HE is 63 years’ old, donates £84 a year to his party, and whenever he hears someone criticise his country, takes it as a personal insult – say hello to the Scottish National Party’s everyman.
The comprehensive dissection of the SNP’s membership in a new academic study reveals for the first time the political, ideological, and personal make-up of the thousands of people who have helped the party to power at Holyrood.
From key constitutional matters and what role, if any, the monarchy should have in it, through to ethical issues such as the death penalty and gay relations, the questionnaire which forms the backbone of a new political study of the SNP provides fascinating insights.
And some of the findings in the 28-page survey commissioned for the book The Scottish National Party: Transition to Power make for surprising reading, not least for the SNP leadership.
Despite expectations of a young and vibrant movement, 68.2 per cent of the 7,112 people who responded were male, while the average year of birth came out at 1949, two key conclusions the book’s authors had not anticipated.
One of the authors, Professor James Mitchell, head of the school of government and public policy at the University of Strathclyde, said: “The impression we all had of the SNP, certainly in the past, was of a very young membership. It’s older than we ever expected, but I think the new members who have been joining will have brought the average age down.
“The female thing is also very interesting. When we did the survey, the SNP were very surprised. I thought they weren’t going to like it at all, but they accepted it. In the 2007 elections, the SNP did particularly well amongst men, but there was a big gender gap and they didn’t win women voters.”
His co-author, Dr Lynn Bennie, senior lecturer in politics at the University of Aberdeen, explained: “Only the Conservatives have had a similar gender profile, and that was way back in the 1990s. All the other parties have been much more balanced, so there’s something going on there.”
When given a series of statements to gauge their libertarian-authoritarian values, 51.5 per cent agreed that “the death penalty is never justified, even for very serious crimes,” with 37.6 per cent disagreeing with the statement. Asked for their view on the statement, “homosexual relations are always wrong” 21 per cent agreed and 52.6 disagreed.
The postal questionnaire was carried out between November 2007 and March 2008. It shows that nearly a quarter of members (23 per cent) had joined since 2005. More than half (56.7 per cent) have an annual household income before tax of less than £30,000, and a third (32.9 per cent) consider themselves “very active” or “fairly active” in the party, with 36.2 per cent having canvassed voters door-to-door, and 18 per cent standing as a candidate in a local or national election. They contribute, on average, £44 a year to SNP headquarters and £40 to the local party.
Independence, unsurprisingly, elicited widespread support. Asked for their constitutional preference, 65 per cent of members said Scotland should be independent within the EU, while 22 per cent said the country should strike out alone outside of Europe. Twelve per cent called for further devolution while just one per cent believe the status quo is the way forward.
Only 20.6 per cent said people could be equally proud of being British and Scottish, while 69.6 per cent said that when someone criticised Scotland they took it personally.
When it came to the First Minister, members gave a glowing endorsement. When given a sliding scale of one to ten to rate their leader’s qualities, over half gave him ten out ten for strong leadership, and overwhelmingly rated him caring, likeable, decisive, and trustworthy.