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):
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.
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.