Party Memberships or Put Your Money Where Your Vote Is

Earlier in the year there was a bit of a kerfuffle over political party membership levels in the UK today, when the Green Party abruptly became the 3rd biggest nationwide (or 4th biggest overall) political party in terms of membership levels.

Still ahead of them were the Scottish National Party (Scotland only), the Tories and Labour.

This prompted a thought about an alternative way of doing polling, which unfortunately only got half-compiled before boredom set in and the author wandered off to paint a picture of a bridge instead.

The logic is that it is reasonably likely that members of a political party will then proceed to vote for that political party. From this we can randomly assume that they each have about the same number of hangers-on and floating voters relative to paid-up members – which is not guaranteed, but neither is the average pollsters assumption that they haven’t entirely coincidentally just managed to ring up and poll the nation’s entire UKIP support base – and extrapolate some degree of support.

A couple of days before this blogpost was originally written, party membership looked like this:

  • Lab – 190,000
  • Tory – 149,800
  • SNP – 92,000
  • Lib-Dem – 44,576
  • Green – 42,500
  • UKIP – 41,943
  • Plaid – 8,000
  • Others – about 8,000
  • Total – 577,000 (thereabouts).

Membership therefore breaks down into the following percentages:

  • Lab – 33%
  • Tory – 26%
  • SNP – 16%
  • Lib-Dem – 8%
  • Green – 7%
  • UKIP – 7%
  • Plaid – 1%
  • Others – 1%
  • Total – 99% (wonderful thing, rounding off to a round figure).

According to the Beeb’s electoral calculator this gives us:

  • Lab – 381 seats
  • Tory – 202 seats
  • Lib-Dems – 36 seats
  • Others – 31 seats

Note that the Lib-Dem figure, as if to back this up in some way, is not too far off general expectations. However, this somewhat fails to reflect that the SNP’s 16% of the party membership is largely concentrated on the 8% of the population who live in Scotland. The initial mental response is to assume that means that if party membership is twice as high in Scotland as anywhere else in the country that still translates into 100% of Scottish party members are in the SNP.

The initial check of this was to knock 92% off all the other figures (to cover the 92% of the population not living in Scotland – except for Plaid, who we can eliminate altogether) and see what happens. Mostly it got a Green figure half the size of the known Green figure (the Scottish Green Party declares separately) plus everyone else was so much less popular than the SNP that it looks unfair. So let’s assume that party membership is twice as popular in Scotland – which, given the recent referendum making the nation politics-mad, is not unreasonable:

  • Lab – 30,400
  • Tory – 23,968
  • SNP – 90,000 (to allow for a few Sassenach members)
  • Lib-Dem – 7132
  • Green – 7,950 (about 1,000 higher than multiplying the overall figures by 0.16);
  • UKIP – 6,800
  • Others – about 1,280
  • Total – 167,530 (thereabouts).

This gives the Scots Nats a trifle over 50% of the vote, which aligns with their performance in the Scottish Parliament, and the Tories about 12% of the vote, which isn’t that far off their Scottish Parliament performance either. It is quite reasonable that the 45% of the population who backed independence will transfer en bloc to the party that supports independence in the election, and it is not impossible that a reasonable proportion of people who don’t support independence will also reckon that the SNP have interesting policies, that they failed to get their referendum through so are inherently harmless, or that voting SNP in Gordon Brown’s old seat will annoy Labour. It also suggests that nobody should be in too much of a rush to assume that their party will win an election off the back of their own performance in Scotland, though they might do quite well because their opposition is roundly crushed there.

It does mean that the minimum Scots Nats performance would be 50% of the Scottish seats and the maximum, if this vote was spread evenly across the country, would be the whole lot – a result which is not seriously quoted, but which is occasionally murmured about.

Bearing in mind that the SNP’s independence referendum did rather well in the Labour stronghold of Glasgow, it is not wholly impossible that after the election Labour will have as many seats in Scotland as the Tories. It is also not impossible that an incomplete transfer of votes from Labour to the SNP combined with side campaigns about voting Tory to keep the SNP out of government will hand the Tories another seat, but the Tories shouldn’t rush to place bets on that.

Knocking the SNP out of the equation still leaves Labour with the most party members by some margin and even losing 50 Scottish seats would still leave them with 331 on the Beeb’s electoral calculator – which, for anyone not following politics but still reading this post, is an overall majority.

Of 16.

But probably supported to some extent by the SNP.

Of course, there is the faintest possibility that, based on relative Labour/ Tory performances in Scotland, Labour membership in Scotland is a much higher proportion of total membership than Tory membership in Scotland (this figure was not declared by these parties). In which case the Labour members and supporters in Scotland are all piled up where they can’t do their party any good, while the 140,000 Tory members in England and proportionate hangers-on, floating voters etc will hand the Tories the election. This does, however, require Labour to have a very disproportionately large number of their members in Scotland – but is not unlikely proportion-wise for the Tories.

Although anyone following the election and believing all the guff about the SNP naturally supporting the Labour Party should remember that the SNP is trying to talk Labour voters into harmlessly giving their vote to Nicola Sturgeon’s lot, that the Tories are trying to scare you – and that the party which launched the vote of No Confidence in the Commons that ended James Callaghan’s Labour premiership in 1979 was, in point of fact, the SNP.


On a more recent note, the New Statesman has a (rather good) cartoon on its cover of No. 4472 Flying Scotsman, with Nicola Sturgeon and Alex Salmond on the running boards, bearing down on Ed Miliband and David Cameron tied to the rails.

There is a certain additional humour to this, in that Scotsman is a bag of nails, has not run in over 10 years and has repeatedly failed to appear at advertised times.


Incidentally, Russell Brand wants you to go out and vote.

I think I might abstain now…


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