How we organise our independence events is crucial to the success of the next independence referendum. Balanced panels at independence events are important but so are many other aspects.
Over the last couple of weeks it seems like everyone has been chipping into a debate about who should or shouldn’t have appeared on a panel at one Yes event in East Kilbride. The extent to which this has escalated proves two things. Twitter is a really awful medium, as it’s impossible to truly get across what you mean most of the time, and secondly events are crucial to how the movement is seen and how it sees itself. As an events professional I will concentrate on the latter in this short post.
Firstly, I suppose I should comment. My everyday job is to advise event organisers on how to run better events. My advice for every organiser, no matter the topic/theme/industry/sector is to ensure that the people on stage reflect their audience and to bare in mind the important role event organisers have on promoting equality and opportunity. It can be difficult to do that for every event, especially when you are an organiser working under the whip of a demanding boss, or you are organising the event as a volunteer. So, if you run a few events ensure that, when you look at them in the round, you have a good balance.
It is worth stressing, having a balanced panel is an additional benefit, not a burden. Without doubt having had the pleasure of seeing 10,000 speakers at my events, woman are every bit as good as men.
To cancel or not to cancel?
Events are complicated and difficult, time consuming and costly so organisers should do all they can to avoid cancelling them (unless no one is turing up). Being unable to find a woman to fill a space on the programme is not reason enough to cancel any event, unless, of course, it is on gender equality.
Having run over 700 events and been to a few hundred more, it is easy to say that white men in their 40s-60s are over represented. Looking at indy events (should someone do some research) you will find the same situation. To ensure a more balanced representation, organisers should find speakers who are different. In the case of independence events in Scotland, it seems bizarre to be explaining the need to reflect the electorate on the stage at indy events.
Events which are promoting Scottish independence must have a positive message if they are going to promote the ideas of independence. They have to inspire as much as inform. They have to entertain as much as educate, and event organisers have to have an understanding of the wider impact that their decisions will have.
Events are as difficult as they are important to our movement. I continue to work on my Guide For Indy Ref Events as I believe guidance, advice, support and to a shared vision that the movement an sign up to would be extremely worthwhile for the movement. If you think this would be useful or would like to contribute please comment and get in touch.
It’s only six days until the date set for the Catalan independent republic referendum. It allows a moment for reflection on the campaign so far. As a Scot who witnessed the campaign in Scotland the difference is striking. Where are the hoards of people saying Catalonia will be a financial basket case?
The debate has of course touched on many other issues but the legality and the right to vote have been the most prominent. The recent Observer editorial covered a lack of debate around the financial implications of becoming an independent nation as “Brexit” like / light. Suggesting that a simple blood and soil “SÍ” was enough to start or end any serious conversation. (The whole Observer piece was beautifully and forensically debunked by Alistair Spearing) The truth is completely different. The simple fact is that holding the view that Catalonia wouldn’t continue to thrive outside of the Spanish state is insulting, not only to the intelligence of Catalans but to the Catalans themselves. Catalans are immune to this nonsense, initially despite Madrid’s actions and now because of them.
The Madrid supporting press and the Spanish Government have been peddling the cliff edge financial disaster over the last few weeks. It’s clearly a Spanish version of “Project Fear” as experienced by Scotland in 2014. However it has three large differences.
The role of the media
The power of Madrid’s media is nowhere near as strong as the voice of London in Scotland. As James Kelly noted in an excellent piece, Catalonia is served by a truly national TV broadcaster which is, understandably, sympathetic to a majority who wish to hold a referendum. Radio and print media has strong independent supporters too. Back in Scotland, turn on the radio or tv or pick up a newspaper and you are almost guaranteed to hear London’s voice; perhaps with a Scottish accent. The Scottish titles are all still owned by London based media conglomerates; not so here in Catalonia. And of course the failings of BBC Scotland and STV are now becoming clear for all to see.
The Madrid based media speaks from and for Madrid. They are camouflaged government messages sent north to undermine the belief of a nation in waiting. Confidence and self believe allows Catalans to see the half truths and thin promises.
The lack of respect felt for the Government in Madrid
Catalonia looks at the weak minority Government of Rajoy in Madrid with scorn, distaste and an increasing discomfort as it tramples on civil liberties and democratic institutions. Dialogue on a referendum has never been possible and the intransigence of the PP led Government is still the best PR vehicle and recruiter for the Sí movement in Catalonia.
This was of course very different in Scotland in 2014. The SNP faced a strong majority government in London and its strength and relative unity gave it credence in Scotland. Its desire to see Scotland remain in the union was for many, heart felt and honest. Scotland had been respected and the Edinburgh Agreement was a work of two nations. No one in Catalonia thinks Madrid looks north with any love and affection.
