Fighting the last (political) war

There is an old cliché about Generals, they always tend to fight the last war, not the current one. As we are now officially at the start of yet another political campaign, it seems the Labour Party might be making the same mistake.


In 2017, the Conservatives re-fought the 2015 campaign.  “Chaos with….” and attention on who the friends of the Labour Leader were and what that said about them.  Although I would argue that the alleged friends that had Ed Miliband in their pocket weren’t as bad as the friends Jeremy Corbyn had actually memorialised but the point stands.  What worked in 2015, most definitely did not in 2017 as, frankly, voters decided not to care whom Jeremy Corbyn might or might not have been friends with.

In 2017, Labour most definitely did not re-fight the 2015 election, more like one from the 1970s.  Gone was the slick stage-managed events replaced by old-style rallies and enthusiasm.  People like me sighed or laughed, “this will never work.”  And, to an extent, it didn’t.  Labour didn’t win the election but they did win the campaign, albeit a pyrrhic victory.  And they did it by fighting their own war and not the last.  This might have been partly due to the players in the party being almost entirely new after Jeremy Corbyn’s election as leader – they didn’t come with scars or a point to prove that they had been right all along.

This time, however, initial signs are that the tables have turned.  Labour are going in to this election with almost glee at being between 9 to 15 points down because “remember what happened last time.”  This time, just one more push is required and we will be in Berlin (or Downing Street).  They are assuming that the 2019 election will be just like 2017, as voters flock to the Red Flag and the Glorious Future promised.

This time the difference is that Labour does have people who led the 2017 campaign and want to show they were right all along and their plan is the one true masterplan.

What the Labour Party must be weary of is that the battleground, as well as the political and actual weather over it, will be very different this time.  The question is on which side the debris from apparent voter anger falls and how radioactive it is.  Get it wrong and Nuclear Winter beckons.

The climate of your audience

In watching some of the videos from the last few climate change protests in Edinburgh, London and elsewhere, it was easy to see some examples of good campaigning and effective stunts for media attention. A large Octopus is never not going to get you coverage and neither is a fire engine spraying an old building red. Even protests at London City Airport can get you the kind of attention you want.Graeme Downie, Orbit Director

With that kind of stunt, you are going to be asked for your more substantial views and reasoning, to showcase your knowledge, agenda and programme to make real change and grow an actual movement. In short, it creates the opportunity but the stunt should not be the end in itself.

But, as with many campaigns, the stunt becomes the objective and you feel you have to “do something new” and “go further” rather than looking at why the first thing worked and what it enabled you to do.

The footage this morning of commuters in London dragging XR protestors off a tube, following the blocking of train stations and bus stations are where protestors have lost sight of their audience and purpose. The people being inconvenienced are, afterall, doing what XR wants to see more of – using public transport. Because of public transport conditions, they are also likely to support more money being spent on it to improve the service.

I would be willing to bet that if you polled these commuters they would also support more effective action to tackle climate change. These are the people who agree with you and you want to bring to your campaign. They are your audience, why are you abusing them and treating them as the enemy? Sure, you will get coverage and attention but it will not grow your support nor will it advance your objectives, quite the opposite.

This is common in PR and political campaigns, the base or client demands more but forgets the long-term objective and who the audience is. At Orbit, this is something we combat by asking clients to focus on three simple questions at all times during campaigns and if a particular activity is going to help our longer-term objective. Who is our audience? How do we reach them? What do we want them to do?

Activity for the sake of activity may look appealing but forget your audience at your peril if you want to achieve anything.

Crisis? What Crisis?

Thatcher in 1990, Callaghan in 1979.  Two British Prime Ministers who thought that being seen to ‘get on with the job’ was the best way to handle political difficulties at home.  Perhaps it is fitting therefore that Boris Johnson is also out of the country, presumably in part for the same reason.

When the unanimous judgement of the UK Supreme Court was handed down this morning.  The court’s ruling, that there was no reason, let alone a justifiable one, to prorogue Parliament and that the UK Government acted illegally, was as damning in its judgement as it was surprising in its clarity.

