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:
An organisation created from and around the current National YES Registry or
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 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
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.
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.
"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.
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.
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.
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:
We should have another similar event later this year run on a much more professional basis that has grander and achievable objectives.
We should have a fund set up and run by a grass roots movement.
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.
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:
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)
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.
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.
When no one is listening you need to think about what you are saying and how you are saying it. A new Scottish Government communications strategy based on a more experience led live engagement strategy could be the answer.
Like other independence minded voters who are worried about the impact of Brexit, I watched the Scottish Government’s live broadcast on YouTube yesterday morning. For just over 30mins, the First Minister outlined the impact of three different Brexit scenarios on Scotland. The information is contained in Scotland´s place in Europe, an in-depth analysis and modelling of three possible scenarios. The “headline” figure from the paper being a potential £12bn hit to Scotland´s economy.
I highlight “headline” because none of the Scottish daily newspapers went with any headline at all from the paper. This is remember, the first and only, detailed Government analysis of Brexit on the Scottish (or wider UK economy). Can you think of anything more newsworthy?
Commenting on the lack of coverage: “That isn’t news reporting, it’s confirmation of a top level ownership agenda?” tweeted @scottishpoliticsnews
The agenda of the MSM printed press (and wider across TV) is one of the most important issues affecting democracy in Scotland. The anti SNP bias – via the agenda supporting approach of papers, rather than old fashioned news hunting – is now undeniable. As the above tweet continues, the lack of front page coverage is “incredible but not unexpected” and very few of us, including the Scottish Government would disagree. But here is the crux of the matter, information like this has to make a wider and deeper impact; this is not only crucial for the Scottish Government but for democracy in Scotland.
So how can the Scottish Government make more of an impact?
How can they extend the amplification wider than the #ScotRef online fraternity, retweeting it in that echo chamber? The answer is to update the Scottish Government’s communications strategy to embrace live communications in a more creative and daring manner.
A very traditional launch of the Scotland in Europe paper
The paper was launched yesterday at an event. Like any event a Press Briefing should have objectives. One objective of any press briefing is to have the information covered by the press. Obvious eh? But when you can expect the press to either ignore it, spin it or use it to attack you, don’t you have to question the event itself? As an events professional that’s what I would be doing today. My question is:
Is it time that the Scottish Government ditch this as the default way to launch a significant paper?
It would be great if we could see the objectives of this event and then measure the success or otherwise. I would expect some fairly glum faces in the Scottish Government press office this morning as they search for positive stories. So would a different type of launch event have more of a positive impact?
YouTube Live Streaming
As someone based in Barcelona I had little chance of seeing any traditional TV broadcast, so I missed the extensive 2min to 3min coverage on Sky News (apparently the only broadcaster to show it) so I was very happy to be able to watch it on YouTube. As you may or not be aware, The Scottish Government has a dedicated YouTube channel.
It’s no surprise to see the Scottish Government using YouTube. They rightly consider themselves at the forefront of modern communications in the UK and are keen to promote their position: this is from the Scot Govt website: “The Ministerial Support Directorate has become a centre of excellence as digital has become an increasingly mainstream part of all Scottish Government business. Social media is a key way for the Scottish Government to communicate and engage with its audiences.” The SNP (not the Scottish Government during election campaigns) have been dominating this space since 2011.
However, considering the amount of traditional (MSM) coverage the other main political parties can rely on, the gap between the SNP and others online has to be incredibly large to even start to level the playing field. So, despite the SNP winning the online war during election campaigns, it is sobering to see the Scot Govt YouTube channel has less than 6000 subscribers. To crudely benchmark, the Celtic FC channel has 63,000 and the Rangers one 42,000. The Scottish Government has a few hundred more subscribers than Aberdeen FC.
For YouTube and other social media channels to be effective, they need people to subscribe / follow; in short to have more active engagement. You do this by having interesting content.
