“It feels like a cup final,” said Stewart Kirkpatrick, Yes Scotland’s Head of Digital but there was no crowing behind the fact: if anything, the Hibernian supporter knew exactly what that could mean.
But at 9pm last Thursday, when Scotland Votes was invited to spend the last hour of the #indyref campaign with Yes Scotland at their Glasgow HQ, it was still all to play for, to continue the football metaphor.
Yes Scotland Digital Team working to the wire
In fact, there were more than one game going on. Just as there was still information being shared online urging people to vote Yes and fighting other rumours (“none of the polling stations have closed early so let’s not be sharing that,” critiqued Gail Lythgoe), there was a battle going on against David Cameron to be the largest UK political page on Facebook.
“We’re 200 Likes away from overtaking him on Facebook,” pointed out Kevin Gilmartin “and some people may think that doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things but it’s a statement, it shows that in two years people can become a large movement and come together in hope. It’s a very symbolic statement.”
But there were even smaller personal gains people had hoped for. “I set myself a goal of 5,000 followers on Twitter through the campaign and then I set for 6,000 so I could reach more people about Yes,” said Lythgoe inbetween answering calls from people with late voting queries.
Just yards away, there may have been hundreds partying in George Square but for Kirkpatrick and his team of Gilmartin, Lythgoe, Peter Dempsie and Stewart Bremner, there was no party, just the soft glow from iMacs onto their concentrating brows, looking at the data, finding what combination of hard data and emotion could lead to undecideds and No’s turning to Yes voters.
“Retweeting and posting elsewhere material that shows No voters turning to Yes is getting shared an incredible amount at this point and that’s good because it will help those Yes voters who may still be on the fence have confidence that they are making the right decision.”
But what he didn’t want posted was pleas for Yes to overtake David Cameron, especially as the difference narrowed to 100. “If we post something, the Tories will see it and potentially rally round.”
The Empty Office
There was no let up in the online activity and monitoring in the empty office. “And it should be empty because the teams and hard working volunteers should still be out helping people and informing them if questions are asked,” pointed out Dempsie. “The best parts of Yes were not about sitting on backsides. It was about engaging with all the communities – from online to on the doorsteps.”
“Make no mistake,” added Kirkpatrick, scouring through data from Google Analytics, Hootsuite and other sources, “this campaign has shown the roles that digital can play as part of an integrated campaigning effort. It’s not about saying digital wins it, it’s about making sure people can access the information they want to find, about responding to not only their queries but their search patterns and having a community to help you.”
And that sense of community continued even when a group from Venezula turned up at the last minute as did a journalist and other commentators. They were not turned away, they were welcomed in – and encouraged to like the Facebook page as David Cameron’s lead slipped to 68.
The Venezulans left after pointing out Alba means Dawn and there was the dawn of a new political leader on Facebook as the Yes page overtook the Prime Minister but there was no loud cheers and aggressive fist pumping, just some quiet calls of “Yes” as there was still 12 minutes until people could turn up and vote. One observer did miss the Cameron overtaking though as he had locked himself out escorting the Venezualans out.
As the moments ticked down, there was a sense of accomplishment amongst the team. “There’s been moments where it was rocky,” said Kirkpatrick, “but from the start of the year there was a real sense of it coming together, of the right people being in the right places and that yes, this could be done.
“And that’s what people need to take away from this – the confidence, the optimism. Even if the vote is No, there’s a lot the campaign has done – digitally and otherwise.”
The clock – or rather the computer screens and TVs – turned 10pm but Kirkpatrick enthused the team to carry on, knowing there were still people in queues. “We don’t stop now,” but 15 minutes later they did to the strains of Sinatra and My Way filling the room, a converted bank vault.
Gail Lythgoe (front) as the rest of the digital team discuss tactics in the closing minutes of the campaign.
There were hugs, there was praise, pictures taken and “well done’s” as thousands of hours of work came to an end – but there was last one thing to be done. “Capture the data. Go back to the start and get all of it.” Data that will be pored over for days and weeks to come as people see exactly what worked in digital engagement and what could be improved in other campaigns. “Catalonia could be interesting next year if anyone wants to go…” teased the journalist to nods by some of those present.
“Never mind Catalonia next year, I’m still waiting for Henry McLeish to come out for Yes,” cracked one of the team as they put their machine through Shut Down for the last time. The digital campaign that started with a start-up chime and the rattle of keyboards came to an end in a similar way, the team all still too wrapped up in what would happen in the next few hours to think ahead to the realisation that within hours they would all be unemployed in a Scotland changed by the last years, regardless of result.
“That’s me,” said Kevin Gilmartin. “We’ve done what we can, it’s been far more than we hoped for, we’ve touched more people than we could ever have expected to. It’s been an amazing journey, personally as much as anything. I’ve learned so much about what I’m capable of, I’ve grown, we’ve all grown. But what comes next?”
There was no bang, no loud screams, no tears. It was a professional close to a professional effort, one that others had dismissed and then raced to play catch-up in and the team kept their own counsel as Gilmartin put the lights out but Gail Lythgoe wryly noting she’d be back – to the recruitment agency that was next door to the Yes organisation.
From there the team did their own thing – some went straight to the count in Ingliston, others retreated to the Pot Still pub and their dram of the month – Isle of Jura’s Origin ironically enough.
They had engaged with their fellow Scots digitally and it was time to take their places, anonymously, in the crowds around Scotland, mingling with people who may not know them, may never know them, but certainly knew of their work and been informed – one way or another by it. There were no egos, there was just the community. There was Scotland.
By Craig McGill