A million to nothing

Let’s be realistic! I realise that opening an article with an exhortation to be realistic is likely to deter Alba fantasists and SNP loyalists alike. But how many of them would be reading my blog anyway? Realism is no more welcomed in the constitutional debate than scrutiny and criticism. Those who examine, analyse and comment on the state of Scotland’s dispassionately tend to make themselves unpopular with the larger part of the Yes movement in the process. So I long since grew accustomed to the irritating attentions of the defensively delusional. Pandering to those unwilling to face reality is no part of my role in the fight to restore Scotland’s independence. Small as that role may be, it is not further constrained by any effort to avoid giving offence to those who when offered the choice between disputing my perspective and demanding that I wheesht, invariably opt for the latter. The appropriate hashtag here is #fckm.

Let’s be realistic about the leaflet published as an insert in The National today with the aim of delivery to a million homes in Scotland and the hope of persuading a number of the merits of restoring Scotland’s independence. I’ve just skimmed through my copy. There’s nothing new. Certainly nothing that might be a game-changer for Scotland’s cause. If I hadn’t been told it was a special publication then I might well have taken it for the usual content of Scotland’s only pro-independence newspaper. Even the front cover picture of Nicola Sturgeon wearing the planet as a halo (Or is it a hat?) is a well-worn trope. Being realistic, how much impact is this likely to have?

Before going any further I have to make it clear that I am not opposed to exercises such as this. Given the dominance of the British (Nationalist) media, any effort to counter their malign influence has to be welcome. As a means of getting the message out there this mass distribution might work. It’s not the mass distribution that’s the problem, it’s the message. If this is a practice run for something more then it is worthwhile. But I have to doubt that this is the case. When was there any follow-up to this kind of ‘initiative’? Even when an action succeeds in giving a bit of impetus to Scotland’s cause, when has that impetus not been squandered? When have we ever seen evidence of even the most basic strategic thinking such as looks beyond the ‘initiative’ and asks ‘what next’?

Let’s first of all be realistic about the numbers. A million copies to a million household sounds huge. But what is the reality? According to Scottish Government statistics based on census data the average household in Scotland is 2.14 persons (2020 figure). Let’s suppose the distribution effort comes close enough to its target that the leaflet is delivered to 2 million individuals. Or to put it more correctly, 2 million people will have direct access to the leaflet as a result of this distribution drive. An unknown and probably unknowable number of people will get second-hand access through copies left on the bus or in the pub etc. Let’s take our starting point as 3 million potential readers. We can afford to overestimate.

How many will actually read the publication or any part of it? Research by the Direct Marketing Association (DMA) indicates a response rate of only 1%. 89% say they remember receiving or seeing the leaflet. 45% actually hold on to it perhaps to read later. But the actual response rate is only 1%. Only one in a hundred has any impact.

Some will argue that this is not a marketing exercise. But that’s precisely what it is. It’s not selling a product or service. It’s selling the idea of Scotland being independent. All political campaigns are essentially marketing campaigns. But let’s assume that the method of distribution or other factors such as the design of the publication, makes this campaign more successful than is usual. Let’s allow it to be five times better than the average. Let’s proceed on the basis of the leaflet being read – in whole or part – by 5% of the people afforded access to it by the distribution effort. That million households now equates to 125,000 individuals. And that is being very, very generous. Bear in mind that going by the statistics this figure would be a mere 25,000, some would say we’re being ludicrously generous.

125,000 individuals read some or all of the leaflet. By far the largest part of that number will read only bits and pieces. So what effect, if any, might we expect? This is where it gets a bit tricky. There’s quite a lot of subjective assessment involved from here. It seems reasonable, however, to suppose that the vast majority of those reading the leaflet will already be Yes voters. By which I mean people who have already bought what the leaflet is selling. Given that it is a binary issue, it’s irrelevant whether the leaflet makes them buy more of the idea. So when estimating the effectiveness of the leaflet we have to discount all those who are not part of the target market. We have to put a number on that. The polls put the Yes/No split at around 50%. If we therefore assume that half those who read the leaflet are No voters we are almost certainly continuing to be very generous.

The million is now 62,500.

Here’s where it gets seriously controversial. How many of that number are even potential Yes voters? As earlier noted, there is nothing new in the leaflet. The message is basically the same as it has been for the entire seven years plus since the first referendum. If we take the success rate of that message as measured by polling as our guide then we have to be extraordinarily generous just to keep the number above zero. There is no polling evidence of the message having any impact at all. Being realistic ;by the numbers’ we’d have to write off all of that remaining 62,500. But let’s maintain our tradition of generosity even at some cost to realistic assessment. Although it was way back in August 2015, the highest point reached by Yes in a single poll since the first referendum was 53% – 8 points more than in the 2014 vote. Let’s make the extremely bold assumption that this is telling us that 15% of No voters can be moved to Yes then that 1,000,000 headline figure comes down to 9300 individuals.

Take the generosity out of that estimate and we’re left with probably fewer than 1,000 conversions. Even 9300 is only about 0.2% of the electorate. Not a spectacular outcome for all that effort.

