GE15 meanderings

12 05 2015

Just a few idle thoughts since last Thursday, on Labour, the SNP and the like.

Some CLPs were so bereft of organisation and activists that it was reportedly impossible to work out what was happening as the little canvassing that went on was unable to benchmarked against the state of play previously.  Paul Hutcheon in the Sunday Herald told a similar tale, with constituencies recording single-digit numbers of voter contacts.  On polling day, I thought that Labour activists on the ground were thin on the ground in Glasgow South West because they’d been diverted to shore up The Murph and Sarwar Jr.  But the most likely explanation is simply that they didn’t exist.  One veteran activist was left staffing a polling station for 10 hours by himself without relief and without contact from campaign HQ.  Close to 7pm he exclaimed “fuck this” and headed home.

Meanwhile the SNP were awash with activists.  Not as many as I’d have liked, but then I’m a grumpy sod who’s never happy.  At a local level, the levels of canvassing were astronomical, the amount of material distributed was phenomenal, and crucially we had the money to do it properly and professionally.  If we needed to spend a couple of hundred quid on a leaflet, we did it.  Crowdfunding and mass membership have transformed every single branch and constituency in the party into powerhouses.

I’ve blogged before about the (then theoretical) broader financial implications of Labour’s crash, but now we know the actual bottom line: 41 constituency’s staff resources of £138,600 each, gone.  The central research unit at Parliamentary Research Services, each MP contributing £4,800 a year, denuded by nearly £200,000.  Short Money of £16,689 per MP + £13.33 per 200 votes, gutted.  Another £50k in parliamentary levies on MP salaries.   A constituency office, secure for a parliamentary term, no longer there.  All of it going directly to the SNP.  We’re hiring already, by the way.

Think back to the Labour Party on May 8th 1999.  56 MPs out of 72.  56 MSPs out of 129.  550 councillors out of 1222.  The dominant partner in coalition at Holyrood, and utterly hegemonic at Westminster with a majority of 179.   Now wiped off the electoral map of Westminster, save the denizens of South Edinburgh.  A Holyrood group with more than a few members described in the Herald on Saturday as “backwoods” types, with Kezia Dugdale trying her best but surely knowing that behind her lies a group half made up of accidental MSPs.  Councillor numbers down to less than 400.  And a membership that most reasonable estimates put at about 10,000 across Scotland.  If each of these groups make up a pillar of the Labour party, the structural engineers must be on danger money at the moment.

The decision to select the bulk of Holyrood candidates prior to indyref, rather than looking like good long-term planning as it did at the time, now has the potential to cause big problems, as ex-MPs look for a way back in via next year’s election but come up against candidates who’ve been in place for over a year.  And if the regional lists start to look top-heavy with former MPs but light on constituency candidates, expect more ructions.

Despite all this, anyone who thinks next May’s Holyrood election is in the bag for the SNP is completely and dangerously deluded.  A straight 10% swing from SNP to Lab from last Thursday’s results takes us to 40-35, more than enough to build momentum to the Labour campaign and convince the electorate a real contest is taking place.  Throw in a possible new leader in their honeymoon period, plus a realisation by the grassroots that are left that such a defeat must never happen again and who therefore work their bums off accordingly, and you have yourself the ingredients for a 2007-style marginal win and a Labour minority/coalition Scottish Government.

The clearing out of some MPs, who frankly served a purpose slightly above seat warmer, also gives those in the Labour ranks who had written off candidature for the next two decades massive opportunities to work to secure nomination for 2020 and campaign in their seats accordingly.  The morale of outgoing MPs ranged from low to “DEFCON Fucked“; their hungrier putative successors will be – you would assume – chomping at the bit to show their mettle and regain their patch from the SNP.  With the Holyrood group taking a de facto lead in the Scottish party (so no more of the damaging turf wars that bedevilled Labour since day one of devolution), Westminster candidates can devote themselves entirely to working their patch, rather than plotting skullduggery in SW1A committee rooms.

With candidate selections for the SNP starting in the next couple of months, the campaigning for May 5th 2016 effectively starts now.  Anything else risks following a sensational victory with an equally sensational defeat.


Labour’s Currency Problem

4 02 2015

Inspired by a tweet earlier today from The Herald’s David Leask, and a favourite blogpost of mine from Michael Crick dealing with similar issues for the LibDems a few years’ back, here’s my latest dizzying spin into the world of arithmetic and party funding…

Obviously the Ashcroft polls have concentrated a few minds around the Scottish political scene.  Whilst anyone I speak to within the SNP (and outwith, for that matter) can’t really take them too seriously and aren’t taking their feet off the pedals one millimetre over the next three months, there’s no doubt the sheer precipice that Labour in Scotland are looking down towards was brought into clear, crystal, stark vision for Murph and the Magictones and their fellow denizens within Starship McTernan.