Subscribers and followers grow when those online are able to actually engage. Using the launch of the Scotland´s place in Europe event as an example, the only people able to ask a question were those in the room. And most of them were not listening to the answer! The majority of the press aren’t listening, so are they really worth talking to? Online, there was no way to engage. Those who wanted answers had to rely on the press to ask the right questions.
It’s not just the level of engagement that is important at an event but also what type of content is on show. Showing the First Minister talking in front of a lectern answering daft (often inaudible) questions is not gripping content. The Scottish Government, via YouTube and Facebook has a vehicle for delivering innovative content they just need to create “experiences” rater than events.
Ditching the traditional press briefing and replacing it with a content heavy, engagement focussed, event would allow the Scottish Government to start to amplify their message outside of their base and beyond the news gatekeepers, who are all too keen to slam the door shut on anything positive.
If you are interested in contributing to my work on a live engagement strategy for the YES movement please get in touch.
How we organise our independence events is crucial to the success of the next independence referendum. Balanced panels at independence events are important but so are many other aspects.
Over the last couple of weeks it seems like everyone has been chipping into a debate about who should or shouldn’t have appeared on a panel at one Yes event in East Kilbride. The extent to which this has escalated proves two things. Twitter is a really awful medium, as it’s impossible to truly get across what you mean most of the time, and secondly events are crucial to how the movement is seen and how it sees itself. As an events professional I will concentrate on the latter in this short post.
Firstly, I suppose I should comment. My everyday job is to advise event organisers on how to run better events. My advice for every organiser, no matter the topic/theme/industry/sector is to ensure that the people on stage reflect their audience and to bare in mind the important role event organisers have on promoting equality and opportunity. It can be difficult to do that for every event, especially when you are an organiser working under the whip of a demanding boss, or you are organising the event as a volunteer. So, if you run a few events ensure that, when you look at them in the round, you have a good balance.
It is worth stressing, having a balanced panel is an additional benefit, not a burden. Without doubt having had the pleasure of seeing 10,000 speakers at my events, woman are every bit as good as men.
To cancel or not to cancel?
Events are complicated and difficult, time consuming and costly so organisers should do all they can to avoid cancelling them (unless no one is turing up). Being unable to find a woman to fill a space on the programme is not reason enough to cancel any event, unless, of course, it is on gender equality.
Having run over 700 events and been to a few hundred more, it is easy to say that white men in their 40s-60s are over represented. Looking at indy events (should someone do some research) you will find the same situation. To ensure a more balanced representation, organisers should find speakers who are different. In the case of independence events in Scotland, it seems bizarre to be explaining the need to reflect the electorate on the stage at indy events.
Events which are promoting Scottish independence must have a positive message if they are going to promote the ideas of independence. They have to inspire as much as inform. They have to entertain as much as educate, and event organisers have to have an understanding of the wider impact that their decisions will have.
Events are as difficult as they are important to our movement. I continue to work on my Guide For Indy Ref Events as I believe guidance, advice, support and to a shared vision that the movement an sign up to would be extremely worthwhile for the movement. If you think this would be useful or would like to contribute please comment and get in touch.
It’s only six days until the date set for the Catalan independent republic referendum. It allows a moment for reflection on the campaign so far. As a Scot who witnessed the campaign in Scotland the difference is striking. Where are the hoards of people saying Catalonia will be a financial basket case?
The debate has of course touched on many other issues but the legality and the right to vote have been the most prominent. The recent Observer editorial covered a lack of debate around the financial implications of becoming an independent nation as “Brexit” like / light. Suggesting that a simple blood and soil “SÍ” was enough to start or end any serious conversation. (The whole Observer piece was beautifully and forensically debunked by Alistair Spearing) The truth is completely different. The simple fact is that holding the view that Catalonia wouldn’t continue to thrive outside of the Spanish state is insulting, not only to the intelligence of Catalans but to the Catalans themselves. Catalans are immune to this nonsense, initially despite Madrid’s actions and now because of them.
