Category Archives: Rallies

La Diada 2018

As one million independence supporting Catalans took to the streets to demand independence during La Diada celebrations, the YES movement spent the day arguing about Braveheart. How can two grass roots movements be so different?

For the seventh year in a row two grass roots organisations the Assemblea Nacional Catalana and Òmnium have organised the largest one day event in Europe. La Diada celebrations took place on the 11th of September and this year attracted around one million supporters.

It was, as always, a fantastically colourful and fun day. It’s a street celebration of Catalonia with Gigantes, Castellers, and La Sardana with the Catalan independence flag La Estelada tied to every conceivable living thing or inanimate object.

La Daida 2018
The amazing Castellers.

As a Scot I have mixed feelings when I take part in this type of event. I am in absolute awe of the achievement of the organisers and the passion of the crowd. But I wish those yellow and red flags were blue and white. It would be spectacular if we could have a national day celebration like this in Scotland but, as everyone will tell you, there are just too many buts…….

La Diada 2018  The Coral Demonstration

The organisers know that they have to keep the event fresh and this year the coral colour of the official teeshirt was chosen to remind everyone of the shocking scenes which took place during the 1st October independence referendum. It was a coral coloured tie that “secured” the ballot boxes.

This year, the route packed in the demonstrators, rather than spreading them out across the city or the country. At 17.14pm a massive wave of sound travelled down the demonstration before toppling over a specially constructed symbolic wall: this movement will overcome any and all barriers.

As ever the central focus was the demand for a Catalan Republic but this year the crowd were given extra voice by the imprisonment or forced exile of the organisers of the 1st Oct referendum.

The objectives of La Diada

La Diada is used to re-energise and to motivate independence supporters in Catalonia and to internationalise the cause. In addition the call for the return of the political prisoners was the main focus for the international aspect of the demonstration in 2018.

Among the speakers three prestigious European personalities took to the stage: Aamer Anwar, the acknowledged Scottish human rights lawyer, in charge of the legal defence of Catalan ex-minister Clara Ponsatí; Thomas Schulze, the German university professor recognised for his staunch defence of the Catalan cause in Europe; and Ben Emmerson, the English international and human rights lawyer in charge of the defence before the United Nations of President Carles Puigdemont and other Catalan politicians.

In 2017 around 800,000 took part in La Diada. It would be hard to argue that an extra 200,000 independence supporters have been found since Spain’s brutal put down of the referendum last October.  The actions of the Spanish Government continue to recruit supporters to the cause of Catalan independence in much the same way as the main Westminster parties approach to Brexit is pushing more people towards support for Scottish independence.

Could Scotland hold a similar event in 2019

The independence movement in Scotland needs an event of this scale and size. In much the same way as the Catalans we have to internationalise our claim for independence.

How many people would remain ignorant of Scotland’s current position as a Nation (and not a region) as well as our vote to remain in the EU after seeing pictures of a massive colourful demonstration stretching from Edinburgh to Arbroath? Or from Edinburgh to Bannockburn?

We all know the answer. Scotland’s natural beauty and our historic landmarks provide a canvas that no main stream media in the world would ignore. Sure, we run our own independence events in Scotland, however, like a tree falling in a wood, an event only has an impact if people actually see it.

Our current demonstrations

Having a few thousand people march through Dumfries or a few thousand watch Braveheart in the centre of Glasgow just doesn’t excite anyone outside of those already committed to voting YES.

We have an exceptionally motivated and committed grass roots movement in Scotland and with a shared focus we could organise an event of this size. We could. And we should.

Scotland needs a body similar to the ANC

To organise an event of this scale we need an organisation similar to the Assemblea Nacional Catalana. We need elected representatives from the movement who appoint and direct full time staff and we need this now.

There’s rumours that the Scottish Independence Convention have announcements forthcoming, which may point towards this type of professional organisation, but I’ve been told something is “imminent” for at least nine months.

As I look over the front pages of all of the Spanish papers this morning to see this amazing stream of people who packed the streets, I am still filled with the possibility that Scotland could do this. And we should.

