As the new format of the Scottish Convention “This Is It” passes £100,000 in donations, I urge them, The SNP, and the Scottish Government to start to plan and consider how live experiences will shape and win the next Scottish independence campaign.
I’ve recently returned from a speaking slot at the “Oscars for the events industry” the EUBEA World Festival, which took place in small, beautiful, fiercely independent Portugal. The awards were held in the historic city, once the capital and seat of the Portuguese Royal Family: Coimbra. And I would thoroughly recommend a visit!
There were shortlisted events from Kazakhstan, Latvia, Finland, Russia, Italy, Czech Republic, Poland, Netherlands, England, Spain, Portugal and around a dozen more countries.
There was no event from Scotland. In fact, I was the sole Scottish representative on the entire three day festival programme.
Here’s how other countries celebrate their events
Entries are made primarily by event agencies and like most other sectors of the UK the heart of that industry is in London. So perhaps it’s no great surprise that Scottish agencies weren’t represented, however, it is surely bizarre that non one event took place in Scotland in the last 12 months that the organisers thought would merit a place on the short list?
It’s depressing seeing other countries use live experiences to launch, extend and amplify campaigns or to use them to share the awesomeness of their work or their culture.
Have a look at a few of the events that I have picked out and then think, why doesn’t Scotland do anything like this?
Important cultural events are marked with extravagant celebrations, bringing a whole country together in a shared and uplifting experience as demonstrated by Scarlet Sales 50 year anniversary in Russia.
Cultural buildings have a new lease of life injected by live experiences as demonstrated by Lisbon Under The Stars.
But back to Scotland
Think of a significant event, like the opening of the Queensferry Crossing and check out OUR opening ceremony. It’s an obsequious, pompous, 50p show. It seems to celebrate the Royal Family more than it celebrates Scotland, the red arrows even pump out Red, Blue and White smoke.
If you spend £1.35 billon on something don’t be ashamed to properly celebrate its completion. Be proud of it. Brush off the abuse that comes from celebrating the hard work and endeavour of our Nation.
Another example to look at is the opening of the V&A Dundee Museum of Design. The opening ceremony was “given” to the BBC. It was a broadcast with editorial decisions made, presumably in London. Is this really controlling how the world sees Scotland?
We either do it badly on the cheap or we ask the BBC to do it for us. Who is really happy with either of those options?
As you can see when the Scottish Government is in charge it lacks the chutzpah to do it properly and the BBC is clearly now a British State Broadcaster unable to properly reflect the interests of Scotland.
So what should we be doing as we lead up to a Scottish independence campaign?
Judging by the entries at the EUBEA World Festival and knowing the skills and the resources available in Scotland, we seem uniquely placed as a country, a government and a people unable to celebrate pride in our success and traditions in the full glare of the world.
So how do we currently celebrate our cultural days like St. Andrew’s day or Highland Gatherings, or the scores of cultural events that are never supported to rise about the noise of every day life? Or how do we bring to life buildings that sit empty like the Cathedrals in St. Andrews or Dunkeld (“Scotland Under The Stars” anyone?)
We don’t. Because we are not realising the true power of live experiences.
And because of this ignorance, I fear for the next Scottish independence campaign.
We are all too aware of the bias of the media and we know that, as an independent Scotland is likely this time, that it will be much more forceful in its “better together in our precious union” So how do we counter that MSM bias?
The only real option is to develop events at every level that speak to those living in Scotland and abroad. Events that shout with a loud and determined voice: Scotland has its own voice because it is a Nation.
We all cringe at the now almost ubiquitous Scottish cringe. Some people seems totally unable to celebrate anything in Scotland! And others are simply minded to denigrate anything positive.
Asking how did we get here ? should be a question for many of the country’s sociologists, political scientists and psychologists, but they probably think that we aren’t worth studying. Cringe!