The third and perhaps the most important difference is that there are very, very few native doubters. Catalonia is not ladened down with home grown nae sayers that seem to dominate the media and the airwaves in Scotland. Many Scots still bemusingly wonder exactly how could one of the 10 richest nations on earth look after it’s own affairs?
The “too wee, too poor” argument that circled above the YES movement in 2014 should easily be blown out of the water. And we should look to Catalonia for that strength. Catalan politicians, its media and its citizens would not pore over something like GERS – with every mention giving its spurious claims more coverage – they would simply dismiss it and move on. Scots must do the same.
There are of course many Catalans who have serious concerns and issues with independence, however even the most ardent unionist would not consider Catalonia to be “too wee or too poor”. To proffer this view in a “wealthy region in the north” as BBC World recently chose to describe Catalonia, would be to insult yourself, as well as your neighbours. In Scotland this attitude just guarantees you column inches.
Every Catalan knows that Madrid stifles the language and the culture of Catalonia. During an interview with the Catalan National Assembly, I was struck by the outsider position that Catalans play in a “united” Spain. “Unlike Scots, Catalans have never embedded into the establishment. There are two Catalan Ambassadors in the whole of the Spanish diplomacy. The same with the Judiciary” said the ANC head of press.
Is Westminster ready to play the same hand?
As we look ahead to the Catalan referendum on the 1st October we will of course be thinking about the next Scottish referendum. We have to be skeptical that the YES movement will be able to reduce the power of the London media in Scotland; but we must try.
We are also unlikely to shake the Scottish doom mungers; but we must try.
However, we have to be confident that the May led Westminster Government will continue to deal from the same pack of cards as Rajoy.
As May pushes ahead with Brexit, the power grab and dismisses democratically elected Scottish institutions, Westminster is mirroring all of the mistakes made by Madrid over the last few years. It would of course be much better for every side if another Edinburgh Agreement could be signed, however, it this proves impossible, May and whoever replaces her, will push many soft No’s to the cause, as has undoubtedly happened in Catalonia.
With every passing week the Westminster Government and the mess of an opposition party in Labour, continue to undermine the “good will” that underpinned both the Edinburgh Agreement and gave credence to the messages we framed as Project Fear.
This week is monumental for Catalonia and it is a big one for Scotland too.
You have no doubt been struggling to keep up with what’s happening in the saga that is the Catalan referendum build up. So here’s what’s happened in just the last 48 hrs (Monday 5.14pm to 5.14pm Wednesday)
A million people demonstrate in favour of a referendum being held on the 1st October. The question on the ballot paper will ask Catalans and Spanish citizens resident in Catalunya, if they want Catalunya to be an independent republic. At 17:14 (which is chosen to commemorate the fall of Barcelona to troops loyal to Madrid over 300 years ago) demonstrators reveal their Day of Yes, luminous yellow t-shirts. The city streets explode in colour.
– To coincide and to distract from the national and international coverage of the mass demonstrations, the Spanish Constitutional Court suspends a Catalan law that drafted a legal framework for an independent state. The Spanish establishment moves up a notch in its attack on democracy.
– Julian Assange tweets:
“This Catalan government ad is now banned in Spain as the war against Catalonia’s independence referendum heats up”
– The President of the Government of Catalunya reiterates his desire to negotiate with the Spanish Prime Minster. “There is time for dialogue until the last moment” says Carles Puigdemont.
– Madrid based, New York Times correspondent, tweets that a Spanish judge suspends s a meeting for Catalan independence set to take place on Sunday. Raphael Minder asks is this now becoming a “freedom of expression” issue. Spain’s Government is being seen, both nationally and internationally, to be acting in an ever more dictatorial fashion.
– Prosecutors in Catalonia order police to seize ballot boxes, election flyers and any specific item (like printers, envelopes, stamps, paper clips, etc.) that could be used in support of an independence referendum.
Only a few weeks after the attacks in Barcelona and Cambrils and with a raised terrorist level across Europe, the Spanish Government has ordered Police to chase stationary, rather than terrorists.
– The Prosecutors are busy. They order an investigation of the 712 Catalan mayors who have officially supported the Catalan referendum. It’s now only 19 days before the referendum: is that long enough for a fair and balanced investigation?
– Catalan News report that “Sources from the National Police corps” say that there will be an increase in the number of Guardia Civil officers in Catalunya in the lead up to the planned vote.
– Reacting to the news of a cancelled pro independence event: “We can’t debate, we can’t vote, we can’t inform, and now we can’t hold a public event. What’s next?” Asks Carme Forcadell, Catalan Parliament President.
– Spanish PM warns anyone helping out at a polling station that they will be acting illegally and will be arrested.
It’s early evening now. Who knows what will happen in the next 48 hours?
It’s getting more tense by the day in Catalunya. 19 days and counting. But counting down to what is anyone’s guess.
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.
