slowly a fighting fund on this specific issue could be built.
The uniqueness of the power grab, as this clear democratic deficit, is that it is something that unites political parties and many voters, even some unionists. In Catalonia many a Yellow Ribbon wearer is no independentista; however the idea that you can be in prison for your views is an anathema to many. There are issues that transcend party politics and the power grab issue is one. It is a unique opportunity.
I hope you don’t feel grubby thinking about money. But if you do, you are probably about to feel worse. I am suggesting that the event is used to start a database for those who feel passionate about the power grab.
3. Collect email addresses and then collect more data
I asked the head of press at the ANC what was the secret that brings 1 million people on to the streets. The answer was data. Boring, but true.
Every effort should be made to collect email addresses of those attending HOOP and who are interested in the impending doom of a Westminster government using Brexit as an excuse to erode democracy in Scotland. At the end of the event the organisers should have a list of email addresses of people who WANT to be contacted about issues relating to the Westminster power grab including events and merchandising.
So to summarise my advice:
We should have another similar event later this year run on a much more professional basis that has grander and achievable objectives.
We should have a fund set up and run by a grass roots movement.
We should have the beginning of a powerful database.
If these three things take root in March we have a very good chance of building something that is even more beautiful. But that’s not the way things will pan out.
But of course, we are grass roots, so none of this is going to happen.
Maybe someday and somehow political activists in Scotland will take a different, less romantic approach and try and organise events that really make a difference.
If you are interested in attending the HOOP event visit their Facebook page. If you are interested in running a different type of event along the lines I’ve suggested, get in touch.
It was sunny yesterday. Baking hot, sweaty, sunshine. That kind of weather is far from ideal for standing in the streets without shade for a few hours, however the million people who did so yesterday didn’t seem to bother. In fact the bright sunshine reflected the mood of La Diada 2017.
The official Catalan National Assembly led La Diada celebrations are now in their sixth year. Since 2012 a million or more people have celebrated the day by calling for the independence of Catalunya. With hundred of thousands of yellow and red Catalan flags, most with the addition of the white star on a blue background – favoured by those seeking Catalan independence, it is always an exceptionally colourful event. This year the event went luminous as every person who had packed the streets revealed a shocking yellow t-shirt as the count down to the “reveal” approached.
At 17:14 the t-shirts came on and the banners floated above the crowd. This was the day of YES. The Catalan national anthem rang out; there were cheers as every new image appeared on the giant screens. People cried as a human tower was “topped” by a young girl raising her hand, and then producing a catalan flag. This will be the last La Diada demonstration. Next year it will be a celebration!
It’s the 12th September. It’s raining. The holiday is over. The headlines on the Madrid based media focus on the lower numbers of demonstrators than in a couple of previous years. There’s a realisation, a million people demonstrated, but a few million more need to vote YES for the referendum to lead to a new independent country. Perhaps the elation of yesterday was hope more than expectation?
Today will see Spain ramp up it’s efforts to delegitimise the referendum. Hot on the heals of the announcement of the Spanish police to search and seize ballot papers and ballot boxes, many more moves will be played in this constitutional game of chess. Spain says this referendum, schedule to take place in less than three weeks, is illegal.
The Generalitat of Catalunya maintain that the referendum will be binding, and the Government has already put in place a law to supplant the Spanish constitution. It is an impossible impasse with an impossible timeframe. Today the weather reflects the mood of many independence supporters. But tomorrow, we know there will be sunshine.
Barcelona has quickly returned to normality after the appalling terrorist attack on Las Ramblas. Anyone who knows this city and its people will not be surprised.
August is the strangest of months in Barcelona. The Catalan capital is vacated by the locals for much of the month. Shops, bars and restaurants close for a couple of weeks, with the most popular ones shutting down for the full 31 days. Kids are only half way through their 12 week summer break, so schools and nurseries sit empty. During the sweltering August heat, streets that swell throughout June and July find some relief; as if a pressure value has been released.
I am one of those residents that heads off to avoid the heat. And where better than Scotland for that? An increasing number of Spanish people are finding Scotland a rainy, mild, cultural heaven. Thousands of Spaniards flock to Edinburgh for the festival and the flights between Scotland and Barcelona seem especially packed during Edinburgh festival time.
