Category Archives: Scotland

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.

The impact of the events industry on your doorstep – Edinburgh Festival 2018

There are many different things you are taught as an event organiser, but one ever present is that “big is beautiful” There’s scarcely an events organiser who doesn’t want their small event to grow to epic proportions.

However the size of the Edinburgh International Festival and the Edinburgh Festival Fringe is calling into question its actual “success”

The size of the Edinburgh Festival

Every year Edinburgh, a tiny wee city in a tiny wee country, is the destination for the “World’s largest international arts festival” This is really extraordinary and is something that should make every Scot mightily proud. It’s not just any country that can host a festival of this importance.

Scotland’s capital is only able to host an event of this size because our outstanding artists of today stand on the shoulders of giants.  Would we have Rankin, Welsh or McDermid without Burns, Scott and Spark? Would we have the right to host a cultural festival of this size without artists of this magnitude? But it’s not just our cultural heritage.

The supporting infrastructure filled with skilled and knowledgeable event professionals, audio and visual suppliers, stage set builders, etc. allow this festival to flourish. Without the events industry there is no festival. We build the stage on one of the world’s best backdrops.

A breathtakingly stunning city places Edinburgh apart from many other “wanna be” international art festivals. People visit for the events but……what a stage Edinburgh makes. However, increasingly, year on year, that stage seems to be creaking.

edinburgh international festival complaints

After over seventy years the Edinburgh Festival and the Fringe are now woven into the cultural tapestry of Scotland. Its success is our success. However, alongside the plaudits there is failure. The locals are restless.

“If these criticisms aren’t addressed they will mount and the festival will become confirmed as an event that is wholly imported and subjected on people, rather than in any sense hosted” – Mike Small Editor of Bella Caledonia.

As an event organiser who has been involved in organising large international events, I find it hard to argue against any of the 10 points in this Bella Caledonia article. It is thoughtful, deliberate and suggests discussion. It is not laced with rage, as Joyce McMillan suggested in a piece in the Scotsman.

The Perfect Stage

During the 1990s I had occasional trips to Edinburgh and I remember the Festival much like the Hogmanay festivities. They were very manageable for attendees and organisers. International visitors made up a small percentage of the crowd and it was pretty easy to experience Edinburgh, while these events were on, without crashing into either of them. How things have changed.

Both these events are huge, and both not without controversy, especially around working conditions for staff and the use or mis-use of volunteers (as a Living Wage Employer I make my view very clear here); so size brings its own complications. But still we event organisers crave growth.

The Event Organisers’ role

Like every other industry the events industry, in general, strongly believes that big is beautiful. We are a capitalist industry like every other, constantly living with the fear that we have to grow or die.

This leads to ignorance. Like most business people we aren’t trained, educated or in many cases aware that there is a negative impact from the work we do. But for event organisers it’s even more difficult than most for us not to bask in our God like status. Maybe you don’t want a big event in your backyard, but sure as anything your country and your city does!

The ever popular event industry

In many cases – and yes this is true – countries, regions and cities will pay the event organiser of a profitable show a trunk load of money to bring an event to your doorstep. Valencia submitted a bid of €170m to host the Web Summit, so it is no surprise that complaints from locals often meet with the response: “other cities would DIE to be as lucky as you”

We have people volunteering to work for us. They don’t want to be paid, they just want to be able to attend our events for free.

Even when an event makes millions of pounds profit, organisers can still get the Government to pay them to relocate their hugely profitable event.

See, everyone loves us, so should we care about a few locals?

It is with this attitude that many organisers and promoters will view the grievances of some noisy locals. And it’s not just the organisers and promoters who run events during the festival and the fringe, it is an industry wide approach. You can find the same view in any major city in the world.

In Barcelona the city struggles to cope with Europe’s largest tech event Mobile World Congress, but even the socialist mayor was keen to persuade the event to stay.

As an industry we have to first understand the negative impacts we can make and then secondly we have to act.

A call for dialogue

There are genuine concerns in Edinburgh over the size, scale and type of events that Edinburgh now holds. The event industry has to be aware of the negative impacts, and then be involved in solving the problems.

Last year within the ‘Skills needed for organising an event’ blog post on my Gallus Events website I highlighted that “more event planners should be, at least aware, of the “impact”, both positive and negative of our events” but you will struggle to see other event industry types even mention these issues. Many of the Event Associations have a habit of burying their head in the sand. 

