As the new format of the Scottish Convention “This Is It” passes £100,000 in donations, I urge them, The SNP, and the Scottish Government to start to plan and consider how live experiences will shape and win the next Scottish independence campaign.
I’ve recently returned from a speaking slot at the “Oscars for the events industry” the EUBEA World Festival, which took place in small, beautiful, fiercely independent Portugal. The awards were held in the historic city, once the capital and seat of the Portuguese Royal Family: Coimbra. And I would thoroughly recommend a visit!
There were shortlisted events from Kazakhstan, Latvia, Finland, Russia, Italy, Czech Republic, Poland, Netherlands, England, Spain, Portugal and around a dozen more countries.
There was no event from Scotland. In fact, I was the sole Scottish representative on the entire three day festival programme.
Here’s how other countries celebrate their events
Entries are made primarily by event agencies and like most other sectors of the UK the heart of that industry is in London. So perhaps it’s no great surprise that Scottish agencies weren’t represented, however, it is surely bizarre that non one event took place in Scotland in the last 12 months that the organisers thought would merit a place on the short list?
It’s depressing seeing other countries use live experiences to launch, extend and amplify campaigns or to use them to share the awesomeness of their work or their culture.
Have a look at a few of the events that I have picked out and then think, why doesn’t Scotland do anything like this?
Important cultural events are marked with extravagant celebrations, bringing a whole country together in a shared and uplifting experience as demonstrated by Scarlet Sales 50 year anniversary in Russia.
Cultural buildings have a new lease of life injected by live experiences as demonstrated by Lisbon Under The Stars.
But back to Scotland
Think of a significant event, like the opening of the Queensferry Crossing and check out OUR opening ceremony. It’s an obsequious, pompous, 50p show. It seems to celebrate the Royal Family more than it celebrates Scotland, the red arrows even pump out Red, Blue and White smoke.
If you spend £1.35 billon on something don’t be ashamed to properly celebrate its completion. Be proud of it. Brush off the abuse that comes from celebrating the hard work and endeavour of our Nation.
Another example to look at is the opening of the V&A Dundee Museum of Design. The opening ceremony was “given” to the BBC. It was a broadcast with editorial decisions made, presumably in London. Is this really controlling how the world sees Scotland?
We either do it badly on the cheap or we ask the BBC to do it for us. Who is really happy with either of those options?
As you can see when the Scottish Government is in charge it lacks the chutzpah to do it properly and the BBC is clearly now a British State Broadcaster unable to properly reflect the interests of Scotland.
So what should we be doing as we lead up to a Scottish independence campaign?
Judging by the entries at the EUBEA World Festival and knowing the skills and the resources available in Scotland, we seem uniquely placed as a country, a government and a people unable to celebrate pride in our success and traditions in the full glare of the world.
So how do we currently celebrate our cultural days like St. Andrew’s day or Highland Gatherings, or the scores of cultural events that are never supported to rise about the noise of every day life? Or how do we bring to life buildings that sit empty like the Cathedrals in St. Andrews or Dunkeld (“Scotland Under The Stars” anyone?)
We don’t. Because we are not realising the true power of live experiences.
And because of this ignorance, I fear for the next Scottish independence campaign.
We are all too aware of the bias of the media and we know that, as an independent Scotland is likely this time, that it will be much more forceful in its “better together in our precious union” So how do we counter that MSM bias?
The only real option is to develop events at every level that speak to those living in Scotland and abroad. Events that shout with a loud and determined voice: Scotland has its own voice because it is a Nation.
We all cringe at the now almost ubiquitous Scottish cringe. Some people seems totally unable to celebrate anything in Scotland! And others are simply minded to denigrate anything positive.
Asking how did we get here ? should be a question for many of the country’s sociologists, political scientists and psychologists, but they probably think that we aren’t worth studying. Cringe!
However there are many Scots, and for sure, the vast majority of Scots in the yes movement, who swell with pride and want to shout our success from the top of the highest mountains. But that voice does not travel unless it is amplified.
As the new format of the Scottish Convention “This Is It” passes £100,000 in donations I urge them to start to plan and consider how live experiences will shape and win the next campaign. The Scottish Government must discover the power of live. As ever I am willing to help.
“A tremendous milestone for the country, and testament to how events can support cultural change in a country” is how one of the entries at EUBEA World closed their pitch. Exactly. So what are we going to do about it?
Just over a week later a major fundraising campaign was launched with a full media blitz. A big promotional push for This Is It included articles in print (and a front page splash) and online by The National, plus supporting blog posts by well known indy campaigners, including senior SNP figures.