La Daida Grassroots events

If you are involved in a grass roots organisations, perhaps one that is currently discussing the structure of the SIC, and you don’t see the need for a body to help coordinate the movement then come and experience La Diada.

If you are one of the organisers of Hope Over Fear or All Under One Banner and you want your efforts to really, truly make a difference, then pull your resources and get behind one massive national day demonstration. There’s a million reasons to do it.

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.

The HOOP event in Edinburgh grass roots at its best and worst

March’s #HandsOffOurParliament demonstration will show everything that is great about the YES movement, and at the same time will expose some of the handicaps that we carry with us. I have a few suggestions that will make the most of the event.

A beautiful thing will happen in Edinburgh on the 23rd March, something that shows the best of the YES movement.  A few months ago it was nothing more than a conversation topic between a few Scottish independence activists on a bridge.  Three months later a few thousand people will create a human “hoop” around the Scottish Parliament. If anything sums up the YES movement’s power and passion it is this ability to turn words into actions.

I suggested this human chain idea in a piece in CommonSpace (full article here) back in June 2017:

"Democracy is under threat in Scotland. However, Westminster politicians are building their case on exceptionally shaky ground, and they know it: but they can easily ignore, and fend off other politicians. They can bin newspapers and ignore partisan news reports. What they are unable to do is to show the same intransigence in the face of a seriously determined street movement. Just imagine 50,000-plus linking arms around Holyrood to "protect" democracy."

I am certainly not claiming any credit. It’s easy to have an idea (this post has a few more) it’s much harder to actually get out there and do it. The credit must fall to those putting these ideas in to action (my thanks to one of them in particular, Cliff Serbie who was frank with me in answering my questions)

I currently live in Barcelona and this has its disadvantages when trying to do what you can for the YES movement but it also has advantages. Being up close and personal with the Catalan independence movement offers me a very different perspective on political events in Scotland. If you are going to pass on some tips you may as well learn from the undeniable masters of mass movement street politics: the Catalans.

My suggestions and observations are based on my twenty years organising events and my experience of the dynamic fight for self-determination here in Catalonia.

Before I get into the details here are two links that will provide useful background to my suggestions. Here are the ten things that I believe make the Catalan movement so strong and an article looking behind the scenes at the organisation that manages HOOP style events in Catalonia: Assemblea Nacional Catalana.

I know Scotland and Catalonia are in many ways similar however they are also  very different. I have taken those differences into consideration when making my suggestions in this post. I am not going to suggest that we should aim for 250,000 taking part next time! That would just be daft, but there are things we can do. Starting now, with over a week to go until the HOOP event.

Attend the Hoop Event on the 23rd March if you can!

March’s event should be the first but not the last HOOP 

Before jumping to conclusions I contacted the organisers via their Facebook page (and they have seen and “signed off” this post) to find out a bit more about their plans. As you would expect they are but a group of dedicated activists with little time and even fewer resources for such a big event. It’s typical of our movement, and I covered some of the issues with this volunteer approach last year when I looked at the All Under One Banner rally.

Where I see issues with this DIY approach, many in the movement see beauty. The idea of the true grassroots, scrimping and saving and “doing the best they can” is romantic to many Yessers. I don’t share that opinion: we have a few hundred thousand minds to change and I think a professional approach to all that we do will ultimately be more successful. I truly believe that our events can have a big positive impact on many potential YES voters.

So with my total respect for the people who are doing it and my belief that some professional support would make things even more powerful I present my suggestions.

1. Limit expectations and the size of this HOOP event

The organisers have done everything you could expect of a volunteer team. They have had coverage in The National and The Scotsman and are increasing the awareness daily on social media. A  couple of thousand taking part would be an amazing achievement. However, as we all know to our chagrin, demonstrations numbering in the few thousands are unlikely to make an impact on the MSM. I know that we will all see the usual Tweets: “where are you BBC”, but the organisers shouldn’t be distracted by that. The main objective should be to galvanise the YES movement and make this event a catalyst for a similar event that is much bigger and bolder. 

2. Start raising funds by selling a badge

At the moment there are no plans to collect funds (the organisers asked me to make this VERY clear) at the event. This approach is of course very grassroots, the idea that people pay for things! It’s a romantic notion but campaigns that are not directly supported by private funds or political parties need to raise money from those passionate about the cause.

