March’s #HandsOffOurParliament demonstration will show everything that is great about the YES movement, and at the same time will expose some of the handicaps that we carry with us. I have a few suggestions that will make the most of the event.
A beautiful thing will happen in Edinburgh on the 23rd March, something that shows the best of the YES movement. A few months ago it was nothing more than a conversation topic between a few Scottish independence activists on a bridge. Three months later a few thousand people will create a human “hoop” around the Scottish Parliament. If anything sums up the YES movement’s power and passion it is this ability to turn words into actions.
I suggested this human chain idea in a piece in CommonSpace (full article here) back in June 2017:
"Democracy is under threat in Scotland. However, Westminster politicians are building their case on exceptionally shaky ground, and they know it: but they can easily ignore, and fend off other politicians. They can bin newspapers and ignore partisan news reports. What they are unable to do is to show the same intransigence in the face of a seriously determined street movement. Just imagine 50,000-plus linking arms around Holyrood to "protect" democracy."
I am certainly not claiming any credit. It’s easy to have an idea (this post has a few more) it’s much harder to actually get out there and do it. The credit must fall to those putting these ideas in to action (my thanks to one of them in particular, Cliff Serbie who was frank with me in answering my questions)
I currently live in Barcelona and this has its disadvantages when trying to do what you can for the YES movement but it also has advantages. Being up close and personal with the Catalan independence movement offers me a very different perspective on political events in Scotland. If you are going to pass on some tips you may as well learn from the undeniable masters of mass movement street politics: the Catalans.
My suggestions and observations are based on my twenty years organising events and my experience of the dynamic fight for self-determination here in Catalonia.
Before I get into the details here are two links that will provide useful background to my suggestions. Here are the ten things that I believe make the Catalan movement so strong and an article looking behind the scenes at the organisation that manages HOOP style events in Catalonia: Assemblea Nacional Catalana.
I know Scotland and Catalonia are in many ways similar however they are also very different. I have taken those differences into consideration when making my suggestions in this post. I am not going to suggest that we should aim for 250,000 taking part next time! That would just be daft, but there are things we can do. Starting now, with over a week to go until the HOOP event.
March’s event should be the first but not the last HOOP
Before jumping to conclusions I contacted the organisers via their Facebook page (and they have seen and “signed off” this post) to find out a bit more about their plans. As you would expect they are but a group of dedicated activists with little time and even fewer resources for such a big event. It’s typical of our movement, and I covered some of the issues with this volunteer approach last year when I looked at the All Under One Banner rally.
Where I see issues with this DIY approach, many in the movement see beauty. The idea of the true grassroots, scrimping and saving and “doing the best they can” is romantic to many Yessers. I don’t share that opinion: we have a few hundred thousand minds to change and I think a professional approach to all that we do will ultimately be more successful. I truly believe that our events can have a big positive impact on many potential YES voters.
So with my total respect for the people who are doing it and my belief that some professional support would make things even more powerful I present my suggestions.
1. Limit expectations and the size of this HOOP event
The organisers have done everything you could expect of a volunteer team. They have had coverage in The National and The Scotsman and are increasing the awareness daily on social media. A couple of thousand taking part would be an amazing achievement. However, as we all know to our chagrin, demonstrations numbering in the few thousands are unlikely to make an impact on the MSM. I know that we will all see the usual Tweets: “where are you BBC”, but the organisers shouldn’t be distracted by that. The main objective should be to galvanise the YES movement and make this event a catalyst for a similar event that is much bigger and bolder.
2. Start raising funds by selling a badge
At the moment there are no plans to collect funds (the organisers asked me to make this VERY clear) at the event. This approach is of course very grassroots, the idea that people pay for things! It’s a romantic notion but campaigns that are not directly supported by private funds or political parties need to raise money from those passionate about the cause.
If the organisers are really to do anything that breaks outside our of YES leaning networks we have to raise money.
My suggestion is to come up with something similar to the Catalan Yellow Ribbon that many of you may know about. The ribbon signifies support for the Catalan political prisoners currently held without trial in prisons hundreds of miles from their families.
Selling this for a few Euros is a simple and effective way to raise funds. I am sure with a week or more to go the organisers could source or make something that they could sell for a coupe of quid at the event. Or perhaps someone reading this post could do it for them? The organisers need to sell them, account for the sales and hold on to the money for a while.
Why is money so important when fighting a campaign? The Catalan National Assembly organise the massive La Diada events every September 11th. They spend €300,000 on advertising. Yes, that’s what you have to spend to get a crowd in a country as likely to demonstrate on the street as they are to buy a beer! Money talks and we really have to make our voices heard. This event is a wonderful opportunity to start to raise funds for an upcoming campaign.
Following the event these little lapel badges (whatever they look like) could be either sourced directly from the official supplier, as the official ones are here, or made by groups and sold across Scotland, with funds being sent to the HOOP Foundation (which of course at the moment is a figment of my imagination). Slowly a fighting fund on this specific issue could be built.
The uniqueness of the power grab, as this clear democratic deficit, is that it is something that unites political parties and many voters, even some unionists. In Catalonia many a Yellow Ribbon wearer is no independentista; however the idea that you can be in prison for your views is an anathema to many. There are issues that transcend party politics and the power grab issue is one. It is a unique opportunity.
I hope you don’t feel grubby thinking about money. But if you do, you are probably about to feel worse. I am suggesting that the event is used to start a database for those who feel passionate about the power grab.
3. Collect email addresses and then collect more data
I asked the head of press at the ANC what was the secret that brings 1 million people on to the streets. The answer was data. Boring, but true.
Every effort should be made to collect email addresses of those attending HOOP and who are interested in the impending doom of a Westminster government using Brexit as an excuse to erode democracy in Scotland. At the end of the event the organisers should have a list of email addresses of people who WANT to be contacted about issues relating to the Westminster power grab including events and merchandising.
So to summarise my advice:
- 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.