As with much of what has happened with Brexit, it is impossible to guess what might happen next.  Immediate calls for his resignation from all sides are predictable, but it is likely that whilst in the New York, the Prime Minister might follow the advice of “America’s Boris” and stick it out, at least in the short term.

What the Opposition chooses to do next will be critical in that determination.  With the media narrative clearly building up to the decision today though it was with a chronic lack of perspective, but entirely unsurprising, that Labour Conference chose to continue petty squabbles and fudge positions.  A clear clarion call this morning of its position would have further increased the pressure but has not yet materialised.   Strong, visual action today could still salvage the situation, but whether the party is capable of that or cedes that group to the SNP, Lib Dems and others remains to be seen.

The guesswork will continue over the coming hours, days and weeks but I suspect the news from the Big Apple will echo both Callaghan and Thatcher, “Crisis? What Crisis?” and “No, No, No.”

Climate change provides centrepiece of Programme for Government

Ending Scotland’s contribution to climate change, delivering on the economy and building a fairer country were the central themes of this year’s Programme for Government, announced by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon in Parliament today (3rd September).

The programme, entitled Protecting Scotland’s Future, includes 14 new bills as well as a raft of non-legislative announcements

Following the First Minister’s acknowledgement of a global climate emergency earlier this year at the SNP Conference, the Programme for Government set out the Scottish Government’s next steps to tackle climate change, including a landmark investment of more than £500 million to improve bus infrastructure across the country to encourage more people to use public transport.

The First Minister also announced plans to decarbonise Scotland’s railways by 2035 through the continued electrification of the network, as well as battery-powered trains and exploring the potential of hydrogen-powered trains. It also proposes making the Highlands and Islands the world’s first net zero aviation region by 2040.

She also confirmed the first wave of schools to be built or refurbished through a new £1 billion school investment programme will be announced later this month and an extra £15 million will be provided to help improve additional support for learning.

An additional £20 million of funding will help tackle the public health emergency of drug deaths in Scotland. The Child Payment, which will benefit low income families with young children by £500 each year, will now be introduced by Christmas 2020 – ahead of the original schedule.

Other measures include:

  • a ‘Green New Deal’, harnessing the power of the Scottish National Investment Bank and creating a £3 billion package of investments to attract green finance to Scotland
  • an additional £17m to support the demand for ultra-low emission vehicles (ULEVs)
  • develop regulations so that new homes from 2024 must use renewable or low carbon heat
  • targeting a minimum of £30 million of support for renewable heat projects
  • making the first Job Start Payments in spring 2020
  • putting in place a Women’s Health Plan to tackle women’s heath inequalities
  • continuing to support mental health, with a 24/7 crisis support service for children and young people and their families, a community wellbeing service enabling self-referral for children and young people and a £5 million investment in a community perinatal mental health service across Scotland
  • taking forward planning to mitigate the worst consequences of a ‘no deal’ Brexit

The First Minister also confirmed the Referendums Bill will go forward this year and that the Scottish Government will ask, during the passage of the Bill, for the transfer of power to hold an independence referendum within this term of Parliament.

Bills for introduction in 2019-20:

