Public Relations Division
Graduate Student Paper
Water Warfare in Scotland:
A Case Study in Issues Management
Kerry Anderson Crooks, aprp
Graduate Division, 2038 Weimer Hall
College of Journalism and Communications
The University of Florida
Gainesville, Florida 32611
Tel: (352) 378-1770/(352) 392-1686
Fax: (352) 392-3919
E-Mail: [log in to unmask]
Water Warfare in Scotland
Kerry Anderson Crooks, M.Ed., APRP
The University of Florida
Submitted to the Public Relations Division, AEJMC
1 April 1996
Water Warfare in Scotland:
A Case Study in Issues Management
"For as long as one hundred of us remain
alive we shall never in any wise consent to submit to the
the English, for it is not for glory we fight, for riches,
honours, but for freedom alone, which no good man loses but
Scottish 'Declaration of
Abstract: Efforts of the British government under
Party leadership to strip Scotland's water utilities from
local control resulted in a
negative reaction by the Scottish public that political
opposition parties were able
to exploit in the 1995 local council elections. This paper
chronicles the public
relations campaigns of both the government and its political
opposition as a case
study providing timeless lessons in issues management to
political science and public
relations practitioners and students on both sides of the
Purpose of this study
The abilities of an organisation to survey its environment, discover
unmet needs, avoid pitfalls and exploit opportunities are crucial to its
survival. In an age of near-instantaneous communication, the recognition of
potential problems and the resolution of those problems are challenges demanding
both research and judgement. Further, while a structured research programme
may eliminate much of the potential for disaster, often enough the organisation
may be in a position needing to make an immediate response to an issue. The
period of time between the onset of a problem and the full recognition of the
potential adverse effects of that problem (recognition lag) is as critical as
the gap in time between the problem recognition and its solution (resolution
There have been some notorious cases where the recognition lag was
allowed to become large enough that it compounded the original problem. The
infamous case of the tanker, Exxon Valdez, in Prince William Sound, Valdez,
Alaska, USA, plus the Westland helicopter affair and, more recently, the bovine
spongiform encephalopathy (a.k.a. the 'Mad Cow' disease) scare in Great Britain
excellent examples of organisations failing to fully recognise a
problem in time to contain its effects.
However, few examples demonstrate the effect of hubris in the
creation of recognition lag as was the case when the British Government in
Westminster under the leadership of the Conservative Party insisted on stripping
Scottish local water utilities from local control as part of its reorganisation
programme for local government in Scotland. Indeed, the folly of the
government's failure to appreciate the public relations hazards of entangling
the sensitive issue of Scottish water service in its local government
reorganisation scheme (where no coherent opposition existed) permitted
opposition political forces to parlay passionate Scottish sentiments regarding
their local water system into a much larger political success.1 As a result of
this and other instances of the mismanagement of issues, Conservative successes
in local elections have been reversed and the once considered untouchable
Conservative majority in Parliament has completely eroded.
From chronicling the public relations warfare between both sides of
the Scottish water utilities issue to the conclusion where particular issue
management concerns and techniques are addressed, this study provides an often
behind-the-scenes look at an important and truly national public relations
Scottish Local Government Reorganisation
Scotland of 1995 was governed by a central parliamentary government
located in Westminster in Greater London through the Secretary of State for
Scotland, and by a two-tiered Scottish local government structure of nine large
regional councils and a few score of local/island councils. The local
governments generally provided the municipal services Americans generally expect
from local government including education, roadworks, housing and
water/wastewater services. On 1 April 1996, the local Scottish government
structure completely changed, with a single-tiered council structure imposed by
the Conservative central government and with the water utilities stripped
completely from local control. 2
On 6 April 1995, the electorate of Scotland elected the councillors
for these newly created offices that these councillors formally take over on 1
April 1996.3 During the interim, these new councillors served as a transition
committee beginning the acceptance of duties and responsibilities from officials
and staff of the just abolished two-tier regional/district council structure.
Created under the Local Government etc. (Scotland) Act of 1994 that was passed
by the Conservative Party-led Parliament in London, 29 single tier councils
replaced the older system of nine regional and 53 district councils, leaving the
three island councils unchanged.4
The government's rationale for the change in the Scottish local
government structure as stated in their consultation paper, "The Structure of
Local Government in Scotland" essentially boiled down to their stated belief
that large regional councils had outlived their original purpose of providing a
wide range of services which now, the government argued, can be provided by
private enterprise.5 Of course, any time the ruling party redesigns voting
district boundaries more political motives must be considered.
Water Privatisation becomes a Scottish Public Issue
One major sector of local government affected by the government
reorganisation is the water utility systems of Scotland. While the
English/Welsh water systems have all been operated by private companies since
the 1980s,6 Scotland's water supply system has been operated by regional
councils and the Central Scotland Water Board.7 As early as 1992, but in
conjunction with the dismantling of the regional councils, the Conservative
Party government under Prime Minister John Major made movements to privatise
(sell off to private investors) the Scottish water systems.8 His predecessor,
Margaret Thatcher, previously sold off the last ten English and Welsh large
water utilities still remaining under government control shortly after she took
office. In point of fact, the severe economic and environmental challenges
facing the government-owned water authorities in England and Wales made
privatisation an attractive alternative. Many of the water and wastewater
systems in England and Wales were archaic. Years of inadequate funding by the
government created a situation in which the English/Welsh systems could not meet
recently enacted European Community water and environmental standards. Instead
of diverting funds to clean up the problem, the Thatcher regime, in the midst of
privatising several other industries, sold off the existing ten water
authorities which became ten separate, independent water companies. An
elaborate regulatory scheme was established to monitor progress and determine
appropriate rates and profit levels.9 Of course, convoluted financial
structures smell of collusion to a cynical ratepayer.
