Category Archives: media

General Election 2017 the SNP’s live engagement strategy

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.

Political Rallies GE17
“Invitation Only”
Political Rally GE17
Perhaps this will be one of the most memorable images from the GE17 Campaign

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.

 

The SNP as a political powerhouse
Nicola Sturgeon the Selfie Queen

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 can encompass 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.

Should #ScotRef event organisers use Facebook

#ScotRef events will be more successful if more people are aware of them, and if more people attend them. Facebook helps amplify our events. 

Facebook has over 31m registered users in the UK. If you want to get your product / service in front of a lot of people, there is fast becoming no better way to do that, than to use Facebook. However, recently I’ve seen a #deletefacebook campaign (ironically on Twitter) that seems to be gaining momentum.

The ills of one particular social media platform.

I am not sure if there was a particular incident, article, TV programme, or annoying advert that prompted @neilmackay to post the above Tweet, but obviously his point of view has had some traction. But let me state this clearly: if you are a #ScotRef event organiser you HAVE to take advantage of Facebook. Our campaigning will play out heavily on this platform.

Perhaps it was this article in The Guardian Facebook employs political aids that raised Neil’s hackles. Or this one  highlighting the role it played in depressing the Clinton vote in the last US Presidential Election. There are certainly a lot of things to dislike about this particular American Corporation.

Top of my list is there shady business practices. Facebook paid less than £5,000 in UK corporation in the UK in 2015. I remember seeing and disbelieving the headline on the news the morning of the revelation. That same morning, I cast my eyes over my inbox to see the detail of the email from my accountant: Facebook paid less corporation tax than my tiny event business!

Facebook made over $4Billon profit that year and stated that its profits in the UK were 0.00005% of their turnover. If that’s the case, the company is clearly run by eejits eh?

The legal case for Facebook to pay a higher percentage of their turnover is black and white: they have done nothing illegal. The moral case for Facebook is equally clear: they have done nothing right.

Such bad business practices alone should be enough for the “intelligent and honest” to heed Neil’s clarion call and ditch the platform. However, if those honest and intelligent people stop engaging and using the platform, then we leave it open to the total abuse by the acolytes of Trump and Farage. If we do not engage we are complicit in placing the power in their hands.

Facebook is a crucial tool for #ScotRef Event Organisers says Scientist (kind of)

Dana Fisher @Fisher_DanaR is an American Scientist, who does nothing else (it seems) but study Protests and Protesters. Her belief in the power of Facebook as a campaigning tool is clear:

“But in recent months, Facebook was cited more often than any other source when Fisher asked people how they heard about a march” 

Facebook is an invaluable amplification tool. And importantly for our movement it is FREE. An event can gain literally thousands of attendees from a smart use of Facebook.

event organisers using Facebook
Likely to have (my guess) somewhere in the region of 7,500 attending. But I hope I am wrong. And  it does get into five figures.

So, should #scotref event organisers use Facebook? Well, we are all too aware of the negative aspects of this social media platform but we also have to be aware of the benefits to the #ScotRef movement. We have to understand it and use it. So, if you are organising a #ScotRef event don’t #ditchfacebook. Hold off displaying that anger, and let it boil over when Scotland sets and enforces its own corporation tax.

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

Behind the scenes at Independence Live

From initially broadcasting other independence events, to creating their own, Independence Live cement their important place within the movement.

There’s little glamour at IndyLive headquarters on Morrison Street on the south side of Glasgow. Brightly painted walls do their best to welcome you into the collection of nook and cranny spaces that Independence Live call home. A “Yes” banner, gaffer taped to the wall, hints at what lurks inside.  With a small office and a slightly larger (but totally empty) meeting room, they are clearly in the settling in stage. The reception (which they share with another organisation) has to double as the studio.

That makeshift studio can only be constructed once the staff from the other office have left for the evening. So with a 7pm start the plugging, unplugging, testing and wiring begins in haste. The clock is ticking. Welcome to the world of live broadcasts.

The Road To Yes
Going Live
With the few audience members seated, shushed and supplied with coffee, the “1.2, 1.2”,  – as much a ritual to the broadcasting Gods, as of actual use to the engineers – seem hurried. Instructions boom from the huge frame of the floor manager. Going live approaches. “It’s OK if we don’t start exactly at 7?” asks one of the apprehensive crew.

