Category Archives: Glasgow

Homeless Hackathon in Glasgow

A homeless hackathon would help end homelessness in Glasgow. Let’s do it.

There’s noting more annoying, as an event organiser, than being involved in an event that doesn’t actually do anything. An exhibition where no one buys or sells anything, a conference where no one learns anything useful, or a networking event where no one meets anything. Unfortunately these types of events happen all the time (you’ve probably been to at least one already the year). But not all events are the same. I’d like to introduce the Hackathon.

Events that really make a difference

I mentioned in my article for CommonSpace “Five Tips for the Yes campaign on making #ScotRef events unmissable my desire to see an end to the “boring” independence events. I wised that our events truly inspired, as well as painted a picture of the Scotland we want to create:

“I would love to see ScotRef Barcamps and ScotRef Hackathons, alongside more engaging traditional conferences.”

Words into action

I’ve been thinking about a IndyHack and I am sure that’s something that would really help the indy cause. However, on reading Death on the streets in today’s Sunday Herald our movement has more pressing concerns. If we all, truly want to create a more socially just Scotland we have to tackle these issues AT THE SAME TIME as we push for independence. So, an IndyHack should wait. What can not is a response from those within the Yes movement to the homelessness deaths and the stories behind those appalling  figures.

Homeless Hackathon in Glasgow

Thankfully other people are already looking at a Hackathon as a way to end homelessness. There’s one happening in Brisbane in June.

Homelessness Hackathon

And last year Shelter Scotland ran a Homeless Hackathon with Product Forge in Edinburgh in July 2016. I’ve messaged both organisations to see if they have plans for one in 2017.

As an event organisers living in Barcelona there doesn’t seem to be a lot I can do to directly and practically improve this appalling situation. Apart from suggest and run a Hackathon or at least support one if Shelter already have plans.

In the meantime, if you would be interested in supporting an IndyHack or a HomelessHack please drop me a note and I will be in touch. Update, no doubt to follow.

Here’s a helpful outline of a hackathon:

The objective is for attendees to bring to life their ideas across an intensive, challenging and hugely rewarding 48 hours.

This format has essentially been created to help organisers achieve an engaged, experiential and interactive event that is easy to amplify.  Exactly what our movement has to do!

A Hackathon generally takes place across Friday evening to Sunday evening. Timings are roughly:

Friday night:

4.30 Registration and networking

5.30 Introductory talks

7.00 Break for Burritos

7.30 Pitching idea and joining teams

9.00 Team discussions

10.30 End of first day

Saturday: Full day hack from just after breakfast until evening!

Lunch, white space and re-charge time included and spaced throughout the day


9.00 Product development and practice presentations

13.00 After lunch. Presentations and judging. –

17.00 Prizes over dinner.

Key areas:

There are prizes for many of the innovations. There are mentors from design, development and policy floating around to help and support teams. Sponsors are involved. Hardware is provided on site (3D printers, Virtual Reality etc) to help products to be developed.

If you would be interested in supporting an IndyHack or a HomelessHack please drop me a note here and I will be in touch. Update, no doubt to follow.

Behind the scenes at Independence Live

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Scottish Independence Convention Presents – Build

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

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

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

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

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

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

Indyref2 events
Scottish Independence Convention Build

What “Build” promised

The event stated:

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

The programme (below) added some more detail.

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

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

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

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

Logistics – the bread and butter

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

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

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

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

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

What were the objectives of Build?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to run an interactive Indyref2 event

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

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

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

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

George Square the Referendum Square

Some flagging waving, chatting and singing. Then back across to Wetherspoons. This routine only punctuated by a visit to Greggs. This seemed to be the well trodden path across George Square for many a YES campaigner in the run up to the vote.

George Square was the referendum campaign in a microcosm. Festive and fun for most of the time but sickening and scary for some of it. The square was at the heart of the revelry in the lead up to the vote and the cathartic centre afterwards.

Food Banks in George Square Taken by @jamesh_oneill
Food Banks in George Square Taken by @jamesh_oneill

The square was the backdrop for news stories before and after the vote. It made the mainstream news feeds (although when was some simple thuggery in Glasgow at the weekend actually news?) and it is still creating stories as a pop up food bank. It was also the backdrop for some ill advised political point scoring via Twitter:

Eric Joyce - Labour MP

Yes Eric. Have a pop at the location of food backs. Why are they popping in places where people can actually see them and easily donate?

But let’s go back in time. To the day after the vote. I sought out the warmth of the square on the Friday.  I needed its solace. I needed to know that my feeling of loss was shared. By late afternoon the square was busy. International journalists looking for an angle on the city that voted “yes” and forlorn individuals coming to terms with the heart wrenching realisation that Scotland had voted No.

What's going on here?

