SNP's membership surges by 60%
THE SNP has capitalised on its electoral success by growing its membership base by 60 per cent in the last five years, it emerged yesterday.
There were just 9,450 members of the Scottish National Party in 2003 – a time when the party was being knocked back by electoral defeats and was riven with in-fighting and leadership challenges.
Since then, however, the membership has grown to 15,097 – an increase of 60 per cent – during the time when the party has found stability, financial backers and electoral success.
That total of just more than 15,000 is not enough for the Nationalists to displace Labour as the most popular party in Scotland, although the party has experienced steady, year-on-year growth which, if continued, would see the SNP become the biggest party north of the Border in a few years.
The 9,450 SNP members in 2003 rose to 10,854 in 2004, an increase of 15 per cent; it then went up to 10,995 in 2005, a rise of just 1.3 per cent. It went up to 12,571 in 2006, an increase of 14 per cent and up again to 13,944 in 2007, a rise of 11 per cent. The past year saw a rise of 8 per cent, taking the membership total to 15,097.
Scottish Labour had about 18,500 members last year, according to the latest figures, and a spokesman said yesterday that the party now had "just under 20,000 members".
But the trend is clearly in the SNP's favour. As the SNP's membership has grown, so Labour's has shrunk. Labour membership in Scotland was down 30 per cent between 2000 – when the party had 26,500 members – and 2007, when it had 18,500.
The Scottish Conservatives never release their membership figures but a spokesman claimed yesterday the Tories had "roughly the same number" as the Nationalists, about 15,000.
The Scottish Liberal Democrats are some way off the pace with 4,000 members in Scotland. The Greens are even further behind with just 994.
Politics expert Professor John Curtice, of Strathclyde University, said there had been a long downward trend in political party membership since the 1950s.
Then, he said, the Conservative Party was seen by many as the social club for the middle classes. There were still about one million Conservative Party members when Margaret Thatcher came to power in 1979, but the figure is 350,000 or so today.
Prof Curtice said the Nationalists had done well to buck that general trend. He said: "There has been a long-term decline in memberships in the UK. All parties have relatively small memberships now, compared to what they used to have.
"The SNP's figure of 9,000 in 2003 was an incredibly small base. They have done well to grow it so successfully and improved electoral popularity leads, unsurprisingly, to an increase in party membership figures."
But Prof Curtice added: "The interesting challenge is what is going to happen to the party over the next 12 to 18 months."
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