Category Archives: Referendum

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.

Should #ScotRef event organisers use Facebook

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

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

The ills of one particular social media platform.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Searching for ScotRefEvents

Let’s start with this scenario. I am a possible “Yes” supporter. I voted “No” in 2014 but my faith in the Union has wavered. I still have my doubts, but I am willing to engage to find out more. I would like to go to a few events to find out some more information. I’d like a list of upcoming events, that would be helpful. So, where do I start?

Google generic search

If searching for ScotRefEvents I would surely start with a Google search:  “Independence events in scotland 2017″ would seem like a reasonable search term. However, no list of relevent events is to be found. Links to the fantastic Independence Live and the equally magnificent Woman for Independence appear. Following the link to Independence Live’s Facebook page ends here:

A dead end in the search for upcoming events

The Woman for Independence link does show THEIR upcoming events, but of course this is far from a definitive list of events for the movement.

You won’t land in the right place with a general search term, so you have to get pretty specific to find an event on Google, and even when you do, you may not land on a live event.  A search on “events about a Scottish currency 2017” lead to an Eventbrite (more on Eventbrite below) page for an event that took place in Galashiels in March. Close, but no cigar.

So, here we are, no nearer to finding any future events (apart from the Woman for Indy: “Knit Your Own Pussy Hat”) To be honest, we can’t be too surprised at not finding individual events. The Search Engine Optimisation needed to drop a local event onto the first page of Google is beyond the reach of most indy groups, and paid for adverts on Google are a non starter.

As I noted above, we did find an event on Eventbrite, via our Google Search, so let’s look at that platform in detail.

Eventbrite

Eventbrite is the Facebook and Google for Events. It is effectively a micro search engine for events, or as Eventbrite calls them now, “experiences”.

Running your event on the platform that sits behind the world’s most popular search engine for events will increase the number of people who find it. Not only are people able to find your event directly via the platform, but your event is likely to rank higher with Google if it is on the Eventbrite platform. So, let’s take a look.

I used the search above and found the following events:

As you can see, it wasn’t long before Eventbrite suggested the totally irrelevant (second recommendation is way off!) but at least I found one live event that would, in our scenario, be of interest to that possible “Yes” voter, the CommonWeal event. But that’s it. One event.

So at this stage, I think it’s fair to ask the following question: As a movement are our events easy enough to find? Well, not so far,  so let’s have a look at finding our events via Twitter?

Twitter hashtag

Most people use hashtags to find specific areas / things of interest on Twitter. The most obvious #tag would be #ScotRefEvents but that leads to “no results”. Searching on “#ScotRef” leads to thousands of tweets. Using the search function for “scottish independence events” again leads us nowhere.

Unless you are following a specific Yes leaning organisation (and in our scenario this isn’t that likely), you aren’t going to see anything about their events. There is of course some chance of finding out about an event as people retweet information. But we can’t rely on that as a way for people to find our events. Twitter, at the moment, seems like another dead end. So let’s have a look at the most popular social network: Facebook.

Facebook

Last year Facebook really beefed up their events offering with EventMangerBlog suggesting that “Facebook Will Change Events Forever”, it is a platform that event organisers can’t ignore. For many of the grass roots events, Facebook is THE destination page for their events. So, surely, it should be easy for our No voter to find our events. But no, it’s the same old story:

ScotRefEvents
Dead End here as well.

I used two different search functions. The generic one and the event specific one. Searching on “Scotref Events” did, finally, return a live independence event! The GNW Scotref launch. I am sure this is a great event! But after such a long drawn out search our No voter would probably be too tired to attend.

So, searching via Google, Twitter, Eventbrite and Facebook our potential Yes voter found TWO future events. That’s it. TWO EVENTS. I know we can do better than that. There’s little point putting on an event if no one knows about it.

It is crucial that we engage as much as possible with those who seek information and engagement in a live environment.

For our movement we can’t do the field of dreams: “build it and they will come”, we have to think about how people find our events and we have to do all we can to help them find them. 

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

ScotRef Social Mobilisation

The number of people taking part in demonstrations matter. Social mobilisation is a crucial means to an end. 