How might it be better? Realistically speaking the only things that can be changed are the message and the method of delivery. Not many methods of delivery available to the Yes campaign can reach 62,500 No voters. So that leaves the message. We have yet to see what impact if any, the leaflet has on polls. We also have the problem of separating out the leaflet effect from other factors. We know, for example, that previous bumps for Yes have been associated with Nicola Sturgeon’s personal popularity. Her early handling of the Covid crisis, for example. There will surely be a boost for Yes following the First Minister’s prominence during COP26. Only a cynic would suggest that there is any connection between this and the timing of the leaflet distribution. But we can be sure that any bump in polls in the next week or two will largely be attributed to the leaflet regardless of other factors. We should be sceptical of such claims.

How might the message have been more effective? The message is effective to the extent that it creates a buzz. It’s the buzz that extends the message beyond the immediate audience and beyond the moment. Will people be talking about in two weeks time? Or a month? Will people be talking about it who otherwise wouldn’t be talking about it? Does it change the debate in any way? Does it create new material and potential for the Yes campaign?

To generate this kind of buzz the message must be novel and controversial and bold. The material in The National’s leaflet is none of these. It’s the same old stuff that will be talked about be the same people. There’s nothing there to spark a fresh conversation, far less anything to ignite interest or trigger excitement. Huge effort. Negligible impact.

I will doubtless get the usual stuff about being ‘negative’. Of course I’m being negative! One can’t look realistically at Nicola Sturgeon’s record on the constitutional issue without being negative. So long as her approach to the constitutional issue is maintained it will remain impossible to look realistically at the prospects for Scotland’s cause without being negative. To those who accuse me of being negative I extend an invitation to try addressing the reasons for my negativity rather than merely the fact of it.



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13 thoughts on “A million to nothing

  1. I totally agree with your analysis of this being a leaflet. However, if this was treated like a newspaper then the results would be slightly better. Prior to release, I did mention that any mention of NS or the SNP in this “leaflet” will turn off over 50% of potential readers. Coming back to my comment that this should be treated like a newspaper, we could have had smaller multiple print runs being distributed like a newspaper i.e. news stall, free distribution on street (commuters), and as a newspaper could be dispenced from public transport. The likelihood hood of a higher readership is more likely simply because effort has gone into receiving the “newspaper”. Also as a newspaper given to commuters, these papers can then be read by multiple people including the workplace, take the metro as an example. This paper needed to be politically neutral, reading your comments it appears to have failed.

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    1. There is no such thing as political neutrality in the media. A ‘newspaper’ which failed to acknowledge the status of the party of government and its role in restoring Scotland’s independence would not be something I could take seriously.

      I agree (?) that it would be good if The National gave a bigger voice to other elements of the Yes movement – including those that are critical of Sturgeon’s approach to the constitutional issue and those who have thoughts outside the box of SNP orthodoxy. But I understand that a pro-independence newspaper must also be a heavily pro-SNP newspaper simply because of the latter’s importance to Scotland’s cause. We have to be realistic.

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  2. A couple of points Peter, your DMA numbers may be misleading – response rate relates to actions taken as a result of receiving a piece of direct mail, and means that the reader actually did something. Readership is a different matter, and rates according to DMA (yes I know) are higher, and retention in the household can be upt to a few weeks or the next recycling collection. Second point is that there was nothing new in the publication, maybe for you personally there was nothing new, but you are hardly the typical target reader and many of them will find stuff in there that they didn’t know already.

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    1. It’s all approximation and guesstimate, Geoff. Or almost all. I make no pretence otherwise. But the point I was making remains. Use your own inputs. If they’re credible then the outcome will be the same. A million households equates to tiny number of potentially changed minds. Even assuming a degree of success that seems massively unlikely given the content of the document. The actual number may be 1,000 or 10,000. The certainty is that it won’t be the 2.14 million people implied by the phrase ‘one million households’.

      Somebody would have to have been living in a cave on a mountaintop for the past ten years to find anything new to them in that leaflet. The recent COP26 event has breathed a bit of life into some bits of it. Otherwise its just a rehash of the same old stuff. But even if any of it was new to somebody, is it inspiring enough to change minds? Is it rousing enough? Is there the kind of passion needed to get through to people?

      And even if there is the novelty and the passion, where does it go? Supposing it was the most rousing thing since Mel Gibson’s address to the troops, what are folk supposed to do with their new enthusiasm? If it’s an effective call to action, what is the action?

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  3. I got mine on Thursday morning, delivered by a keen SNP member with the usual SNP satchel full of them. So this answered at least for me and my area, would leaflets actually get delivered, were SNP members sick and tired of leaflets, questionnaires, surveys, calendars? The answer for my local branch was – no. Well, yes, to the delivered bit. Which was a pleasant surprise. It means, if repeated around Scotland, there is still a campaigning enthusiasm around Scotland.

    Secondly, I skimmed all the contents, and none were stupid, or controversial, or dogmatic. None of this “We’ll all be pleased to see the back of Trident” which appeals only to CND members who are already YES if they have a brain. I live on the Clyde and am not that fussed to be honest.