Quite aside from the obvious political implications afoot, there’s a longer term infrastructural issue at play – every Scottish Labour MP that takes a powerslide off the Mario Kart track that is electoral success means a financial and resource hit for the party, and a corresponding boost for the SNP.

Where they have a constituency MSP still floating around – such as in Motherwell & Wishaw, where Ashcroft has them 11% down – the office is shared with them.  In many areas it might be shared with the local Labour organisation as well; as long as the internal boundaries of the property are clearly delineated, this perfectly in order.  A defeat in one of these constituencies offers an additional blow to Labour, knocking out a party resource in the form of the office, and causing problems for the local MSP, now forced to either find new digs or take on the burden of rent, rates etc. for the year through to May 2016 (although you would really hope some contingency planning took place after 2010 & 2011).  A standalone office for local CLPs would likely mean increased running costs, and thus less to devote to leaflets, balloons (no jokes please), cardboard cut outs of giant pound coins etc, etc.  Many local Labour parties will be forced to give up their local campaign base and move to the ‘working out of a giant IKEA bag and kitchen table’ model that I know and love.

There’s also the staff.  An MP will have 3 – 4 members of staff, some full-time, some part-time, and receive £138,600 a year to employ their staff.  Whilst of course their job is support their boss in his or her parliamentary duties and casework, it seems fairly likely their employer would look sympathetically at a request to knock off early on a Tuesday afternoon and use some Time Off In Lieu in order to go off and prepare campaign activity for the following week.  That’s a resource that helps immensely when you’re up against opposition activists juggling their full-time non-political jobs around campaigning.  And longer term, for better or worse, such jobs act as an early step on the ladder up elected politics, giving folk the experience and knowledge of a constituency, getting to know to the local organisations and names, learning how politics really works outside of parliamentary chambers and TV studios.  In short, losing seats and staff restricts an apprenticeship scheme that dozens of Labour MPs have come through in the past.

Labour MPs additionally pay into something called Parliamentary Research Services, a central research pool for Labour MPs to tap into.  This comes in at £4,800 a year per MP and comes off each staffing allowance, paid directly from IPSA.  At 41 Scottish Labour MPs, that adds up to £196,800 p.a.  Or a cool million quid over a five-year parliament.  All 3 Westminster parties have similar arrangements, whether in government or not,

Opposition parties receive Short money – a Parliamentary allowance paid out to non-government parliamentary parties designed to partially make up for the fact they don’t have the access to the Civil Service that the governing parties do.  The Minister for Potato Consumption can ask her civil servants to find out how many chip shops there are in Cornwall; Short money is designed to allow opposition parties to employ staff to carry out the same functions.  It’s calculated using a combination of numbers of MPs and the number of votes received at the previous UK election.  Each MP brings £16,689.13 into the kitty, and every 200 votes gained by that party at the previous election brings in £33.33 (these numbers will go up by the RPI rate at the beginning of April, but for these purposes we’ll stick with the 2014/15 figures).

The LibDems, by the way, tried to carry on claiming Short money after entering their coalition with the Tories.  If nothing else, you have to admire the sheer brassneck involved in that particular pointless argument.

For Labour, that means £684,254.33 (41 MPs x £16,689.13) + £166,650 (1,035,528 votes/200 = 5177, rounded down to 5000 x £33.33) = £850,904.33 going towards central research funds from the Scottish Labour bloc.  Of course, a Miliband premiership resets that all to zero anyway, but it’s worth pointing out.

Labour also levy their MPs at a rate of 2% of their salary, to be paid into party coffers directly out their pocket, i.e. not from expenses [Chapter 5, Clause 2A(ii) of the Labour Party Rulebook]; other parties have similar levies at various rates.  At a salary of £67,060, that comes out at £1,341.20 each, or £54,989.20 p.a. from the 41.  It’s not clear whether this goes to local CLPs, the Scottish branch office, or London HQ, but whatever the destination, it’s still not chump change.