The Madrid supporting press and the Spanish Government have been peddling the cliff edge financial disaster over the last few weeks. It’s clearly a Spanish version of “Project Fear” as experienced by Scotland in 2014. However it has three large differences.
The role of the media
The power of Madrid’s media is nowhere near as strong as the voice of London in Scotland. As James Kelly noted in an excellent piece, Catalonia is served by a truly national TV broadcaster which is, understandably, sympathetic to a majority who wish to hold a referendum. Radio and print media has strong independent supporters too. Back in Scotland, turn on the radio or tv or pick up a newspaper and you are almost guaranteed to hear London’s voice; perhaps with a Scottish accent. The Scottish titles are all still owned by London based media conglomerates; not so here in Catalonia. And of course the failings of BBC Scotland and STV are now becoming clear for all to see.
The Madrid based media speaks from and for Madrid. They are camouflaged government messages sent north to undermine the belief of a nation in waiting. Confidence and self believe allows Catalans to see the half truths and thin promises.
The lack of respect felt for the Government in Madrid
Catalonia looks at the weak minority Government of Rajoy in Madrid with scorn, distaste and an increasing discomfort as it tramples on civil liberties and democratic institutions. Dialogue on a referendum has never been possible and the intransigence of the PP led Government is still the best PR vehicle and recruiter for the Sí movement in Catalonia.
This was of course very different in Scotland in 2014. The SNP faced a strong majority government in London and its strength and relative unity gave it credence in Scotland. Its desire to see Scotland remain in the union was for many, heart felt and honest. Scotland had been respected and the Edinburgh Agreement was a work of two nations. No one in Catalonia thinks Madrid looks north with any love and affection.
The third and perhaps the most important difference is that there are very, very few native doubters. Catalonia is not ladened down with home grown nae sayers that seem to dominate the media and the airwaves in Scotland. Many Scots still bemusingly wonder exactly how could one of the 10 richest nations on earth look after it’s own affairs?
The “too wee, too poor” argument that circled above the YES movement in 2014 should easily be blown out of the water. And we should look to Catalonia for that strength. Catalan politicians, its media and its citizens would not pore over something like GERS – with every mention giving its spurious claims more coverage – they would simply dismiss it and move on. Scots must do the same.
There are of course many Catalans who have serious concerns and issues with independence, however even the most ardent unionist would not consider Catalonia to be “too wee or too poor”. To proffer this view in a “wealthy region in the north” as BBC World recently chose to describe Catalonia, would be to insult yourself, as well as your neighbours. In Scotland this attitude just guarantees you column inches.
Every Catalan knows that Madrid stifles the language and the culture of Catalonia. During an interview with the Catalan National Assembly, I was struck by the outsider position that Catalans play in a “united” Spain. “Unlike Scots, Catalans have never embedded into the establishment. There are two Catalan Ambassadors in the whole of the Spanish diplomacy. The same with the Judiciary” said the ANC head of press.
Is Westminster ready to play the same hand?
As we look ahead to the Catalan referendum on the 1st October we will of course be thinking about the next Scottish referendum. We have to be skeptical that the YES movement will be able to reduce the power of the London media in Scotland; but we must try.
We are also unlikely to shake the Scottish doom mungers; but we must try.
However, we have to be confident that the May led Westminster Government will continue to deal from the same pack of cards as Rajoy.
As May pushes ahead with Brexit, the power grab and dismisses democratically elected Scottish institutions, Westminster is mirroring all of the mistakes made by Madrid over the last few years. It would of course be much better for every side if another Edinburgh Agreement could be signed, however, it this proves impossible, May and whoever replaces her, will push many soft No’s to the cause, as has undoubtedly happened in Catalonia.
With every passing week the Westminster Government and the mess of an opposition party in Labour, continue to undermine the “good will” that underpinned both the Edinburgh Agreement and gave credence to the messages we framed as Project Fear.