Although the English/Welsh private water/wastewater systems have
actually performed adequately, the critics of privatisation can still manage to
find reasons to complain. The massive capital investment needed to make up for
decades of neglect resulted in significant rate increases. Although the
percentage of service "shut offs" was fairly low compared to some American
private utility experiences, to the British public any denial of a basic
necessity of life seems the height of capitalistic callousness.10 Public
relations messages regarding water privatisation were broadcast, but these
messages were created at the national level and some local customers considered
them a "waste of money."11 However, the utilities have begun to make headway in
meeting European Community regulations and have started to right their ship
financially.12 Now cash enhanced, they face hostile take-overs by foreign
investors, particularly the massive French private water corporations. The
spectre of French control of British water supplies is bothersome if not
outright frightening to Britons.13
After watching the growing pains of the English/Welsh privatisation
experience, almost every political entity in Scotland strongly resisted the
initial manoeuvrings of the government to privatise the Scottish water
utilities.14 Trumpeting a warning by British health authorities that cutting
off water supplies could lead to sanitary problems more normally associated with
developing countries, the anti-water privatisation forces forced passage of a
law that Scottish water utilities could not cut off residential water supplies
for non-payment.15 This defiant act would have the additional effect of making
it more difficult for a newly privatised water company to collect necessary
Is Water Privatisation Necessary?
Prior to the council reorganisation, Scotland had no real incentive
to transfer their water systems to the private sector. Unlike England, Scotland
has not faced even the remotest possibility of drought.16 Scotland enjoys
outstanding water supplies with no salt water intrusion, no sink holes and no
dramatic increase in service population.. Although often and rather harmlessly
coloured by peat, the water itself has an international reputation as a quality
ingredient in Scotch whisky.17 Further, due to topographical relief and an
excellent system of lochs, Scotland does not fear any short or long-term
deterioration of either water quality or quantity. Finally, unlike some
regions, particularly East Anglia, Scotland is not overly plagued by nitrates or
other industrial or agricultural pollutants.18 Piping does needs extensive
replacing but that is a relatively straight-forward engineering problem
requiring little else but adequate and steady funding.19 Some analysts argue
that what capital investments are necessary would have been available if the
national government had not redirected revenue collected from Scottish water
bill payers to fund projects elsewhere.20 It is a testament to the
professionalism and rather intensive and extensive training of its
water/wastewater workers that Scotland has enjoyed clean, safe and adequate
water supplies and wastewater treatment without heightened capital investments.
Their systems have served the public rather well under the management and
control of local government.
A safe, quality water system is a modern public need. As such, it is
a proper function of government to ensure, one way or another, the availability
of such a public good. A government may provide the good directly or ensure
that it is provided by the private sector. Generally, when a public good is
provided by the private sector, government must provide oversight and
regulations to ensure a high quality of service at a reasonable cost.
The move to transfer their water systems from government to private
operation was not welcomed by the Scottish people. Not only was there no
perceived problem to be corrected, they had little faith that the central
government would or could through regulation by Westminster of private systems
provide the high quality to which they were accustomed at a comparable price.
The architect and recognised guru of British privatisation schemes,
Professor Stephen Littlechild of the University of Birmingham, admitted:
"Water authorities provide a vertical chain of services: water
resources, water supply, sewerage services, and sewage and
effluent treatment and
disposal. (Usually the customer is interposed in the middle of
Monopoly power can be exerted at any point in this chain. If
the profit on, say,
water supply is held down, monopoly profit can still be
extracted by increasing
the (internal) charge for water resources to the water supply
division, or by
increasing the price of sewerage services (since water in
equals water out).
Regulation will therefore need to encompass all these services
provided by the
Clearly, the concern in Scotland over water privatisation extends
beyond any Scottish parochialism.
The Government Tacks a New Course
When the initial probe towards privatisation met stiff Scottish
resistance including a massive anti-privatisation rally in Glasgow's George
Square, the Conservative (Tory) Party tried another approach. In what one
public policy observer for the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA)
referred to as the "thin edge of the wedge of privatisation,"22 the Government
created three Scottish water/wastewater service "Quangos" (quasi-autonomous
non-governmental organisations) whose chairmen and directors are appointed by
the Secretary of State for Scotland rather than by the local councils.23
According to the Guide, a public information publication of the Scottish Local
Government Information Unit, these new authorities are "responsible for the
supply of water to private households, as well as industrial and commercial
premises, and for the collection, treatment and disposal of sewage." The
government also created a "Scottish Water and Sewerage Customers Council" for
the purpose of "representing the interests of customers and potential or former
customers of the new water and sewerage authorities." 24
The Guide identified the duties of the new authorities as follows:
Promote the conservation and effective use of Scottish water
Provide adequate water supplies throughout Scotland;
Maintain services for the collection and treatment of sewage;
Secure the collection, preparation, publication and dissemination
information and statistics
relating to water.
(It is interesting to note the Government's recognition of the
role of public
Another feature of the new arrangement allows the new water
authorities to be able to sell water surplus to regions outside of Scotland.