Of course, while I’ve put in the cash amounts for each of these income streams, it’s not cash that can just be spent on campaigning; Short money, for example, gets paid out on the strict condition it’s used for opposition research, not coming up with crappy YouTube videos.  But they all add capacity to a political and electoral machine that faces another massive test just 12 months after the Westminster election.  Whatever the relation to eventual reality the Ashcroft poll has, there can be no doubt that a Labour loss of the kind outlined by his and other polls, has big implications for Labour’s organisation – and by implication, the SNP’s – in the years ahead

The National: A Frothing Nationalist Writes

24 11 2014

Like seemingly the entirety of the Dangerous Menace of Nationalism (© Brian Wilson) I picked up a copy of The National this morning.  Welcome though a pro-indy paper is, it’s going to be a waste of time if it’s pish.  It’s also going to annoy me as I went out my way to go to the newsagent this morning.  So let’s cast an eye over it…


A pretty decent front page with follow up on page 2.  It’s hardly earth-shattering news to find folk in the Third Sector would feel keener if social security policy was moved out of the hands of lunatic Old Etonians, but as a first day hook for us Nats it’s a good sell.  Jamie Maxwell nicely fills out a short piece by Stephen Boyd of the STUC into a wider story about wage increases over recent years, with (as far as this biased reader is concerned), no obvious pro-Nat bias.  Another hip young gunslinger of Scottish journalism, Peter Geoghegan, has a nifty wee scoop exposing the Old Firm as taking hundreds of thousands of taxpayers’ money for anti-sectarian initiatives while not bothering their arses engaging with the authorities.

Elsewhere a report from Saturday’s RIC Conference and Elaine C Smith and Cat Boyd ruling out candidacies for the SNP.  There’s also a “Why I Support” section where various slebs tell us about their favourite charity and how great it is.  Martin Compston nominates his local hospice as the place that showed his uncle warmth and kindness in his last few days.  It’s very worthy and only the most heartless of bastards could find objection, but you do wonder how much mileage there is in it longer-term.

The word “Pravda” was bandied around by the noble Baron Foulkes and others earlier today, but I can’t see it myself.  Yes there’s a slant in terms of the selection of stories covered (the Elaine C/Cat Boyd piece definitely being one) but the reporting itself is straight down the line.  Maxwell’s piece on the Scottish Labour leadership hustings is played with a straight bat.  No “rotten Quislings sit in room and be Quislingy, the big smelly Quislings” here (I think I nicked that quote from Le Monde).  Plus Pravda only comes out three times a week.  EAT THAT, FOULKESY.

The World News section is excellent given the 4-pages allotted to it.  The Tunisian presidential elections are the main story, with a half-page Reuters piece and photo, surrounded by smaller round-ups.  It’s no in-depth reportage, but a very decent summary.  A profile of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani gives a good longer form read, although the cursory mention of his attendance at Caley Uni surely needs fleshed out in a Glasgow-based paper.  There must be a tale of him kicking around the Barras or something.


Carolyn Leckie is the columnist of the day, and a good piece it is too, reminding the reader of the hugely substantial link between gender inequality and income and class disparity, a point too often missed elsewhere.  With the leader sitting on page 3 welcoming readers to the “daily newspaper that will fly a vibrant flag for independence and the right for Scots to govern themselves”, and no letters, it’s hard to judge the op-ed section as a whole.  One would hope for more than one comment piece per issue, but given rates of £150-300 per piece for freelancers at the Herald or Scotsman, it may be the paymasters are waiting to see how the bottom line pans out before shelling out for a broader panel of opinion makers (I’m available for a tenner and a large stuffed crust).  Anyway, the rest of the week will be fairer ground to judge how op-ed flies.  Me, I’m hoping for a Point/Counterpoint style page featuring Duncan Hothersall and Stuart Campbell.




Did you spend yesterday in a semi-comatose hungover haze and want a quick check over Saturday’s football results?  Nae luck.  Indeed, in the four-page Sport section (the pictures on the back page don’t count), there are a total of five football stories, two about the EPL, two about Glasgow’s Ugly Sisters, and a decent, concise match report from Sunday’s game between the wonderful, glorious, freewheeling Partick Thistle and the horrible Aberdeen FC.  I know the argument nowadays is that people get minutiae like this from the internet or the Sundays, but a wee half page summary of the weekend’s results surely wouldn’t go amiss.  Some of us have a morbid curiousity in the Cliftonhill attendance, as well as the fact that reams of tables and numbers are nice and cheap.  There’s also a case for looking beyond the norms of football coverage and claiming ground the other papers tend to leave behind – Gerry Hassan’s recent piece on the Juniors highlights one possible avenue for a slightly different slant on the sport.  Going back a page there’s a profile spread on Lewis Hamilton which mentions his UNICEF ambassadorship but neglects to cover his overseas tax status, which seems an omission for a left-leaning paper.  Still, I now know how things went down at the European Curling Championships.


My eyes kind of glaze over at this sort of thing.  Stories on oil exports, gas exports, and booze exports.  Big profile of investment fund manager.  Wha’s like us?

What else?