This week is monumental for Catalonia and it is a big one for Scotland too.
So far we’ve had just over 100 responses to our IndyRef Event Organiser Questionnaire from those who organised IndyRef Events (YES events) in 2014. And so far it makes for some interesting reading. I’ve decided to make a few initial comments on what we’ve seen so far.
Would people pay more to attend BETTER #ScotRef Events?
The “initial research” I referred to was the post event questionnaire I conducted after the “Build” conference run by the SIC in January this year. In that, post event survey, over 80% said they would pay “a little more or a lot more” to attend better events. Judging on the responses so far, that generosity / desire to invest in BETTER #ScotRef events may not be as widely held. However, almost 50% said yes, so plenty food for thought.
What support is needed for “movement” run events
Unfortunately I have been unable to talk to anyone who was heavily involved in YES Scotland (if anyone can do an introduction, I’d be very grateful). From the responses so far “some group” that is ready to help #ScotRef event organisers seems to be very popular. But who would that group / organisation be?
The importance (or not) of objectives
I wrote a piece for CommonSpace a few months ago covering tips for successful campaigning events. The first tip was to set “clear and measurable objectives” As you can see from below, only 30% of the events we know about through the survey, believe they set clear objectives. As a professional event organise I wouldn’t have stayed long in the profession if I ran events that didn’t have objectives.
Who came to #Indyref events?
Over 80% of the events did not target their audience in terms of those planning to vote yes or no. We all know that sending the right message is a subtle art, so it’s initially interesting to see this, arguably, less subtle approach was so common in 2014.
Feedback so far
There are loads of other interesting findings so far from the survey. However, we really need to at least double the amount of responses to get a really useful flavour (from the organisers perspective) of the events in 2014. So please do spread the link:
Or this article as widely as you can.
As well as the survey we are casting our net as widely as possible and I’d also like to address this comment from Bella Caledonia:
I believe Dougie has (probably inadvertently) hit the nail on the head. It is not EVENTS per se that are useless, but BAD EVENTS that don’t work. Events that don’t target an audience, don’t have the resources to impress attendees or deliver the messages, and don’t have objectives are very unlikely to succeed. So far our research is painting an honest picture of a 2014 campaign that is ready to learn from its mistakes.
If you are interested in contributing to my work on a live engagement strategy for the YES movement please get in touch.
How you engage, face-to-face, with the electorate during an election clearly matters. The three main parties in Scotland decided on very different live engagement strategies. The election results reflect their relative success.
During the GE2017 campaign, I compared Labour’s live engagement strategy against the Conservative one. You can check that post out here. But as a short cut, here’s two images that tell you really need to know about their view of engaging with the electorate.
It is easy to look at the live engagement element of the campaign and see which party was keen to avoid any debate or public scrutiny. Events are wonderful microcosms for many elements of a campaign.
Before I look at the SNP’s live engagement strategy I want to make one thing clear: there were many issues for the relative failure of the SNP General Election campaign. My professional view is that the live engagement strategy, which frames an entire campaign, did not send out the right messages to the electorate. I have decided not to focus on the political content of the messaging (there are plenty of people doing that) but rather on how the overall engagement was framed by live events.
The SNP’s Live Engagement Strategy
I’ve chosen two images which I think sum up the SNP Live events. There were clearly two very different “managed events” so I have one for each.
It may seem rather trite to use a single image to sum up an event, which can then be extrapolated to summarise an entire campaign, however, event organisers / campaign managers, spend a lot of time planning and stage managing these images. We select them exactly because they canencompass the entire campaign.
“The political powerhouse” type image has been a popular one for the SNP since the referendum defeat in 2014. With the swelling of members post indyref, and then post 2015 General Election, the SNP were happy to be seen to be the largest political party in Scotland: these images are all about showing the strength of the political party. These events, and these images, aren’t too different from the images disseminated from the Conservative events: that should have been a worry for the SNP at the very earliest of stages!