    But thirdly, anyone who runs a website knows that as well as getting people to visit your website, you have to KEEP them there. This means a front page which doesn’t say “Welcome to our website” with a big picture of your ugly mug, mine I mean, not yours, nor Sturgeon’s, errr,, maybe I should rephrase this, oh nevermind. You have to get an interest straight away, and keep that for more than 10 seconds. I think the 8 pager, failed in that.

    a). “Wellbeing”. WTF is that all about, Ted? Down with that sort of thing!
    b), Renewables. After 2 weeks or more of CRAP26, yawn.
    c). “We can build a new nation [eh? Hello, this is Scotland, we’re already a Nation and just beat Japan and got to the next stage of the qualifiers in the football] and a new world [excuse me? A population of 5.4 million compared with a population of 7 BILLION? What planet are you on] …. together [Sorry, too busy making ends meet, keeping a leaky roof over the head, toast and a weekly can of beans on the table, and so on]”.
    d). Yes, the corny photo on a backdrop of planet earth wasting half the page. We all know what Sturgeon looks like, whether we love her, hate her – or are relatively indifferent. And is that Earth – or some planet orbiting Barnard’s Star? Seems to be a lot of ice! (yes, I know)

    Particularly c) can be quite offensive, as it’s THEM (all few hundred of them) and us, 5.4 million.

    e) “Scotland is a country rich in talent and resources” should have occupied maybe 1/4 page, with some bullet points.

    But it can’t do any harm.

    Sorry if this posts twice, first time disappeared as it often does for me.

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    1. Anyone remember, by the way, 2008 when Gordon Brown said “We not only saved the world”, hence his deserved nickname at the time “Flash”?

      Generally speaking I support Sturgeon, but “Ground Control to Major Tom …”, time to come back to earth with a parachute and a bumpety bump, to rejoin the rest of us mere mortals.

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  4. It’s really a continuation of doing the same thing as they have been doing but making a splash about it.

    But we know what happens when you keep doing the same thing, you get the same results.

    I was hoping for the opening salvo of a proper campaign, not a puff of warm wind.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Looks first and foremost like an SNP promotion with the same boring stuff which will convert very few. Long winded articles will not be read.Where are the punchlines, the bullet points?

    I am fed up with equality, well being and all that. Let’s get independence and then sort things ouit.

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    1. “Equality, well-being and all that” are important. I just don’t see why they have to be hitched to the constitutional issue. The matter of Scotland’s constitutional status must stand alone. There will be only one question on the ballot when (if!) we have a referendum. That question won’t be about “equality, well-being and all that”. If we’re doing it right the question will ask us to ratify the dissolution of the Union. Nothing else.

      How might we sensibly campaign for an answer to the question that will be asked by campaigning on the basis of questions that won’t be asked? The very idea is insane.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Language can be used to communicate, influence – or impress someone with what appears to be the person’s intellectuality and knowledge of meaningless buzzwords.

        So, how could we improve that front page? Which seems to presume all million households will know who Kate Forbes, Gordon Macintyre Kemp and Lorna Slater, actually are. I doubt it!

        Was “Kate Forbes ‘Scotland is a country rich in talent and resources'”
        Becomes “Kate Forbes, The Scottish Goverment Secreatry of Finance, details how: ‘Scotland is a country rich in talent and resources'”

        Was “Gordon Macintyre Kemp ‘Wellbeing can help us build a fairer nation'”
        Becomes “Gordon Macintyre Kemp, Chief Executive of Business for Scotland tells us how ‘Wellbeing can help us build a fairer nation'”

        Eh? A Business person claiming to be an expert on Wellbeing whatever that is?

        Becomes “Gordon Macintyre Kemp, Chief Executive of Business for Scotland tells us how ‘Businesses can thrive in an Independent Scotland'” or at least, something to do with “Business”.

        Was “Lorna Slater ‘Renewables will make us a powerhouse of the future'”
        Becomes “Lorna Slater, Greens co-convener and Scottish Government Minister for Green Skills, Circular Economy and Biodiversity writes how ‘Renewables with all the powers of Independence will provide many well paid and challenging jobs in the future'”

        Perhaps including that actual genuine powerhouse at Aberdeen in the article itself, rather than some politico non-speak meaningless lingo like wot politicos speak.

        Also, put Sturgeon’s name on the photo and her quote, not to do so is arrogance.
        Undecideds and NOes are not communicated with by that actual main page, not interested, not influenced, and are unlikely to be impressed by meaningless jingo.

        I’ll shut up now.

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  6. I originally read this blog halfway though posting these papers out in my local area.

    Remarkably after reading I still went back out to finish my run, posting more than 300 through folks doors by the end of the day. OK I accept at a 5% hit rate I may have got through to only 15 folk.

    However being an average Joe with negligible influence politically, my options are to do this, or just SCREAM into the void.

    I am not kidding myself, but getting out and doing something is marginally better for my mental health.

    Liked by 2 people

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