It is here that Event Scotland, whose tagline is: Scotland The Perfect Stage, should take some credit.

As part of Visit Scotland, Event Scotland are tasked with increasing tourism to Scotland. They of course actively promote and support the large Edinburgh events but they have a regional focus, offering incentives to launch events outside of Edinburgh and Glasgow.

Scotland needs events to bolster the exceptionally important tourist industry but events have to add value to their locality.

Many event organisers carry out their work in a diligent and meaningful manner, just trying to make a living, like everyone else. I believe for most organisers the issues are around awareness and education, rather than a hell for leather, damn them all approach.

Event organisers and promoters should work with Government agencies, local authorities and local communities to ensure their events are welcome and they must place profit alongside their social and community responsibilities.

I believe the event industry is ready to talk, I just hope it is ready to listen.

Pointless protests and point scoring

There’s no point organising an event if you don’t set objectives. And of course you have to have the right objectives. Often this basic element of any event is missing from the YES movement’s events. 

Saturday’s protest outside BBC HQ attracted around 250 people and saw considerable support on social media – in part down to the ever present Independence Live. But what was the point? Or in event talk, what was the objective of the protest?

BBC Bias Protest at Pacific Quay

It’s no small effort to coordinate a demonstration of this size.  Even as the team behind All Under One Banner (who coordinate some huge and important rallies) cut their event teeth, it’s still a challenge.  I’ve managed over 700 events, so I know organising and attending every event is time you could be spent doing something else!

However if you are going to run an event, the first and most important part is to set and understand the reasons to run the event. I wrote a piece for CommonSpace last year highlighting the importance of this central aspect of an event and as far as the AUOB events play out, it seems to have gone unnoticed.

The first thing to say about the protest at Pacific Quay is that I would have not advised running it at all. However, doing the planning process one objective should have been penned and communicated to all:

“This protest is being organised not against the employees but against the editorial decisions that appear to be strongly biased in favour of Scotland’s place in the Union and also editorial decisions which seen to “do down” Scotland at every turn. We are seeking a meeting with senior representatives of the BBC to express the views of a large number of Scots” 

You have to set an objective this this, otherwise what’s the point?

A pointless protest

Why have people standing outside to listen to a few speeches and wave a few flags unless something meaningful is to come out of it?

Why run an event, if all you are going to do is score a spectacular own goal?

Why look a PR gift horse in the mouth?

The answer is simple: because the event didn’t have the right objectives.

Look again at the objective I suggest and walk through the two possible scenarios:

1. BBC meet representatives from protest against BBC Bias.

Or

2. BBC refuse to meet representatives from protest against BBC Bias. Where’s the PR downside there? It’s a win/win for the movement.

But without objectives we have this:

“We offered the leaders of the protest the opportunity to come in to the building to enter into dialogue with senior managers at BBC Scotland but they declined the offer.”

Made even worse by this:

“I was the person asked and I declined. We don’t want to enter into a dialogue with the BBC to try to repair things…. Do any of you see any buttons up the back of my head? No! We want to see the end of the BBC in Scotland. I hope I made that clear.”

Quotes from the Scotsman

So we have a pointless process and some petty point scoring, which all leads to an own goal for the movement. And I am sure that was not the objective.

Events in Scotland in reaction to events at westminster

Probably the most seismic political event in Scotland since the referendum result in 2014 took place on Wednesday: the walk out of all 35 SNP MPs in protest at the process laid down for the EU Withdrawal Bill.

One day later between 400 and 500 people demonstrated outside Holyrood in Scotland’s capital. Edinburgh wasn’t alone. Around 100 demonstrators did the same on Wednesday evening in Dundee.

Now you can look at these “events” in one of two ways. The first is how Andy and Fiona felt:

The second is the way that almost everyone else, outside the Independence bubbles on Facebook and Twitter, did: absolute silence or totally ignorance.

Events in Scotland

This was the movement’s immediate physical response to the Westminster power grab from the Holyrood Parliament. Maybe 600 people is a lot. Maybe it’s nothing. But I want to look at Jason’s point:

Just imagine…….

So what if we were to plan a march to London or a human chain across Scotland, who exactly would plan it, market it and organise it?

My day to day life is organising other people’s events or advising them on how to organise their own events. I’ve been doing that for almost 10 years. I’ve been organising events for over 20 years. As you can see from other posts on here I bang on about events quite a bit.

It would be a huge, monumental task to organise a successful event of this scale. Incidentally it has happened in Catalonia in 2013 and very recently in the Basque Region – the link is from CNN: note you won’t see anything about the HOOP rally there.