They portray a powerful posture and a powerful leader, with a large party behind her. These official images are taken at the well managed, supersize, party political events that the SNP, now seem to own in Scotland.
The second image is the “selfie queen” style image, which comes from Nicola’s “street focussed” live engagement. This guerrilla campaigning has been part of the SNP’s live engagement since Nicola became First Minister. These images portray a leader at ease with herself and with the electorate.
A strong leader at ease with the electorate was undeniably the correct approach to disseminate, through live events, in the last couple of years. When the GE2017 campaign was thrust on us all, perhaps understandably, the SNP obviously thought, why change a wining formula? However, the engagement strategy for GE2017, did not have the expected success.
The SNP’s message of a strong and likeable leader failed to ignite the electorate: especially the young. It is yet to be proven, but it is widely agreed that Corbyn gained the youth vote; with SNP MPs already acknowledging this dynamic.
You can easily tell by looking at Labour’s live engagement strategy that they went after the younger voter: why else would they have their leader standing in front of 15,000 Libertines fans at a football stadium in Merseyside? The SNP lack of a well plotted live engagement strategy let it wth the same old image of the leader standing in front of the party faithful. Certainly, from a campaigning perspective, it is easy to see which images from events were more attractive to young voters.
The SNP doing it’s own thing
Did the SNP’s live engagement strategy portray the SNP as the leaders of the independence movement? The simple answer is, it didn’t. And this was a deliberate approach.
For example, the SNP didn’t take part in the All Under One Banner, deciding not to support Scotland’s largest ever independence rally. We are in a strange world, when 17,000 marching through Glasgow in support of independence becomes a “distraction” (as one ex SNP MP told me) to the SNP’s General Election campaign. Further afield, there was little in the campaign that was designed to show the SNP acting on behalf of a diverse movement.
The messages the next live engagement strategy must portray
The campaign focussed on using live events and images from those events, to show a “strong leader who you could have a cup of tea with” To lead a radical campaign its leader has to be an “inspiring, collegiate leader” The strength of the Labour campaign was exactly that. It was perceived as a “radical” campaign and they had a leader who would listen, inspire and lead. As Kirsty Strickland offers in the National: “This presents an opportunity for the SNP, and the wider independence movement, to take stock, reflect and move forward.” However, nothing in the GE2017 campaign demonstrates a willingness for the SNP to listen.
No matter if the next campaign is another general election, or one for Holyrood or one for #ScotRef, the SNP has to change their live engagement strategy, and has to change the messaging. The SNP have to create an engagement strategy that demonstrates that the SNP is part of a movement, and is an organisation that listens and inspires. With that in mind, look back at the SNP images above. Do either of those images portray a party that is listening and inspiring?
My hope is that the next campaign will be framed at some very different events.
If you are interested in contributing to my work on a live engagement strategy for the YES movement please get in touch.
Scottish Independence demonstrations can make a real difference. They just have to be bigger and better.
(article originally appeared, without links, on CommonSpace)
So what? Around 17,000 people (splitting the difference between police and organiser estimates) gave up part of a Saturday afternoon to demonstrate in favour of a second independence referendum. Let’s put that into some context. With an average of 750 people visiting a Starbucks each day, almost as many Glaswegians had a coffee in the twenty, tax dodging coffee shops across the city on Saturday.
Let’s deal with a sobering fact. In September 2014, 1,617,989 people voted for Scottish independence. Three years later, with less than a week to go, before an exceptionally important General Election – which has been centred around another Scottish independence referendum – our movement, moved 1% of that constituency on to the streets. Is this something to celebrate? Or does it give the Unionists ammunition, to further their call, via Ruth Davidson, that “There is NO support for another independence referendum” Maybe it does, because 1% is almost no support.