I’m torn between wanting a TV section and the pointlessness of it in today’s world of EPGs and iPlayer.  Ach, sod it, I’m a relic of the past who still reads these things.  A wee third-page prime-time summary would be good.  Maybe appeal to ver kids with a “Best of iPlayer” box or something.  The font at the top of each page has to go, although the rest of the paper looks clean and well-designed.  You can see the Sunday Herald linkage without it being a total clone.  And can I have some infographics somewhere while I’m asking?  Ta.

I’m being slightly unfair as it’s obvious the whole thing is put together on a shoestring at the moment.  One would assume its move to permanence after this week’s trial would result in more goodies sprinkled around the pages.


A newsagent cover price of 50p a day isn’t going to butter all the parsnips.  It’s unfair to judge the appeal to advertisers on the basis of the inaugural issue, which necessarily would find it tricky to sell spots.  The only full pager is from Yesbar, opposite Carolyn Leckie’s column.  So that’s what those £4.20 pints of Guinness go towards…  One would assume a 30k circulation (which would beat The Scotsman) would bring in some decent ad income down the line and make the numbers work more to the satisfaction of the Newsquest bean counters.  The danger is that being so explicitly pro-indy means staunchly pro-union business types won’t countenance shelling out quids for a spot on page 9, no matter how good the rates.


It’s a good paper.  Yes it’s explicitly aimed at those of us of a nashunilist disposition, and yes there’s some work left to do, but as a tabloid with a specific, honestly-expressed agenda, it’s worth ten bob and your commute to work/uni/the broo.  The line on the masthead, “The Newspaper That Supports An Independent Scotland” could do with dropping though; we get it.  I do hope it doesn’t cannibalise sales of the big brother daily Herald though.  After I gave up the Scotsman when Ol’ Brillo Pad took over, I’ve read the Herald ever since, and it remains the best Scottish daily for anyone looking to avoid the intricate details of X-Factor contestants’ EXCLUSIVE REVELATIONS.  Here’s hoping the two can co-exist peacefully, like Jerry Leadbetter and Tom Good.


9 10 2014


by Geraint Fudge

Scotland’s railways were thrown into crisis last night – as Labour MSP James Kelly announced an audacious bid for the Scotrail franchise.

Speaking to a packed press conference in the chips aisle of Iceland on Rutherglen Main Street, Mr Kelly unveiled his proposals to put a halt to the Scottish Government’s contract award to Dutch firm Abellio.

“I’m putting Keith Brown and that Salmond guy off the telly on notice – I won’t stop until I have my trains.”

Mr Kelly, 49, then declared his intention to begin court proceedings against Transport Scotland and the Scottish Government, on the grounds of, “Dutch trains all being below sea level and being no use in the Highlands”, a successful case being followed immediately by his own bid for the £2.5billion, 10-year franchise.

His bid – provisionally called “KellyRail” – would involve radical changes to Scotland’s rail network, including:

  • DAILY express trains from Rutherglen to Kirkwall
  • DIESEL trains to be replaced by rolling stock fuelled by Um Bongo
  • GLASGOW to Edinburgh journey times reduced in half by using flying DeLoreans
  • FREE travel for all passengers accompanied by a Clanger
  • HIGH-SPEED services introduced on the strategically important Dingwall – Brora route.

The plans also include a major overhaul of catering trolley services, with options limited to Cherryade and Ready Salted Hula Hoops, as well as Paisley Gilmour Street getting £50 million of investment to turn it into the biggest bouncy castle in Europe.

Mr Kelly accused the SNP Government of “running scared” and demanded Transport Minister Keith Brown suspend the tendering process and extend First Group’s current franchise “until I can find someone with a colour printer to get these bid documents printed properly”.

But the news was greeted with scepticism by some.

Contacted via medium via Doris Stokes, railway legend Isambard Kingdom Brunel expressed disbelief that the 52-year-old MSP for Rutherglen would be up to the job.

"He's taking the f**king piss."

“He’s taking the f**king piss.”

“Are you f**king kidding me?  Seriously?  What the f**k is wrong with some people?” the 155 years deceased engineer told our reporter on being informed of Mr Kelly’s proposal.

“I designed a 2-mile-long tunnel so perfectly engineered that the sun shines directly through it on my birthday.  And the Clifton Suspension Bridge.  OK, I kinda f**ked up that whole SS Great Britain business, but let me tell you, I know my f**king trains.

“The idea James Kelly could operate a railway network consisting of 344 stations and over 3000km of lines is batshit crazy.

“Are you sure that bastard Telford didn’t put you up to this?”

A spokesotter for Scottish Labour said, “Eh… this is the Scottish Labour Party.  Please leave your name and number after the tone and we’ll get back to you as soon as possible.  BEEP.  I think it’s OK.  Oh shit, I didn’t hang u-.”