It seems to be all the rage at the moment to compare Barcelona to Glasgow. So I thought I’d continue that trend, and add my thoughts about social mobilisation in Catalonia and Scotland. To do this I’ve looked at a two events held in Barcelona last month. By looking at these events I will hopefully demonstrate my concern for the forthcoming second independence referendum in Scotland. I will set that thought out here: our events will have little impact if the current trend of low numbers continues.

First up is a Monday morning demonstration that was held outside the Higher Court of Justice in Barcelona. Artur Mas, the ex President of Catalonia was on trial for supporting a symbolic vote on Independence for Catalonia. Yes, you read that correctly, on trail for organising a referendum. You can probably start to see some potentially scary similarities. Here’s the details from Señor Mas:

“More than 50,000 people from around the country, many having got up very early, have come out on a Monday morning. The people always teach us a lesson: unity and social mobilisation.” 

Yup, there really was 50,000 outside the court on a Monday morning.  This wasn’t any kind of anomaly. Catalans demonstrate regularly and often bring tens of thousands on to the streets.

A week or so later an estimated 160,000 took to the streets on a Saturday evening to demonstrate against Spain’s intransigence with refugees.

Catalan politicians know that social mobilisation is important and so do Catalans:

“Puigdemont (current Catalan President) calls for social mobilisation before the referendum”

I wonder if Scottish politicians and the YES movement have realised that numbers really matter. And if so what they plan to do about it?

The Divisive Scottish Referendum

Once again a monumental display of democracy will be tarred with the brush of being divisive.

It’s easy to drag up any old anecdote to bring a poorly founded argument to life. The neighbours no longer sharing a doorstep and a coffee. The brothers now drinking at different pubs. The 11 aside football team; now split and playing 5s. That referendum it was so divisive. The debate on a second referendum in the Scottish Parliament has been high on anecdote but low on facts.

When anyone plays this anecdote game, it’s just as easy to “prove” the exact opposite: neighbours, brothers and pals reunited, cry the other side with equal vigour. So to analyse the real outcome of 2014 and to put to bed the false claim of division, we must look at the impact it had on the most powerful of indicators: the social capital created directly from the campaign.

So I thought I’d call Robert D. Putnam as a witness. America’s leading political scientist, via his enlightening books Bowling Alone and Our Kids, should be able to shed some light on the “divisive” nature of political discourse.

Social capital is a form of economic and cultural capital in which social networks are central, transactions are marked by reciprocity, trust, and cooperation. It is generally perceived that a society which is high in social capital is lower in many of the ills of society. High social capital reduces poverty, illness and crime. It removes dishonesty, greed and deceit. In fact it does so much more. Perhaps the best way to describe it, is to search for a word that would sum up a society which is low in social capital. That word would be “divisive”

The “divisive Scottish referendum” campaign provided an exceptionally strong burst of social capital within Scotland. The following four examples score very highly on the social capital index:

High voter turnout – especially the youth vote

The turnout for the 2014 independence referendum was the largest democratic vote in modern political times in the UK; breaking a generational trend of voter apathy. Voter turnout is one of the key factors sociologists look at when judging the community engagement within a society.

It was the first time that the youngest adults in our society had the opportunity to engage in the ultimate act of democracy. Voters under the age of twenty had previously been the most difficult to engage. Social capital generated by the young can have a much longer impact on a society.

Birth of organisations

The campaign gave birth to scores of organisations including, to name but a few; Common Weal, Woman for Independence, Independence Live, RIC and Business for Scotland. Robert D. Putnam speaks of similar groups in the US as “a useful barometer of community involvement” and “one facet of social capital” These types of organisations are rich in social capital. The  social capital they create extend into the wider society.

New media outlets

During, and in a few months after the first independence vote, new media outlets, including a daily newspaper The National were born. New media gave birth to Wings Over Scotland, Common Space and Bella Caledonia. These outlets created a new way of reporting, engaging with, and making news. In giving a community a voice they greatly increase social capital.

Crowd Funding

Crowd funding is an internet based source of community funding and is one of the highest scoring ways to increase a society’s social capital. Almost all of the groups mentioned above, and many, many more have brought people together to support a common cause, and as a by product have increased the social capital in Scotland.

“Divisive, divisive, divisive” is already the calling card of the lazy hack and the politician set on division. That claim should be as easy to dismiss as it is to disprove. As every sociologist  or political scientist will tell you: no matter the result of the next referendum Scotland, through an explosion of social capital, will be richer for it.