If the organisers are really to do anything that breaks outside our of YES leaning networks we have to raise money.

My suggestion is to come up with something similar to the Catalan Yellow Ribbon that many of you may know about. The ribbon signifies support for the Catalan political prisoners currently held without trial in prisons hundreds of miles from their families.

Selling this for a few Euros  is a simple and effective way to raise funds. I am sure with a week or more to go the organisers could source or make something that they could sell for a coupe of quid at the event. Or perhaps someone reading this post could do it for them? The organisers need to sell them, account for the sales and hold on to the money for a while.

Why is money so important when fighting a campaign? The Catalan National Assembly organise the massive La Diada events every September 11th. They spend €300,000 on advertising. Yes, that’s what you have to spend to get a crowd in a country as likely to demonstrate on the street as they are to buy a beer! Money talks and we really have to make our voices heard. This event is a wonderful opportunity to start to raise funds for an upcoming campaign.

Following the event these little lapel badges (whatever they look like) could be either sourced directly from the official supplier, as the official ones are here, or made by groups and sold across Scotland, with funds being sent to the HOOP Foundation (which of course at the moment is a figment of my imagination). Slowly a fighting fund on this specific issue could be built.

The uniqueness of the power grab, as this clear democratic deficit, is that it is something that unites political parties and many voters, even some unionists. In Catalonia many a Yellow Ribbon wearer is no independentista; however the idea that you can be in prison for your views is an anathema to many. There are issues that transcend party politics and the power grab issue is one.  It is a unique opportunity.

I hope you don’t feel grubby thinking about money. But if you do, you are probably about to feel worse. I am suggesting that the event is used to start a database for those who feel passionate about the power grab.

3. Collect email addresses and then collect more data

I asked the head of press at the ANC what was the secret that brings 1 million people on to the streets. The answer was  data. Boring, but true.

Every effort should be made to collect email addresses of those attending HOOP and who are interested in the impending doom of a Westminster government using Brexit as an excuse to erode democracy in Scotland.  At the end of the event the organisers should have a list of email addresses of people who WANT to be contacted about issues relating to the Westminster power grab including events and merchandising.

So to summarise my advice:

  1. We should have another similar event later this year run on a much more professional basis that has grander and achievable objectives.
  2. We should have a fund set up and run by a grass roots movement.
  3. We should have the beginning of a powerful database.

If these three things take root in March we have a very good chance of building something that is even more beautiful. But that’s not the way things will pan out.

But of course, we are grass roots, so none of this is going to happen.

Maybe someday and somehow political activists in Scotland will take a different, less romantic approach and try and organise events that really make a difference. 

If you are interested in attending the  HOOP event visit their Facebook page. If you are interested in running a different type of event along the lines I’ve suggested, get in touch.

What makes the Catalan independence movement so strong

What are the major factors in 90% voting YES in the referendum in October and a pro independence majority being returned in the last elections in December? What makes the Catalan independence movement so strong?

Within every movement there are a whole host of factors that give it strength or sap it’s power and the Catalan independence movement is no different.

I’ve decided to look at what I consider to be the ten most important and powerful factors which support the Catalan independence movement. My hope is that looking at Catalonia will provide independence minded Scots, not with a template, but at least a hazy picture, of what, in my view, is a better structured and more secure independence movement.

The Catalan independence movement is built on the following ten areas.

  1. Catalans act, feel and even look different from the majority of Spaniards

Most Catalans do not feel at all Spanish, and this disassociation with the Spanish state is at the heart of the independence movement in Catalonia. Your average Catalan can, and will outline exactly how and why they feel Catalan. We know the power of “feeling different” and in Catalonia this feeling gives a strong undercurrent to the Catalan independence movement.