Well, it is not quite as simple as that. Like the rest of the UK, Scotland doesn’t boast a particularly well known street movement. So, in that context, around 17,000 people filling the streets is exceptional. This is especially so, when you consider the resources available to the organisers, and the minimal support from other independence organisations (for I am sure, a whole host of reasons, which I won’t go into here). Pulling this number on to the street was no mean feat. Lack of support and resources were not the only barriers. The Labour run City Council put them up too. All Under One Banner were asked to have a 1:10 ratio of stewards to demonstrators. Generally, police and local authorities work to 1:75.
When just making an event happen, seems like achieving the impossible, it becomes more difficult to try to measure the actual impact. The rally on Saturday was Glasgow’s largest ever pro indy demonstration: larger in fact, than the ones held in the run up to the vote in 2014. However, for movements to matter, success has to be measured and evaluated on more than that mere fact. So, was it a success? Well, there’s a few ways to measure success.
The first is to know what the event organisers objectives were. Bill McKinnon, the main organiser, kindly spent some time talking to me about the demo and here are his objectives:
“1. To allow pro Independence patriots to show their demand and commitment to the cause to Scotland , Westminster and the world press.
2. The massive show of determination to achieve the second referendum will be universally recognised by the sheer numbers taking part in the March. We are hoping for 20,000.
3 . There has been a lull in open activity from the Indy movement over the past year. This March shows that our determination is stronger than ever.”
Even if you don’t agree with these objectives, or you question exactly how they can be measured, it is enlightening to know what they were. Using these objectives, the event was a massive success.
The primary way that I would judge the success of an event like this, is to learn of the events amplification. Perhaps “only” 17,000 took part, but a lot more people witnessed the march, as they set about their normal Saturday afternoon in Glasgow. 1000s of images of the march were retweeted, liked and shared across social media channels. The rally, including some of the speeches and performances from Glasgow Green, were live streamed by the ever vigilant Independence Live. Facebook proved an incredible platform with the Independence Live stream; shared over 2500 times; commented on thousand of times and had over 1200 views at any one time.
It is not just the quantity, but the type of images that are spread that reinforce the positive messages of a rally. Seeing images of Sikhs playing drums, of kids marching with parents, and of a whole section of Scottish society joining on a peaceful rally, were exceptionally powerful in portraying a positive image of civic nationalism. Juxtaposing it to the unionist “meeting” of a handful of flag wavers in George Square was priceless. Demonstrations matter: there is no better way for our movement to be so well framed.
The messages and the meaning of the rally were suitably boosted, for a sustained period after the event, by the attendees, their networks, alternative media (CommonSpace included) and unusually, the UK main stream media. Even the BBC covered the rally, because, with numbers approaching 20,000, it became impossible for media outlets to turn a blind eye. Numbers matter. It is well known in event circles that number of demonstrators correlate directly to column inches and media minutes.
The number of demonstrators that took part, and the huge amplification of the rally, should strengthen our belief in the demonstration as a powerful outlet for a political or social movement. It should also give us resolve, post GE2017, to make them bigger and better. As our elected politicians seem to be banging on a closed door, it is likely that we will need them more than ever.
During the General Election campaign Nicola Sturgeon said that “victory for the SNP will force a rethink on a second referendum”, suggesting that Theresa May would change her mind (she does like a U-turn) and sanction a second vote in the next couple of years (should she still be in power of course). However, a hand-break turn on this issue should be placed in the exceptionally unlikely category. So what pressure can be put on Westminster? And who can turn the screw? Demonstrators that’s who. Thousands of them.
Election wins and manifesto pledges are seemingly easy for Westminster, and many Scottish politicians, to ignore. Even votes in the Scottish Parliament have little impact. Democracy is clearly being undermined and with that, the express will of the Scottish people. This alone should drive tens of thousands to the street.