#scotref events

Event organisers have to be quick off the mark. Less than 24hours after the First Minister’s announcement of a second independence referendum, news of YES and NO events filled twitter. And not everyone was happy with the initial #scotref events!

By lunchtime fellow CommonSpace contributor @mrmcenaney had seen enough. Can it be that we have event fatigue already? Well, not if we look at the 3K+ who have signed up to a “March for Independence” on the 3rd of June hosted by All Under One Banner.

To find out more about this planned event, and the reaction to it, I followed an STV thread which announced the event. And there I found the most interesting, event related comments of the day. A good old clearing the air took place as our movement started to question our live engagement strategy. @derekbateman2 suggesting that marches have had their time! (By the way, he’s wrong. It’s not what you do, it’s how you do it)

As an event organiser who has set himself the challenge of coordinating a live engagement strategy for the YES campaign, these comments are exceptionally useful and also encouraging. Because, you may remember we ran 1000s of YES events and WE LOST. So, here’s how  I view the future (and the past) put succinctly by @douglasdaniel:

So that’s what we are up to. Running and planning events right out of the block.  But the speed of an organiser should not be how you measure their success.

@scotlandinunion ran an event, which must have been hastily (and therefore quite impressively) put together before the FM’s hat had even hit the ground.  However, @davidtorrance wasn’t that impressed.

I noticed David in the audience at SIC’s Build conference in January and it would be interesting to know what he thought of that event. There was certainly less Tweed, but the age of the audience and the muddiness of the discussion were similar. So, let’s not judge a campaign by a single event. Or we are all doomed!

However, following DT’s tip, I was keen to check out the “opposition” via their Twitter feed. It looked pretty professional, although rather corporate. And I loved the giveaway earplugs! “Scotland Spoke, why won’t the politicians listen” the packaging said: nice. However, the event was entitled “Project Listen”. So that was confusing.  But one thing struck home: the NO events will not be lacking in cash.

To this organiser, the pictures above did say a thousand words. I wonder what they say to you? David picked up on the fashion (not surprisingly), the age of the audience and the lack of clarity in the arguments. We can but hope that these weaknesses in the NO camp continue throughout the campaign, but I picked up on something different.

This NO event was about “listening”: it was about YOU listening, about being telt what to do and what to think. It was an old school event. And without doubt it will be a template followed by the NO campaign. We should avoid this template at all costs.

Our events have to be very different from their events and our events in 2014. The YES campaign must have participants and not an audience. Our events have to engage and empower, and they have to at least hint at the Scotland that we envisage. Events can do all these things, and quite easily.

If our movement embraces a new way of running every type of event, our events can, this time, really make the difference.

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

Behind the scenes at Independence Live

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Scottish Independence Convention Presents – Build

I nipped on to the Convention website a week or so before the event only to see that it had “SOLD OUT” This is great news for the organisers and certainly highlighted a demand from the movement for an event like this. But a bit annoying if you planned to attend! 

However, with a four month old and a twenty-two month at home in Barcelona, the chances of getting over to the event in Glasgow were always going to be slim. Over the winter months it is impossible to get to Scotland and back to Catalunya in a day: something I am sure will change once we welcome two independent countries!

So I watched the The Scottish Independence Convention Presents – Build, online (and you can still watch it!) courtesy of the excellent independence live. However, rather than just watch the event, I decided to review it. I would hope that my twenty years plus of organising events would provide an interesting and useful view for those in the movement who plan to run Indyref2 events.  

Events like this will play an exceptionally important role in the Indyref2 campaign. This event, for many, marked the un/official launch of the Indyref2 campaign so it seemed like the best place to start.

I imagine that many people will comment on the content, choice of speakers and the politics of it all, so my review will focus on the area I specialise in: meeting design. Or, I suppose, the art of making meetings less boring and much more useful for all involved. I would strongly argue that better meetings for our movement can play a positive role in winning the campaign. 

It’s worth stating that I have organised most of my events in a similar not for profit / charity environment, so I should be able to gauge roughly the constraints and difficulties of the organisers as well as the possible outcomes of such an event. I also have to say that my review is meant to be 100% constructively critical (because it is critical) and is made very much in the spirit called for during the event as those “with knowledge and experience” step forward and offer help. I imagine that many of the thousands of upcoming Indyref2 events can learn from some of the mistakes made by SIC.

