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.

Always Bring A Pen

23 09 2014

Hello new members!  I’m writing this at the point where you are part of 25,000 folk (and rising) who have signed on the dotted line – or rather ticked a box online – and signed up for the SNP.  You’ve arrived here via lots of different routes, but all in the wake of a referendum campaign that has reinvigorated participatory democracy like nothing else before.

The amount of razzmatazz the Yes campaign generated was unbelievable.  Someone tweets on a Sunday evening “hey, let’s all go to George Square on Tuesday for a rally!” and 48 hours later thousands of folk show up and have a laugh.  A guy on Facebook decides to have a get together at the Meadows on polling day and hundreds turn out.  We could have used you for the knock up though, folks…

Parties are different.  There’s a structure, there’s bureaucracy, there’s a rulebook.  There’s internal elections, selections, vetting, and delegacies.  None of this is bad, nor should it put you off.  It’s just the nuts and bolts stuff that keeps internal democracy and external campaigning functioning.  All parties get a bad rap for this stuff; a number of the commentariat like to occasionally poke fun at things that seem from the outside to be arcane and silly.  But when you’re actively involved in the mechanics of what keeps the show on the road, most of it is perfectly sensible and necessary to actually fulfil the function of a political party – to get things done, and done in a way that wins you votes and influence over the political agenda.

I remember walking along to my first branch meetings thinking they’d be hotbeds of debate; the nuance and intricacies of party policy vigorously contested by all strands of opinion, discourse and rhetoric filling the air from start to finish.  Of course, the main thing I remember about my first branch meeting was the discussion about what colour paper to print some leaflets on.  The debates and discussions are there – but you still need to keep the lights on.

Take campaign organisation.  In the Yes campaign, if you were part of a local group, you had a Lead Volunteer directing the operation.  In the SNP they’re Organisers, coming in Branch or Constituency varieties.  Organising campaigning is sometimes pretty tedious stuff; CSV files, clipboards, post-it notes, leaflet runs, stickers – if you’ve a stationery fetish this is your time to get your rocks off.  But it’s all incredibly important.  Think about the campaign when you went out knocking doors – you got lists with names and addresses on it, you got a pen, a bundle of leaflets – someone somewhere had to make up the lists, someone got the pens, someone made sure you had enough leaflets, someone decided it was that particular street in that particular scheme on that particular evening you were visiting, someone took away your completed canvass sheets and inputted the data… and so on.  It’s long, hard work, and the totally unsung heroes of the Yes campaign were the people around the country who did exactly this for 2 years, fitting it around work, family, the laundry, their lives.  If they hadn’t been burning the midnight oil putting all this stuff together, no way the result would have been the same.

And that’s just one aspect of it; there’s the policy discussions that – gasp in surprise at such antediluvian procedures – do happen.  There’s the internal debate about things like AWS or the composition of the National Executive Committee or how we select candidates which might seem dry and inward-looking even to anoraks like me, but actually matter.  It’s your party and it’s up to you how you and the other 50-odd thousand of us how we shape it and how it represent us.  Yes, you’ll be tearing your hair out on occasion as the branch meeting reaches AOCB on the agenda and you’re gasping for a pint, but I wouldn’t trade the simple common decency of a community centre on a Monday night, all of us having our say, something I wouldn’t swap for all the National Policy Forums in all the Labour world.

It’s this work that goes on, between elections, behind the scenes, that makes a party.  It’s the meetings and conferences – and sometimes the drinks afterwards – that bring you new friends, new perspectives, new thoughts, that make a campaign machine, that have you sharing confidences, that mean you’re part of a team.  You might have new ideas; they might be voted down.  Them’s the breaks.  Go back to the drawing board, get on the phone, and try to make them work.  We get these things right, the prospects for our cause get brighter.

What am I trying to say here, other than possibly coming across like a condescending twit breaking his 21-month old blogging hiatus?  I dunno.  Something like: there’s more to politics than the politics.  The craic’s good as well.  But always, always, bring a pen.