In this letter to the independence movement, the newly elected Executive Committee of the Scottish Independence Convention explain why the move to create a national campaign organisation can get independence consistently beyond 50% in the polls and give Nicola Sturgeon the backing of the majority of the Scottish people when calling for a referendum.
What’s a pro-independence campaign organisation for and what would it do?
The Scottish Independence Convention is a coalition of Scotland’s national pro-independence organisations, the pro-independence political parties and, through the membership of regional forums, of Scotland’s local grassroots pro-independence groups. It is just about to launch a fundraiser to start a national campaign organisation. But what is that organisation for and what would it do?
Be more than the sum of our parts
The independence movement is brilliantly alive with a flurry of grassroots activity all over the country. But sometimes we need to come together as one.
Coordination from a national campaign organisation should be about helping people build on each other’s work, reinforce what each other is doing. It is about providing campaigners with insights and information which can help them be better at what they are already doing. It is about being able to listen to what people say they need – and then giving them it. It is about giving people strategic direction which helps them to focus on what is going to have the biggest impact in the place they live. It is about never being ashamed to say that we all have more to learn, that none of us alone have all the best ideas. That together we can do more than we can individually.
Set the agenda, change the story, get people to look again
The work of the grassroots of the independence movement has been amazing and has kept the momentum going where other campaigns would have just packed up and left – but unless we do a better job of setting the national agenda, changing the story we hear in the media all the time and finding ways to encourage undecided voters to have another look at the case for independence, we will struggle to make the breakthrough we need.
People don’t trust newspapers or television news like they used to – but it is still the media (and social media) which starts most of the conversations most people have about politics. At work, at home, at the school gate, in the pub or the cafe, at the golf club or the sewing bee, on the football terraces or at the gym, most political conversations still open with ‘did you see…’, as in ‘did you see that stuff about how Scotland’s economy is below the UK average’ or ‘did you see that thing about how there’ll be no food after Brexit’. This is not the end of the conversation, but it’s where it starts.
The independence movement needs to be more on the front foot at making our stories the starting point for these conversations, because it is the conversations undecided voters have with each other which is the most important thing. We need to find ways to set the agenda, to change the story and to get people to look at our case again.
So how will a campaign organisation do that?
Get our visual communication right
As you know, in the modern world of social media the way we communicate with people is very often highly visual. The mood you set, the tone it contains, whether it implies authority or down-to-earthness or inspires fear or hope, whether it catches the attention or merges into the background – this can be the difference between being seen or not, being trusted or not, being liked or not. You know instinctively when it works – and you know instinctively when it doesn’t. The SIC has appointed a leading design company to work with the movement and with undecided voters to come up with a name, a design style and a full set of templates and materials to help us get our visual communications right. It will provide local groups and the national organisation with a toolkit to help us reach voters who don’t stop at street stalls, join marches or read political blogs.
Our goal is to help us connect with people who don’t like politics but are ready to look again at the case for independence.
Create a strategy
Sometimes people might worry that ‘strategy’ means central control. It doesn’t – it means looking at all the possible things we could do and working out which ones are most likely to achieve the outcome you want. Sometimes we think we know what motivates other people, but often we’re wrong. People are angry at the injustices of Britain, worried about the chaos of Brexit, afraid of an isolated or insular future. They feel these things, but feeling something doesn’t necessarily make you act. Strategy is about how best to understand people’s feelings and to work out what you can do to convert those feelings into action.
It means doing public attitude research, challenging your own assumptions, coming up with creative ideas, putting together messages and images and stories that make people think again, about initiatives and ‘stunts’ which link people’s worries to a clear case for voting for independence. It is about understanding their fears and finding ways to mitigate them. It is about finding out what it is the undecided or unsure voter needs to be confident to make a different choice this time. It involves hard work and creativity – but it is how campaigns are won.
This campaign organisation will offer this strategic capacity to the grassroots movement across Scotland.
Be better at communication
What you say doesn’t matter – it’s what people hear that matters. People may well feel insecure or worried or disrespected in modern Britain, but that does not mean that shouting ‘Britain is horrible’ at them is enough to make them choose independence.
Clever communication is about telling people stories about their lives which gently move them towards an understanding that this is not as good as it gets, that there is a better future for them. It’s about helping them to understand truths, but without barking statistics at them. It is about capturing their imagination with pictures of what could be. It’s about finding the language that lays bare for them the anger and frustration with the status quo that they already feel. No, the independence movement is never going to have the support or sympathy of the Scottish media. But clever communications tell stories that survive the attacks of our opponents, that live beyond us because people themselves remember the stories and tell those stories to others. It is these stories that change how people think.
With your help the independence side can start setting the terms of the debate.
Always be prepared, never take it lying down
The independence movement is under constant attack from powerful vested interests. Shouting ‘not fair’ is not going to stop them. Our only defence is to be ready for their attacks and to take them head-on with calm, clear, careful thinking. If they shout ‘England is Scotland’s biggest export market’, we need to say ‘look, a decent proportion of that is electricity exports which England definitely needs so don’t kid on you can manage without it’. We need to unpick the slogans they throw at us. We need to research and prepare answers to their allegations. We need to work to build up our own, better stories. We should never be caught on the hop without an answer. Rebuttal is not about saying the other side is lying, rebuttal is about telling an alternative story that is stronger and more persuasive. It’s time to do this.
If successfully funded this campaign organisation will find the best ways to offer rebuttal quickly, clearly and decisively.
Get things done
Campaigning is hard. Setting up events or initiatives or news stories takes time (as our volunteers who also work fulltime jobs know full well). Listening to what people tell you they need means you have to be on the end of a phone, that you have to get out and talk to people. Leaflets don’t print themselves, training doesn’t organise itself, media initiatives don’t just happen. We need people who are paid to dedicate the time into doing these things for and with others. You don’t win campaigns without people dedicated to winning campaigns. We need people whose responsibility it is to get things done. We need a campaign organisation.
Our fundraising campaign is about raising the money to do these things. It is not about repeating the mistakes of the past – paying salaries that are far too high, wasting money on things that don’t matter, being too cloth-eared to the grassroots of the movement. It is about getting our visual communication tools right. It is about having a coordinator to do the work to develop strategy, a media officer pushing stories into the mainstream and social medias, a researcher making sure we have all the answers we need, a support officer to work closely with local organisations to listen to what they need and support them, an admin officer to get things done. We hope to be able to have a team of five people working every day to make Scotland an independent country.
But it can only happen if you support us by giving a donation. Stay tuned for news on this very soon.
The Executive Committee of the Scottish Independence Convention:
Elaine C Smith, Convenor
DaveThompson, Vice-Convenor (Christians for Indy and former MSP)
Rosemary Hunter, Treasurer (Women for Independence)
Iain Black (SIC Researcher, Yes Edinburgh North and Leith)
Maggie Chapman (Scottish Greens)
Jonathon Shafi (Radical Independence Campaign)