It would be easy to look at the YES movement and conclude that all is not just well, but positively rosy. But many in the YES movement have concerns about “our” campaigning as we head into a tumultuous year.
So in this post I want to try to look at a few things in detail.
Firstly, the current set up and approach of “the new SIC”
Secondly, to look at our big events.
And thirdly is to look at the approach we are taking to funding our campaigns and our movement.
I won’t apologise for the length of this post as I believe these are three exceptionally important areas to cover. (I’ve added a section at the bottom of this post that lists my experience in these areas, lest you think I am spouting nonsense from nowhere)
I hope this piece opens up more conversations on our movement and gives confidence to YESSERS to question the current set up, to suggest alternatives, and to ultimately do something different.
The Scottish Independence Convention’s new fundraising appeal
I’ve been writing for a couple of years about the need for an organisation to co-ordinate the YES movement. So in this initial stance, I am in total agreement with Elaine C Smith and I do agree with her that a majority of the grass roots support the idea –
“I am always asked about a central place/facilitating organisation/resource hub that can distribute and communicate what’s going on to all the other groups……..That’s what we aim to try and provide.” Elaine C Smith.
However I have to question the current approach as outlined by This Is It. In questioning the set up and structure of the organisation I will reference two similar successful campaigning organisations in Europe.
So members pay and receive a voice within the organisation. This sounds like an obvious and simple structure for any representative body. Why is the new YES organisation so different?
This representative approach is how political parties, membership bodies, trade unions and trade associations are structured. But this is not how the new SIC is structured. We really have to ask why?
The new organisation will of course have members, but they will not fund the organisation, it will be funded by individuals who will not have a voice or any direct representation.
This seems a peculiar set up for an organisation and I believe we are right to question the proposed structure, even if its taken two whole years to get to this stage.
There may be a whole host of reasons behind the chosen structure, however, if I was asked to design a organisational structure that was funded but not held to account this is how I would design it. I believe the organisers behind the organisation have a lot of background information to divulge.
The second issue with regard to membership, is to ask why there are so few grass roots organisations supporting it at this stage?
The YES movement has hundreds of groups who support independence yet so few are represented. Isn’t this peculiar?
So YESSERS are asked to fund an organisation that seems to have little support from the heart and soul of the movement, the grass roots organisations.
I find this incredibly worrying. I believe we are in danger of having a (maybe even THE) leading independence organisation that has little representation from the movement and little if any accountability.
With this structure we are setting ourselves up for all manner of smears from the Unionist media.
Structure, processes and procedures are boring for sure, but they are important. The movement has to stop and think if this is really the way we should be going.
The body that aims to represent the YES moment in various ways should be a membership body with members having control of direction, messaging and operational objectives.
Do we not have the grand designs or ambitions to set up a similar structure as the Italians?
The Five Star Movement has 135,000 members all of whom pay an annual subscription, and if is from here that the movement is funded. Interesting the Movement refused 40.000.000 euros from the state (as a political party that received 25% of the vote ) so determined was it to not be labelled an organisation that could be bought.
There is a minimum subscription and a maximum amount so that no-one can be accused of offering or accepting money in return for influence. Every member has a direct involvement in the organisation. It’s a fascinating structure.
This shows you the extent that the organisation has gone to be accountable to the movement and to be super clean and above suspicion.
I hope that’s some interesting thoughts on the structure of the organisation and the funding, to help people analyse the new SIC in some more detail. But we have every right to ask, why THIS structure?
So if that’s how it’s structured and funded, what will it actually do?
Well, similar to the lack of information on membership and representation we are a bit in the dark. Where there is a lack of information people will fill in the gaps.
Perhaps the new organisation will have at its core support for groups that are already doing some great stuff but nowhere is that being made clear.
The only details we have is that they seek £180,000 to fund the organisation for a year. An organisation that will carry out –
This is all very vague. It leaves open the possibility that the organisation could play drastically different roles. It’s all down to interpretation at this stage. What does any of this mean? Some details would be very welcome.
If most YESSERS are not going to have direct representation then surely, an absolute bare minimum, should be that they know what they are funding.
In the approach taken so far I believe the organisers have paid a disservice to the 100,000s of independence supporters. There should be much more clarity about the planned role for the organisation BEFORE asking for funding.
And finally I want to look at that annual funding figure as it hints at the structure and approach of the organisation. In a previous post I said it looked like “an analogue organisation in a digital age”, or all very 2014 as a prominent indy voice put it.