However there are many Scots, and for sure, the vast majority of Scots in the yes movement, who swell with pride and want to shout our success from the top of the highest mountains. But that voice does not travel unless it is amplified.
As the new format of the Scottish Convention “This Is It” passes £100,000 in donations I urge them to start to plan and consider how live experiences will shape and win the next campaign. The Scottish Government must discover the power of live. As ever I am willing to help.
“A tremendous milestone for the country, and testament to how events can support cultural change in a country” is how one of the entries at EUBEA World closed their pitch. Exactly. So what are we going to do about it?
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.
I have to ask the general YES movement: does the audience at our events give a fair reflection of our movement? It certainly doesn’t reflect those who, after being enthused, voted for Scottish independence in 2014. We therefore should be worried.
It is fantastic to see so many YES groups “getting the band back together”. Last weekend Twitter was full of news and images of YES events across the country. It’s like we are all getting ready for something eh?
Here’s a couple of images:
Notice anything? Well, the first thing that sprang to mind for me was the lack of age diversity. It’s actually really striking. Putting it in terms of a question, “where are the young folk?”
I asked Indy Blogger William Duguid, who was at another YES event over the weekend, what the age range was like there: “Anywhere between 55 and 65, though it wasn’t uniform”
It’s fair to say that although not uniform, it is very common for our indy events to be made up of an older audience. The images are from a couple of small regional events, however the same pattern is found at the larger ones too.
After the first build conference in 2017, I was asked to do a short post event questionnaire. Watching online I had an inclining that it was an older audience. So I included a question in the responses: “Your age range?”
Number of respondents on the left. Along the bottom the age rage (sample 10% of attendees)
I ask again, does the audience at our events give a fair reflection of our movement? No matter the answer, it certainly doesn’t reflect those who voted in 2014.
It’s clear younger voters are not attending any of our events in any significant number (putting it mildly) and I think we should be concerned. Is anyone else worried or bothered about this?
Attracting a younger audience to Scottish independence events
As many more YES groups will be formulating their events over the coming months I hope they take the opportunity to ask how their events can appeal to a younger audience. I am sure everyone agrees that it is absolutely crucial that if we want to win a second referendum campaign, we must engage, excite and energise a younger audience.
Our movement has to be supported by the vigour of youth. Using live experiences (what we are currently calling events) should be one of the most obvious ways to engage a wider audience. Events are viewed by many as the best way to reach the audiences that other means can’t reach.
Even as an events professional for over twenty years it is a challenge for me to put this transformation from event to experience into practice, so I know it’s not going to be easy for the army of YES volunteers.
With that in mind I’ve thought about a few simple things (shortcuts to creating experiences) that every YES group can consider as they plan their next event. Here’s how to attract a younger audience to your YES event:
1. Conferences are regarded as boring (and almost ALL of them are)
If your next event is called a “conference” strongly consider changing the name of the event. Nothing is likely to turn off a younger attendee than the belief they are going to attend a boring conference. Perhaps it’s not just the name you can change but the overall format. Have you ever considered running a Pecha-Kucha rapid fire event or a Hackathon or a BarCamp style event? There are a whole host of types of events that can remove you from the “do not attend” list.
2. How the event is perceived before is very important
The name of the event as well as the logo, images you use, and how the event is promoted will go along way to attracting a younger audience. Just taking the time to think about how the event will be perceived by a younger audience is likely to attract them. You may hate the idea of creating a “brand” for your events but this will help it stand out in a sea of time sapping events that young people attend.
3. Set a target for attracting millennials, perhaps 10% – 20% of your next audience
One of the objectives for your events should be to use them to recruit people to the movement. That objective should be widened to attract a specific number of younger attendees. Just having this in mind will help you achieve it.
4. Don’t spend the whole time talking to the audience
Look at your programme. What percentage of it is people speaking to the audience, compared to time spent listening to the audience or having the audience engage with each other? Millennials like to comment and feedback and they like to hear from, and speak to their peers.