  • Animal Health and Welfare (Amendment) Bill – will increase the maximum penalties for the most serious animal welfare offences to five years imprisonment and/or an unlimited fine.
  • Budget Bill – Annual legislation which provides parliamentary approval for the Scottish government’s spending plans and allocation of resources.
  • Circular Economy Bill – includes encouraging re-use of products and resource waste. It will allow charges to be applied to single-use coffee cups.
  • Civil Partnership Bill – will make civil partnerships available to mixed-sex couples in Scotland.
  • Continuity Bill – provides ability to maintain alignment with EU law in devolved areas after Brexit.
  • Defamation and Malicious Publications Bill – will simplify and modernise the law of defamation.
  • Uefa European Championship Bill – ahead of Glasgow’s participation as a host city in the Uefa European Football Championships in 2020, the bill will prohibit ticket touting and make provisions to protect commercial interests.
  • Forensic Medical Services (Victims of Sexual Offences) Bill – will aim to improve services for victims of sexual offences, including ensuring their cases are handled more effectively by the justice and healthcare systems.
  • Good Food Nation Bill – introduces a statutory framework as part of efforts to promote healthier and more sustainable local produce.
  • Hate Crime Bill – consolidates and updates existing hate crime legislation.
  • Heat Networks Bill – brings regulation of the heat network sector to support, facilitate and create controls in development of district and communal heating infrastructure in Scotland.
  • Redress (Survivors of In Care Abuse) Bill – establishes a financial redress scheme for survivors of historical child abuse whilst in care in Scotland.
  • Rural Support Bill – introduces regulation-making powers for Scottish ministers to amend or replace the EU Common Agricultural Policy elements of retained EU law.
  • Transient Visitor Levy Bill – creates a discretionary power for local authorities to apply a tax or levy on overnight visitor stays.

Alex Orr is Managing Director of Orbit Communications

Housing Scotland’s People: The future of housing in Scotland

Housing event cover image

Last year, the Scottish Government released a discussion paper entitled “Housing beyond 2021”, the aim being to develop a vision for 2040 for the whole housing system and an accompanying routemap with key milestones along the way to achieving that vision.

The paper begins by recalling the Scottish Government’s housing and regeneration outcomes and these help to define some of the key themes explored in the paper.

Five of the key themes identified by the discussion paper are:

  • Demographic change;
  • Affordability and supply;
  • Sustainability;
  • Quality; and
  • Fuel poverty.

Let’s look at current and future trends in relation to these five themes and then consider some of the key challenges and opportunities these pose for communications in the housing sector, both now and in the years ahead.


Scotland’s population is projected to age as it rises over the next 20+ years.

While forward projections up to 2041 forecast a net decline in the number of people in Scotland aged 0-24, 25-44 and 45-64, the number of people aged 65-74 is forecast to rise by 12.6% while the number of people in Scotland aged 75 and over is predicted to rise by 69.4% between 2019 and 2041.

This means that, while the overall population of Scotland is predicted to rise by 223,000 over that 22 year period, there will be almost 400,000 people aged 65 and older living in Scotland by 2041.

Demographics (003)

Size of households

At the same time, the average size of a household in Scotland is shrinking. It fell by 5% between 2001 and 2017. This decline can partly be attributed to a fragmentation of the traditional nuclear family and a corresponding rise in couples with children living apart and single parent households. But as life expectancy increases, we’re also seeing more people living independently for longer. If that trend continues into the future, this will create further pressures on the housing sector and even more demand for a greater supply of homes.

Household size

New housing supply

At the same time, there is a general consensus that we are not building enough homes in Scotland to meet even current demands. While the number of new homes being built has steadily increased over the past six years, rates of new house building are still a long way below the annual rates consistently recorded prior to the 2008 recession.

For instance, in 2017-18, 17,766 new homes were completed compared to around 25,000 units completed annually prior to 2008.


Housing tenures

 Levels of home ownership in Scotland have remained relatively constant over the past 15 years, fluctuating between 60 and 65% of all housing. We have seen a marginal decline in the percentage of the population in the social rented sector over that same period, down from 26% to 22%.

By far the biggest shift in tenures has been the percentage of the Scottish population living in the private rented sector. This has climbed from 6% in 2003 to 15% in 2017.

This is the phenomenon known as “generation rent”, the rise of the private sector being largely attributable to a younger generation who simply cannot afford to buy their own home.



 The main, relatively blunt tool we have to measure the energy performance of Scotland’s housing stock in the Energy Performance Certificate which classifies homes according to a series of energy efficiency bands.

Specifically in relation to existing stock, a key focus for the Scottish Government has been to drive up the energy efficiency of the social rented sector. The Energy Efficiency Standard for Social Housing (EESSH) seeks to eliminate properties below Band D from the social rented sector by 2020.