Indyref2 events
Scottish Independence Convention Build

What “Build” promised

The event stated:

“Speakers and interactive sessions will explore what the independence movement needs to do now to get strategy, policy and movement building in place to secure victory in the next referendum”

The programme (below) added some more detail.

Build For Independence programme of events
Build For Independence programme of events

The day was split into three distinct sessions: Policy, Strategy and Movement. Both of the first two sections would finish with one of the hour long interactive sessions, mentioned in the website blurb. These “Interactive Discussions” would follow speaker to audience style presentations of 1hr and 1hr30.

As a meeting designer, of some seven hundred similar conference style events, I couldn’t quite see how the initial programme could live up to the underlying idea of an interactive event. Of the 18 sessions, only 2 appeared to be interactive. If you are going to highlight the interactive nature of an event more than two of the sessions should be interactive. This is the type of thing you would expect a meeting designer to pick up and mention before the event.

Some delegates and speakers mentioned the other things the event should do,  alongside the “exploring what the movement needs to do now” as outlined on the website. Tommy Sheppard called for “energy and substance” One comment on the Common Space website called for “comfy seats” Events, I thought, have to do so many things!

Logistics – the bread and butter

The Radisson Blu hotel in Glasgow seemed like the perfect venue (numerically speaking) for an 800 strong audience. Running an event on a Saturday, no doubt allowed the organisers the opportunity to step up from a church hall or similar lower budget space.  It was a bold move and one that other events should follow if possible: the space for a meeting is very important.

Throughout the day there were many logistical issues (big and small) that a professional event organiser would have picked up on earlier, or would have totally avoided. It was clear that the team were doing a good job, but lacked a professional eye. Running events is pretty easy; running seamless events, that deliver maximum value to all, is very hard.

Watching online gives you a quite different view from an attendee as to the logistics of the event.  Although not in the room (obviously) the online audience did have a nice little extra: a live audio feed in the run up to the event. This, accidentally, allowed us to hear some interesting, rather panicked discussions as the event rolled past its scheduled start time. However, after a 15 min delay, no doubt to register the 800 attendees, the conference was underway.

Like many events there was some initial communication issues (I can’t imagine Elaine C Smith being the easiest person to give a Chair’s brief to!) and some tech problems around the use of handheld mics, but these really were minor, and overall the onsite team did a good job.

Important as they are, I mention logistics in passing, it is the strategic stuff I am interested in: what the event set out to achieve, and how it attempted to achieve them.

What were the objectives of Build?

We’d had an overarching vision for the event as the “what we should do now” for the movement. That’s a BIG call for one, six hour event. So I had looked for meaningful and realistic objectives. This is what I would always do if I was supporting a client to run the best possible event.

It’s impossible to know if an event has been a success without an idea of the objectives for the event. Of course, without clear and shared objectives, how does an event know what it is supposed to do? Earlier this year I had a chat with Robin McAlpine, who’s Common Weal seemed to have been the driving force behind the event. I asked him, “What were the normal objectives for Common Weal events?” 

Robin answered that he was a fan of simple objectives like: “Don’t lose money. Keep everyone happy. Be noticed. Get a crowd.” Simple indeed, but hard to deliver, hard to measure and hard to be of much actual strategic use. So I sought some clarity from Elaine C Smith’s introduction.

Elaine’s welcome identified the core (and eminently achievable) objective for the day: “we want to know what you (the audience) have to say” This backed up the “interactive” undertone of the conference blurb. We want interaction and we want to hear from you. Brilliant! What’s the point of gathering 800 campaigners in a room if you aren’t going to listen to them? Hold that thought. 

Elaine noted that the audience was full of “big brained people” and now was their opportunity to speak to, rather than hear from, the “big table” of speakers that appear at other similar events. This was the one clear objective and the event failed to deliver. 

Interaction is more than a word or a session; it’s an entire framework for a conference

Even if all of the interaction that was planned on the programme took place, the event would have never achieved the objective of “hearing from the audience” It’s pretty simple: if you want to hear from the audience, you do not have sixteen sessions delivered by speakers from the platform.