Your sessions should have interaction. Speakers should be responding to the audience and tailoring their content according to their responses. Think of your attendees as “participants” rather than an audience. This is a sure fire way to engage a younger audience.
5. You have to mash-up the format
The technical events terms is Meeting Design (here’s a link to a whole host of articles on how to do this from my Gallus Events website) but in short, if you have an event that lasts any longer than a couple of hours, you need a variety of session formats to keep people interested.
6. Remove some things
Don’t have a top table. If you have speakers ask them to join from, and then return to the audience. If you have a chairperson ask them to move around the room or certainly, spend more time on the same level as the attendees. Don’t have trestle tables at any exhibition stands.
The idea underpinning these few suggestions is to make the event less formal and traditional. If you remove these traditional barriers you are likely to foster an environment that encourages much more interaction.
7. Choose your venue wisely
No event attendee really wants to spend time in a cold, drafty church hall. I totally understand that it may well be the cheapest option, but the venue is exceptionally important for all your attendees and younger folk just won’t turn up if you have the wrong venue. Take some time looking for the venue and choose one that will likely support the type of event you are trying to create: an open, informal and engaging experience.
8. Use technology
There are loads of free apps that will help you run a better event. Whether it’s an app that helps you check in the attendees, helps you collect their ideas or makes it easy for them to vote.
As well as making your event easier to run, your audience is used to apps and technology. Your attendees have a smartphone and you have to take advantage of this bit of equipment.
Oh, and using an overhead projector as one indy event organiser is planning to use doesn’t count as technology:
“This is just a wee heads up to ask ye if you know where I can get a cheap overhead projector I can use for a new pro-INDY group/project” This was a Tweet from last weekend.
I lasted used an OHP at an event in 1998. Most millennials wouldn’t know one if they bumped into it (which given its size is likely to happen)
9. Have some younger speakers
A younger audience will be interested in seeing speakers that they identify with. This is of course the same for any audience, the speakers should in the most part, reflect the movement while encouraging those who are currently not engaged in that movement to attend.
10. Follow up with attendees after your events
Millennials (and don’t we all) hate thinking that our time was wasted. If your event doesn’t lead to anything then really consider if it is worth running at all? No one likes a talking shop. Events have to lead to action.
An absolute must for any event that wants to bring attendees back is to follow-up and demonstrate what was achieved by or at the meeting. It is a little more work for the organisers but it will be worth it. The added bonus is that every idea, not only engages a younger audience, but will engage all of your attendees.
All of these ideas lead to events which can slowly become more experiential and I would suggest that YES groups focus on no more than two of the ideas at a time. Gradually we can and we must improve our events to attract a younger audience.
Judging by a few hours on Twitter over the weekend we clearly have a long way to go if we are to have events that attract a younger audience. Younger voters did vote for Scottish independence and still want to vote for a better Scotland. We have to show younger voters that we have a dynamic independence movement: one that will listen and adapt. The future becomes clearer at the events the YES movement run.
If you are interested in contributing to my work on a live engagement strategy for the YES movement please get in touch.
When no one is listening you need to think about what you are saying and how you are saying it. A new Scottish Government communications strategy based on a more experience led live engagement strategy could be the answer.
Like other independence minded voters who are worried about the impact of Brexit, I watched the Scottish Government’s live broadcast on YouTube yesterday morning. For just over 30mins, the First Minister outlined the impact of three different Brexit scenarios on Scotland. The information is contained in Scotland´s place in Europe, an in-depth analysis and modelling of three possible scenarios. The “headline” figure from the paper being a potential £12bn hit to Scotland´s economy.
I highlight “headline” because none of the Scottish daily newspapers went with any headline at all from the paper. This is remember, the first and only, detailed Government analysis of Brexit on the Scottish (or wider UK economy). Can you think of anything more newsworthy?