It would almost definitely be beyond the wonderfully committed volunteers of HOOP and AUOB. It would be almost exclusively advertised through two social media platforms (operating in the Indy bubble) and our other dedicated indy mediums like The National.

The National YES Registry would I am sure use their platform to support: but again this concentrates on the already converted and committed.

The organisers would not have access to the largest email database of independence supporters (held by the SNP) They would have no funds to advertise the event, unlike their Catalan cousins who have 300,000 Euros to advertise their La Diada celebrations. No cash to pay for professional PR. In fact vey little of the things that are needed to make an event like this truly successful. Passion and dedication only gets you so many attendees. 

The Independence movement needs a dedicated, professional organisation to coordinate, support and offer resource to the movement. If one existed, similar to the Catalan National Assembly we would be able to answer Limmy’s Tweet:

We would be able to say. The Scottish National Assembly will be organising a Human Chain across Scotland in August. Images will be shown world wide. It will cut across Edinburgh during the Edinburgh festival, bringing the issue of Scottish independence to a world wide audience in our capital.

We need a body like this. Even if it just organises a few large annual events. We need to, as Limmy says, do “something”

Please drop me a note or comment if you support the idea of an independent body to coordinate the YES movement.

The power of events to the Scottish independence movement

Owing to the success of the AUOB march in Glasgow in May, views on events dominated the YES supporting media and filled Indy blogs for the full week after the event. Every article showing the power of events to the Scottish independence movement.

We all got quite excited about the massive turnout, and it really felt like the movement received a jolt of energy. This shot in the arms was especially noticeable online.

I believe an annual event like this is crucial for the YES movement and I have some thoughts on when that should take place,  which I will save for another post.

However as I argued here, I think the movement should hold back on other marches which have a similar objective of demonstrating the size of the movement. It’s not a good idea to ask people to judge the size of the movement at small events. That’s a risky strategy: one that the movement doesn’t need to take.

As someone who has organised events for over twenty years, I have seen organisers and organisations caught up in a post event high. Almost overnight we have all got very excited about the power of events or as we event professionals like to grandly call it, live engagement and communication.

The power of events to the Scottish independence movement

Ive been writing for a while about events for the YES movement so I am delighted to see more in the movement acknowledge their power. Bringing like minded people together to discuss, plot, challenge, laugh, debate and plan is the fuel for every successful movement: it’s the reason that the right to free assembly is always at the top of the Dictator’s banned list.

We aren’t quite up against a dictatorship but the YES movement certainly has its challenges getting our message out, and this is why our events must not waste the opportunity in front of them.

The AUOB march was of course just one of scores of different YES events that took place in the first half of May. The next major YES event is The Gathering in Stirling on the 27th May and before that loads of other YES events will take place across the country, all doing their bit to build the case for an independent Scotland.

Our movement has to include a huge effort to physically engage the wider electorate, as it’s really the only field of communication where we can play on that level playing field.

How to compete against the Unionist dominated Main Stream Media

The main stream media in Scotland and the UK speaks with an almost universal voice and this brings it a huge amount of power. But thankfully, it’s not just the frequency of a message that has an impact but also the emotional connection, and that’s were events can help level that playing field. Events which are more of an experience have an emotionally bigger and more positive impact than more traditional events.

Our movement has to embrace the march, the demonstration and the conference but it also has to embrace the Hackathon, the online hub summit, the bar camp and the whole host of event formats that are available to organisers within our movement.

If you are thinking about running a YES event please drop me a line to arrange a chat and we can make sure that the format you choose will achieve your objectives. But most importantly keep organising events!

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.

A national YES organisation

We are already about three years too late in creating a professional YES organisation. So there really is no time like the present.

Following on from the wave of optimism after the AUOB march over the weekend I wanted to start to detail some ideas about the national YES organisation. The idea seems to have a very broad support and at the moment there seems to be two credible places to start:

  1. An organisation created from and around the current National YES Registry or
  2. The Scottish Independence Convention

Robin wrote an interesting piece in CommonSpace last week suggesting that £150,000 a year would be needed for a well resourced and professional YES organisation and he is probably not too far off the mark if the organisation is to be set up using a  traditional campaigning  type approach. Robin is no doubt thinking about a beefed up Scottish Independence Convention and the idea will certainly have some supporters. I am not one.