Everyone’s square

One fella had climbed the Robert Burns statue and donated a tartan tammy and scarf.  Tourists milled around taking pictures of the wake. The Socialist Workers Party‘s stand was busy. This is everyone’s square after all. Their boisterous megaphone man sucking in passersby. “We have to fight for the working man. Just look round this square, it’s surrounded by multinational corporate companies……” What like Gregg’s and Wetherspoons I thought?

In the middle of the square a small PA system sat on the ground. A compere – playing political songs – filled the space between various members of the public who had something to say. Various grief stricken Glaswegians took the microphone with varying degrees of hand and upper lip stability. One after another they let the audience know how they felt about the result.

The cathartic process begins in George Square post referendum
The cathartic process begins in George Square post referendum

One old guy, shaking like a bartender’s cocktail arm, told of his pain, “knowing that I will never see my country as an independent nation” I felt for him. We all did. He then suggested that a missile sent from Faslane to Downing Street would show them what evil they had placed in Scotland. I moved on.  Settle down there old boy settle down. Controversy comes hand in hand with this square.


Glasgow shouted YES

Who makes Glasgow

The bright pink signs sprinkled across the city were incongruous splashes of colour on the morning after the independence referendum. In unison from hotel lobbies, buildings, buses and railway stations the city’s motto proclaimed “People Make Glasgow” The people of Glasgow made me proud.

On Thursday the 18th September 2014 Glasgow stood up and bellowed “YES!” to independence for Scotland. Its wish and desire echoed only by the city of Dundee, West Dumbartonshire and North Lanarkshire. 28 constituencies mumbled “no” as the country voted 55% to 45%. A resounding win for the Union but with 53% of Glaswegians in favour of independence they lost Glasgow, Scotland’s biggest city: the powerhouse of the west of the country.

Robert Burns in George Square the day after the referendum. Tammy, scarf and all.
Robert Burns in George Square the day after the referendum. Tammy, scarf and all.

As a Glaswegian it is from here where I look at the referendum result and start to ponder what’s next for me, my family, the people of this city, this country, this land mass (the UK) and the many other regions across the world looking to pull power closer to their citizens.

Glasgow in numbers

It is estimated that 33% of children in Glasgow live in poverty. This in a country ranked the 14th richest in the world according to the OECD. Of course a massive disparity between the super rich and the poor is not isolated to this island. However in a country that has had a seat of democracy for hundreds of years and ended Universal Suffrage almost one hundred years ago the child poverty figure is nothing short of shameful. Today (as it will be tomorrow, and the day after that) it is impossible to walk for more than five minutes in the centre of the city and not meet this poverty and suffering head on.

Glasgow in the bargain basement

Within two minutes walk from Central Station you will find four £1 discount shops. They open later than most and they are packed, not with people sensing a bargain, but with those feeling the strain of austerity UK. To operate a profit the discount shops pay their shop staff minimum wage but some staff work for nothing: they take advantage of the government work scheme that forces those on benefit to work a full days shift for nothing. With wages so low it’s no surprise that most of the staff shop there too. It’s not just the shop staff on these low paid jobs who suffer. My Uncle works in a warehouse for one of the quid stores. He talks of unbearable working conditions with tales that echo Dickensian workhouses not 21st century work places.

These shop owners as business men have done their research. In 2012, a fifth of households in Glasgow had a net annual income of less than £10,000. With so many people living on low incomes where would you open stack-em-high premises?

This city has the lowest life expectancy in the UK.  In areas in East Glasgow – where I was born – men in their fifties speak of being the last in their class alive. This year the Office for National Statistics found that just 75% of boys can expect to reach their 65th birthday.

Who makes change? Governments or individuals?

The picture painted by the collective groups (some 300 in total) who brought so much colour to the “Yes” coalition was an agenda framed around change. An agenda focused on fairness and equality. It was an agenda built and packaged for Glaswegians and it was backed by almost 200,000 individuals in the city. Glasgow said yes to change; almost blindly to change. When change might just mean that your father lives longer and your kids spend less of their live in poverty it’s not a hard choice.

Glasgow’s collective yes vote included mine and my English born girlfriend. Being part of the process whereby these disgraceful poverty and life expectancy figures could change was one of the main reasons to vote yes. Unfortunately that process didn’t start on Friday morning but that is OK, say it loud “yes” voters, that’s OK! Change is driven by individuals and there are as many of us now as there were on the 18th September.

If the referendum proved one thing it is that when people unite for a common cause or share a common vision they have real power. George Square was packed in the lead up to the vote as where many other squares across the country. But look to Spain’s second city and the proud capital of Catalunya for real inspiration of people power. As a nation of activists we are only starting.

The ultimate destination for most Scots is not independence per se – that is simply a moniker that places you on a list at the UN – but what independence may lead to: the crumbling of the shameful statistics that shame this western democracy and its people.

Glasgow and Glaswegians, Scotland and Scots do not need to live in an independent country to re-write those figures. We need only one thing: the collective will for change to continue. People don’t just make Glasgow: they make change happen. Any even without independence every Scot can make that change a reality.