Sunday 19th Feb
The diaries of the Ash Regan campaign continue.
Allison calls me at 6 pm on Saturday, “Graeme we’re meeting in 10 minutes on WhatsApp, be there”. So I jump in the car and get home so I can have the laptop open to reference some proposals we had been thinking of.
We were on the call to suggest some key ideas, luckily we saved a copy. This was our pitch on what Ash Regan should focus on if running as a contender. Some were adopted, some were not but they were our initial ideas as proposed to Ash.
The call lasted around 45 minutes and we commit on the call to joining the campaign team. A slight surprise for us, as we assumed there was a team already in place – however no – the rumours are true. What was clear, Ash Regan was quite an impressive operator, determined, bright and incredibly dedicated to independence.
Ash Regan and her partner developed the 50% plus one independence strategy over breakfast together.
I asked later in the campaign if it had been over cornflakes, however, was told it was more likely a croissant but was developed then.
Consider that for a moment, two people, dedicated to the cause of independence, came up with a more impressive plan than Sturgeon ever did, over breakfast.
Ash had specifically asked for help with the initial infrastructure that would be needed to run the campaign back office. ViveEcosse started building this infrastructure overnight.
We started mocking up websites:
As you’ll see it’s very similar to what we launched with.
It was originally purple but we moved to SNP yellow shortly after. The voteAshRegan.com website was originally “ashten.info” but was renamed after a team meeting.
It’s built on WordPress as its rapid and light weight that we could get something reasonable up quickly and keep it updated.
Ambassadors for Ash was our initial plan to reach as many members across as many different branch areas as possible. It was important for us to quickly and early on speak to member support and see if we could learn any insight into the types of people who were likely to support Ash outside what we already knew.
It grew to several hundred over the course of the campaign. We’re somewhat surprised that not many journalists signed up to see what was being said. We had many times more direct emails instead.
Later we heard Humza had a WhatsApp group of 200, which made us think we should have done that with the Ambassadors! However it was too late by that point. Humza’s team later denied this directly with me. They apparently had no 200 person WhatsApp they were in.
On the call, we believed the initial set of contacts would be Zoom meetings with branches, which would later basically be denied by the rules. However, it was our initial plan to meet as many people as possible on branch and constituency level zooms.
Next up we had a task manager that we totally abandoned early on. Which on reflection was quite a poor idea. We could have done with it as the pressure increased.
The software was free from https://www.mytinytodo.net
We then moved on to create a press/media management tool which was a simple ticket desk software called Freescout https://freescout.net again totally free software.
It would go on to support many thousand inbound emails in a month-long campaign. It more than pulled its weight. It allowed the whole team to bounce in and handle media and team emails.
We used a software called MailJet (paid for) which allowed us to send our mail shots to the Ambassadors and Media. It ensured delivery and managed our subscribe/unsubscribe process from a GDPR/Spam point of view.
We learned a lot about Media in Scotland during the campaign. Mostly it works by email, secondly, large organisations such as Sky, BBC, and STV, have absolutely no idea what each of their departments is doing. They don’t communicate terribly well internally. We’d often be organising an interview with one team – for another to be asking for the same thing. We have well over 100 contacts for just those 3 organisations. Papers were generally more organised.
It’s 5/6 am Sunday morning by this point, the basic website, the media mailboxes, and the infrastructure has been stood up – the press release by Ash Regan to the Sunday Mail had now landed.
We believed we had an exclusive – however Humza had also given them an exclusive. Two campaigns had launched and we still expected Kate Forbes to announce candidacy.
Ash was landing back into Scotland, while the announcement date had been a shock, Ash had been thinking about it a bit longer and decided around Christmas that it was likely to happen and she’d consider a run. At the time, she and her partner were in the French Alps, during the final weekend of the Parliamentary Recess.
We planned Ambassadors’ emails – short snappy points for the campaign
- 3 days of emails to nominations
- 17 days of spreading knowledge campaign to ballot open
- 13 days of gotv / campaign stings
Alas, we didn’t get them quite right either!