In spending this amount of donated money the organisation will use it to pay full time, permanent staff. They will have office space. They will employ the services of a major brand agency. They will be structured like a traditional campaign organisation would have been in 2014 when we lost.
Five years later the structure hasn’t evolved. They won’t, in short, be using the resources available to them as part of this massive, creative, powerful movement. To give yourself the task of winning independence and not having @zarkwan involved in helping you shape the brand and the messaging, or not having @phantompower14 involved in your digital content creation seems to be totally bizarre.
There are many hundreds, perhaps thousand who could help this organisation, if it was structured differently.
The organisation should be more flexible. It shouldn’t have large fixed costs like five full time staff and premises. It should operate more as a start up or a digital business. It should be super lean and super mean, because it is being funded by donations (more on the issues around funding your organisation by kindness later)
However, IF it was a membership body funded by subscriptions and other income it would then be wise to take on more fixed costs as it would be on a more secure footing. Under this approach £180,000 could be small change.
If one thing is for certain the next independence campaign will need a dynamic and fast footed organisation ready to respond. The set up of the new organisation does little to demonstrate that readiness. It also must have a democratic mandate and be totally transparent.
I think we can do better.
Our large events including Hoop and All Under One Banner
I’ve written in detail about how our independence events can be better. I’ve also noted how impressed I am with the dedication of the volunteers who run these big events.
I’ve been an events organiser for over twenty years and I’ve written as constructively as possible about our events. It is no mean feat to be able to bring thousands of people out on the streets.
I have however lamented that there is no professionalism and no central resource to fund and run these events. To give you some perspective, The ANC spend 300,000 Euro on PR for their large La Diada celebrations! That’s the annual one, that has 1million demonstrators.
The Five Star movement place events at the absolute core of their movement and have done from its inception in 2009.
Our current approach to live engagement means we can only but dream of organising events that actually achieve any strategic goals. If you want to read more about the how our events can be better check out most of the posts on this blog.
It is clear that how we conduct ourselves at our events will have a big impact on how the movement as a whole is regarded by those open to the possibility of voting for independence next time round.
Our events, in all shapes and forms, will have a considerable impact on our campaign and I believe they therefore deserve some more scrutiny.
The two issues that I would like to address here are –
The events that represent the entire movement are not co-ordianted by the movement and
There is little accountability or transparency at these events.
I have to make this point clear. I am not for one second saying grass roots organisations should not organise events, exactly the opposite in fact, but I believe they should have some central resource to help them.
However I do believe that large events should be co-ordainted by a central body or a representative body, not by individuals acting for the movement. And I think I’ve been clear, I don’t think it should be structured like the new SIC seems to be.
The reasons for me are clear –
They are too big and too important to leave to volunteers.
They will never have the impact and the support if they are not supported by the whole movement.
They can never stand up to scrutiny and they lack transparency if they are not properly organised.
It is time to ask how we organise the events where we showcase our movement to see if we can do things better.
How we fund our movement or “the curse of the crowd funder”
As we approach the end of the first week of funding for This Is It the fund raiser passed its first target of £30,000 and is now sitting just over £40,000. So according to the website this is enough for –
“30K will get the organisation started and branded – complete with public engagement research (so we know that undecided voters will be open to what they see when they look at our messages and branding)”
So it looks like its a done deal and the fundraising has done it’s job.
If you want to raise funds for something before you actually have to do much, then crowd funding is the way to go. But to fund an entire movement this way is madness.
We have to find a more secure way to fund the YES movement.
We should not be funding our entire movement on frequent acts of kindness, fundraisers and passing buckets around, well, not if we want to have a successful campaign. We will be in professional campaign mode soon and we have to be professional and that means being secure in our finances.
In Catalonia “paying for things” is part of the independence culture. You pay for membership to have a say in the direction of the movement. An event is run form the money that is raised selling the t-shirts that everyone wears. Campaigns are paid for by the merchandising that is sold.
This is a mature approach to funding a campaign. Again I question why this approach is regarded as “grass roots” in Catalonia and Italy but not in Scotland?
If we want to move to a more secure footing for our movement we have to ask some important questions. What does it actually mean to be grass roots? Should volunteers be doing so much? Is it wrong to ask people to pay for things? Who should lead the movement? And what role should we have in the organisations that represent us?
In August I spent a few days in the south of Italy with members of the Five Star Movement. I wanted to get to the heart of the organisation and how it was structured in the hope I would see more options for what we can do in Scotland.
