We were very pleased to hear Gary Robertson challenge Kezia Dugdale on the curious matter of Scottish Labour’s membership and income figures on today’s Good Morning Scotland. Dugdale flapped and dodged and waffled for as long as she could before diverting the topic onto federalism, and eventually managed to wriggle away from the subject without any sort of proper answer (through no fault of Robertson’s).
(Good Morning Scotland, BBC Radio Scotland, 24 February 2017)
But what she said just made the situation MORE confusing, not less.
After repeating the flat-out lie that the SNP was funded by “lottery winners and bus tycoons” – and we’re not sure what’s wrong with being a lottery winner – Dugdale told Robertson that the regional branch office had around 20,000 “members and registered supporters” in 2016.
Registered supporters are a special category of non-party-members who pay a one-off fee (currently £25) in order to be able to vote in a leadership election. As far as we’re aware that status is only available when there’s a leadership election on – the window for signing up in 2016 was just 48 hours long, and to all intents and purposes the status ends when the leadership election is over.
It’s actually very hard to find anything out about the scheme from Labour’s website – the only options offered are to either join up as a full member or donate money with no mention of receiving anything in return. By Googling you can find a page offering the chance to “sign up as a supporter”, but it makes no mention of cost or voting rights, and you have to already be a member of an affiliated organisation.
If you say you’re not one of those you get redirected to the normal Join page asking you to become a full member for £48 a year. If you tick one of the organisations you get an email saying that they’re going to check up on you and make sure that’s true.
(The subject line explicitly mentions “Labour Leadership Election”.)
So if Dugdale is including such people in her claim, those people aren’t “members” in any real sense. They were temporarily classed as supporters – explicitly NOT actual members – but that status expired after the leadership election last September.
More importantly, it still doesn’t explain the income figures, because if they paid £25 for temporary registered-supporter status in 2016, that’s actually slightly MORE than the £24 they would have paid if they were a full member at the discounted rate for young people, the unemployed, pensioners and trade unionists.
It’s notable, incidentally, that Dugdale’s claim in the interview of a £1 rate for students appears to be another lie. The student rate is three times that according to Scottish Labour’s own website.
(Nor can we find much in the way of evidence for her assertion that other parties have £1 membership – the SNP’s cheapest option is £5 for the unemployed (£12 for working members), the Scottish Lib Dems’ minimum is £6 (students/unemployed) with an eye-watering £75 as the “recommended” sum, and the Scottish Tories have no fixed minimum but ask for £20, and the Greens’ concession rate is £5.)
We were trying to find out how many “registered supporters” had signed up in Scotland for the 2016 leadership election when we stumbled across something interesting.
In September 2015, right after the first Corbyn leadership election, Dugdale gave an interview to the Scotsman in which she claimed, in a helpfully detailed manner, that the party’s total all-categories membership was almost 30,000.
Popular activist and BBC pundit Duncan Hothersall reiterated the same figures early in 2016 on the party-approved Labour Hame blog.
And that tells us a whole lot of stuff.
Firstly, it suggests that if Dugdale is now saying 20,000 is the total figure for all kinds of full/affiliated membership, then Scottish Labour has LOST a third of its members in 13 months, rather than being at the highest level since 1997 as she claimed.
Secondly, it suggests that if the June 2016 numbers for registered supporters were anywhere in the same ballpark as the September 2015 ones, then the income from those alone would have been 3,285 x £25 = £82,125.
(That would be a very conservative estimate, as around 140,000 people in the whole UK successfully signed up as registered Labour supporters for the 2016 leadership vote, and a pro-rata Scottish share of that would be just under 12,000. But we know it has to be under 5,000 or they’d have paid more money by themselves than Scottish Labour have declared as total membership income for the entire year.)
Given that we know total membership income for the year was £120,000 that would leave just £38,000 in fees from the other 17,000-odd members Scottish Labour claim to have – an average of just £2.24 per member, less than even the £3 student rate.
Alternatively, if we were to theorise for the sake of argument that all of the proper full party members were paying the discounted £24 rate then that total remaining income of £38,000 would equate to just 1,583 members.
Or if half were on the £3 student rate and the other half were on the £24 discount rate, that would give Scottish Labour a total of 2,815 members.
If you take an average, assuming an equal three-way split between £48 full members, £24 discount members and £3 student/armed forces members, that comes out almost the same as everyone being on the half-price rate – exactly £25, or 1,520 members.
If you divide the 17,000 pro-rata according to Dugdale’s 2015 figures – which if true suggest 2.4 full members to every trade union member – that would give you 5000 union members at £24 and 12,000 full members at £48. Those figures ought to deliver £696,000 in membership income rather than £38,000 or even £120,000.
What all this tells us is that however you slice it there’s basically no plausible way of squaring Scottish Labour’s claim to have 21,000 “members” with its own declared revenue from that membership. The numbers can only be made to add up if at least 87% of its membership are students and soldiers paying £3 a year and everyone else is on the half-price discount rate, with not a single full-price member.
87% at £3 rate = 18,270 members = £54,810
15% at £24 rate = 2,730 members = £65,520
Total = £120,330
That calculation assumes NO registered supporters at £25. If there were even 3,000 of them in 2016 in among that 21,000 – and if so the figures would be dishonest anyway, since those people are in no conceivable sense “members” now – then it’s literally impossible to make the figures add up, because even every single remaining member being a student would produce more money than the party has actually declared as its membership income.
We’re grateful that Gary Robertson raised the issue on the radio this morning. But the mystery of Scottish Labour’s membership remains an unsolved and deeply suspect one. We can say with pretty much total certainty that the party is lying about either its membership or its income (or both). The only real question is which.