 

The broadcast “No 2 Yes” with two “Labour Men” in the shape of Eric Joyce and Steven Purcell is the real focus for the evening. Two die hard Labour, former Better Togetherers, set to vote yes in #indyref2. They shuffle in their chairs as they prepare to set the record straight, on why their views have shifted.

Success in the second independence campaign will be built on stories and journeys like these. The growing number of tales will provide vital social proofing to others,  outside the 45. They contain clear evidence that is it OK to change a previously strongly held view, plus the knowledge, that you are far from being alone.

Both Steven and Eric, of course, cite Brexit’s defining role in their transformation. However, the central reason for their support for independence, was the realisation – in the form of Jeremy Corbyn “leading” a disintegrating Labour party – that a second No vote would lead to two decades of right wing Tory rule from London.

In assembling this panel Independent Live show they have the nose for a story, as much as an eye for a camera angle. They have demonstrated over the last four years that they are central to the independence movement in Scotland.

Consider supporting their crowdfunder appeal if you want others to see the stories that matter.

Political timing or base opportunism?

The one defining skill of this Conservative Party leadership is its unmatched gift for political timing.

Political timing or base opportunism?

In politics timing is everything and right on queue enter our ever opportunist Prime Minister. If the Paris tragedies were the final pieces in the war making puzzle the first were dropped out of the box and placed on the table at the onset of summer.

But summer seems like a long time ago. So shocking was the carnage in Paris in November that it is hard to cast our minds back to the political landscape that preceded them. But should we take a moment we can see that the summer soundtrack was a monotonous Tory megamix with the aim to make us all dance to a particularly bloodthirsty tune.

The march to war started back in July

At the end of July Mr Cameron made, what was billed as, his first major UK speech on tackling extremist ideology. In that speech he set out the Government’s “five-year strategy” to deal with extremist ideology. With this speech and the anticipated media coverage he was of course building the narrative that may well lead to an increase in hostilities in Syria. Extremist ideology so the speech goes has to be dealt with at home and abroad.

The content was the focus for most but as this speech was just a rehash of one he made ten years ago I focus on the timing. The horrific massacre of tourists on a Tunisian beach at the end of June allowed Mr Cameron an opportunity he couldn’t miss to support his grand narrative: that to root out and end terror we must heap more terror on far away lands.

The echo of that last gun shot in North Africa was the sound of an increased march to war in the UK. David Cameron placed a direct link connecting those beaches – where the Foreign Office has withdrawn tourists – to the battlefields in Syria where the Ministry of Defence is already – on a small scale – engaging our military hardware.

Another piece of “good timing” over the summer came when it was “leaked” that UK armed service personal were already involved in attacks on the sovereign state of Syria. This revelation was a very useful test of likely public and parliamentary opposition to a new campaign. This “leak” approach to policy follows on from years of Labour Party spin. Every successive Government has built on the experience and knowledge of the last to become peerless in the management of the dissemination of information. The media is the first theatre of any war. Victory on that battlefield is of profound strategic importance.

Simply judging by David Cameron’s actions over the summer there was never any doubt that the aftermath of Paris would lead to more opportunist warmongering in the UK. We knew this would happen because the Government had recent form. Using the humanitarian crisis over the European summer months to propagate war Cameron and Osborne, et al, have shown beyond all doubt that they will never balk at any opportunity that comes their way.

Over the coming days, weeks and months – depending on the resilience of Labour MPs moral fibre – they will continue to skillfully and munipilatively push towards war: somehow shielding from the media spotlight that their cure is in fact the cause.

The humanitarian crisis in Syria spilling over into Europe could not have come at a more opportune time for a Government hell bent on war

As the end of summer approached The Establishment’s vile mouth piece The Sun was already depicting those against increased military action – including Labour’s new leader Jeremy Corbin – in Syria as “Cowards”. Not to be outdone by the Government in the Shakespearean duplicity The Sun told its readers that going to war in Syria is the best way to show anger and frustration at the death of Aylan Kurdi.

No coincidence that Parliament was in recess at the start of this propaganda war

As MPs headed for a break from Parliament over the summer the Tory Party had a couple of months to lobby MPs to back a fresh military campaign in Syria.

Strengthening your position while your opposition was weak was too good an invitation to miss for the opportunist PM. Labour as the main parliamentary opposition – if only numerically speaking –  welcomed their new leader in September. With the entire party focused on internal matters over the summer the timing, once again, from the Tory party perspective was priceless. With Labour electing a leader who was exceptionally unlikely to vote for military action in Syria the Tories took full advantage to split the opposition.