The Westminster based parties, are in unison, ignoring the democratic will of the Scottish Parliament. Ignoring the request for a second referendum is a link in an undemocratic process that is already in chain. Post Brexit, with returning powers from Brussels likely to be swallowed up by Westminster, the devolution settlement will be further weakened. Tory HQs charge towards an “internal UK market”, will weaken Holyrood’s power base in health, justice, transport, education and the environment, to name but a few.
Democracy is under threat in Scotland. However, Westminster politicians are building their case on exceptionally shaky ground, and they know it: but they can easily ignore, and fend off other politicians. They can bin newspapers and ignore partisan news reports. What they are unable to do, is to show the same intransigence in face of a seriously determined street movement. Just imagine 50,000 plus linking arms around Holyrood to “protect” democracy!
In most European nations, policy is directly affected by street politics much more regularly than in Scotland. However, Scotland is the scene of one of the world’s most successful ever demonstrations. Only twelve years ago, Edinburgh hosted the MAKEPOVERTYHISTORY rally, that led to the eventual cancellation of billions of dollars of debt from developing nations, under the Multilateral Debt Relief Initiative. The Edinburgh demonstration was the corner stone of a year long campaign. The official post campaign report praised the demonstration, “The public mobilisation was felt to be the greatest achievement of the campaign” Scotland has an enviable position in terms of forcing change from the streets. In 2005, our voices echoed across the world.
In recent weeks we have all seen the Labour Party have success based on rallies and other well attended and widely covered events. Labour have put in place an exceptional live engagement strategy, and should they ultimately lose, expect this live element of the campaign to continue. We should, by now, be getting the hint at what is possible on the streets of the UK but we can look further afield for inspiration.
Scotland has many similarities with the Catalan independence movement and during a conversation with the Head of Press Relations at the Catalan National Assembly we discussed the differences between Scotland and Catalonia in the history of street politics. We agreed on two main factors which help explain why our biggest independence rally attracted 17,000 and theirs’ drew 1,500,000.
The first is the role of the organisers of the rally. The ANC is a well funded, umbrella organisation, that employs several full time staff. To give you an idea, it spent €300,000 alone on advertising the 2016 demonstration, the same again on staging, AV, PA etc. Everything about the Catalan demonstrations smacks of professionalism. Its success is built upon the unifying role of the ANC and the professional make up of the lead organisation.
You can’t fault the passion and the determination of the All Under One Banner team, but as a non-revenue generating, voluntary organisation, their resources are exceptionally limited. With so many barriers to overcome they were, unfortunately, unable to end the rally in any kind of satisfactory manner for the demonstrators or, as importantly, for the cameras. With the march thinning out on Glasgow Green, the tiny stage and tinny PA, provided a destination that the marchers did not expect or deserve, accompanied by – it was June in Glasgow – near torrential rain.
The Catalan and the Scottish rallies also differ in the subtlety of the message that is transmitted. It was #LoveDemocracy, that was initially at the heart of the Catalan movement, not independence per se. From the outset in 2012, members of the Catalan National Assembly knew that an organisation which called for the “respect of democracy”, had a wider appeal than one focusing on independence. Over the years, the message from the ANC has solidified, to almost exclusively call for independence. However, for many, it is the idea of those in Madrid telling Barcelona what to do, that is the driver for their support. Chat to a Catalan in the street and they are as likely to say “I want to decide, not Madrid”, as they are to say, “I will vote for independence” The ANC have been on a journey focussed on democracy, not independence.
In Scotland, until this general election, calls for a referendum from our elected officials seemed the most likely to bring about a choice to decide our constitutional future. Perhaps now, with democracy under threat, the baton should be handed over to the people, and the message they should carry should not be one demanding independence, but democracy.
Democracy is “a government in which the supreme power is vested in the people” Perhaps if our elected politicians and our democratic establishments are unable to put the pressure on the UK Government, it is time for “the people”, unified and determined, to do something. Fancy attending a rally that’s a bit bigger, and does something a bit different?