“Yes Alliance” – A Sceptical, Cynical Curmudgeonly Party Hack Writes

7 10 2014

This “Yes Alliance” stuff between the Greens and the SNP – how would this work in practice?

Both parties take pride in their retention of internal democracy, at at time when other parties seem to have left such fanciful idealism at the revolving door of ‘modernisation’ (a word I have come to loathe after its utter bastardisation at the hands of Blairism, where ‘modernise’ came to mean ‘any sort of change that happens to make life easier for a selected cadre’).  It seems inconceivable that such a dramatic shift in electoral strategy wouldn’t require endorsement in the SNP’s case by either National Council or National Conference.  Similarly the Greens would need such internal approval.  But such an agreement would, by necessity, need negotiation beforehand.  So each party would have to pick a team to meet the other and work out a draft list of which seats go to which party.  You also can be sure local branches and constituencies will be lobbying each team hard at each end for their preferred outcomes.  Once the respective teams have produced their joint proposal, it would likely then go to each party’s Conference/Council.  There would also likely be a need for applications to the Electoral Commission to apply for joint-candidacy status similar to the Labour & Co-Operative Party set-up.  In short, you’re talking about a fair number of meetings, a good dollop of paperwork, some unhappy members and activists, and overall a lot of time and energy spent just to get to the point where you begin selecting candidates.

There’s also a group of people who seem to have been forgotten somewhat by some in this drive – the activists of each party in each constituency.  Put yourself in the position of Mr Rab McGlinchy, a Green party member for fifteen years in the constituency of Lochdubh West.  Having knocked his pan for a decade and a half for a party that barely numbered more than a thousand members, and was marginalised in the media, suddenly things have shifted dramatically since the 18th September.  Lochdubh branch, for years populated by half-a-dozen hardy souls, find itself with 150 fresh, energetic, new members and activists.  Rab thinks to himself “This is it!  OK, we won’t win the seat at first go.  But a good showing in 2015/16 gives us a base to work from and grab a council seat in 2017.  Get a real campaign going rather than me and my dug shoving cheap leaflets through doors.”  But poor Rab’s plans are doomed; the “Yes Alliance” deal agreed between his party and the SNP means no Green is allowed to stand in Lochdubh West.  So what does Rab do, as someone voluntarily giving his time and effort to campaign?  Does he grit his teeth and continue to give up his weekends and weeknight campaigning for an SNP candidate who wants the Firth of Clyde opened up to oil exploration?  Does he jump the bus to a neighbouring constituency where a Green is standing?  Or does he just say to himself “To hell with this. That allotment could do with some tidying up”?

Meanwhile Rab’s long-lost cousin Roberta is an SNP member in Craiglang Central.  Her constituency now has over 1,000 members and while taking the equivalent Westminster seat in 2015 might be a long shot, the 1,500 majority the Labour party held in 2011 looks like it might be under threat in 2016, especially with a hyperactive local campaign.  But as part of the deal done as part of the “Yes Alliance”, any putative SNP candidate in Craiglang Central is no more; instead the Greens will stand here, putting forward a sitting local councillor as their candidate.  Roberta’s pretty pissed off with this; she knows the councillor concerned, and knows he’s likely canvassed a dozen doors in his lifetime.  She also knows other Green members who were actively against independence.  She’s asking herself the same questions her wee cousin Rab is faced with.  She’s thinking about attending her local Judo class instead.

This is to say nothing of local finances.  Do Green members donating to their branch want that money used to finance the SNP campaign locally?  Will folk attending the local SNP quiz night want their entrance money funnelled into promoting Green candidates?  Or will each party finance their own campaign?  If the latter is the case, it creates a massive imbalance in seats ‘assigned’ to the Greens – with a membership less than one-tenth that of the SNP, money will inevitably be tighter, and less resources will be around locally to fund the campaign.

I tried to think of a picture suitable for this post but couldn't.  So here's Johann Cruyff smoking a fag instead.

I tried to think of a picture suitable for this post but couldn’t. So here’s Johann Cruyff smoking a fag instead.

There are some international examples of pacts and alliances that spring to mind – France sees parties coalesce into voting blocs after the first round voting, usually split left and right (but with a worryingly tendency lately for the Front National to make it to the 2nd round), but then again that’s pretty much the very reason the voting system is the way it is.  New York has “fusion” candidates where individual parties stand but with shared candidates, with minor parties like the Working Families Party generally (but not always) backing Democrats and allowing their votes to count towards that individual’s tally.  Italy’s weird and wacky world of psephology positively encourages bloc-coalitions, complete with hard-wired mechanisms for distributing seats within an electoral bloc, and a batshit insane version of list PR that legally guarantees the winning party 54% of seats with as little as 29% of the vote.  The Republic of Ireland in the past has seen ‘coalition’ campaigns, usually Fine Gael and Labour joining forces as the anti-Fianna Fáil alternative, but these haven’t involved candidates standing aside – rather invoking transfer pacts asking voters for later preferences under the PR-STV system used.

