Thanks to Andrew Smith for another guest post. Andrew is a Scottish born communications professional in London, who has previously blogged for us about the referendum campaign and, well, the referendum campaign. You can buy his debut novel here, or read his blog at

Bagpipes at WestminsterSince the local tremor from the Falkirk Labour Party’s candidate selection became a political earthquake, the issues of party funding and donations have been at the top of the news agenda. Following a difficult week, Ed Miliband had what may have been his best PMQs outing to date, during which he reiterated support for the largest overhaul of the Labour/Trade Union relationship for a generation and called for an individual donor limit of £5000.

SNP MP Pete Wishart berated the entire spectacle of PMQs, tweeting “Hope the Scottish people are observing this rotten Westminster and concluding that we want nothing whatsoever to do with it”, which made me think about whether funding is a Westminster issue or a UK wide one. I tweeted him back to ask if the SNP favours a cap on political donations, but he must have missed it as he didn’t reply: funnily enough neither did any of the other four SNP MPs who I tweeted the same question to.

It could be because they were all away from their desks all day, but the SNP isn’t exactly free of funding controversy. In both 2007 and 2011 roughly 50% of their total election spend was provided by the same person: Brian Souter. Souter’s views on homosexuality caused many to question if he was the sort of person any party should take money from, but that aside there were other issues. The party was accused of changing transport policy shortly after the first donation was made, to one that favoured Souter, and then the Scottish Government nominated him for a knighthood shortly after his second one. In both cases the SNP has denied influence from Souter.

This isn’t an anti-SNP point: their defence is presumably that elections cost money and that Labour has an in-built financial advantage due to union funding. This is fair, their spending in 2005 and 2010 general elections was far lower (£193k and £315k compared to the 1,141,662 in 2011). However, with the possibility of Westminster being reformed it won’t be long before someone suggests Holyrood should have the same debate.

With that in mind I have included some of the points I think are important:

  • The 2007 election saw the SNP outspending Labour by over £250,000 and winning by a solitary seat. Every penny counts!
  • In 2011 the SNP spent £57,449 more on their election campaign than Labour, Liberal Democrats and the Scottish Green Party put together.
  • With only £131,938 in 2011, the SGP had the lowest spend for any party with MSPs. Smaller parties lose out on free promotion through TV interviews etc, but if they are outspent by the bigger ones to this extent they are squeezed on the ground too.

Is this a bad thing? I think it is. When wealth distorts elections it only favours the status quo. In one fine swoop Labour has proposed cutting its own trade union funding (quite rightfully in my opinion) and made its position on a donations cap clear. Labour’s future corporate funding will only materialise if it looks like they have any chance of power, and in that instance it raises questions about why business only back winners – what do they want in exchange?

I don’t think anyone is suggesting state funding of political parties (I would ask the government if I could opt out if even 1p found its way into UKIP’s coffers) but in a modern, progressive, 21st century democracy like Scotland it seems like something should be done to address the imbalance.