How are SNP candidates financing their election campaigns - and can the party even afford this election?

The recent accounts have not hindered the campaign.

An election campaign is a costly thing, with political parties doing all they can to get the message out and boost their support.

It is also costly to the taxpayer. The 2017 election cost the taxpayer £140 million, due to the organisation, security and everything else involved in having a fair and democratic poll.

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For political parties, the costs can be enormous, hence the existence of the political party conferences, which as well as being about galvanising memberships, are also crucial for fundraising.

The SNP has faced a series of questions around its finances.The SNP has faced a series of questions around its finances.
The SNP has faced a series of questions around its finances.

It is against this backdrop the SNP faces questions about its own finances, with its most recent published accounts reporting an annual loss of £804,278.

This comes with John Swinney’s party also owing Peter Murrell, the former SNP chief executive and Nicola Sturgeon’s husband, £60,000 of a £107,620 loan he made in June 2021, which the party explained was to assist with “cash flow” issues after the most recent Holyrood election.

In April, Mr Murrell was charged with embezzlement of funds from the SNP.

The First Minister has pledged that donations to the SNP will be “spent appropriately”, saying “every penny” raised from supporters would go towards fighting the election campaign and on independence.

Labour have claimed the SNP is “skint”, referencing a lack of large billboards, digital advertising or general profile. Party sources suggested the SNP were relying on “Microsoft Paint” for its digital output, and barely registering a digital presence compared to previous years. In stark contrast, Sir Keir Starmer’s party is said to have “more cash than we can spend”, with Scottish Labour particularly bolstered by donations.

Former SNP treasurer Douglas Chapman quit the key role over his “great disappointment” at not being allowed to make the party's accounts more accessible.

This, along with the sight of SNP candidates crowdfunding online, has prompted probing questions about the party finances – something furiously denied by party figures.

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A series of SNP sources have told The Scotsman the party is doing fine, they have not noticed any problems when it came to funding, and pointing out candidates have always used crowdfunding.

MP after MP said a lack of digital spend wasn’t down to a lack of funds, but the party simply had a large organic base of supporters, so didn’t need to pay, unlike Labour and the Conservatives.

One MP said: “Candidates always fundraise for themselves – this is no different. And we’re getting the same level of HQ support in terms of nationally delivered leaflets etc as before. I’ve literally noticed no change.

“Every election I’ve done I’ve had a crowdfunder – same as everyone else. I’ve just taken delivery of 10,000 leaflets from HQ. The one thing we’re not getting, thank God, is all the s***e. Party branded Foam fingers, ‘I’m with Nicola pens’, key rings.”

Another dismissed the accusations as “nonsense”, adding the SNP had more members than any other political party.

They told The Scotsman: “Don’t know where this nonsense is coming from – we’ve had a crowdfunder I think every election. Worth noting we rely on our members for donations, not big corporations or hedge fund billionaires.”

However, it is understood a donation totalling hundreds of thousands of pounds has recently been “secured”, though not yet announced.

SNP candidate for Stirling and Strathallan Alyn Smith also insisted the party had no issue fighting the election, saying he was getting all the support he expected.

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He said: “The big difference is having members. I have been doing this long enough that you would literally go round with a piece of paper and sign them up and take the money out of hand. That changed under John Swinney. You signed up to join the party, then you were allocated your local branch.

“We’ve got members in Stirling that I’ve never seen, but they pay their subs every year and they vote. What we do have is tens of thousands of people giving us small donations every month. That’s the bedrock of our support and has always been the bedrock of our support.

“Of course, we always need more money, but the party is better resourced and better fed than we’ve ever been. There might be fewer helicopters on this campaign, but that’s no bad thing. It always takes a little while for the campaign to get up, but it’s now all obviously snapping into space.

“If there’s any grumbles or gripes from anyone about headquarters, it’s a surprise to me. I feel very supported and I’ve got one of the best teams in the country, so maybe I’m not that needy. You can only expect the centre to do so much. The whole point of the SNP is we are a national party with a local branch. Everything I would expect to be happening is happening.”

SNP campaign co-ordinator Stewart Hosie argued the lack of lack donations from companies or lobbyists was a good thing.

He told The Scotsman: "The SNP is a people-powered party, running a people-powered campaign, which is resolutely focused on Scotland's interests. We have more members in Scotland than all the other parties put together, we have more grassroots activists campaigning across every part of the country and more voters engaging with our digital campaign.

"The SNP campaign is funded by small donations from thousands of families across Scotland. We aren't reliant on murky, backroom Westminster interests like the Tories and Labour Party, who have taken money from figures who want to privatise the NHS, slash public spending, impose a hard Brexit and undermine workers' rights. People know they can trust the SNP to always stand up for Scotland.”

However, independent Na h-Eileanan an Iar candidate Angus MacNeil, who was expelled by the SNP in August last year, dismissed the assurances. He said SNP HQ had taken money from the local branches as part of a "general election levy" last year.

“It’s an open secret in the islands that the SNP campaign is a mess and they’ve barely got a brass farthing to their name,” he said. “I’ve got a lot of sympathy because HQ took all their money.”

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