Further, they can form or join with private companies under various terms and
conditions.25 This arrangement has been labelled by the government as "buy,
own and operate" which has the unfortunate acronym, "BOO."26 Needless to say,
the idea of the new Quangos forming or joining with private companies raised
more than eyebrows in Scotland.27 Having believed they won the battle against
selling off a critical resource to the London government's "friends" for no
better purpose than "to make huge profits," they now felt betrayed by that
government's "backdoor privatisation" plan.28
The Opposition Strikes Back.
During March 1994, the Strathclyde Regional Council held a referendum
on the proposed new water system. Participation in the referendum was
remarkable. More than 71 percent of the eligible electorate submitted ballots.
The Council was rewarded by nearly 97 percent (1.2 million voters) of the total
casting no votes to the Government's scheme. The voting far exceeded the
numbers for the last regional council election in 1990 which attracted only 45
percent of the eligible population to the polls.29 A poll taken of a
representative sample of the whole of Scotland discovered very similar attitudes
throughout the northern kingdom. The poll, conducted by the System Three
Scotland research organisation, asked a random selection of Scots to respond
whether they were in favour of or against the following: "The Government is
proposing to transfer control of water and sewerage services from locally
elected regional and islands councils to three larger public water authorities
appointed directly by central government." Approximately 95 percent stated they
were in favour of leaving water services in locally elected hands, four percent
favoured the government's plan and significantly, only one percent said they had
no opinion. The survey sampled enough Scots to be able to break down the results
into three regions of Scotland and the analysts were successful in identifying
how those identifying with various political parties felt about the new water
authorities. Interestingly, in all three regions, the Government's plan was
highly unpopular. Even Scottish Conservative Party members failed to support
their own party's programme.30 The results of these polls received extensive
coverage as the political organisations opposed to the Government's Quango
scheme used the poll as fresh ammunition to renew their attacks on water
privatisation and Tory rule as a whole.31
In spite of the Secretary of State's Scottish Office printed
explanations of the water Quango scheme, Scots remained fearful of eventual
water privatisation. Strathclyde Regional Councillor Des McNulty, chair of the
council's local government restructuring committee, stated, "People know water
is not only cheaper in Scotland, but safer and best when it is run by
directly-elected councils rather than by private companies such as in England
and Wales."32 Strathclyde Regional Councillor, Alex MacLean, Chair of the
Council's Water and Sewerage Committee commented on the Scottish Office's public
relations campaign: "What the expensive Scottish Office leaflet campaign didn't
explain was how much customers of private water companies in England and Wales
are paying for their water services."33 An equally expensive pamphlet produced
by the Strathclyde Regional Council, stated that the average Scot's water bill
is approximately $105 per year cheaper than in England and one-half the rate of
the water bill for customers in Wales.34
The Strathclyder, a public relations newspaper of the Strathclyde
Regional Council, stated in its August 1994 issue that Scots in Strathclyde pay
an average of approximately $143 per year for both water/wastewater services
while those in England/Wales on average pay over $300 annually. Opposition
parties and other analysts concede that rates would have increased if proper
water/wastewater capital improvements had been made all along, but even with
these increases, Scottish water/wastewater rates would remain substantially
lower than what is currently being experienced in the south. 35
Articles in the Scottish newspapers about the rise in executive pay
of water CEOs in England and Wales have only exacerbated Scottish sourness over
the government's programme.36 In each English/Welsh water company, the chief
executive officer received a pay raise well in excess of the consumer price
index. Some water chiefs actually received raises in 1991 that nearly doubled
their salary of the previous year.37 The utilities have defended the salary
increases as necessary to match the salary norm for such positions in the
private sector. Such statements, however, beg the question of why those chief
executives would have accepted a public sector position at public sector wages
in the first place. In a period of recession and high unemployment, these
salary and benefit increases appear gluttonous.38 When The Herald, a
respected daily newspaper of Glasgow, printed the salaries of the
recently-appointed part-time chairmen of the new Scottish water Quangos,
reaction was swift and negative. According to The Herald's Frances Horsburgh,
two of the Quango part-timers will receive over $60,000 a year for working 2.5
days a week and the other will earn $36,000 for a day and a half's effort each
week.39 Not missing an easy opportunity to make a point, Scottish National
Party's vice president, Andrew Welsh, immediately complained about spending
"obscene sums for a job that the elected chairs of water and sewerage committees
have been doing for a fraction of the cost."40
Opposition Parties Build Planks over Scottish Water.
Different opposition political parties have stated similar plans for
the future of Scotland's water if they earn the electorate's favour. The
Scottish Labour Update, a regional public relations newspaper of and for the
Labour Party, said the new Labour Government would "make a bonfire of the
Quangos and return water and sewerage to local democratic control."41 Labour
Party spokesperson Ann Devine stated that Party members strongly believe that
water privatisation means a "basic human right taken away from the people."42
The Scottish National Party (SNP) bases its water platform on the
status of Scotland's union with the rest of the United Kingdom. In a position
paper promoting Scottish independence, the SNP recognised that there is a
"unique agreement" across party lines in opposition to privatisation but
reaffirmed its claim that in an independent Scottish Parliament, there would
never be the contemplation of turning over the Scottish water industry to the
private sector. To the SNP, the water issue is yet another argument for
independence where the "most effective way to oppose (water privatisation and
Quango schemes) is to challenge the Tories' democratic mandate to govern
Although political bedfellows in opposition to water privatisation,
SNP's rationale may differ from Labour's. Labour, a nationally-based political
party, has historically and philosophically stood for extensive, perhaps
pervasive, government, especially in the grey areas separating traditional
government services from the private sector. It is, therefore, politically
consistent for Labour to oppose privatisation, however well disguised it may be.