Mr Cameron has a well respected and recognised gift for rolling the political dice at just the right time. There is an accepted narrative that we admire his astuteness and adroitness. It is more correct of course to rile at our Prime Minister for being a callus opportunist who used the death of 130 civilians in France and 30 civilians in Tunisia to catapult his argument that we need to be at war into every home. But that is what Warmongers do; there is no level that they will not sink to bolster the blood thirst.

The power of imagery is not to be underestimated

On the political battlefield imagery is almost as important as timing. The militarisation of the return of those murder victims from Tunisia, emerging as they did from an RAF aircraft, to be carried slowly and solemnly by military personal, seemed rather incongruous for the repatriation of murdered plumbers, post office and factory workers who had tragically but simply set out on holiday. They were and remain civilians caught up in horrific tragedy.

President François Hollande’s choice of Les Invalides – the home of the military museum of France – to commemorate the victims of November’s attacks in Paris come straight from the Warmongers Handbook. Theses subtle decisions are important, deliberate and meaningful steps in the abhorrent process of militarising the civilian population.

We know and we are continuously told that ISIS are hell bent on bringing civilians – across the Middle East as much as Western Europe – onto the battlefield. We are disgusted at their approach and their aims. Yet our politicians – by honouring the dead in such overt militarised style – do little to draw what should be a clear and profound distinction. Civilians even when they are targets are not military personnel. It is past the time for the west to draw this line and stick to it. To remove all military connotations from civilian tragedy.

It is time to say no to increased military action by the UK in Syria.

The hidden agenda of #Indyref2

“Those who have knowledge, don’t predict. Those who predict, don’t have knowledge.”

–Lao Tzu, 6th Century BC Chinese Poet

On the 18th May 2015 I predict the following: That during the next Westminster parliament:

1. There will be no #IndyRef2
2. There will be no UK exit from Europe
3. There will be no electoral reform

Bold? Maybe.
Daring? Perhaps.
Foolish?

Only if I assume that everything fed to me by the major news channels is the whole news. These issues are chewing up inches in our papers and pixels on our TV screens. They are playing their role; shifting focus on to meaningless debates, disproportionately filling our newspapers and news bulletins. Think of them like three Nigel Farages – scary though that is.

It is not that these constitutional issues do not merit consideration. In time, they will deserve proper scrutiny. But now? Now, it is a charade. A merry dance led by the Tory Government, cheek-to-cheek with the main stream media. While we consider the impact of any of these three constitutional upheavals, Westminster acts on its quite separate and real agenda.

We can see this as a certainty because the mood music has only recently stopped playing. The Indyref2 lament is still ringing in our ears.

#IndyRef2 – The Referendum that never was

Throughout this Spring, a second referendum on Scottish independence haunted the UK General Election campaign; a bogie man created for political purpose. Indyref2 lay under the bed ready to jump out and grab you in the middle of the night, before heading downstairs and raiding the house of £7.6 Billion of your money,  then driving away in your car. With your wife.

You lost. Forget about it. Stop going on about it. Why do you keep mentioning it? Losers. This narrative, as played out, for example by Caroline Flint in her appearance on Question Time, served as the aperitif – the boxer’s jab before the left (or right) hook.

That hook was straightforward – repeated by Labour, Tory and Libdem alike. The referendum was supposed to be “once in a generation.” IndyRef2 is bad. SNP is bad. Seperatism is bad.

Yet, the only main UK political party not talking about Indyref2 was the SNP.

In interview after interview Nicola Sturgeon with equanimity, both here in Scotland and in England, fielded questions on the “imminent referendum.” The mainstream media bought the narrative sold by Tories, Labour and LibDems. The absence of any manifesto commitment from the SNP for IndyRef2 was wilfully ignored.

Just take a minute to think about that. Election campaigns are so much about events and dazzle these days. Fancy 250gsm gloss-finished brochures. Pages of policies, promises and pledges. All delivered with with a flash, bang wallop in front of a room full of adoring acolytes. In all those fresh-smelling pages there was nothing about a Scottish referendum. At no stage-managed event did Nicola Sturgeon call for it. There was no manifesto commitment. The electorate could not vote for IndyRef2. So why all those questions and all that time discussing something that no one was suggesting? Weren’t there more important things to discuss?

In Scotland, we knew that we were being led up the garden path. 56 seats for the SNP. 50% of the popular vote. Scottish Labour rejected by an electorate that had awoken during the referendum campaign, by an electorate that had grown tired of the charlatan mainstream media. We are staying up all night so that we can cast further light into the dark shadows.