If you are interested in contributing to my work on a live engagement strategy for the YES movement please get in touch.
The ANC is without doubt the heart of the Catalan independence movement.I believe we need a similar organisation in Scotland. A non political, well organised, funded, staffed and supported core organisation.
Cycling down past the Sagrada Familia, towards the coast line that skirts Barcelona, through the thinning late morning traffic, is a wonderful way to head home after a meeting. However, the trip was also slightly dangerous as my head buzzed with amazement at just how incredible successful the Assemblea Nacional Catalana had been in forcing (or at least facilitating) the push for Catalan Independence.
The ANC is a civic society that brings together people from all parts of Catalan society. The ANC has one aim: to win, peacefully and democratically, Catalan independence.
My hour long meeting with the ANC had been with the Head of Press on what was a beautiful April afternoon. Their office on Carrer Marina sits on the edge of one of the hills that guard Barcelona. My decision to take the bus, rather than jump on the BiCi (the city’s almost free bike hire scheme), seemed ever the wiser as we gradually snaked higher and higher into the hills.
Living in Barcelona you will find the ANC hard to miss, especially during the build up to their massive million people plus strong “La Diada de Cataluña” demonstrations, which take place every 11th September. Of course I’ve attended a few of them and I’d even bought a demo t-shirt or two.
As I put together a live engagement strategy for the Yes Campaign, I can clearly learn a lot from the ANC’s approach to events. However, I also believe the entire Independence movement in Scotland has a lot to learn from, what is, a similar struggle here in Catalonia. The ANC is without doubt the heart of the Catalan independence movement. I believe we need a similar organisation in Scotland.
Behind the scenes at the Catalan National Assembly
The ANC is like a Yes Scotland that didn’t dissolve. Strikingly the ANC was formed in March 2012, just two months before Yes Scotland; one organisation grew to greatness and one disappeared.
In order to for the wider Yes movement to learn from the ANC, I’d like to initially compare it to the organisation set to lead the grass roots (non political party affiliated) independence movement in Scotland: the Scottish Independence Convention.
I hear that things are a foot with the SIC. This is great news, as for many within the movement, the SIC is a mysterious, celebrity led group, existing only (if you don’t scroll past page one on Google) on Facebook. However, the SIC does release the odd press release and organise the odd event like the “Build” conference.
I assume the revamp of SIC is on hold until after the June General Election and this will hopefully give those at SIC an opportunity to pause to reflect on the meaning of a “grass roots” movement and to learn from their daring Catalan brothers and sisters at the ANC.
The Catalan National Assembly inside the building
As the ANC has been in operation for almost five years it wouldn’t be fair to directly compare it to the SIC; to do that would be to place Queen of The South on the same field as Barcelona: the ANC and SIC are simply in different leagues. Hopefully after the revamp a comparison may look less awkward.
The key facts on the ANC:
584 local assemblies
38 foreign assemblies
52 social and professional interest-based assemblies
The national secretariat consists of 77 elected members who sit on various committees. Heads of committees meet weekly.
The group is “non political” and has no official relationship with any political party.
It is entirely funded by its members: 38,000 “full time” members and over 40,000 “associate members”
They have offices in Barcelona, with ten full time staff.
Impressive for an organisation less than five years old, and this shows the scope of what is possible for a grass roots movement pushing for Independence.
So what of Scotland and its grass roots organisation? Who should lead and what should that movement look like?
Well, as far as I can see no one is asking “the movement” who should lead. So I tried to start the ball rolling. Although hardly the biggest sample (Twitter poll below) it seems to me that our movement is saying only one thing clearly: we want / need a grass roots organisation. It is less clear which organisation should lead, or how that organisation should be structured.
From June onwards everyone within the movement, not just a select few, should be involved in helping to create and structure the organisation that will lead the #ScotRef movement. If that body is grass roots in name, it has to be grass roots in deed.
An independent Scot's view on the search for an independent nation