There are many tried and tested ways to ensure any event is interactive – even with 800 attendees. With some meeting design, “Build” could have achieved that objective. There are so many tips and techniques that I couldn’t even try to fit them into one post! If you are planning an Indyref2 event and want to know how to run a genuinely interactive event (even for 800) drop me a note.

So in terms of interaction, I think it would be best to cover what Build did, rather than what they didn’t.  And you can judge if this was an interactive event.

  • As I said above, there were 18 speaker led session and only 2 advertised as “discussion” sessions.
  • There were very few opportunities for questions from the audience following any of the speaker led sessions.
  • The audience gradually grew restless as the day went on and shouting disagreement became the only “interactive” outlet.
  • Of the two “hour long” interactive sessions, one lasted only 48mins. The other managed the full hour.
  • The session led by Lesley Riddock was exceptionally well facilitated and very professional. Lesley paced the floor. She was engaging, probed the audience and properly facilitated the discussion.
  • The other sessions was different. Robin McAlpine spoke for 41minutes of the 48minutes “discussion” that he “facilitated”. I know this because I actually timed it. I’ve met Robin you see. During the session the audience voted on what actions, the  excellent, Common Weal will take forward. I think this was what happened, as it was done at such a breakneck speed I can not be at all confident.  The 800 were asked to vote (the 500 online didn’t have any chance to interact), on around ten of the most fundamentally complex and important questions facing our movement. That’s approx 4 mins per question! It is a stretch to call voting interaction, but it’s certainly better than nothing. As Peter Curran watching online said “If this is participation, I am Gordon Brown”.
  • The second interactive session did include comments (around 7 mins of that in the 48mins) from social media and this did add some genuine interaction which was well handled by Angela the “Social Sidekick”

Can those who organise conferences really make such obvious mistakes? Unfortunately, it is easy to seek an interactive event, but much harder to deliver it.

To be interactive a conference has to be designed. Information has to flow between those on stage and those in the audience. And most importantly: that audience has to be redefined as “participants” In seeking interaction and not finding it “Build” will not be alone in the Indyref2 campaign. Unless we listen and interact with the event management profession.

How to run an interactive Indyref2 event

I’ve seen many events start with the genuine desire to turn the “audience into participants” but dole out the familiar roles on the day: speakers speak and the audience listen. To run an interactive event, those running it need an understanding of the rules of event management and experience or knowledge of how to support participation and engagement. Unfortunately for the 800 attendees and the 500 odd online, the event did not achieve this most crucial objective.

If this crucial mistake is made by other Indyref2 events it is the movement that will take the hit, along with the bored attendees. A movement is hamstrung if there is little interaction within it. We’ve got to build better events. The advice, knowledge and experience is out there, those in the movement just have to interact with it.

If you are an IndyRef2 minded organisation and would like some support to run better events then please do get in touch.

If you are a skilled and experienced event organiser who would like to support the movement drop me a note.

Puigdemont and Salmond to meet in London in May

It happens with friendships. You don’t speak to each other for a while and despite your shared interests and similarities you drift apart. Time passes and the things that brought you together slowly disappear from the memory. But as we know, sometimes it just needs one thing to bring friends back together. For old buddies Scotland and Catalonia, SP16 was that moment.

For the first time both Scotland and Catalonia have a majority of pro independent members of parliament represented by more than one party. Now more than ever we have to share the successes and failures to date of our respective campaigns.

At the highest political level Catalonia and Scotland should be the best of friends. We should see MPs who support independence from both countries sharing platforms, arranging flying visits to their respective capitals and generally acting like best buds. But this isn’t happening.

During the run up to the Scottish elections (and with the date for Spanish elections having been recently agreed) I looked for Scottish MPs or MSPs speaking in Barcelona; it was like searching in the same city for Irn Bru: fruitless. So this week I was delighted to see that the new Catalan President Carles Puigdemont will meet Alex Salmond in London and I hope this starts a more formal dialouge. As demonstrated by Puigdemont’s visit, the Catalans seem very keen to build the relationship. And he’s not the only one. Last year Ramon Tremosa an MEP for Catalonia, said in an interview with CommonSpace:

“Catalonia and Scotland have much to learn from each other on the road to independence. Scotland has set the precedent for a binding referendum in Catalonia, which has contributed enormously to the democratic credibility and feasibility of independence there. Catalonia has shown an example, in Scotland in terms of popular organisation and mobilisation.” And he is right, the precedent set by the UK is a powerful one for Spain to ignore and Scotland has a lot to learn from the actions of civic Catalonia in forcing through the political agenda.