I am in favour of a new organisation born from the current YES movement via the National Yes Registry and it’s first year budget wouldn’t need to be in the six figures.

Before we start to look at the “who” I think it’s important that we take a step back and look at actually what we would have to do to get an organisation like this up and running.

I’ve set up a few businesses, run a few departments and as a consultant I’ve set up and reorganised structures within commercial organisations. So I feel confident to have a stab at what a YES organisation would need before it could be fully functional.  Here’s a list of the things I think we would have to have before we formally launched:

A constitution
A committee structure
A board of directors
An overall communications / membership platform
Donations policies
Membership benefits
Subscriptions process
An organisational structure
Job descriptions
A website
Social media channels
Social media guidance
Social media strategy
A logo
Brand and brand guidelines
A name
Health and safety, equal opportunity employment policies, etc.
Ensure GDPR compliance
A database
Premises
Funding and revenue strategy
Contractural arrangements with public relations etc.
Launch strategy
Live engagement strategy
Legal advice
Business set up
Tax position

I am sure this is not an exhaustive list. Does it look rather daunting? Or are you asking, really, is all this necessary? Yes, it is. Considering the scrutiny that a YES organisation would be under it would be vitally important to make sure there were no holes in the organisation. Imagine if someone did to it, what Wings does to Scotland in Union?

With so much to do I could imagine a YES organisation may not see the light of day this year unless we start doing things now.

So what I am suggesting, having absolutely no power or authority to suggest it, is that the movement should,  by the end of the May, have a proposal from the Scottish Independence Convention and one from the grassroots, via the National YES Registry. Plus of course any other suggestions that anyone in the movement wants to propose.

We now have an opportunity to unify a movement that has been split for too long. A YES organisation has to be the practical priority that will steady the ship and will support the challenges that are ahead.

Please get in touch or share this article if you agree that the movement should decide on the organisation that supports the movement before the end of May. 

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.

Attracting a Younger Audience to Scottish Independence Events

I have to ask the general YES movement: does the audience at our events give a fair reflection of our movement? It certainly doesn’t reflect those who, after being enthused, voted for Scottish independence in 2014. We therefore should be worried.

It is fantastic to see so many YES groups “getting the band back together”. Last weekend Twitter was full of news and images of YES events across the country. It’s like we are all getting ready for something eh?

Here’s a couple of images:

attracting a younger audience
A typical audience at a YES event?
Another typical audience at a YES event

Notice anything? Well, the first thing that sprang to mind for me was the lack of age diversity. It’s actually really striking. Putting it in terms of a question, “where are the young folk?”

I asked Indy Blogger William Duguid, who was at another YES event over the weekend, what the age range was like there: “Anywhere between 55 and 65, though it wasn’t uniform”

It’s fair to say that although not uniform, it is very common for our indy events to be made up of an older audience.  The images are from a couple of small regional events, however the same pattern is found at the larger ones too.

After the first build conference in 2017, I was asked to do a short post event questionnaire. Watching online I had an inclining that it was an older audience. So I included a question in the responses: “Your age range?”

Number of respondents on the left. Along the bottom the age rage (sample 10% of attendees)

Our audiences are starting to look very similar

I ask again,  does the audience at our events give a fair reflection of our movement? No matter the answer, it certainly doesn’t reflect those who voted in 2014.

It’s clear younger voters are not attending any of our events in any significant number (putting it mildly) and I think we should be concerned. Is anyone else worried or bothered about this?

Attracting a younger audience to Scottish independence events

As many more YES groups will be formulating their events over the coming months I hope they take the opportunity to ask how their events can appeal to a younger audience. I am sure everyone agrees that it is absolutely crucial that if we want to win a second referendum campaign, we must engage, excite and energise a younger audience.

Our movement has to be supported by the vigour of youth. Using live experiences (what we are currently calling events) should be one of the most obvious ways to engage a wider audience. Events are viewed by many as the best way to reach the audiences that other means can’t reach.

What millennials want from experiences

Instead of young folk I may as well get with it, and use the word millennial to represent those around 30 year old. There’s a growing amount of research to show that “millennials want experiences more than anything” this is from EventBrite (a ticketing platform) and this is from Forbes magazine “millennials value experiences over other things”, so if we want to attract a younger audience to our events, we have to start to think about creating “experiences” rather than just events.

The Big Sleep Out. 8000 camped out to end Homelessness and rough sleeping. This was no event, this was an experience.

