Souter’s half million enables the SNP to shift gear in race to Holyrood

It might not be a game changer, but Souter’s intervention with a huge donation of £500,000 to the SNP’s election coffers, definitely moves things up a gear.

We’ve been plodding our way to the Holyrood election on donkeys.  With all polls pointing to a Labour victory, so far, it’s felt like a long, slow inevitable march with few twists and turns on the way.

Souter’s money might change all that.  It’s the equivalent of a ferrari screeching past in the fast lane, tooting its horn and leaving the donkeys for dust.  Suddenly the race is on.  Maybe.

It at least injects a little frisson, though not necessarily for the right reasons.  It rakes up memories of one of devolution’s deepest sores, the Section 28 debacle.  For those that think politics was invented in 2007, the Labour-led Scottish Executive wanted to repeal Section 2A (as it actually was), a hateful Thatcher measure which effectively banned the mention of homosexuality from local authorities and especially schools. 

There was vehement opposition to this move and Souter bankrolled their campaign.  The battle over it was visceral, pitching Labour ministers against each other, dividing families even, and Souter’s intervention has yet to be forgiven by large sections of the population.  Hence, every time he pops up with a cheque for the SNP, it attracts considerable media attention.  Few, though, are so quick to point out that Souter, through his charitable foundation, has also been a significant financial supporter of good causes in Scotland and in the developing world in recent years.

In any event, Souter has been donating to the SNP for years, even before they were famous or at least, government material.  And his largesse was even bigger in 2007 and didn’t do them any harm, so the party leadership will assure itself.  Moreover, they are using his donation to seek match funding from party supporters and members.  For every pound they donate, Souter will match it to a maximum of half a million pounds. Clever.

And suddenly, they are able to match Labour’s spend – for make no mistake, despite protestations of this being the sackcloth and ashes election, Labour is spending, especially in its key target seats – giving activists a huge filip and boosting morale.  It might even flush a few fairer weather activists, and especially donors, back into the fold.

But four years has proven to be a very long time in Scottish politics.  Financially, we are in a very different place and SNP supporters and members who could afford to donate readily in 2007 might not be so disposed or capable.  Reaching the magic million might prove more difficult this time round.  Moreover, Souter’s largesse might be less ignored by commentators and particularly, voters than four years ago.

The cod psychology goes like this – when people are looking for reasons to vote for you, they dismiss niggling doubts or small beer concerns.  They focus on the bigger picture, on the things they like about you.  When people are looking for reasons to shift their vote from you, suddenly every small detail is magnified.  People will go out of their way to focus on your annoying little habits.  The trivial and the inconsequential in the scheme of things suddenly become hugely important.  It’s a bit like the death of a love affair. 

So, while Souter’s money mattered less in 2007, it might just be the tipping point for the kind of voters the SNP needs to hold seats and stay in power.  It might only apply to a tiny amount of the electorate but in these seats, every vote will count.

And even if the magic million is reached, the SNP will need to think hard about how it spends it.  Iain Gray’s instincts that this is a different election requiring a more subtle tack are sound.  People don’t want gloss and gimmicks: they want steadfast and sure.  If the SNP uses the funding for big national show pieces, e-campaigning flummery and the promotion of Salmond as a presidential figure, it might turn people off, not on. 

Far better if they target the money wisely, in the marginals, enabling it to go doorstep to doorstep with Labour. 

In a previous life, Salmond was a renowned guerilla political fighter.  He and the SNP could reap the ultimate electoral reward of second term in government, if they use this war chest to rediscover those instincts.


14 thoughts on “Souter’s half million enables the SNP to shift gear in race to Holyrood

  1. Just reading the article:

    “Labour is also hoping to raise £1m before May, and officials said yesterday that donations were “coming in thick and fast”.

    Thick and Fast. It could almost be an epithet for Scottish Labour.

    Fast of course being the fast featured in “the true-hearted soldier…of Tippecanoe” or the fast undertaken at lent.

  2. I’m an SNP voter but am deeply uneasy about this contribution. The sooner we get religious fruit bats out of politics, the better IMHO.

    • I agree with ‘bigrab’. I still shudder to remember what Souter did. I know money is required to fight elections, but you have to draw the line somewhere.

      The SNP seem too ready to pander to religious bigots and I’m really saddened by this.

      • Me too Una, me too. But I suppose they see a needs must approach. There’s an interesting parallel with charities here, good ones of which have an ethical fundraising policy determining who they will take money from. But when I drew up such a policy for an organisation I worked for, I consulted our beneficiaries whose attitude was enlightening. They didn’t care where the money came from, as long as we used it wisely and for good purpose. The best revenge they reckoned. And there is something in that I reckon. So perhaps if the SNP were to use it “wisely” it might be less stomach churning?

        For example, some of his donation put to funding an LGBT movement and to support training and promotion of LGBT candidates?!

      • Have they pandered to his religious bigotry, though? There’s certainly a case to be made that they became a bit more, er, ambivalent about bus regulation following his donation last time, but I see no evidence that they’ve made any concessions to his Bible-bashing. In fact, the SNP supported the abolition of Section 28 despite the fact that Souter was a backer – and as I recall, he actually stopped donating for a few years because of that.

      • No I think you are right Colin. In fact there were more Labour ministers and notable commentators – Tom Brown and the Record – for one pandering to his bigotry at the time. And Labour has taken donations from much more questionable individuals.

    • I agree Rab! The only way to realise that is for state funding of parties, which is just as hard to swallow in the current climate. But at least we’d be in charge of what and how much is funded.

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  4. It’s probably not a fair comment but I’d feel the money was less tainted if he didn’t have a sister who behaves like the worst sort of laird over her land.

    • I think it is a fair comment and your misgivings are what goes with the territory of accepting big donations from individuals. What we know about them and feel about that donor and his family influences our view of the money. Scratch the surface hard enough and you’d find a reason never to accept anyone’s money! It’s a problem charities wrestle with all the time.

      Me? I’m fairly relaxed but actually don’t want any “interest group” individual or otherwise bankrolling parties and that is why I support state funding which puts them all on an equal footing and we know where they get their money from.

  5. Does the SNP have any other big donors?

    • Hi, I’m sure it does. Its other big famous name is Sean Connery but not sure he has given so much recently. And lots of much smaller ones but who give more than the £500 a year that keeps them under the radar. The Electoral Commission publishes quarterly statements of donations from all the parties.

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