Sat in a bar in during this years early August trip to Edinburgh I overheard a Scottish waitress apologising to a Spanish family. It was “raining again” and she was truly sorry – apologising as if it was her fault. I could tell that the waitress couldn’t quite work out why the family were all smiling as they looked out into the thin, grey, drizzle outside. It’s 30 degrees in Barcelona today and most of central and southern Spain has seen 40+ degrees over the summer. Spaniards visit, not despite the cold and the rain, but because of it.
I was only partly back in Scotland for the break from the heat, as I had a few meetings about our Homeless Hackathon. I happened to arrive in Edinburgh only a few hours before the attack on Las Ramblas andIsaw the story unfold on the BBC news channel from the lobby of my hotel, and via social media.
During that evening, my phone pinged constantly with people asking about me and the family. Nice to know people care, but it did take me longer than usual to eat a curry in Mother India in Glasgow. A few friends knew we lived on a Rambla (there are several across the city, we live about two miles away from Las Rambals) and they seemed especially concerned. We hadn’t let anyone know we were OK because, really, why should we? We don’t contact people every week to say we haven’t been one of the 21 people who’ve been killed on a Spanish road. However, as we were still kind of travelling, we had a less controversial reason not to update family and friends.
It is a strange feeling to be away from home when an incident like this occurs. Your heart and stomach seem to merge and an uneasy dull pain takes hold. There’s relief at being far away during any incident, but a need to be close to others at a time of shared grief. Its surprising how long that awkward feeling persists.
Less than 24hours after the attack Barcelona was, amazingly, able to organise a vigil on Plaça Catalunya, the square that sits at the top of Las Ramblas.It was a solemn and quiet affair. There were no political banners, placards or national flags. The only message: “No tinc por!” (I am not afraid – in Catalan). In the crowd of a few thousand, the Prime Minister of Spain, the President of the Generalitat of Catalunya and King Felipe VI stood, for once, united in silence and shared respect.
A few hundred yards from the square, towards the sea, Las Ramblas, that narrow, famous strip, was full of people – including those who rarely visit: most Catalans give the area a wide berth. However typically, the world over, locals show their strength and determination not to be bullied, by returning to the scene of an incident, even if they never normally go there.
Barcelona quickly comes to terms with the terror attacks
On Saturday 26th August the largest demonstration took place in Barcelona, with an estimated 500,000 taking to the streets. Ostensively an anti terrorist demonstration, many Catalans took the opportunity to provide a wider context for the attacks. But you can look at it another way: here’s one view of the demonstration, as a takeover by separatists a theme echoed by other UK outlets. And in a similar vain, here’s an article from a Spanish based commentator in Politico which seemed to deliberately stir up Catalan emotions.
These simplistic views are a typical establishment response to the complex issues in Catalunya. They are devoid of context and seek unity on every issue, were in fact there are large divides. It’s a view that sees people as some kind of shallow cup, easily over filled by emotion, able to only concentrate on one thing at a time. Thankfully, Catalans are normal educated citizens of the world and are able to see the connection and highlight the link between supporting brutal regimes like Saudi Arabia and an act of sickening violence on the streets of Barcelona.
With the attack taking place only six weeks before the Catalan independence referendum, an incident like this was always going to be politicised. To think otherwise is to ignore the after affects of recent terror attacks throughout Europe.
In the immediate aftermath it was highlighted that Mossos d’Esquadra, the Catalan police force that dealt so effective and swiftly with the attacks, did not see free flowing, terrorist intelligence, as it had been denied access by the Spanish Government. Many supporters of independence see this as yet another example of the Spanish Government trying to stymia Catalunya’s attempts to play a fuller, more meaningful role on the world stage.
With a large contingent of Madrid based politicians (who are flatly refusing to recognise the referendum on the 1st October – a massive slight to the democratic process in Catalunya) taking part in the anti terror demonstration, there was always going to be a political reaction from those seeking Catalan independence.
The Monarchy was also a target. Considering the question which will be asked on the 1st October referendum paper is: “Do you want Catalunya to be an independent state in the form of a republic?”, the presence of the King was not going to be unnoticed.
Only eight days separated the attack on Las Ramblas and the massive demonstration in Barcelona. A week is not long enough for feelings to heal or the pain to disappear. However, in Catalan politics it is long enough for people to see through the haze of emotion and pain, and start to piece together cause and affect.
Scottish Independence demonstrations can make a real difference. They just have to be bigger and better.