It’s hard to find an example of single issue alliances across parties in the modern political era in the UK, save perhaps for Martin Bell’s candidacy in Tatton in 1997 – but frankly if we’re going to use that as a blueprint you might as well throw a seven-foot drag queen with flashing nipples into the mix as well.  The other very tenuous example that springs to mind is the spectacular huff taken by Northern Irish Unionists/Loyalists in 1986, when the very thought of the Anglo-Irish Agreement coming into effect led all of them to resign their seats and hold 15 simultaneous by-elections as a kind of mini-referendum on the subject.  This was such a success that 4 seats didn’t have any rival candidates to stand against the incumbents (they had to get a bloke to change his name by deed poll to that of the Irish Foreign Minister and stand in all 4 to ensure a contest), and the loss of a seat to the nationalist SDLP.  OK, so the sometimes utterly insane politics of the North of Ireland in the mid-80s tend not to lend itself to answering contemporary Scottish political and electoral questions, but that’s kind of the point – the rarity and eccentricity of these precedents demonstrates the kind of leap being talked about.

To me, too much of the ‘analysis’ done seems to consist of adding together columns of votes on a spreadsheet and coming up with a ‘Yes’ vote based on the constitutional positions of both parties.  Yet looking at where actual votes in actual elections go, this seems overly simplistic to say the least.  Have a look, for example, at the Liberton-Gilmerton by-election for Edinburgh City Council in June last year (I pick this as a part of the country of relative Green strength).  When the Green candidate gets eliminated in Round 4 in 5th place, and her later preferences are redistributed to the remaining candidates, it’s not the only pro-independence party that picks the lion’s share up – in fact it’s the Labour party scooping up 36% of these votes, the SNP getting 32%, the LibDems 23% and the Tories 9%.  That’s 68% of Green voters choosing a Unionist candidate – smack bang in the middle of the referendum campaign – ahead of the SNP.  Think that’s just cherry-picking one ward to find the ‘correct’ data?  Look at Clydesdale South in June this year64% of Green transfers to Lab, Con & UKIP(!), 36% to the SNP.  Or Dunfermline South in October 2013, with Lab, LibDem and Tory collecting 73% of Green transfers and the SNP 27%.  Yes, a small proportion of those votes are Independent or UKIP votes cascading through the preferences via the Greens, and local by-elections can and do have particular local factors outside of ‘normal’ party politics – but the trend seems self-evident: in the run-up to the referendum, at a time when the Greens and SNP were co-operating and working together as close as they have ever been, more than a half of Green voters gave one of the No parties a higher preference than the SNP.  It seems incredibly ignorant – and dare I say it comes with a wee drizzle of elitism – to assume voters will simply row in behind whichever pro-independence party has the best chance of winning; the evidence at real elections just doesn’t support this.

Let me also throw in a presentational objection to some of the other reasoning that has occasionally been on display; this concept of electoral pacts/alliances being somehow more mature and progressive than this nasty disagreeing about stuff lark that competing parties insist on.  There’s a reason 5,000 folk signed up for the Greens rather than the SNP – they don’t agree with us.  And guess why 50,000 folk joined the SNP rather than the Greens – they don’t agree with the Greens.  That’s not to say there’s not a fair degree of overlap between the two platforms and relations between the two parties’ activists have tended to be more cordial than most.  But we stand for differing visions of the path our country, independent or not, should take.  That’s a good thing.  It gives the voters more choice and allows us members and activists to be more open about our honest ideological preferences, rather than hide them behind a cloak of convenience.  It allows us to offer competing strategies to our members and the electorate.  Why should we try to make these differences disappear overnight for an electoral pact that will, by definition, expire at 10pm on polling day?

All of this is not to, necessarily, say a “Yes Alliance” is in itself a bad thing.  But the idea that that all it takes is a few changes to candidate lists and some nomination papers to be deliberately not used, add together votes from two different parties to give a grand total and BAM! – you’ve got yourself a successful campaign strategy – is fanciful at best, misleading at worst.

Folding Green Stuff

26 09 2014

Yesterday we journeyed through the SNP finances and tried to put some figures on what the remarkable membership surge means for the balance sheets.  Today it’s the turn of the Greens.

