Thursday, 9 June 2011

Smart-phones for success: Learning from the SNP election machine

At the recent Scottish Assembly elections, the SNP swept into power with a staggering majority of 69 Members of the Scottish Parliament (MSPs) elected. This result is all the more impressive for the fact that the Scottish Parliament was designed to facilitate coalition rule. For those of us interested in how political success occurs, we must analyse their approach and see whether elements of it can be brought to bear on Green Party electioneering.

To that end, I would strongly advise anyone interested to check out the BBC Radio 4 Podcast “Weekly Political Review: Beyond Westminster” from the 4th June 2011. In it, journalist Michael Buchanan interviews the SNP campaign team and asks how they they transformed their party’s fortunes. On policy, they ran a much stronger and positive campaign than Labour, with a passionate and articulate advocate for the country’s future in Alex Salmond. Yet, it is the organisational strategy behind their campaign that must bear closer examination.

Following on from my recent call for the use of new technologies to boost the effectiveness of the Green Party, here we get a master-class in how this can be translated into an incredibly precise voter targeting strategy. The software deployed, called “Activate” was based upon that used by the Obama presidential campaign and allowed voting data to be streamed directly to smart phones, allowing a dynamic two-way collection of canvassing and knocking-up data to be recorded, as well as providing activists with written verbal prompts to use on the doorstep. The GPS function on the phone is used to locate and direct you onto your next target voter. I have to say, I’m extremely impressed.

This was supported by a highly effective strategy on social media sites, primarily on Facebook and Twitter. SNP activists tagged voters in “I’m voting SNP” photographs which were uploaded to Facebook. By doing so, it advertised their support directly to the feeds of their friends (and with each Facebook user having an average of 120 friend, this is a substantial viral endorsement). The SNP used software called “Nation Builder” to identify and collate data on those who supported their candidates and party on social-media sites, allowing them to target them specifically and use them as a conduit for getting their message out.

Yes, this approach costs money – and to get the most out of it, you would need individuals employed to monitor and follow up on these leads, but I am convinced that we need to start investing in this level of sophistication in Green Party campaigning and viral marketing. Because I’m sure that after the disappointing results for all the major parties at the last election, they will have seen the writing on the wall and will be sprinting towards this approach as fast as their cash-lined pockets can take them.


  1. They won 69* seats in the PARLIAMENT, not 65 in an Assembly ;) They're MSPs, not AMs.

    But yes, it's a good article on the whole.

    One thing to bear in mind though, is that this didn't happen overnight. The SNP were winning awards for their website almost twenty years ago, and their canvassing software has improved over the years.

    They've always been moving with the times, although didn't break through until 2007, and since then they've won 4/5 nationwide contests.

    I think though, that the relentless optimism of the entire campaign is what won it - compared to the Unionist parties' dogged determinism to stick to a negative agenda.

    *(They won 69, but have 68, as one has given up her post to be Presiding Officer)

  2. Thanks for the comment Grogipher - I've amended the article to reflect the points you made!

    I'd be the first to appreciate the length of time it takes to build up your support to that level. Here in Brighton & Hove, the Greens have worked strenuously over the last ten years to increase our representation.

    And I totally agree that this election was won on a clear and optimistic platform. As you might guess from the tone and title of this blog, that is an approach which finds a lot of favour with me!

  3. pretty heavy on the emissions, burning all that fuel to get those satellites up there. 'spose that's ok though, no? Just no cars for the plebs eh?

    As for a sustainable future, does that include having three children such as your leader has? Also pretty heavy on the emissions, no? Or is that ok for her as well?

  4. Apologies, I didn't realise that being a Green voter meant that I had to turn away from any technology invented before 1932 - or become fascistic about how people choose to live and build families. Good thing that Caroline Lucas and myself have never said anything of that sort, otherwise we'd be seen as almighty hypocrites.

    All the same, thanks for leaving a comment "Anonymous" - it is great to get to know you. ;-)

  5. plenty of food for thought here. A bit scary all the same, right? With so much software able to 'find' our photos on the web, now that being linked with our political preferences are we being exposed a tad too much? Employers routinely do a web search before interviewing prospective employees, could these kind of tags hinder us in the future. I'm not one to hide my views/beliefs/ideas or even morals but not sure if I would be particularly happy to be judged on the basis of tags on my facebook photos. What if they got it wrong and tagged the wrong person?
    One of the things that won SNP lots of votes was the fact that they made all prescribed medicine free of charge. In England we pay and are subject to a post code lottery on the availability of prescribed meds. Humpfff!

  6. Thanks for giving your thoughts Filipa. I agree, data security would need to be important - but my understanding of the SNP ask is that they ask for permission to take your photograph and let you know it will be tagged, so you can refuse (or quietly remove the tag if you change your mind). The same can be done for mistaken tagging - I've been attached to all manner of strange photos in the past and am always quick to remove! Finally, security permissions on FB mean that you can be sure only your friends can access this data, which should prevent employers getting too nosy...

    And yes, I think you are completely right - the SNP may have been assisted with getting their messages out with this technology, but the reason they did so well was hard work, good policies and positive messaging!