There has been some progress since EESSH was first launched with the number of social sector homes falling below Band D falling from 66,000 in 2014 to 43,000 in 2017. However, although we are on the right path, the rate of progress will need to accelerate significantly for the 2020 target to be met.

Looking further ahead, the Scottish Government has already floated proposals for EESSH2 with the aim of maximising attainment of Band B in the social sector by 2032. Given that only 3% of social sector housing – and indeed all housing in Scotland – currently meets Band B or better, that longer term target is an extremely ambitious one.



 The Scottish Housing Quality Standard (SHQS) was first introduce in 2004. According to the standard, housing stock should be energy efficient, be safe and secure, not be seriously damaged and be equipped with kitchens and bathrooms in good condition.

The SHQS was subsequently incorporated into the Scottish Social Housing Charter in April 2012 with the aim that all social housing stock should pass the standard by April 2015. Unfortunately, by the end of 2017-18, there were still 30,000 social rented properties that did not pass.

More widely, across all tenures, as of 2017, there were still almost 1 million properties in Scotland that failed to meet the standard. That provides a telling indication of how much more progress still needs to be made.


Fuel poverty

 The number of households in fuel poverty has been declining in recent years. However, as of 2017, there were still 613,000 households across Scotland defined as being in fuel poverty including 174,000 in extreme fuel poverty.

The Fuel Poverty (Target, Definition and Strategy) (Scotland) Bill is currently passing through the Scottish Parliament and sets a headline target that no more than 5% of Scottish households should be in fuel poverty by 2040. This is a higher ambition than a target originally proposed that no more than 10% of Scottish households should be in fuel poverty by that date. Nonetheless, the policy continues to face criticism from campaigners who question why the target is not to completely eradicate fuel poverty in Scotland by 2040.

Fuel Poverty

Housing communications: What are the future challenges and opportunities?

  1. The demographic challenge

An ageing population and fragmentation in the size of households pose significant duel challenges for the housing sectors, creating even more pressure to increase the supply of new housing while also creating new challenges around the changing type and mix of housing Scotland actually needs.

  1. The high expectations of policymakers

Whether in terms of combating climate change, making the transition to a low carbon economy, achieving greater energy efficiency or improving health outcomes, the housing sector is being challenged like never before and there is an expectation that housing across all tenures should be part of the solution in addressing each of these major policy issues.

This creates challenges around how to communicate with policymakers in a way that successfully manages their expectations as to what the housing sector can realistically achieve.

  1. Increasing costs of compliance

 Connected to the challenge of managing expectations, as deadlines for meeting targets draw closer, the cost of bringing remaining housing stock up to the standard, be that in terms of energy efficiency or quality, inevitably creeps up, to the point where it may no longer be cost-effective to make those remaining properties compliant.

At the same time, as the Scottish Government’s discussion paper points out, 80% of the homes that will be in use in 2050 have already been built so there is a large onus on retrofitting those existing properties to be able to meet future targets. Yet the process of retrofitting existing properties is often that much more costly and challenging – and the challenges can be particularly great for properties located in more remote areas of the country.

  1. Measuring success

 How we manage and measure compliance is also changing and there is a challenge around futureproofing against the introduction of future technologies and shifting or conflicting policy goals.

For instance, replacing inefficient electric storage heaters with efficient modern gas-fired boilers will undoubtedly have a positive impact on bringing down fuel bills, improving energy efficiency and tackling fuel poverty. But what about longer term goals around climate change and the transition to a low carbon economy with reduced reliance on fossil fuels? Moving to gas-fired boilers builds in an ongoing reliance on fossil fuels which potentially contradicts that longer term aspiration. This is just one example of how shifting technologies and policy priorities mean that the ways in which we measure success are also shifting.

  1. A successful cross tenure approach

Keeping in mind the projection that 80% of properties in use in 2050 have already been built, there is a realisation that improvements to the existing built environment will have to bear a major share of the burden when it comes to meeting future targets – and that needs to include all tenures of housing.