(article originally appeared, without links, on CommonSpace)
So what? Around 17,000 people (splitting the difference between police and organiser estimates) gave up part of a Saturday afternoon to demonstrate in favour of a second independence referendum. Let’s put that into some context. With an average of 750 people visiting a Starbucks each day, almost as many Glaswegians had a coffee in the twenty, tax dodging coffee shops across the city on Saturday.
Let’s deal with a sobering fact. In September 2014, 1,617,989 people voted for Scottish independence. Three years later, with less than a week to go, before an exceptionally important General Election – which has been centred around another Scottish independence referendum – our movement, moved 1% of that constituency on to the streets. Is this something to celebrate? Or does it give the Unionists ammunition, to further their call, via Ruth Davidson, that “There is NO support for another independence referendum” Maybe it does, because 1% is almost no support.
Well, it is not quite as simple as that. Like the rest of the UK, Scotland doesn’t boast a particularly well known street movement. So, in that context, around 17,000 people filling the streets is exceptional. This is especially so, when you consider the resources available to the organisers, and the minimal support from other independence organisations (for I am sure, a whole host of reasons, which I won’t go into here). Pulling this number on to the street was no mean feat. Lack of support and resources were not the only barriers. The Labour run City Council put them up too. All Under One Banner were asked to have a 1:10 ratio of stewards to demonstrators. Generally, police and local authorities work to 1:75.
When just making an event happen, seems like achieving the impossible, it becomes more difficult to try to measure the actual impact. The rally on Saturday was Glasgow’s largest ever pro indy demonstration: larger in fact, than the ones held in the run up to the vote in 2014. However, for movements to matter, success has to be measured and evaluated on more than that mere fact. So, was it a success? Well, there’s a few ways to measure success.
The first is to know what the event organisers objectives were. Bill McKinnon, the main organiser, kindly spent some time talking to me about the demo and here are his objectives:
“1. To allow pro Independence patriots to show their demand and commitment to the cause to Scotland , Westminster and the world press.
2. The massive show of determination to achieve the second referendum will be universally recognised by the sheer numbers taking part in the March. We are hoping for 20,000.
3 . There has been a lull in open activity from the Indy movement over the past year. This March shows that our determination is stronger than ever.”
Even if you don’t agree with these objectives, or you question exactly how they can be measured, it is enlightening to know what they were. Using these objectives, the event was a massive success.
The primary way that I would judge the success of an event like this, is to learn of the events amplification. Perhaps “only” 17,000 took part, but a lot more people witnessed the march, as they set about their normal Saturday afternoon in Glasgow. 1000s of images of the march were retweeted, liked and shared across social media channels. The rally, including some of the speeches and performances from Glasgow Green, were live streamed by the ever vigilant Independence Live. Facebook proved an incredible platform with the Independence Live stream; shared over 2500 times; commented on thousand of times and had over 1200 views at any one time.
It is not just the quantity, but the type of images that are spread that reinforce the positive messages of a rally. Seeing images of Sikhs playing drums, of kids marching with parents, and of a whole section of Scottish society joining on a peaceful rally, were exceptionally powerful in portraying a positive image of civic nationalism. Juxtaposing it to the unionist “meeting” of a handful of flag wavers in George Square was priceless. Demonstrations matter: there is no better way for our movement to be so well framed.
The messages and the meaning of the rally were suitably boosted, for a sustained period after the event, by the attendees, their networks, alternative media (CommonSpace included) and unusually, the UK main stream media. Even the BBC covered the rally, because, with numbers approaching 20,000, it became impossible for media outlets to turn a blind eye. Numbers matter. It is well known in event circles that number of demonstrators correlate directly to column inches and media minutes.
The number of demonstrators that took part, and the huge amplification of the rally, should strengthen our belief in the demonstration as a powerful outlet for a political or social movement. It should also give us resolve, post GE2017, to make them bigger and better. As our elected politicians seem to be banging on a closed door, it is likely that we will need them more than ever.
During the General Election campaign Nicola Sturgeon said that “victory for the SNP will force a rethink on a second referendum”, suggesting that Theresa May would change her mind (she does like a U-turn) and sanction a second vote in the next couple of years (should she still be in power of course). However, a hand-break turn on this issue should be placed in the exceptionally unlikely category. So what pressure can be put on Westminster? And who can turn the screw? Demonstrators that’s who. Thousands of them.