[Again, as before, all stats/figures etc are taken from accounts submitted to the Electoral Commission and available for your perusal at their website.]

In some ways, the numbers the Scottish Greens are attracting outstrip the SNP.  From a base of 1,178 at the end of 2013, the latest figures tweeted by Patrick Harvie suggest a figure approaching since 6,000 – we’ll assume for these purposes that the surge continued from yesterday, but then mysteriously stopped, potential members holding back in pursuit of arithmetical neatness.  The SNP’s measly 125% increase in a week pales in comparison to the c.400% the SGP have seen.

The Greens’ accounts reveal they employ a single staff member on a national basis, who must surely be blankly staring at the wall twitching uncontrollably by now, wondering what the hell just happened.  She’ll undoubtedly be joined by others in the near future (as employees, not uncontrollable twitchers).

In 2013, income from membership was £23,895.  Taking those 1,178 members into account gives an average membership sub per person of £20.28 per annum.  Now multiplying that out by the 6,000 members claimed takes the membership income to £121,680.

Donations amounted to £50,090.  This includes £15,600 from the two Green MSPs (which won’t change before 2016), leaving us £34,490 in regular ol’ donations from members and supporters.  A six-fold increase in membership and donor base might not result in a six-fold increase in donation income.  So being incredibly cautious, let’s say three-fold-ish.  That increases donation income to c.£103,470 a year, without even factoring in the election effect next year.

£121,680 in membership subs + £103,470 in donations = £225,150 per annum.  Their total income for 2013 was £93,870!  That’s a massive increase crypto-Marxist whale-saving tie-dying.  And like my SNP analysis yesterday, it doesn’t factor in the increased revenue and fundraising potential available to local branches.  Given the Greens’ decentralising and subsidiarity-focused ethos, it’s a fair bet many members will want to shovel their cash to the local organisation rather than to national HQ.  Who knows what that adds up to?

Conference income, at £9,174 in 2013, will shoot up too.  Already the party has had to move to a bigger venue for this autumn’s gathering, and future conferences will need increased capacity, and likely increased exhibitors.

What do they spend the money on?  Expect better quality literature and materials.  Expect better and more systematic organisation on the ground – with a few honourable exceptions, the Greens’ approach to voter ID, canvassing, and targeting at elections has been patchy to say the least.  A full-time campaigns organiser with increased organisational capacity and resource is likely first on their shopping list.

There’s an interesting question about where these new members come from – geographically rather than philosophically.  The Greens’ heartlands, and thus the source of the bulk of membership, are in a few areas of the country, mostly Edinburgh, Glasgow, and Stirling, and even within those there’s a tight geographic spread.  Not many activists in Royston or Arden, I’d imagine.  If these members are distributed across the country rather than concentrated in already relatively strong areas, it brings the possibility of active Green branches in areas that, frankly, haven’t seen so much as a sticker from them in the last 20 years.  Although see this tweet from Edinburgh Uni rector Peter McColl – if Edinburgh has gone from 400 to 1400 members, that’s a disproportionate number in the capital and thus less for everyone else.

It also raises, in my mind anyway, an interesting a wee tidbit I heard over the last year – around half of all Green members had a Masters/PhD qualification or higher.  That must have made it the most be-lettered political party in the world.  That imbalance must surely have changed over the last week.  Together with the fact the vast bulk of new members will be pro-independence, compared with the significant minority of members previously who either sat on the fence or who were explicitly No – including their former co-convener Robin Harper – it’s a transformational change for any party.

Meanwhile the Scottish Lib Dems, with 2,831 members at the start of this year, claim a subscription income of £141,842; at £50.10 per person this seems on the high side, and given they don’t separate out their elected members’ levy (5% of salary going back to the party [EDIT: It’s actually 10%, according to Michael Crick]) unlike the SNP & Greens, I do wonder what the real figure is for rank and file members.  Whatever the truth, the Greens are now over twice as large as the yellow peril.  Worth a bar chart or two, surely?


25 09 2014

I’m not quite sure what was meant to “kill nationalism stone dead” any more – was it devolution, the referendum, or Iain Davidson’s collection of bayonets?  Whatever it was, the active reaction from the electorate since last Thursday has been extraordinary and totally unprecedented in Scottish or British political history to my knowledge.  All three of the pro-Yes parties have seen surges in membership far beyond anything seen in this country before.

In the spirit of the freewheeling, positive, breathtakingly uncynical times we live in, what does this mean for the SNP in terms of cold, hard cash?

[In all cases here, unless specified otherwise, stats/figures/percentages etc. come from the accounts submitted to the Electoral Commission by the SNP.]