2. The strength of the Catalan culture

By defining culture in the traditional sense of traditions passed down the generations, Catalonia has a culture which is very peculiar and particular. For example, in the Caganer, they have a figure who sits in the nativity and defecates in the corner. They also have a log that defecates your christmas present. They have human towers and gigantic paper mashy figures. They have a dragon that collects kids dummies when it’s time to give them up. In fact, fire breathing dragons light up the streets at various points across the year with the lack of ‘elf and safety  scaring the bejeebies out of  the tourists. They share their patron saint with England but their St. George’s day could not be more different, as lovers exchange roses and books.  The sense of cultural identity is incredible strong and powerful.

3. It is not a passive culture

A huge number of kids and adults take active part in the groups and clubs that propagate the Catalan culture. From Sardana dancing (they don’t do Flamenco up here), playing the Shawm or participating in the barrio festivals, taking part in cultural activities, is, well, part of the culture.

I remember being shocked to see the coolest barman in our barrio slipping into his Casteller outfit to build human castles with his friends and family. So, the “cool kids” here, do terribly uncool things. But culture is beyond cool. Or perhaps, culture is the epitome of cool. This physical connection to what makes Catalonia and Catalans different, supports the independence movement in a very visual sense.

4. They have their own language which everyone speaks

Catalan pride themselves in being bi-lingual. There are two official languages in Catalonia, Castilian and Catalan. However, Catalan is really the official language. You can get by in Catalonia knowing only Castilian, but you can’t really get on if you don’t know Catalan. During the recent clashes between Puigimont and Rajoy the sense of imperialism seemed stronger when a foreign tongue answered the Catalan President. Many Catalans vote for independence to ensure their language is fully protected.

5. Catalans and Catalonia were never integrated into Spain in the way that, for example, Scotland and Scots were integrated into the Union

It won’t take you long to find a Scottish Ambassador, or Editor of a London based newspaper or a High Court Judge, however if we look at Catalonia and Spain this just isn’t the case. Despite a large Judiciary and Foreign Office in Spain, there are only two Catalan ambassadors and only two senior judges.

The idea of a Catalan Prime Minster ruling Spain would have Catalans and Spaniards alike falling off their bar stools. Catalans have always felt that they have been kept at arms length from the “successes and spoils” of Imperial Spain.  This distance and lack of entanglement provides an easy get out of their particular union.

6. Teenagers have a grandparent who can tell them about the civil war when Spain ripped itself apart, with many Catalans on the losing side.

Many Catalans have a parent who can remember a dictatorship under Franco. They only have to go back a couple of generations to find real suppression of their culture, murder of relatives and dark secrets; unlikely to be unearthed until Catalonia is independent. The scars run deep and the pain is visceral. Spain crushed Catalonia for forty years, just over forty years ago. This alone, for many Catalans, is the key to their belief in the need for independence.

7. The participative nature of politics – the barrio culture: local democracy in action.

Barely a month goes by without one of the community groups in our neighbourhood organising a meeting, rally or march. In 2017 we saw local campaigns against the number of new hotels; the construction of new flats for off plan sales; the changing of the bus routes; the increasing number of BnB rental flats and opposition to the trail “superilla“, a huge traffic free block in the middle of the barrio.

In Catalonia politics is not something that happens to you, and it’s not just a job for politicians. Being engaged in neighbourhood affairs prepares the entire population for life of activism. It is also a training ground for future politicians like Ada Colau, the current left wing Mayor of Barcelona, who cut her teeth dressing up as a Super Hero at housing repossessions.

An interest and engagement in the largest political issues come easily to those brought up to campaign against the closure of nurseries and the cancelation of bin collections.

8. The role of the media

The quality and the quantity of media outlets – including their national broadcaster – which supports independence, is certainly a major factor in the strength of the Catalan movement.

Catalonia’s National Broadcaster providing truly balanced coverage of Catalan politics.

9. The role of the cultural organisations the ANC & Omnium

Nothing can demonstrate the power of these organisations more than the fact that both of their leaders were arrested by Spanish authorities a few days after the 1st October constitutional vote. If you go behind the scenes of the ANC you will see a professional organisation created to: win, peacefully and democratically, Catalan independence. Òmnium, the much older society, compared to the ANC, is a multi facetted civic society that seeks to support the Catalan language and culture. Both these organisations boast more than 50,000 individual members and can organise demonstrations of more than a million people.