Even as an events professional for over twenty years it is a challenge for me to put this transformation from event to experience into practice, so I know it’s not going to be easy for the army of YES volunteers.

With that in mind I’ve thought about a few simple things (shortcuts to creating experiences) that every YES group can consider as they plan their next event. Here’s how to attract a younger audience to your YES event:

1. Conferences are regarded as boring (and almost ALL of them are)

If your next event is called a “conference” strongly consider changing the name of the event. Nothing is likely to turn off a younger attendee than the belief they are going to attend a boring conference. Perhaps it’s not just the name you can change but the overall format. Have you ever considered running a Pecha-Kucha rapid fire event or a Hackathon or a BarCamp style event? There are a whole host of types of events that can remove you from the “do not attend” list.

2. How the event is perceived before is very important

The name of the event as well as the logo, images you use, and how the event is promoted will go along way to attracting a younger audience. Just taking the time to think about how the event will be perceived by a younger audience is likely to attract them. You may hate the idea of creating a “brand” for your events but this will help it stand out in a sea of time sapping events that young people attend.

3. Set a target for attracting millennials, perhaps 10% – 20% of your next audience

One of the objectives for your events should be to use them to recruit people to the movement. That objective should be widened to attract a specific number of younger attendees. Just having this in mind will help you achieve it.

4. Don’t spend the whole time talking to the audience

Look at your programme. What percentage of it is people speaking to the audience, compared to time spent listening to the audience or having the audience engage with each other? Millennials like to comment and feedback and they like to hear from, and speak to their peers.

Your sessions should have interaction. Speakers should be responding to the audience and tailoring their content according to their responses. Think of your attendees as “participants” rather than an audience. This is a sure fire way to engage a younger audience.

5. You have to mash-up the format

The technical events terms is Meeting Design (here’s a link to a whole host of articles on how to do this from my Gallus Events website) but in short, if you have an event that lasts any longer than a couple of hours, you need a variety of session formats to keep people interested.

6. Remove some things

Don’t have a top table. If you have speakers ask them to join from, and then return to the audience. If you have a chairperson ask them to move around the room or certainly, spend more time on the same level as the attendees. Don’t have trestle tables at any exhibition stands.

The idea underpinning these few suggestions is to make the event less formal and traditional. If you remove these traditional barriers you are likely to foster an environment that encourages much more interaction.

7. Choose your venue wisely

No event attendee really wants to spend time in a cold, drafty church hall. I totally understand that it may well be the cheapest option, but the venue is exceptionally important for all your attendees and younger folk just won’t turn up if you have the wrong venue. Take some time looking for the venue and choose one that will likely support the type of event you are trying to create: an open, informal and engaging experience.

8. Use technology

There are loads of free apps that will help you run a better event. Whether it’s an app that helps you check in the attendees, helps you collect their ideas or makes it easy for them to vote.

As well as making your event easier to run, your audience is used to apps and technology.  Your attendees have a smartphone and you have to take advantage of this bit of equipment.

Oh, and using an overhead projector as one indy event organiser is planning to use doesn’t count as technology:

“This is just a wee heads up to ask ye if you know where I can get a cheap overhead projector I can use for a new pro-INDY group/project” This was a Tweet from last weekend.

I lasted used an OHP at an event in 1998. Most millennials wouldn’t know one if they bumped into it (which given its size is likely to happen)

9. Have some younger speakers 

A younger audience will be interested in seeing speakers that they identify with. This is of course the same for any audience, the speakers should in the most part, reflect the movement while encouraging those who are currently not engaged in that movement to attend.

10. Follow up with attendees after your events

Millennials (and don’t we all) hate thinking that our time was wasted. If your event doesn’t lead to anything then really consider if it is worth running at all? No one likes a talking shop. Events have to lead to action.

An absolute must for any event that wants to bring attendees back is to follow-up and demonstrate what was achieved by or at the meeting. It is a little more work for the organisers but it will be worth it. The added bonus is that every idea, not only engages a younger audience, but will engage all of your attendees.

All of these ideas lead to events which can slowly become more experiential and I would suggest that YES groups focus on no more than two of the ideas at a time. Gradually we can and we must improve our events to attract a younger audience.

Judging by a few hours on Twitter over the weekend we clearly have a long way to go if we are to have events that attract a younger audience. Younger voters did vote for Scottish independence and still want to vote for a better Scotland. We have to show younger voters that we have a dynamic independence movement: one that will listen and adapt.  The future becomes clearer at the events the YES movement run.

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