Interestingly as this happened the blog set and Twitter set of Scottish Politics woke up to Ash Regan’s message. Prominent pro-Independence blog Wings Over Scotland knew a strong independence line when he saw one and supported the campaign on the blog and on Twitter.
In a bizarre twist – Mairi McAllan declared herself out of the race. We hadn’t even expected her to stand, but there she stood, declaring herself out.
After Ash landed we had another conversation about the campaign and how we saw the next few days unfold. The output of the call was that we needed a day-to-day campaign person and a top-tier strategist.
As part of the ViveEcosse blog we were already approaching Kirk Torrance, he’d left the ALBA Party more than a year before, and we wanted his insights on the two strategies he’d spearheaded ‘Both Votes SNP’ and ‘SuperMajority’ on digital platforms on a podcast with us. We were in the process of getting arrangements penned in.
Amusingly despite media reports, Ash had never met or spoken to Kirk before our introduction.
We presented to Kirk the plan we had for Ash and asked if he had the time. Kirk had to postpone several lined-up contracts to join in.
We told him we needed help with:
- Media heat when it comes
Kirk’s key points for us:
- Ash needs a team ‘swiftly’
- Kirk thinks there’s mileage in Ash/Kate ticket – unity of central belt and highlands
- Put a comprehensive timeline together of all the known knowns, and unknown knowns.
Obviously quite excited by the prospect of jumping back in, Kirk advised some early thoughts a few hours later. Ash and Kirk then firmed up on a call.
“I’m sketching out a plan for Ash. Currently circling this as a backbone core message positioning.
“A stronger SNP, together for Scotland” is a solid campaign slogan that conveys the message of unity and strength, while also emphasising the party’s commitment to the betterment of Scotland. It’s straightforward, memorable, and easy to understand, which are important qualities for a successful campaign slogan.
This slogan implies that the SNP is currently not as strong as it could be, but that by coming together and working as a team, they can achieve their goals for Scotland. It also suggests that the party is not just focused on internal matters, but also on the broader mission of serving the Scottish people and delivering positive change for the country.
Overall, this slogan could work well in the context of a campaign focused on party unity and renewal, as well as a commitment to Scottish independence and progress.”
By 7:30 pm and on the 14th wakened hour of the day. Kirk was onboard as the strategist and we had a zoom call to have.
The media were getting restless, we have several hundred emails by this point. It was clear there was going to be a bit of a media frenzy, and Ash hadn’t had the time to be fully prepped for the media onslaught that was coming.
We needed a body person, or as they’re called in political jokes, a bag holder. I reached out to my political friend Cllr Bailey-Lee Robb from the SNP’s Fife Group as he worked part-time in Parliament for another member.
I asked him if he’d had a chance to read the stuff Ash had put out, he was excited by it. I asked him if he wanted to be a flag waver or come play in the big leagues. He jumped on board and like that – we had ourselves someone who could be in Parliament during his non-working times. We had our Charlie to our Bartlett.
We had a group zoom to have an initial discussion. We also set up the first group WhatsApp. We called it the WestWing just to be funny – Kirk would later make us rename it sensibly.
So the team had formed:
Ash Regan would be the future first minister.
Kirk Torrance would be Sam Seaborne, speechwriter and strategist.
Bailey-Lee Robb would be the Charlie, the bag holder, body man and later full-time press handler.
Allison Graham would be our CJ Craig, known to everyone and anyone, the lady with all the connections.
And I, Graeme Spence, would be the Josh Lyman, handler of trouble, infrastructure and solutions.
It emerged we were all huge West Wing fans and this was going to be some fun, alongside the ability and duty to advance the case for Scottish Independence.
To explain the 48 hours so far in a nutshell – I think it centres on this, the moment where you get into a rollercoaster, the strap is on and then you hear the instructions, put your head back, face forward, and on, we, go.
We were moving forward at speed and the ride was about to get exciting.