The Leaders of the ANC and Ómnium are still detained without trial in a Spanish prison.

10. Taking politics to the street – successful massive demonstrations

The mass gatherings of pro independence supporters, which have taken place in Catalonia since 2012, have had a measurably large impact on the political process in Spain. La Diada celebrations, which take place in September each year, bring on average close to a million supporters on to the streets. These mass demonstrations, supported by every pro independence party and both Ómnium and the ANC are the largest events in the pro independence calendar. They show both the strength of the movement and a united front against the current constitutional process in Spain.

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.

Scottish independence demonstrations and how to make them matter

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.

How to end a rally without any resources

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.

Opinion polls have consistently shown that a larger proportion of Scots are in favour of “Westminster not having the right to block a plan for a referendum”, than they are in favour of independence. The democratic deficit coming our way will continue to increase the former above the latter.

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.

Political Rallies 2017 General Election

Political rallies in the 2017 General election have brought the campaign to life. Labour’s rallies across the country are showing the power of live engagement.

In recent polls the Conservative lead over Labour has halved since the announcement of the snap general election. It’s not possible (at this stage) to pin that narrowing gap on any one particular policy, campaign message, advert, interview or event.

However, what is clear is the stark difference in the live engagement strategy of the Conservatives and Labour: put simple Labour actually have a live engagement strategy.

Political rallies 2017 General Election and other less inspiring political events! 

Here’s two images that I think sum up the differences we’ve seen over the last couple of weeks:

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

The image above of Jeremy Corby will his back to the camera is a still from a short video doing the rounds (currently hosted on NME of all places). The video is fascinating, and would make a wonderful party political broadcast; no editing, no overdubs. Just this.

The Conservatives live engagement strategy has been, how can I put it? To not have one. Whoever is in charge of these “events” is doing the most awful job, assuming their objective is anything more than: we need to do some events, so just keep them as simple and “boring” as possible. This is of course a possible objective for the Conservatives but it’s proving to be the wrong one.

These Corbyn images and videos aren’t quite as striking for us Scots, as we already have a charismatic people facing, punter engaging politician in Nicola Sturgeon. For rUK, however, this really is the first time that they’ve had a politician who is not just willing, but capable of taking, and holding this type of stage.

To date, Labour’s use of the Political Rally has been fantastic

In a piece I wrote for Common Space about making events “unmissable” I listed five things that  the #ScotRef campaigners should consider as they plan and execute their events. Well, Labour have brought my list to life!

With Corbyn’s rallies round the country Labour are demonstrating how powerful live engagement can be for a political campaign. Let’s consider the short appearance of Jeremy Corbyn at The Libertines Gig (against my list):

It is clear what the objectives were for this event. It was firstly to get in front of the 15,000 youngsters and encourage them to vote (for Labour), but beyond that it was to create a clear difference between May’s bland and stale events. And those objectives were achieved.

The second thing on my list was to make events newsworthy. Doing something so different was always likely to spark interest. So, success here too!

Next up was “ensure that your event will be amplified by your attendees”. Just watch the video, and see how many of that audience are snapping, tweeting and sharing images all across their social media platforms. Again, their strategy had its success.

Now, to get in front of young voters, Labour could have organised a Youth Conference. As I’ve covered in previous posts the Conference is still the default event for political parties despite millennials giving them a wide berth. So intransigent are these events that Rise, despite its exceptionally strong youthful leadership, still organise Conferences. My fourth tip in my list was not to run “boring events”. By piggy backing on a concert, Labour avoided that pit fall.

My last point was to ask how political events could inject creativity? Well, so barren of ideas and lacking in any spark, are May’s “strong & stable” events, that doing ANYTHING different appears to be creative. Labour simply aren’t doing what the Tories are doing, and they look like the youthful, fresh and creative campaigners.

A Live Engagement Strategy Matters

Labour are out there doing it. The Tories are failing. Exactly what impact these events, and their amplification, will have on the result, is of course still to be determined. However there should be enough evidence already to show that the #ScotRef movement can not take live engagement for granted.  My plan is to make sure that we don’t do that. But I need your help.

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