Time to listen, time to act

Over the course of a good number of years working as a Training Developer in the Civil Service, one of the early things I learned was the importance of doing a “What have we learned” session at the end of each event. It was a great way of working out what went well, where we needed to make improvements and also as a “Team Builder”.

There were few punches pulled, on occasion an ego or two might get slightly bruised and we celebrated the things which worked and as our unofficial motto had it “copy with pride” any good ideas or processes from others. Over the years we all learned so much from these sessions and hopefully our work improved as a result. Learning from our mistakes was as important as from our successes and these review sessions were an integral, indeed vital, part of that learning.

I mention this because I believe that we all need to learn from every event and for us, as Nationalists, that means learning from campaigns. The good and the bad!

In recent years we have had, to say the least, a few campaigns, and although we had a local learning process on a small scale, I am unaware of any mainstream “learning review” being conducted.

When we won the 2011 elections to Holyrood, the 2012 elections for the Councils did we learn from them in any systematic way? If so what were the lessons we learned? Most importantly of all how did we impact what we learned? This is just as important at Ward/Branch level as it is on a National basis, but I fear that it is not something we do in any meaningful way.

More importantly and certainly more pertinently, what did we learn from 2014?

Have we systematically tried to find out why we failed to persuade our friends, neighbours our workmates etc to support Independence?

If we are not willing to understand why people did not find our case to be sufficiently convincing, how will we change their minds for the next time? You do not learn where you went wrong by talking to those on the same side but from those we failed to convince.

We are told for example that we did not convince the more elderly on pensions, women on the futures for their families, and a wide cross section on currency. Fair enough, I’m willing to be convinced but we need to understand what was wrong and why it was wrong. If you like we need to do a “You said, we listened” exercise. We were in control of the timing and had the opportunity to test out our responses beforehand but there is nothing to suggest that we did so. Focus group are a much-derided tool but they could have shown us some of the weaknesses and given us the time to make changes.

Now, this work may be going on but I’m not aware of it and certainly not convinced that it is! More importantly I don’t think the public believe that we are listening to them and learning from what they say.

While I accept that the General Election this year came too soon to learn any lessons from the Council Elections, we do need to ask what went wrong?

  • Was there a “scunner” factor in people just being fed up of constant elections/referendums?
  • Had we become too complacent?
  • Was our HQ operation sufficiently nimble to react to the surprise election?
  • What was the impact of the Brexit vote? According to most of the research I’ve seen every Party had roughly 25% – 30% of their support which disagreed with the party line on Brexit, so did we lose more or less than other parties and why?
  • Did the constant unionist message that indyref2 should be taken off the table work and if so why did our responses fail to convince?
  • Should we have made the General Election more of a Indyref or were we correct to try and concentrate on the bread and butter issues knowing that our message was being drowned out.
  • Did we do enough to manage expectations, winning 56 out of 59 was incredible and we were never going to avoid losses.

So far, I have heard only what the “gut feeling” of the campaign is, but that’s no substitute for evidence. The polling research work I have seen so far has concentrated mainly on the UK battle and we need to get some robust evidence based information on what happened in Scotland. After all, if you don’t learn from you’re mistakes, you’re doomed to repeat them.

There are however a number of things we can do;
1) Start actually defending our own people, for example we should have been much more vigorous in defence of our MPs when trumped up allegations were being bandied about. And we should have been demanding decisions when it was obvious there were no grounds for continuing investigations.

2) Stop using the unionist language. For example, instead of trying to make sarcastic references to “doing the day job” let’s talk about the “achievements” or “benefits to people and communities” of the Scottish Government, our MPs and Councillors. “Day job” is part of the unionist language, we need to stop helping them by using their terms

3) Get busy rebuilding our case. The argument about the timing is an irrelevance. When we have made the case successfully, then is the time.

4) Make sure our policy targets are specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timeous. For example, what does “closing the attainment gap” in education mean in simple terms we can explain on the doorsteps? If people do not know what our targets mean how will they know when we have achieved them? We need to explain what the problem is how we are going to fix it and shout out every stage on that achievement journey.

5) Start shouting out our Governments achievements on every occasion. Just as the yoons use every question to say no to indyref2, we should trumpet our successes. For example, contrast the Westminster Rape Clause with the splendid initiative on sanitary products unveiled by Angela Constance. A Corbyn manifesto which was largely a rehash of the SNP achievements especially on Student Fees is another example.

6) Have a theme for each week and hammer it constantly. As at 5.

7) Constantly remind folk that it’s the yoons who are obsessing about the constitution, they are driven by an ideological hatred of the SNP which is utterly unable to see any benefits to anyone in anything we do, again see 5.

One of the earliest lessons I learned in sales said that “God gave you two eyes, two ears and one tongue. You should use them in those proportions”. I suspect that we are still too busy talking just now to see, far less hear, the messages coming back to us. That has to change.

1 Comment

  1. Excellent article. We need more of this kind of analysis, more substance in politics generally, and less sloganeering as a substitute for factual information. The electorate has learned a lot since our Parliament reconvened, and if the parliamentary opposition was worth anything they would have been making a good deal more progress than they have. We badly need a second genuinely Scottish party to provide real pluralist democracy of a kind that is now the global norm. This will all take time, and meanwhile it is not a bad thing if the SNP can manage to tighten up its act and make sure that no more power is allowed to drift southwards through the northern branches of the London parties.

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