So how does Scotland view the importance of Catalonia?

Last week the Catalan News Agency interviewed Michael Keating, Director of the Edinburgh-based Centre on Constitutional Change stated that, “Catalans need Scotland more than Scotland needs Catalonia” His rationale was that because the Scots “have in recent years been doing much better than the Catalan independence people: they got a referendum, they got the right to self-determination and they got more powers” Now, considering Catalonia will welcome independence in 14 months or so (according to the Generalitat de Catalunya’s time table) he is speaking utter mince, and if this is the prevailing belief in Scotland our movement is in serious trouble.

Since the loss of the referendum we had spectacular SNP victories in both the UK and Scottish elections, however Scottish Independence is not a foregone conclusion. I would hate to see a movement shift from gallusness to arrogance: we have to learn what we can from the Catalan struggle. For the #Indyref2 movement, we must learn three things from the Catalan cause:

  • how to build a successful cross party support for independence
  • how to create a timetable for indepndence, that everyone signs up to and
  • how to move more people to openly demonstrate their passion for an independent nation

Sure, we have a lot to give but we also have a lot to gain. Let’s remember what friendships are for and build bridges and links at every level.

Mr Puigdemont and Mr Salmond are rekindling that relationship and collectively, our independence movements need to meet for a beer and remember why we grew so close in the first place. And that might be easier than you think, because believe it or not the Catalans actually like Tennent’s.

Tennent's In Poblenou.

A timetable for Catalan Independence

It is January 2016. By June 2017 Catalonia will be independent

The independence movement in Catalonia is back on track following, eventually, the investiture of a new Catalan President.  After months of negotiations Artur Mas stood aside to allow the consensus candidate and 130th Catalan President Carles Puigdemont to take the driving seat. Closely mirroring Nicola Sturgeon replacing Alex Salmond post referendum, a younger less controversial political figure will be tasked with ultimatley bringing the independence process to its conclusion.

A timetable for Catalan Independence

In Catalonia that conclusion is for many tantalisingly close. In what would no doubt make every #Indyref2 supporting Scottish nationalist drip with envy, in Barcelona there is a roadmap to independence. Within 18 months Catalonia will – assuming of course there are no major bumps or roadblocks – be ready to  declare itself to be independent.  The new President is already working to that timetable. There’s very little doubt in Catalonia or in Spain: the countdown has started.

For the Catalan nationalists this timetable is a rallying call. It is a call to arms with an end in sight. It is a clear and shared vision by supporters of the many political parties and civic groups that support Catalan independence. The Catalan independence movement is far from a united one but this timetable is holding this movement together. Conversely there is little doubt that a lack of a timetable in Scotland is currently splitting the pro indy campaigners. The First Minister’s  recent comment in the Scottish Parliament on winning a second referendum “In the next few years” has only really mudded the waters. The Scottish Ship’s Captain – when compared to the newly charged Catalan Captain – seems a tad lost at sea.

A similar journey until now

Up until now Scotland’s and Catalonia’s journeys have tacked roughly the same course as pro indy parties have risen to power only to hold referendums that ultimately won nothing but the status quo. The sea has been rougher for one and then the other. The gift of the referendum from Westminster to Scotland was in stark contrast to Madrid’s refusal to allow a Catalan plebiscite (which they just ignored and Madrid in return just ignored the result). However the September election victory by pro indy parties in Catalonia released a new lease of life into the movement in the north of Spain. In Scotland last years UK election deflated many nationalists despite the SNP routing the Unionist parties; it was a shallow victory, as a heartless London centric Tory Government remained in Westminster.

But it is a new year and a very big year for both Scotland and Catalonia. Both Parliaments are packed with pro independent representatives. However at the moment one Parliament speaks with a loud and united voice “18 months” and the other, talks of something, well, sometime in the future.

The Scottish independence campaign is stuck in the dry dock the Catalan Cruiser is off. Their destinations appear to be the same but the routes at the moment appear very different.