Commenting on the lack of coverage: “That isn’t news reporting, it’s confirmation of a top level ownership agenda?” tweeted @scottishpoliticsnews
The agenda of the MSM printed press (and wider across TV) is one of the most important issues affecting democracy in Scotland. The anti SNP bias – via the agenda supporting approach of papers, rather than old fashioned news hunting – is now undeniable. As the above tweet continues, the lack of front page coverage is “incredible but not unexpected” and very few of us, including the Scottish Government would disagree. But here is the crux of the matter, information like this has to make a wider and deeper impact; this is not only crucial for the Scottish Government but for democracy in Scotland.
So how can the Scottish Government make more of an impact?
How can they extend the amplification wider than the #ScotRef online fraternity, retweeting it in that echo chamber? The answer is to update the Scottish Government’s communications strategy to embrace live communications in a more creative and daring manner.
A very traditional launch of the Scotland in Europe paper
The paper was launched yesterday at an event. Like any event a Press Briefing should have objectives. One objective of any press briefing is to have the information covered by the press. Obvious eh? But when you can expect the press to either ignore it, spin it or use it to attack you, don’t you have to question the event itself? As an events professional that’s what I would be doing today. My question is:
Is it time that the Scottish Government ditch this as the default way to launch a significant paper?
It would be great if we could see the objectives of this event and then measure the success or otherwise. I would expect some fairly glum faces in the Scottish Government press office this morning as they search for positive stories. So would a different type of launch event have more of a positive impact?
YouTube Live Streaming
As someone based in Barcelona I had little chance of seeing any traditional TV broadcast, so I missed the extensive 2min to 3min coverage on Sky News (apparently the only broadcaster to show it) so I was very happy to be able to watch it on YouTube. As you may or not be aware, The Scottish Government has a dedicated YouTube channel.
It’s no surprise to see the Scottish Government using YouTube. They rightly consider themselves at the forefront of modern communications in the UK and are keen to promote their position: this is from the Scot Govt website: “The Ministerial Support Directorate has become a centre of excellence as digital has become an increasingly mainstream part of all Scottish Government business. Social media is a key way for the Scottish Government to communicate and engage with its audiences.” The SNP (not the Scottish Government during election campaigns) have been dominating this space since 2011.
However, considering the amount of traditional (MSM) coverage the other main political parties can rely on, the gap between the SNP and others online has to be incredibly large to even start to level the playing field. So, despite the SNP winning the online war during election campaigns, it is sobering to see the Scot Govt YouTube channel has less than 6000 subscribers. To crudely benchmark, the Celtic FC channel has 63,000 and the Rangers one 42,000. The Scottish Government has a few hundred more subscribers than Aberdeen FC.
For YouTube and other social media channels to be effective, they need people to subscribe / follow; in short to have more active engagement. You do this by having interesting content.
Subscribers and followers grow when those online are able to actually engage. Using the launch of the Scotland´s place in Europe event as an example, the only people able to ask a question were those in the room. And most of them were not listening to the answer! The majority of the press aren’t listening, so are they really worth talking to? Online, there was no way to engage. Those who wanted answers had to rely on the press to ask the right questions.
It’s not just the level of engagement that is important at an event but also what type of content is on show. Showing the First Minister talking in front of a lectern answering daft (often inaudible) questions is not gripping content. The Scottish Government, via YouTube and Facebook has a vehicle for delivering innovative content they just need to create “experiences” rater than events.
Ditching the traditional press briefing and replacing it with a content heavy, engagement focussed, event would allow the Scottish Government to start to amplify their message outside of their base and beyond the news gatekeepers, who are all too keen to slam the door shut on anything positive.
If you are interested in contributing to my work on a live engagement strategy for the YES movement please get in touch.
So far we’ve had just over 100 responses to our IndyRef Event Organiser Questionnaire from those who organised IndyRef Events (YES events) in 2014. And so far it makes for some interesting reading. I’ve decided to make a few initial comments on what we’ve seen so far.