Cast some light on to the Indyref2 narrative and what do you find?

A good story that has legs. “David Cameron rules out a second referendum” screams the Telegraph. Of course, David knows that he can make no such promise and anyway no one is asking for a second referendum, but hey, it plays well doesn’t it?

This story is even more diaphanous when you consider that the chances of the SNP calling for a second referendum before 2018 are as likely as Scotland returning from the World Cup with a wee golden globe statue and a look of baffled bewilderment on the faces of players and an entire nation.

The SNP will not seek a new mandate until the polls prove beyond any reasonable doubt that there will be a wide margin of victory. This story – if it really ever was one – is dead, maybe not for a generation, but certainly for a whole World Cup qualifying campaign.

The story of how IndyRef2 was used during the election campaign is a clue. It is a smoking gun which shows how the Conservative Party will drive a right-wing agenda. It is smoke and mirrors and slight of hand. The election result in England in May proves its potential. So much so that the new Tory leader, when he arrives in a few years, will be more like David Blaine than David Cameron.

This is the murky prism in which the media coverage of the entire five years of miserable Tory rule will seek to debate an IndyRef2, voting reform and the consequences of the UK exit from the EU.

EU referendum

Another referendum beckons, but this time we have recent history to help us with the outcome. When the UK government agrees to a referendum the cards will be stacked in its favour.

The establishment parties will come together with one clear voice. The media will be on-side. Money will pile into the Yes campaign from the big businesses which rely so heavily on a single market to allow them to generate large profits. They can not afford to lose the flow of a well-educated, cheap, eastern and southern european workforce that helps them keep wages low in the UK. They will do everything to stymie an exit.

David Cameron will return with concessions. Small ones. But through the lens of the media they will appear large. The status quo will be saved and we will march on as before. But before we do – imagine the scenarios to be played-out, the what-ifs put to the MPs and the pundits and the experts.

Be Prepared. Hunker down. Put on your tin hat and don’t play the game.

You can spend hours and days watching and listening to people discuss something that will not happen. You can be diverted. Or you can focus on the real politics. To do that there is one further Establishment feint to be tackled.

Electoral reform

A truly proportional electoral system would change the way the UK is governed. It would, lets be clear, be the most fundamental democratic overhaul seen in the UK since universal female suffrage. The very thought places the Establishment on edge.

The route to power in Westminster would be very different. The polarised red and blue, two choices for Downing Street swingometer would cease. Perhaps there would be a body of support for political parties less pre-disposed to the US-style capitalism seen in the UK since Thatcher. That alone is reason enough to suggest that true electoral reform will never happen. 2020 will come and go with a Westminster Government elected under the First Past the Post system.

The fact is that electoral reform is not in the Tory manifesto. And they won. Labour and the SNP have nothing to gain from reforming the Westminster voting system. Perhaps the issue is considered less important in Scotland and Wales due to devolution.

Electoral reform is a ship that’s stuck in port, waiting for a captain and cargo.  Even those who would gain from it know that their efforts are better spent fighting the elections in Wales and Scotland where a list system offers a chink in the armoury protecting the two main UK parties.

The problem, for many, is that although the system may not be very good, its preferable to the alternatives. So their will be talk and debate and the ramblings of UKIP will offer further diversion on this issue.  However, when the dust has settled and we remain where we were, the real issues will have been relegated.  Again, attracted by diversionary tactics the media will place one, two or all of these chimerical issues high on their list of priorities.

The role of the three constitutional issues

By generating enough noise they will play a major role in this government’s planned programme simply by deflecting scrutiny from their policies (or lack thereof.) This Sunday morning’s papers and political programmes were brim-full of EU, PR and IndyRef2 stories.

What is absent?

Instead three, deliberately conceived, blind alleys.

The IndyRef2, EU exit and PR will draw flack from the public and shift the the attention from where the UK media – whose job it should be to hold the UK Government to task – should sit. Articles, papers and research will be carried out to fan the flames; a whole industry chasing non stories. 24 hours-a-day, in high definition and full technicolor, a kind of shadow press leading the electorate down dark alleys and dead ends.

My hope is that enough Scots and the awakening electorate in rUK will finally realise that the mood music is phoney. This mind-numbing but hypnotic Muzak will end and a story with a passionate and politically-enlivened soundtrack will take its place. If you don’t like the music you change the channel. See the light and remove yourself from the narrative of the mainstream media.