SNP's motives, on the other hand, may include the simple, practical requirement
of retaining the water utilities as a significant source of government revenue
necessary to help fund a new national government.
Other issues rankled the Scottish electorate as well. The
Government's attempt to privatise the railway system raised concern that the
more rural areas of Scotland would lose rail service, a serious problem in a
country dependent on public transportation.44 The Government's earlier attempts
to install a "poll tax" and the local government reorganisation plan itself
received abuse at the hands of the opposition parties and local councils.
Defending the Strathclyde Regional Council
A major player in the anti-water privatisation effort was the
Strathclyde Regional Council. The Council waged an extensive and desperate
public relations campaign to convince the Government and Parliamentary voters to
stop the local government reorganisation effort, which, of course, would disband
the Council. Strathclyde's self-defence campaign included publishing and
mailing to every household a monthly newsletter, the creation of a slick media
information kit, several full-page newspaper advertisements with the headline,
"Strathclyde Works" and even an eleventh-hour appeal printed within the pages of
the conservative newspaper, The Daily Telegraph. Featured prominently in their
public relations campaign literature were references to the fact that
Strathclyde's publicly controlled water supply system was just fine as it is.45
While the campaign failed in its primary mission of freezing the Government's
reorganisation programme in its tracks, it did not fail in leaving a lasting
impression on Scottish voters.
Strathclyde, then being the largest local council in Europe, clearly
had its share of problems. The Council, representing more than two million
Scots, was massive in size. According to David Wilkinson, a lecturer at the
Glasgow Nautical College, it could take a motorist three to four hours to make
the trip to the Glasgow central offices from the outer reaches of the region.
Further, the city-based employee often failed to understand the issues dear to
the heart of rural Scotland. Smaller councils had an easier time establishing a
direct line to the people.46 It did not help Strathclyde's cause that even the
Tory government's political opponents sensed a need for a single-tiered local
council structure. Neither Labour nor SNP defended the status quo of the
Strathclyde regional structure. According to Anne Devine of Labour, the Party's
concern was more in the manner by which the Government conducted its
reorganisation programme.47 Even Strathclyde Region's Elsbeth Girvan admitted,
the Strathclyde Regional Council was often "slagged off" (criticised) by
residents. However, Girvan said, "Scots still prefer their local government to
Westminster." 48 A System Three poll agreed. In the agency's April 1994 poll,
only 23 percent of Strathclyde residents supported a "change to unitary
councils." This poll result stands as a testimony to the effect of
Strathclyde's public relations campaign on at least one of its targeted
publics.49 The central government, however, had the power to impose the new
single-tier local government -- and did.
Scottish Revenge at the Polls.
When Scots went to the polls in April 1995 to vote for councillors
for the new single-tier councils, they made their frustrations known. In
absolutely none of the new councils did the Conservative Party receive a
majority. In spite of heavy efforts to carve out safe districts in the new
government restructuring,50 the Conservative Party moved from second place to
fourth place in total representation in Scotland.51 In fact, at least one Tory
councillor claimed that the only way he survived the torrential anti-Tory vote
in his region was to desert the party on the issue of water privatisation.52
For many members of the opposition the water privatisation issue was prominently
featured on their campaign literature.53 Although SNP and the Liberal Party
made gains throughout Scotland, Labour, seen as the strongest challenge to the
Tories, had the greatest success. In Scotland, Labour's strengths were now such
that Scottish National Party spokesperson, Carolyn Sawers, lamented, "In some
areas Labour could have run a cabbage and still have won."54
With the cracks in the Tory armour now of chasm proportions, worse
news for the Tories followed hard upon the Scottish debacle. The momentum
created by the Scottish defeat of the Tories spilled over into England and Wales
and created havoc among the Conservatives in the run up prior to the English and
Welsh councillor elections held in May 1995.55 With a solid victory behind them
in Scotland, the Labour Party was seen to begin to hit its stride.
According to Margaret Vaughan, political researcher and correspondent
for The Herald, the water privatisation issue added to the perception of
Government not being responsive to its constituents and adding to the
Government's "sleaze factor." 56 Philip Stephens, Political Columnist for The
Financial Times, was even more blunt: "The Tories are the most unpopular
government since polling began." Current national figures, Stephens said (in
June 1995), show the Conservatives with only a 23-24 percent backing while
58-59 percent support Labour. "The Government," Stephens said, "promised that
the recession of the early 1990s would be shallow and short. Instead, the
recession has turned out to be deep and long."
As the Conservatives have become less palatable, the Labour Party has
become more moderate. Its new leader, Tony Blair, "has been throwing out the
old baggage" of traditional socialistic dogma including what Stephens called,
"the outdated poetry of old Labour" - the pro-nationalisation Clause Four
compact.57 As moderate or, perhaps, as ambivalent as the Labour Party now
seems regarding nationalisation, their commitment to placing Scottish water in
local government's hands remains solid, and it is well for them that it does.
The Bonfire of the Tories
As grimly accurate as Julius Caesar's soothsayer, the pundits'
predictions that the Tories would lose many hundreds of council seats in England
and Wales came to pass.58 With the loss of these seats, the entire Tory
parliamentary base evaporated overnight. The considerable grassroots organising
support provided by Tory local councils now no longer exists.
