The curious tale of the media strategy and the Growth Commission

By Alan Roden

The Growth Commission report published today is a serious piece of work.

Andrew Wilson is one of the most talented minds in Scotland, and he has filled the document with a sober analysis of the economic options facing an independent Scotland.

Perhaps it is because it stands in such stark contrast to the 2014 White Paper that the SNP’s media strategy around its launch has been so perplexing.

Today should have been an opportunity for Nicola Sturgeon to hog the limelight across the UK, but the SNP’s media operation has given the impression that the party is unsure how to deal with the report.

The press release trails sent to journalists earlier this week were the first indication of an unusual media approach.

The SNP insisted that embargoed comments should be ‘non-approach’ – i.e. the journalists could not share the contents with other political parties for reaction.

Such an approach is largely unheard of when it comes to political PR. It does happen when exclusive stories are given to individual newspapers, but is rarely deployed when a release is issued ‘all-around’.

Naturally, the instruction was largely ignored. Adam Morris, head of media for the Scottish Conservatives, brilliantly mocked the SNP by issuing a press release with the instruction: “Please note this information is provided on the basis you can ask anyone you like for comment.”

Yesterday, on the eve of the report’s launch, one newspaper received a copy of the document which gave it a head-start in today’s coverage. It was The National, which supports Scottish independence, and has a readership which certainly does not need to be convinced.

It was an odd decision, as the key to winning any future referendum are readers of papers like The Daily Record: people who maybe voted No last time, or didn’t vote, but don’t really spend their lives thinking about politics.

The National has hailed the report as an optimistic blueprint that will deliver riches to the people of Scotland – somewhat  at odds with the grounded, realistic approach that SNP strategists had insisted they wanted to pitch to the public.

Today, BBC Radio Scotland’s Good Morning Scotland presenter Gary Robertson revealed that requests for interviews with Nicola Sturgeon or her senior ministers John Swinney and Derek Mackay were declined. GMS is the prime morning radio slot, and given that opposition politicians hadn’t even seen the report at this stage, choosing not to put the First Minister on air is a head-scratching decision.

I’ve attended many press conferences with Nicola Sturgeon. She is one of the most skilled politicians in the UK and can handle pretty much any question thrown at her.

But there was no press conference today, which would have have been carried live on all the news channels.

Nor was there a public visit. She could have visited a hi-tech business, or a university, to demonstrate the economic potential there is in Scotland. The evening news TV bulletins would have lapped up the cut-away shots of her ‘doing something’.

Instead, the First Minister recorded a few clips to camera and sat down with a few newspaper journalists.

It gives the impression that the party can’t decide whether to promote the Growth Commission or run away from it.

The SNP hasn’t got to where it is without making shrewd tactical choices. Maybe there is an explanation that will become clear in the months ahead.

But, for now, the strategy just looks very confused. How curious.