There’s an interesting story in the Herald today about Scottish Labour’s finances.
It reveals that the party’s income from donations plunged from £600,000 in 2015 to £100,000 last year, which in the article is blamed on Jeremy Corbyn’s UK leadership (even though Dugdale opposed him in the leadership election).
But there were a few comments in the piece that we thought needed scrutiny.
The article says this of the branch office’s numbers:
“Despite a recent membership rise to 21,000, Scottish Labour is now tipped to come third behind the Tories in May’s council poll too.”
Now, that’s a questionable statement in itself. At the beginning of October 2015 the Scotsman was suggesting that Scottish Labour might have as many as 29,000:
Then-leader Jim Murphy had said at the end of 2014 that membership was “about 20,000” rather than 13,500. However, by the end of the following year the Financial Times said it was 19,000:
It’s therefore hard to say whether a claimed figure of 21,000 represents an increase or not. However, what we know from Scottish Labour’s own published accounts is that its income from membership and subscriptions in 2015 was just £120,000.
(A figure very much in line with the norm – every year back to 2010 has been between £107K and £120K, and in fact all but one year were between £113K and £120K.)
If we take a middle position and assume there were 20,000 members in that year, it would represent income of just £6.02 per member. Which is rather odd, as standard membership is £48 a year with concessions at £24.
Even if for the sake of argument we assume EVERY member is on the half-price rate, that should still produce a figure of £480,000 a year from 20,000 members – almost exactly FOUR TIMES what actually came in.
The Herald story continues:
“Asked just before the Holyrood election how much her party would spend, Ms Dugdale said it would be “substantially less” than in 2011, with ‘more small scale fundraising’ on an ‘Obama model of regular small donations, rather than have one or two big donors or funders’.
A Scottish Labour spokesperson said: “While the SNP is funded by bus tycoons and lottery winners, Labour is mainly funded by the membership and donations of working people.”
We know from the Electoral Commission website that Brian Souter, the bus tycoon in question, hasn’t actually donated to the SNP since 2014 (and most recently donated to the Lib Dems), and the lottery winners – Chris and Colin Weir – both last donated in early 2015, almost two years ago.
But even in that year, when the Weirs between them kicked in a whopping £1m (out of total donations of £1.53m), it was dwarfed by membership income of £2.7m.
And what of Scottish Labour’s claims to be “mainly funded by the membership and donations of working people”? Well, if we look at the published Electoral Commission data for 2016, we get some interesting findings:
Because out of total donations of around £290,000 a thumping £238,000 – more than 82% – came under “Public Funds – Assistance for Parties (Scottish Parliament)”.
We’re not actually sure if that’s Scottish Government or UK government money, but either way it’s from taxpayers and it’s a hell of a stretch to call it “donations of working people”. We don’t know about you, readers, but nobody asked us if we wanted our tax money to go to Scottish Labour, and we know what we’d have said if they had.
So let’s just recap on the claims in those short quotes:
(1) “[Scottish] Labour is mainly funded by the membership and donations of working people” – LIE. In fact the great bulk of its money (twice as much as it gets from members) comes from taxpayers, who get no say in their “donations”.
(2) “The SNP is funded by bus tycoons and lottery winners” – LIE. Nobody matching either of those descriptions has donated to the SNP for years, and even when they did their contributions were far eclipsed by ordinary members. It might have been true for a single year (2014, when there was the small matter of a referendum on), but it’s certainly not true now.
(3) “Scottish Labour has 21,000 members” – that looks an awful lot like a LIE. If it does, they’re getting away with paying spectacularly discounted membership rates, around one-eighth of the advertised price.
So that’s about the average Scottish Labour truth strike rate, then.