As of this writing, John Major has shown an ability to survive a
mutinous night of the long knives in his own party, but one can easily speculate
that he may now remain only long enough to watch his party lose in the next
parliamentary general election.59 Few stalwarts are now willing to place a bet
on anything remotely resembling a bright Conservative Party future.
Trailing now well behind the rejuvenated Labour Party in the polls
and holding onto the slimmest of a parliamentary majority, the Conservatives,
tired and weakened, may finally be eliminated from national power.60 If that
happens, like the vessel in Shakespeare's Tempest, the ship of the Conservative
Government would have foundered from, literally, the violence of troubled
waters. Said Shakespeare's Miranda, "O, I have suffered with those that I saw
suffer! A brave vessel, who had no doubt, some noble creatures in her, dashed
all to pieces."61 Some noble creatures, perhaps, but clearly nearsighted in
their attempts to gerrymander Scottish government and to impose upon an
unwilling populace a scheme of water privatisation that clearly had no essential
purpose save ideology.62
Reflecting on the Water Privatisation Campaign
Whether one considers the classic public relations
Research-Action-Communication-Evaluation (RACE) formula or its various kin
including the author's own Situation analysis - Planning-Action/communication -
Measurement/evaluation (SPAM) model, neither side in the water utilities fight
conducted a textbook campaign.63 The anti-privatisation campaign began with no
single voice, no overarching campaign strategy. Each of those fighting water
privatisation in Scotland did so under the flag of their own agenda.64 What is
interesting about the outcome of the water privatisation fight is that typically
and historically Scots have cared little about regional issues when exercising
their franchise.65 Yet, for all the lack of formal planning on the part of the
anti-water privatisation coalition, the public, for whose favour the campaigns
were waged, became incensed over this issue.
COSLA, as the association for local governments, assumed the
leadership role in the anti-privatisation fight, although the opposition
political parties preached to their own faithful. COSLA's Maureen Ferrier,
stated that while no one in the anti-water privatisation coalition sat down and
designed a formal grand strategy, everyone kept the goals in mind. According to
Ferrier, no one gave a thought to applying the methods stemming from a
particular communication theory, but instead relied on "experience" and
knowledge of the media.66
Outside of Strathclyde's survival campaign, no one conducted a
classic proactive public relations campaign.67 The opposition forces did react
forcefully to government moves with counter-punching blows that were immediate
and well publicised. As the water issue remained an oasis attracting anti-Tory
elements of every fur and feather, government announcements could expect to be
rewarded with a cloudburst of opposition responses. This "read and react"
strategy (to borrow an American football term) may be too reactive to be
textbook public relations but the opposition coalition could rely not only on
the media covering, but actually supporting their point of view. Indeed, the
press may have been fairly predictable in the level of support in their
coverage. In fact, were it not for the ethics of COSLA and the well known
attitude of the System Three agency to refuse to participate in any
"pseudo-science PR ploy,"68 the opinion survey on water system reorganisation
that was administered by COSLA could have been manipulated and still have been
There was no real attempt to conduct a formal content analysis to
determine the effectiveness of media coverage. Although the Scottish branch of
the main opposition party, Labour, had no dedicated public relations function to
conduct formal issue tracking, this did not seem to handicap their overall
efforts in this campaign. Indeed, the degree of each reaction to the
government's water reorganisation efforts seems to reflect the visceral nature
of the water supply issue; the mere thought of water privatisation and control
by the central government seemed to evoke an instant "gut reaction," needing
very little "wordsmithing" to demonstrate an opposition leader's passion about
Although the government never did seem to come to grips with
recognising its public relations problems, even the opposition coalition did not
truly understand the deeply held emotions of the Scottish public regarding the
water issue. "We were rather surprised by the public's reaction," Ferrier said.
"The boiling anger and the constant worry created by the government's water
privatisation activities finally percolated to the surface during the local
According to Robert Meadow in his article, "Political Campaigns,"
there is nothing unusual about the lack of any formal plan for evaluation of the
effectiveness of a politically-oriented campaign. Meadow stated: "Compared to
other public communication campaigns, systematic experimental evaluation is
usually absent in political campaigns for three reasons." He listed those
reasons as: 1. The reluctance to use scarce resources on campaign evaluations,
2. The fact that campaigners are reluctant not to try anything that may reach a
constituent, and, 3. Campaigners do not want
any potential voter being a member of a "control group" which, in a
classic experiment would mean that voters in such groups probably would not
receive the campaign literature. While Meadow also stated that political
communicators have less control over the message being distributed by the media,
from the vantage point of the anti-privatisation coalition the media in the
water privatisation case did not take a hostile or even a neutral stand on the
As in any war, enhanced weaponry were trotted out during this
campaign. While it has lagged behind the United States, Britain has discovered
the political "sound bite." Although Holli Semetko and her co-authors state in
the conclusion of their book, Formation of Campaign Agendas, that British
politicians are generally allowed more air time in impromptu interviews to
present their point of view than are Americans, Labour has began to favour the
use of carefully crafted sound bites to add more punch to their message.72 By
emphasising and re-emphasising key concepts through shorter messages, Labour
seemed more vibrant to Scottish voters.
The lack of a single formal plan and formal after-action research
make an itemised analysis of the anti-water privatisation campaign extremely
difficult,73 but the results of the campaign are clear. The government's
initial thrust to completely privatise Scotland's water utility system was
deflected to the point the government created a publicly-held water system
scheme, although, for the time being, the new Quango water systems are run by
government appointees of the Scottish Office and a mixed bag of locals.