Most people in Spain aren’t surprised that “turismofobia” has had a shot in the arm in August. It’s hot and stuff. Many Spanish are on holiday. And there are millions of tourists currently holidaying in Spain. Turismofobia in Barcelona is growing.
The tourism industry is booming, but at what cost?
Phrases such as “Tourism Kills Neighbourhoods” or “Tourists go home, you are not wanted” have been popping up all across Barcelona over the last few years. I’ve seen these, or similar phrases, scrawled on walls and printed on posters and flyers. There’s even a white bed sheet, with “Tourists Go Home” written in defiant red, that’s hung from the same balcony in the barrio of Barceloneta every summer. (link in Spanish)
As the third most popular city in Europe for tourists (behind London and Paris) the relatively small city of Barcelona clearly has issues dealing with this level of tourists. I have covered the background to the issues in detail previously. In summary, the price of property is being pushed up by short term tourist lets; traditional shops are being replaced by Starbucks and whole areas are losing their cultural identity. The locals are noisily and quite understandably pushing back.
Up until now, most of the obvious reaction to the level or tourism has been the street graffiti / artwork and low key demonstrations. Above is one of the arty and rather amusing posters from my barrio Poble Nou.
Turismofobia in Barcelona
There has been a palpable change in the last couple of weeks. The peak numbers of tourists this August, and the heat has obviously made some hot under the collar. An anti-tourist phrase was spray painted onto a Tourist Bus – while it was full of tourists. The tires were also, allegedly, burst. You can see the “attack” for yourself here (25 seconds in).
The incident was, not unsurprisingly, recorded and splashed over social media: it was the coverage, rather than scaring the tourists, that was the point of the stunt. Similarly a city centre hotel was paint-bombed and filmed. But that’s not all. Tourist bikes have been vandalised in Barcelona and these little stickers (below) put on cars across Majorca too. It’s certainly unsavoury, but it’s very far from an extreme response considering the intimidation that many locals feel during the high tourist seasons.
A few groups with political affiliations appear to have spearheaded these campaigns and the coverage has been significant in the Spanish TV and press.
The UK media has happily picked up on this being a “young lefties” (this from the BBC) anti capitalist reaction of sorts. (UPDATE: I want to add this one from The Independent as it perfectly sums up my later point about “you continentals should be happy with what we give you”)
But on the ground it is obvious that similar views are much more widely held. Arran Jovent seem to be the busiest and the noisiest organisers but it would be an error to think that their views are simply extremist and can be ignored.
The headline grabbing actions have been condemned by local community groups and Barcelona’s Mayor, however many locals share the concerns being voiced by political parties across Spain. But not every political party seems to understand the frustration. As you may expect from a Conservative Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy was blaming “radicals” for the actions, as he made a wholehearted, money first, defence of the tourism industry. Money talks, but so do the communities across Barcelona, Catalunya and Spain. And the talk is of resistance.
Many residents are vocal in their anger at the number of tourists (which rises year on year) and the type of tourism Barcelona attracts. Tourists impact the places they visit and a balance has to be found. The concerns I’ve heard do not come from Spain’s disenfranchised youth, but from middle aged and older city dwellers. The genuine concern for the impact on the barrio culture crosses age and political affiliation.
Spain has a real and growing issue with finding a balance between tourism and the affect on local communities
It may be the young who are spearheading the dissension, but few disagree with the motivation driving them to act. And it’s not just the “Crazy Catalans” Other regions and cities in Spain have, or are planning to have, anti tourism rallies. And its not just Spain. CNN Travel recently ran a “Can Venice save itself from its own popularity” piece. Much of the continent is rallying to support its culture against a wave of commercialism.
An “anti-tourism” campaign puts further pressure on the Barcelona Mayor
As soon aAda Colau was in office she quickly put the shackles on parts of the tourist industry by restricting where, and how many, new bedrooms could be added to the city’s stock. The Mayor is trying the most difficult of tasks in this reactionary and forthright city: balancing commerce against communities. But she is clearly trying.
It’s not just Ada Colau and her administration that is attempting to slowdown the tourism industry in Barcelona. Smaller municipal areas are taking the lead too. The popular tourist mode of transport – the Segway – was banned from the sea front last year. It seems like a blanket ban is not far behind, as stymying the use continues throughout the city.
Like tourist buses, bikes and cars, the Segway is regarded as a wheeled enemy.
Many of the city wide responses to rebalance tourism with local living have received cross part support. Recently a new tourist tax was agreed for “day trippers” to Barcelona. Day visitors had been slipping through the gaps but this new levy will see day visitors(link in Spanish) contributing to lessen the impact of their time in Barcelona.
The narrative back in the UK is of typical continentals; never happy with what they have, plus a good dose of umbrage at that lack of welcome for pissed up Brits. However the picture, here on the ground, is of a city united – north and south of Diagonal, and de las montañas al mar, that is quite rightly standing its ground against, incessant wave after wave of tourists.
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