Let’s take a look over the last 10 years, as laid out in this handy wee table (pg 4 of the SNPs 2013 accounts):

Screen Shot 2014-09-25 at 00.51.07

This pretty much covers the period from when the party switched to a centralised membership system, rather than the creaking and frankly archaic method of selling batches of paper cards to local branches at £5 a go and having them do the money chasing.  Also note the increase in Direct Debits over time, reducing admin costs and allowing for better future financial projection.

Delving into the accounts, membership subscriptions accounted for £585,691 in 2013 – divide that by 25,245 to give an average of £23.20 per member.  Note this doesn’t include any donations – this is purely the subs paid to hold a party card.  The net amount that went directly to HQ coffers, however, was reduced by 25% as this is redistributed to each local branch as a dividend for each member, plus an affiliate dividend (paid to organisations like the Trade Union Group and the Association of Nationalist Councillors) of 2.5%, slightly confusingly for these purposes based on 2012 membership rather than 2013 (there is a good reason for this but I’m buggered if I can recall it now). In 2013 this was doubled.  So that gives us £146,423 + £27,760 to knock off (but obviously remains within the SNP as a whole), giving a national HQ total of £411,508.

Let’s now take that £23.20 figure and apply it to the current membership figures.  According to Peter Murrell’s Twitter feed, the total at 8:43am this morning was 62,870.  £23.20 x 62,870 = £1,458,584.  Zounders.  That gives £364,646 to the branches as their 25%, plus £36,465 to the affiliates as their 2.5% (let’s be real mean and assume the doubling doesn’t happen again), leaving £1,057,473 for the national party.

Now let’s be mean again and postulate on that £23.20 average dropping as a disproportionately high number of new members sign up for the minimum quid a month, and current members suddenly realise they’re rooked after the campaign and drop down from £3/month to £2 or what have you.  Purely to make the numbers simple, say £20 on average. £20 x 62,870 = £911,615 for HQ, £314,350 for the branches, and £31,435 for the affiliates.  Can I get away with saying “zounders” again?

Donations in 2013 amounted to £441,312 – a smaller figure than you might expect, doubtless explained by the fact folk were diverting their generosity towards Yes Scotland rather than the party.  In the spirit of attempting to save your eyes from glazing over through another series of calculations, and also cause I feel like it, bump this up to a round £1,000,000 – partly accounted for by increases in members providing a wider and deeper donor pool, but also by a rebound from the aforementioned Yes Scotland donation dip.  And that’s not taking account of the increase you’d expect in an election year – and May 2015 isn’t that far away…

Independence magazine subscriptions accounted for nearly £100,000 and national raffles for £61,611.  Expect them to see an upward trend as well.  Against all of this you obviously need to offset the increased admin costs on things like welcome packs for new members, any possible future hires at HQ to help with member support, and so on, but nevertheless this kind of sudden explosion in resource is pretty mad, Ted.

None of this takes account of the increase in membership for each branch and constituency, and the implications for local fundraising – all those 50/50 clubs, raffles, race nights, ceilidhs, quiz nights, karaoke sessions, and whatever else, just saw their potential attendees list more than double in a week.


Not quite a bayonet.

There’s another, more subtle change within the party’s democratic structures that emerges too.  Entitlement to delegacies at National Conference is determined by the size of your branch – more members = more delegates.  This is currently set at 2 for the first 20 members in a branch, plus 1 for each 20 or part thereof.  A branch with, say, 127 members would be entitled to send 8 delegates.  Doubling that to 254 brings that figure to 14.  It’s impossible to say exactly how many extra delegates places are created from the membership growth (in which branches are the “part thereofs”?), but given a c.125% increase in membership, you’re probably looking at a doubling of delegates to conference.  We are definitely gonna need a bigger boat.  And a bigger boat means increased revenue from delegate passes, exhibitors, fundraising – even spin offs for the host constituency for Conference, who traditionally hold a social evening on one of the nights.

Of course, all of this is highly mercenary – the energy and enthusiasm new members and activists bring is incalculable, and the time volunteered on the ground and on the streets simply cannot be measured in pounds, shillings and pence.  And I haven’t even touched on the potential for major demographic changes within the party; will that average age come down as newly politicised under-40s sign up, and will that depressingly low proportion of female members shoot up rather than bumping up a point or two every year?  We’ll need to wait a few months to find out.

Nevertheless, the potential transformation of the SNPs finances, at a time when the party must surely be rooked like every other organisation in Scottish politics, must raise some depressingly real questions for the Labour party in particular.  One springs to mind – how many bayonets will they be able to kit Iain Davidson out with over the next months?

Tomorrow I’m doing the Greens.  Bet you can’t wait.