I talked through our peculiar Scottish issues mentioning the role of volunteers and the grass roots approach, “Grass roots are the volunteers right, they are the engine, but every movement needs dedicated professionals to run it, unless, maybe it’s not serious?” said Paolo.
I assured him he would never meet more serious and dedicated people than those in the Scottish grass roots independence movement but he couldn’t take the step to understand why we didn’t want to professionalise or to make regular financial commitments.
He was also confused when I told him that many people who led in 2014 seem poised to lead again. He told me that this would not happen in the Five Star Movement. This is because they believe that no one is irreplaceable and that people should move over after a period of time.
I nodded and said we have a lot to learn.
I hope it is not too late for the movement to look again at its structures.
I’ve been organising events for over twenty years. During that time I’ve set up several departments in large membership organisations. I wrote a book about organisational structures in not for profit organisations. I have also set up and run a couple of small commercial organisations. I currently run Gallus Events Ltd. which manages Europe’s largest blog for Personal Assistants in Europe, several events and does consultancy all over Europe. I ran my crowdfunded event in 2017.
I believe that the YES movement should have an alternative to the Scottish Independence Convention as the “coordinating body” for the YES movement and here’s what I propose.
Most of the people who will read this post will have never read anything I’ve written before and will certainly never have heard of me. So the first thing to say is that this is not an opportunist post on a “hot topic” I’ve been discussing, agitating and proposing a coordinating YES body for almost two years. Here’s few links that cover my thoughts and feelings…..
The second thing to say is that I am delighted that SIC has new proposals. I believe there is an absolute need for an organisation to coordinate the movement, if we have the right one we can secure independence. But let’s do all we can to make sure it is the right one.
What is the Scottish Independence Convention
“The Scottish Independence Convention is a coalition of Scotland’s national pro-independence organisations, the pro-independence political parties and, through the membership of regional forums, of Scotland’s local grassroots pro-independence groups. It is just about to launch a fundraiser to start a national campaign organisation.”
This was taken from the open letter from SIC to the YES movement. And that movement includes me. So this is, in part, my right of reply. But I will let Mr Malky succinctly reply on my behalf.
Having read the letter in detail I think the SIC are about to create an analogue organisation for a digital age.
By their own admission it’s taken almost two years to come up with the new format. Successful organisations don’t work like this nowadays. And after the two years it looks very much like, well, how the SIC looked before.
I plan to write this response in two parts (the second one to follow will cover my concerns about SIC).
This first part covers the alternative suggestion I have and this is much, much more important. So please do read on.
An alternative to SIC created by the movement
It’s easy, actually all too easy with the invention of Social Media, to criticise the work of SIC to date and its proposals. However, any argument has less credibility when the people who make it have an alternative but do nothing about it.
So I want to suggest a way for “everyone” in the YES movement to get involved in creating an alternative to the SIC proposal. I want to help offer a choice for the YES movement.
I know that everyone involved in SIC wants the best possible organisation to support the movement so I know they will support this idea. I look forward to them all engaging in the spirit of doing what is best for the movement.
OK, so here it is.
I suggest a weekend long event tasked with creating an alternative to the Scottish Independence Convention.
It would be an open event and anyone keen to support the movement would be able to attend the event. The event would take place from 5pm Friday to Sunday 5pm in a Hackathon style. It would also have online attendees.
If you haven’t attended or heard about a Hackathon you will be amazed at what can be created during this weekend format. I have little doubt that the moment could create an alternative to SIC over the weekend. So how would it work?
As an event organiser (with a considerable number of years experience) I am offering to coordinate, manage and run the IndyHACK.
It’s up to others to decide to get involved, take part and create an alternative to SIC.
To build from the bottom up the organisation that will help co-ordinate Scotland’s independence.
I would propose that we have “teams” who decide to work on the following areas (among others)
A committee structure
A board of directors
An overall communications / membership platform
An organisational structure
Social media channels
Social media guidance
Social media strategy
Brand and brand guidelines
Health and safety, equal opportunity employment policies, etc.
Ensure GDPR compliance
Funding and revenue strategy
Contractural arrangements with public relations etc.
Live engagement strategy
Business set up
Two weeks after the event the full details of the proposed organisation would be uploaded online. We would ask SIC to do the same and give as much detail as possible. The “movement” would choose the winning organisation.
Impossible? I doubt it. Able to happen before the end of the year? For sure. Is anyone interested in taking part? I have no idea. Let’s find out.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.”
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.
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:
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 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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
An independent Scot's view on the search for an independent nation