SNP reveals membership has fallen by 30,000 in last two years
Membership of the SNP has plummeted by more than 30,000 in the past two years, the party has confirmed.
The figure was revealed as outgoing leader Nicola Sturgeon stressed the party is not “in crisis” as concerns were raised by two leadership candidates over the integrity of the vote to replace her.
The SNP hierarchy has been under pressure in recent days to release the membership figure, with all three candidates in the leadership race backing the move.
The party announced on Thursday that the membership had dropped to 72,186 as of February 15 this year, compared to 103,884 in 2021.
Membership sat at around 125,000 in 2018, meaning more than 50,000 party members have left in five years.
A spokesperson for the party said: “After many years of delivering for people across Scotland and working towards a better future as an independent country, the SNP remains the biggest – and indeed the only mass membership – party in Scotland.
“We remain grateful to our large and committed membership for all their support, which has done so much to fuel our electoral success.”
Change of direction
Michelle Thomson, manager of Kate Forbes’s campaign for the SNP leadership, said the “plummeting” figures show “the party needs a change in direction”.
She added: “Kate Forbes is the candidate offering a new start for Scotland – continuity won’t cut it.
“We need candour on the challenges facing the party and government, but we also need competence to fix them.”
Meanwhile rival candidate Ash Regan said in a cryptic statement: “I get things done.”
On Twitter, her campaign questioned if the drop in membership – which Ms Regan linked to the controversial gender reforms pushed by the Scottish Government – was a reason for Ms Sturgeon’s resignation.
The post read: “We are pleased to learn that SNP HQ has released the membership numbers, following Ash Regan’s call for greater party transparency.
“This victory for transparency demonstrates once again that Ash Regan is the candidate who gets things done.
“However, it is important to note that there has been a significant reduction in membership numbers since October 2022, following the Gender Recognition Reform (GRR) fiasco.
“This was due to the previous administration’s resistance to listening to reason on the protection of women and girls.
“Such a significant drop in membership numbers must have been what quickened the outgoing First Minister’s resignation.”
The announcement comes after the campaigns of Ms Forbes and Ms Regan called for an independent auditor to oversee the election, citing a need for transparency.
Asked by journalists after First Minister’s Questions on Thursday if the SNP is “in crisis”, Ms Sturgeon said: “No, it is not.
“My party is having a democratic leadership election – growing pains for any organisation can be painful, but they are important.
“I think it’s incumbent for the three candidates standing to succeed me that they remember the task is to retain the trust of the Scottish people that we have won consistently over, not just the eight years of my leadership, but consistently since 2007.”
Asked if there should be an independent auditor appointed, the First Minister said the company currently undertaking the election process – Southampton-based Mi-Voice – is independent and has been used in selection processes for three SNP deputy leadership elections, “a range of internal elections” and for candidate selections.
Ms Sturgeon went on to say she is unclear about the allegations being made by the campaigns of Ms Forbes and Ms Regan.
“This is a tried and tested process that the party has trusted for years,” she said
“As far as I can tell, there are no specific concerns being raised, it’s a general concern, and I don’t think that general concern is justified.
“I have confidence, I have 100% confidence, in the integrity of that system.”
In a statement, an SNP spokesperson shot down the calls for an independent auditor, saying: “All three leadership candidates were successful in parliamentary selection contests using exactly the same voting system and independent ballot services firm.
“The national secretary has again confirmed all necessary safeguards are in place to protect the integrity of the ballot.”
It is understood that no-one in the SNP has access to live data from Mi-Voice, with the result to be sent to national secretary Lorna Finn after ballots close on March 27.
Ms Finn is also understood to have written to the three candidates offering a meeting on the operation of the election rules.
Also speaking to journalists after FMQs, Ms Regan was unable to give any specific examples of issues with the voting system. A senior source in her campaign last week said there were worries about votes from deceased party members or those who have allowed their membership to expire.
Addressing the use of Mi-Voice, Ms Regan said: “They are an independent company but they’re also on contract to the SNP.
“Just for the sake of increased transparency, my view is it should be a separate company that the SNP don’t have an ongoing relationship with, and we’ve also called for an independent observer, just to oversee the process.”
Asked if raising concerns without specific allegations is similar to the actions of former US president Donald Trump – who continues to cast doubt on the result of the 2020 US election – Ms Regan said: “No, I don’t think so.”
But the concerns were dismissed by fellow candidate Humza Yousaf, who hit out at the “baseless smears”.
He said on Twitter: “I have confidence in the process that uses an external third party company, a process we have used for many years.
“I am up for challenge & reform of the party, but let’s not indulge in baseless smears.”
SNP president Mike Russell tweeted that he has “full confidence” in the “external verification” of the election, adding that any allegations to the contrary “aids our enemies”.
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