Would people pay more to attend BETTER #ScotRef Events?
The “initial research” I referred to was the post event questionnaire I conducted after the “Build” conference run by the SIC in January this year. In that, post event survey, over 80% said they would pay “a little more or a lot more” to attend better events. Judging on the responses so far, that generosity / desire to invest in BETTER #ScotRef events may not be as widely held. However, almost 50% said yes, so plenty food for thought.
What support is needed for “movement” run events
Unfortunately I have been unable to talk to anyone who was heavily involved in YES Scotland (if anyone can do an introduction, I’d be very grateful). From the responses so far “some group” that is ready to help #ScotRef event organisers seems to be very popular. But who would that group / organisation be?
The importance (or not) of objectives
I wrote a piece for CommonSpace a few months ago covering tips for successful campaigning events. The first tip was to set “clear and measurable objectives” As you can see from below, only 30% of the events we know about through the survey, believe they set clear objectives. As a professional event organise I wouldn’t have stayed long in the profession if I ran events that didn’t have objectives.
Who came to #Indyref events?
Over 80% of the events did not target their audience in terms of those planning to vote yes or no. We all know that sending the right message is a subtle art, so it’s initially interesting to see this, arguably, less subtle approach was so common in 2014.
Feedback so far
There are loads of other interesting findings so far from the survey. However, we really need to at least double the amount of responses to get a really useful flavour (from the organisers perspective) of the events in 2014. So please do spread the link:
Or this article as widely as you can.
As well as the survey we are casting our net as widely as possible and I’d also like to address this comment from Bella Caledonia:
I believe Dougie has (probably inadvertently) hit the nail on the head. It is not EVENTS per se that are useless, but BAD EVENTS that don’t work. Events that don’t target an audience, don’t have the resources to impress attendees or deliver the messages, and don’t have objectives are very unlikely to succeed. So far our research is painting an honest picture of a 2014 campaign that is ready to learn from its mistakes.
If you are interested in contributing to my work on a live engagement strategy for the YES movement please get in touch.
If #ScotRef is to be a success for the YES movement, events will play a crucial role in the campaign. I need to know what you think about the #Indyref Events we ran in 2014.
Before deciding to draft a live engagement strategy for the #ScotRef movement, I spent some time making sure I wasn’t going to reinvent the wheel. As someone who has organised over 700 events, I believe the best thing to do, before you start planning, is to look back and see what failures and what success your had with your previous events.
To make sure I wasn’t going to reinvent the wheel, the first thing I did was to look for any post campaign reports or evaluations of the 2014 #IndyRef campaign. I wanted to see what lessons the YES movement had learned from that campaign. I assumed any over arching review would also include some details on the live engagement aspect of the campaign. Well, I have to say I was shocked. I could not find any analysis of the events YES ran in 2014. Not only that, but I could not find ANY overarching report or evaluation of the #IndyRef campaign at all. Nothing.
I must admit, I am still in shock. What hope do we have for a successful #ScotRef campaign when we haven’t even bothered to look at what went wrong last time?
Perhaps my efforts (it is certainly my hope) will start the ball rolling, and others will reflect on the failures and successes of that campaign in order to inform the next one. If I am to attempt to draft an engagement strategy for #ScotRef, I have to know as much as possible about what went on in 2014. So please fill out the questionnaire, and send the link to anyone you know, who ran an event during the #IndyRef campaign.
How you engage, face-to-face, with the electorate during an election clearly matters. The three main parties in Scotland decided on very different live engagement strategies. The election results reflect their relative success.
During the GE2017 campaign, I compared Labour’s live engagement strategy against the Conservative one. You can check that post out here. But as a short cut, here’s two images that tell you really need to know about their view of engaging with the electorate.
It is easy to look at the live engagement element of the campaign and see which party was keen to avoid any debate or public scrutiny. Events are wonderful microcosms for many elements of a campaign.