Ironically, the Scottish general public served the anti-privatisation coalition
in an intermediary role to help send a message to the central government on the
issue. Now this once intermediary public is part of the entire British
electorate which, of course, possesses the power to resolve the issue itself.
To the opposition parties, the greatest prize of all, the utter defeat of the
Conservative Government, now is seemingly within reach. Considering that each
opposition party has resolved to return Scottish water to local government in
some fashion, a change in the national government should result in the
opposition's long fought war against water privatisation finally ending in
1. Kendall, Robert L, Public Relations Campaign Strategies:
Planning for Implementation 2nd edition. (New York: HarperCollins Publishers,
Inc., 1996) Also: Gaudino, James and Joe Fritsch. "If you knew what I knew,
you'd make the same decision: A common misperception underlying public relations
campaigns?" Carl Botan and Vincent Hazelton, eds. Public Relations Theory.
(Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1989) p 302
2. U.K. Her Majesty's Scottish Office, Local Government in Scotland:
The New Councils. February 1995.
3. U.K. Her Majesty's Scottish Office Information Directorate, "Local
Government Reform Bill Published." News Release, 9 December 1993.
4. U.K. Her Majesty's Scottish Office, Local Government in Scotland:
The New Councils. February 1995. See also: Brown, Tom. "Knives are out in
battle for power." Daily Record. 26 March 1995. p 4.
5. U.K. Her Majesty's Scottish Office, A Consultation Paper: The
Structure of Local Government in Scotland. October 1992. pp 1, 3-5.
6. Chapman, Colin, Selling the Family Silver - Has Privatisation
Worked? (London, England: Hutchison Business Books, 1990) pp 41-53.
7. U.K. Her Majesty's Scottish Office, A Consultation Paper:
Investing in Our Future - Water and Sewerage in Scotland November 1992. pp
2-3. This Consultation Paper outlined several options for restructuring water
services in Scotland and stated: "The Government invites comments on this paper
and will carefully consider all views expressed before reaching a decision on
the shape of Scotland's water and sewerage services for the future."
8. Ferrier, Maureen, Press Manager, Convention of Scottish Local
Authorities (COSLA). Letter to author, 28 March 1995. COSLA represents local
government to the Secretary of State, Scotland. COSLA and others considered the
Consultation Paper as merely a ploy to appear as if the government sought
feedback and was of the opinion that the Paper so weighted the rationale for
privatisation that it would bias any potential response.
9. Chapman. pp 41-53. Also: For an industry investor's view of the
English privatisation process, see Anglian Water Annual Report 1989-90. pp 3-13.
10. Labour Party: Response to "Water and Sewerage in Scotland." The
Labour Party Scottish Council. 27 January 1993.
11. Peacey, Mike. Media Relations Manager, Wessex Water. Letter to
author, 10 April 1995. Also: Painter, Stephen. Group Public Relations Manager,
Yorkshire Water. Letter to author, 5 April 1995.
12. Various sources including: Alexander, C.E., Water Services
Division, Her Majesty's Department of the Environment. Letter to author, 7
March 1995. Also: Annual Reports - Yorkshire Water, 1994; North West Water,
1992; Thames Water, 1994. Also: "Summary of Recent, Current or Pending
Capital Schemes by MP Constituency." Anglian Water Plc. February
13. Gerrie, John - Director, PR Consultants Scotland. Letter to
author, 10 March 1995.
Also, in a personal letter of 10 April 1995 to the author, Mike
Peacey, Media Relations Manager of England's Wessex Water, wrote that "Water
privatisation has helped the British water industry enormously. Without access
to funding and real 'profits' our ageing infrastructure would have 'creaked on'
and there would have been little chance of attaining the standards demanded by
our customers." The possibility of French companies owning British water
systems was not idle speculation. Northumbria's water utility was purchased in
the winter of 1996 by a major French water corporation, Lyonnaise des Eaux,
which already owned a neighbouring, smaller water system, North East Water.
Further, Lyonnaise already owns Essex and Suffolk water companies and all four
utility systems will be joined together. Sims, Christopher. "Lyonnaise in offer
for Northumbrian." The (Glasgow) Herald. 24 November 1995. p 24.
14. Crooks, Kerry Anderson, "Scotland's Water Privatization War"
Water National Association of Water Companies. Spring 1993.
15 Girvan, Elsbeth, Marketing Manager and Assistant Publicity
Officer, Strathclyde Regional Council. Telephone interview by author, 26
16. "Investing in Our Future." p 13.
17. Lockhart, Sir Robert Bruce, Scotch - the Whisky of Scotland in
Fact and Story. (London, England: Putnam & Co, 1959, 1966) p 5.
18. Crooks, K. A. and Linda Lay. "The Privatization of the
English/Welsh Water System." Water. National Association of Water Companies.
Summer 1991. p 21.
19. Chambers, Ernest. Then Director, Strathclyde Regional Water
Authority. Interview by author in Glasgow, Scotland, 26 July 1990 for article
"Scotland's Water - at the Crossroads." Water. National Association of Water
Companies. Spring 1991. While Chambers did not comment specifically on the
degree of complexity of the engineering task, he discussed the advances in
piping technologies. Although the civil engineering and community relations
concerns that accompany pipe laying are not to be taken lightly, these are
long-standing and known issues.