Election wins and manifesto pledges are seemingly easy for Westminster, and many Scottish politicians, to ignore. Even votes in the Scottish Parliament have little impact. Democracy is clearly being undermined and with that, the express will of the Scottish people. This alone should drive tens of thousands to the street.
The Westminster based parties, are in unison, ignoring the democratic will of the Scottish Parliament. Ignoring the request for a second referendum is a link in an undemocratic process that is already in chain. Post Brexit, with returning powers from Brussels likely to be swallowed up by Westminster, the devolution settlement will be further weakened. Tory HQs charge towards an “internal UK market”, will weaken Holyrood’s power base in health, justice, transport, education and the environment, to name but a few.
Democracy is under threat in Scotland. However, Westminster politicians are building their case on exceptionally shaky ground, and they know it: but they can easily ignore, and fend off other politicians. They can bin newspapers and ignore partisan news reports. What they are unable to do, is to show the same intransigence in face of a seriously determined street movement. Just imagine 50,000 plus linking arms around Holyrood to “protect” democracy!
In most European nations, policy is directly affected by street politics much more regularly than in Scotland. However, Scotland is the scene of one of the world’s most successful ever demonstrations. Only twelve years ago, Edinburgh hosted the MAKEPOVERTYHISTORY rally, that led to the eventual cancellation of billions of dollars of debt from developing nations, under the Multilateral Debt Relief Initiative. The Edinburgh demonstration was the corner stone of a year long campaign. The official post campaign report praised the demonstration, “The public mobilisation was felt to be the greatest achievement of the campaign” Scotland has an enviable position in terms of forcing change from the streets. In 2005, our voices echoed across the world.
In recent weeks we have all seen the Labour Party have success based on rallies and other well attended and widely covered events. Labour have put in place an exceptional live engagement strategy, and should they ultimately lose, expect this live element of the campaign to continue. We should, by now, be getting the hint at what is possible on the streets of the UK but we can look further afield for inspiration.
Scotland has many similarities with the Catalan independence movement and during a conversation with the Head of Press Relations at the Catalan National Assembly we discussed the differences between Scotland and Catalonia in the history of street politics. We agreed on two main factors which help explain why our biggest independence rally attracted 17,000 and theirs’ drew 1,500,000.
The first is the role of the organisers of the rally. The ANC is a well funded, umbrella organisation, that employs several full time staff. To give you an idea, it spent €300,000 alone on advertising the 2016 demonstration, the same again on staging, AV, PA etc. Everything about the Catalan demonstrations smacks of professionalism. Its success is built upon the unifying role of the ANC and the professional make up of the lead organisation.
You can’t fault the passion and the determination of the All Under One Banner team, but as a non-revenue generating, voluntary organisation, their resources are exceptionally limited. With so many barriers to overcome they were, unfortunately, unable to end the rally in any kind of satisfactory manner for the demonstrators or, as importantly, for the cameras. With the march thinning out on Glasgow Green, the tiny stage and tinny PA, provided a destination that the marchers did not expect or deserve, accompanied by – it was June in Glasgow – near torrential rain.
The Catalan and the Scottish rallies also differ in the subtlety of the message that is transmitted. It was #LoveDemocracy, that was initially at the heart of the Catalan movement, not independence per se. From the outset in 2012, members of the Catalan National Assembly knew that an organisation which called for the “respect of democracy”, had a wider appeal than one focusing on independence. Over the years, the message from the ANC has solidified, to almost exclusively call for independence. However, for many, it is the idea of those in Madrid telling Barcelona what to do, that is the driver for their support. Chat to a Catalan in the street and they are as likely to say “I want to decide, not Madrid”, as they are to say, “I will vote for independence” The ANC have been on a journey focussed on democracy, not independence.
In Scotland, until this general election, calls for a referendum from our elected officials seemed the most likely to bring about a choice to decide our constitutional future. Perhaps now, with democracy under threat, the baton should be handed over to the people, and the message they should carry should not be one demanding independence, but democracy.
Democracy is “a government in which the supreme power is vested in the people” Perhaps if our elected politicians and our democratic establishments are unable to put the pressure on the UK Government, it is time for “the people”, unified and determined, to do something. Fancy attending a rally that’s a bit bigger, and does something a bit different?
If you are interested in contributing to my work on a live engagement strategy for the YES movement please get in touch.
An independent Scot's view on the search for an independent nation