Marches are about numbers

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.

Last year’s La Diada celebrations attracted close to 800,000 on to the streets of Barcelona. Just imagine that in Scotland. But of course it was smaller than 2012, and you can guess how the unionist press played their cards. Exactly as outlined above. There is a clear and present example that the AUOB can look to to help them avoid the same mistakes.

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.

The HOOP event in Edinburgh also had (and still has) the potential to be exceptionally dramatic without relying on huge numbers.

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.

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