Before I look at the SNP’s live engagement strategy I want to make one thing clear: there were many issues for the relative failure of the SNP General Election campaign. My professional view is that the live engagement strategy, which frames an entire campaign, did not send out the right messages to the electorate. I have decided not to focus on the political content of the messaging (there are plenty of people doing that) but rather on how the overall engagement was framed by live events.
The SNP’s Live Engagement Strategy
I’ve chosen two images which I think sum up the SNP Live events. There were clearly two very different “managed events” so I have one for each.
It may seem rather trite to use a single image to sum up an event, which can then be extrapolated to summarise an entire campaign, however, event organisers / campaign managers, spend a lot of time planning and stage managing these images. We select them exactly because they canencompass the entire campaign.
“The political powerhouse” type image has been a popular one for the SNP since the referendum defeat in 2014. With the swelling of members post indyref, and then post 2015 General Election, the SNP were happy to be seen to be the largest political party in Scotland: these images are all about showing the strength of the political party. These events, and these images, aren’t too different from the images disseminated from the Conservative events: that should have been a worry for the SNP at the very earliest of stages!
They portray a powerful posture and a powerful leader, with a large party behind her. These official images are taken at the well managed, supersize, party political events that the SNP, now seem to own in Scotland.
The second image is the “selfie queen” style image, which comes from Nicola’s “street focussed” live engagement. This guerrilla campaigning has been part of the SNP’s live engagement since Nicola became First Minister. These images portray a leader at ease with herself and with the electorate.
A strong leader at ease with the electorate was undeniably the correct approach to disseminate, through live events, in the last couple of years. When the GE2017 campaign was thrust on us all, perhaps understandably, the SNP obviously thought, why change a wining formula? However, the engagement strategy for GE2017, did not have the expected success.
The SNP’s message of a strong and likeable leader failed to ignite the electorate: especially the young. It is yet to be proven, but it is widely agreed that Corbyn gained the youth vote; with SNP MPs already acknowledging this dynamic.
You can easily tell by looking at Labour’s live engagement strategy that they went after the younger voter: why else would they have their leader standing in front of 15,000 Libertines fans at a football stadium in Merseyside? The SNP lack of a well plotted live engagement strategy let it wth the same old image of the leader standing in front of the party faithful. Certainly, from a campaigning perspective, it is easy to see which images from events were more attractive to young voters.
The SNP doing it’s own thing
Did the SNP’s live engagement strategy portray the SNP as the leaders of the independence movement? The simple answer is, it didn’t. And this was a deliberate approach.
For example, the SNP didn’t take part in the All Under One Banner, deciding not to support Scotland’s largest ever independence rally. We are in a strange world, when 17,000 marching through Glasgow in support of independence becomes a “distraction” (as one ex SNP MP told me) to the SNP’s General Election campaign. Further afield, there was little in the campaign that was designed to show the SNP acting on behalf of a diverse movement.
The messages the next live engagement strategy must portray
The campaign focussed on using live events and images from those events, to show a “strong leader who you could have a cup of tea with” To lead a radical campaign its leader has to be an “inspiring, collegiate leader” The strength of the Labour campaign was exactly that. It was perceived as a “radical” campaign and they had a leader who would listen, inspire and lead. As Kirsty Strickland offers in the National: “This presents an opportunity for the SNP, and the wider independence movement, to take stock, reflect and move forward.” However, nothing in the GE2017 campaign demonstrates a willingness for the SNP to listen.
No matter if the next campaign is another general election, or one for Holyrood or one for #ScotRef, the SNP has to change their live engagement strategy, and has to change the messaging. The SNP have to create an engagement strategy that demonstrates that the SNP is part of a movement, and is an organisation that listens and inspires. With that in mind, look back at the SNP images above. Do either of those images portray a party that is listening and inspiring?
My hope is that the next campaign will be framed at some very different events.
If you are interested in contributing to my work on a live engagement strategy for the YES movement please get in touch.
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