20. "Response to Secretary of State for Scotland's Consultation Paper
of November 1992 - "Water and Sewerage Services in Scotland - Investing for the
Future." COSLA pp 2, 4-5. This response criticises the Government's failure
to provide enough time to adequately prepare a thoroughly researched response.
Further, it noted that the options for reorganisation were strongly weighted
towards the privatisation options.
21. Littlechild, Stephen. "Economic Regulation of Privatised Water
Authorities and Some Further Reflection." Oxford Review of Economic Policy.
Vol. 4. No. 2. (Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 1988) Littlechild
was the architect of Mrs Thatcher's utility privatisation efforts.
22 Ferrier, Maureen. Letter to author, 28 March 1995.
23. Local Government etc. (Scotland) Act 1994. Part II "Water and
Sewerage Reorganisation." p 55.
24. Ibid. p 58.
25. Ibid. p 71.
26. "It's Boo for Private Water Schemes." Strathclyder. The
Strathclyde Regional Council. April 1995. p 3.
27. Ferrier, Maureen. Letter to author, 28 March 1995.
28. "It's Boo to Private Water Schemes."
29. "Strathclyde Works." A media briefing guide on the Local
Government etc. (Scotland) Bill. Strathclyde Regional Council.
30. "General Public's Attitudes on Government's Proposals for Water
and Sewerage Services." System Three Scotland. 11 November 1995.
31. Various COSLA news releases including, "Scotland's Councils Will
Continue to Fight Water Proposals" March 11, 1994 and "Unanimous Rejection of
Water and Sewerage Proposals."
16 January 1994. Newspaper coverage of the results of the water
referendum continues. See "Time to Grasp the Thistle." The Guardian. p 24.
and "SNP Water Stand" The Scotsman.
19 April 1995.
32. Brown, John. "Strathclyde Water Referendum: Over One Million Say
- No." Strathclyde Regional Council Publication. 22 March 1994. p 3.
33. "We Save You a Water Bomb." Strathclyder. The Strathclyde
Regional Council. August 1994. p 1.
34. "Strathclyde Works." Note: British pounds are converted to U.S.
dollars at 1:1.55 and figures are rounded.
35. "Response to Secretary of State." p 10.
36. Lambert, Richard, editor. The Financial Times. Letter to author,
20 February 1995.
37. "Report on Water Privatisation in England and Wales." COSLA.
October 1992. See also: Ridley, Kirstin. "Thames throws cold water on power
bid talk." The Reuter European Business Report. 31 October 1995. Ridley
states that industry regulator Ian Byatt has "repeatedly warned" English/Welsh
water companies to share with customers "the benefits of bumper profits."
38. Stephens, Philip. Political Commentator, The Financial Times.
Interview by author, 16 June 1995.
39. Horsburgh, Frances. "Baptism of Fire for Water Chairmen." The
1 February 1995.
40. "Quango Chiefs Get Snouts in the Money Trough." Scottish
Nationalist Party News Release. 6 February 1995.
41. "Power to the People" Scottish Labour Update. February 1995. p
42. Devine, Anne. Information Officer, Scottish Labour Party.
Telephone interview by author, on 27 February 1995.
43. Sawers, Carolyn. Press and Research Officer, Scottish National
Party. Telephone interview by author, 19 June 1995.
44. Vaughan, Margaret. Political Correspondent, The Herald.
Telephone interview by author, on 12 June 1995.
45. Girvan, Elsbeth. Marketing Manager, Strathclyde Regional Council.
Letter to author, 3 April 1995.
46. Wilkinson, David. Lecturer, Glasgow Nautical College. Telephone
interview by author, 1 March 1995. Wilkinson is rather uniquely
qualified here as he lectures, amongst other topics, ground navigation
(orienteering), and has travelled the Strathclyde region extensively.
47. Devine, Anne. Telephone interview by author. Also: Ferrier,
Maureen. Telephone interview by author, 22 March 1996. Ferrier stated that
even when the two-tiered structure was created some 20 years prior, there were
"many" who considered the plan unwieldy.
48. Girvan, Elsbeth. Telephone interview by author.
49 "Strathclyde Regional Council Advertisement." Daily Telegraph.
27 October 1994.
50. Buxton, James. "Tory Rout Leaves Scotland Bathed in Red."
8 April 1995.
51. Brown, Tom and Dave King. "Slaughter of the Tories." Daily
Record 7 April 1995.
52. Peston, Robert and John Kamfner. "Major Calls for Party Unity
after Scottish Poll Rout." Financial Times. 8 April 1995 (predictions). The
actual figures, as relayed to the author by Margaret Vaughan of The Herald (14
June 1995): Conservatives - 8 councils, Labour - 155, Lib-Dems - 45, no clear
majority - 118 councils, the remaining 20 councils split between other parties
53. Campaign brochures of SNP's Graham Russell, Labour's John
Turnbull, and Independent Kenny McGuigan. April 1995 Scottish Council
54. Sawers, Carolyn. Telephone interview by author, 19 June 1995
55. Vaughan, Margaret. Telephone interview by author.
57. Stephens, Philip. Telephone interview by author.
58. Comfort, Nick. "Results Key to Defiant PM's Future." Daily
Record. 8 April 1995. In fact, in Wales as in Scotland, the Conservative Party
in 1996 controls not one single local council.
59. "Major Calls for Party Unity." Also: Stephens, Philip. Financial
Times. Personal Interview by author, 16 June 1995. Mr Stephens believed at
that time that the Conservatives will probably not call an early parliamentary
election but may ask that John Major steps down. Major subsequently forced a
vote of confidence from his party, thereby reinforcing his position as party
leader for the time being. As of April 1996, the Tories have a Parliamentary
majority of just one.