However, the Scottish Government inevitably tends to focus policy interventions on the social housing sector since this is an area where it can exert most direct influence. Even in the area of new housing, the Scottish Government has more direct influence over the supply of new social sector homes through its Affordable Housing Supply Programme than is the case for new private sector housing.

However, when it comes to the majority of existing housing that continue to be owner-occupied, policymakers have tended to rely on the carrot of incentives to drive positive consumer behaviour rather than the stick of legally binding targets – but with at best mixed success. For instance, the Green Deal pursued by the Conservative/Liberal Democrat UK Government coalition has limited success in encouraging owner occupiers to invest more in making their homes more energy efficient.

  1. Are public aspirations realistic?

A 2017 survey shows that 83% of the Scottish population aspired to be home owners, that 12% aspired to live in social rented accommodation and only 3% aspired to live in the private rented sector. Unfortunately, these aspirations don’t necessarily reflect the overall mix of housing currently available.

There is a challenge here to look at ways of making renting more attractive. But it also suggests that people tend not to think long-term when it comes to the type of housing they aspire to live in. We need to do more to encourage people to think about their future housing needs: i.e. what type of housing will they need when they become older and start to become less mobile, for instance? Encouraging people to think longer term about their own housing journey is also really important.

  1. The growing need for joined-up policymaking

 We are seeing an increasing crossover between different policies in the housing sector. For instance, there is an obvious synergy between measures to improve energy efficiency and tackling fuel poverty.

Probably the biggest opportunity for policies to work together is the intersection between future housing, transport and energy policies. As homes become more self-reliant when it comes to generating energy and opportunities emerge through electrification of transport to transfer energy between your home and your car, so it will be increasingly important for the policy frameworks governing these different sectors to work in a coordinated fashion – and herein lies both an important opportunity and a key challenge for the future.

  1. New methods of communication

 With new technologies, the changing way in which we communicate and consume information also creates new challenges for those working in the housing sector – whether that’s in terms of private housebuilders interacting with the house-buying public or social and private landlords interacting with their tenants. The expectations of housing consumers are rightfully increasing and those in the business of housing in all of its different forms need to adapt how they communicate accordingly.

Alex Bruce is a Director of Orbit Communications.

Take steps to make this Monday a little less Blue


Today as many will be aware is ‘Blue Monday’, reported to be the most depressing day of the year.

Falling on the third Monday of January, the term was first coined in 2005 and has since been used to denote the sense of fatigue that lingers at the start of the year. The concept is said to have taken-root in the national psyche thanks to a travel company press release aimed at inspiring people to purchase a holiday in order to stave off the so-called January blues.

It is based on a hypothetical formula that combines a range of factors — including weather conditions, debt levels and failing resolutions like broken diet plans — since the start of the new year.

Post the festive rush and excitement of Christmas, and as employees shuffle back to the daily grind in gloomy weather and credit card bills loom, reality often comes crashing down around us. Such an intense change in a short period of time from December to January has the propensity to impact a person’s psychological state, knocking them into depression.

Putting aside that there is no real scientific evidence to back today as being ‘Blue Monday’, use it to start a process to lift your mood and turn any day into a great day.

Some top tips you may want to use include:

Get moving — lots of people struggle to get exercise into their day however exercise is proven to release endorphins which naturally make your feel happier. It doesn’t have to be lots of exercise, but simply getting outside for a 20 minute walk today at lunchtime.

Plan to do something your enjoy today — perhaps tonight plan to watch a favourite film, spend some time on a hobby you enjoy or spend time with friends and family.

Have a word with yourself! — focus on all the things you are grateful for and want more of in your life, not the negative. As you go about your day, stop and notice 5 things you are grateful for. As soon as you start to focus on being grateful you’ll find your mood improves and the more you look for, the more you find.

Look after you! — eat foods you know help you feel energised, have a lovely bath to relax, get an early night to re-charge or perhaps plan something nice for later in the year, something you can look forward to.

Above all, have a great day!