60. "Results Key to Defiant PM's Future." Also: in personal
interviews conducted in June 1995, both The Financial Times' Philip Stephens and
The Herald's Margaret Vaughan point to the government's water privatisation
programme being perceived as another indication of the Government's "sleaze
factor." Stephens further referred to the public's perception of the Tories as
a "tired, unpopular government" being dragged down by a chain of "broken
promises." Stephens also pointed to Labour leader Tony Blair as an "attractive,
modern figure" with more moderate views than his predecessors. This has allowed
dissatisfied Conservative voters to bolt directly to Labour rather than choose
the middle-of-the-road but much smaller Liberal-Democrat Party.
61. Shakespeare, William, The Globe Illustrated Shakespeare - The
Complete Works, annotated. Howard Staunton, editor. (NY: Gramercy Books, 1993)
62. "Response to Secretary of State." COSLA
63. Kendall. pp 6-23. See also Kendall's outline of the issues
management process (pp 227-8).
64. Ferrier, Maureen. Telephone interview by author, 7 December
1995. Ferrier felt that while COSLA and the Labour Party were in synch
regarding this particular issue, COSLA, representing all local government, is
tasked to remain independent of any external influence.
65. Miller, William, Irrelevant Elections?: The quality of local
government in Britain. (Oxford, England: Clarendon Press, 1988) pp 176-178.
In a May 1986 survey, only 39 percent of Scots had a fair amount or better
interest in local politics.
66. Ferrier, Maureen. Telephone interview by author, 7 December
67. Kendall. pp 7-8, 16, 18. While Kendall also forwards for
consideration a theory that "proactive" campaigns are campaigns waged "in the
public interest," such a definition would be so vague as to permit any
organisation to claim their campaign is "in the public interest." For the
purposes of this paper the meaning of "proactive" is simplified to signify
whether a public relations activity is a result of research and formal planning
to address a potential situation or need, or just a reaction to events already
transpired or on-going (reactive).
68. Ferrier, Maureen. Telephone interview by author, 7 December
1995. Ferrier stated that while COSLA was confident they had public support,
they did not know for certain how the Scottish public would respond to the
survey questions, which, she admitted, were carefully crafted. When the results
turned to be extremely critical of the Government's efforts to reorganise water
utilities, COSLA fired off a series of news releases containing these results.
One can only speculate whether COSLA would have been so forthcoming if the
results were different.
69. See the position papers on water services and related issues by
both Labour and SNP, COSLA's continual barrage of news releases, and the
Strathclyde materials including the Strathclyder paper during this period, some
of which have already been highlighted in these notes.
70. Ferrier, Maureen. Telephone interview by author, 7 December
1995. In a further interview on 22 March 1996, Ferrier stated "The public anger
over the water issue was, absolutely, reflected in the anti-Tory vote at the
polls." Ferrier also stated that the Government is "waiving" the debt of the
Scottish water utilities prior to the reorganisation. This allows the utilities
to reduce their level of rate increases. This is obviously a sop to the public
concern about the Government take-over of the utilities. As a further
concession to COSLA in particular, the Government also placed some local
councillors on the water boards. Of course, they appointed as many of the few
Tory councillors they could find. Thus out-manoeuvred on this minor issue,
COSLA was, in the words of Ferrier, "hoisted on our own petard."
71. Meadow, Robert. "Political Campaigns." Ronald Rice and Charles
Atkin, eds. Public Communication Campaigns, second edition. (Newbury Park,
Calif: SAGE. 1989, 1981)
72. Semetko, H. and J. Blumler, M. Gurevitch, D. Weaver, The
Formation of Campaign Agendas: A Comparative Analysis of Party and Media Roles
in American and British Elections. (Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum, 1991) pp
73. Heath, Robert and Richard Nelson, Issues Management (London:
SAGE Publications Ltd., 1986) pp 192-194. Note: While this is the only
citation annotated from this book, the entire work served as a guideline for
this paper. As a final word, to quote the authors: "If you don't manage issues,
issues will manage you." Amen.
I would like to acknowledge the tremendous amount of assistance
provided to me by Director Kenneth E. Crooks, professor of law at the Florida
Institute of Technology, Melbourne, Florida; Drs. Marilyn Roberts, Linda C. Hon,
Robert L. Kendall and Gail Baker Woods of the College of Journalism and
Communication at the University of Florida at Gainesville; and Ms. Sheri
Treadwell and several of my other students in the public relations programme at
the University of Florida. I wish to offer special thanks to Maureen Ferrier of
COSLA, who has been kind enough to send me mountains of material and who
possesses such public relations savvy that she holds an open invitation to
lecture my courses at the University of Florida so she could teach us all a
thing or two. I'd like to thank many others from all sides of the water
privatisation issue in Great Britain. Each individual I contacted demonstrated
the special British cordiality I have come to cherish time after time. I owe a
lifetime of gratitude to my mother, Kathleen V. Crooks who has helped with this
research far more than she'll ever know as has my mother-in-law, May Black of
Airdrie, Scotland. Finally and most of all, I would like to express here my
deepest appreciation to my wife, Viviene, whose love for our two daughters and
her native Scotland is only, I suspect, exceeded by her long-suffering patience
Kerry Anderson Crooks, M.Ed., APRP
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1 April 1996
University of Florida