The Tom and Jerry episode of the referendum campaign

It was inevitable that there would be at least one spat over donations in the independence referendum and that it would be nasty.  

We have all been treated to, what I have decided to call the Tom and Jerry episode of the campaign, with each side whacking the other over the head with a frying pan.  When the frying pan has no effect, they simply reach for a bigger one.  Slam, bam, dunk, thunk.  And a nation switches off.

If we’re really lucky, a few lessons will have been learned from this spat.  Firstly, that the two sides are not going to agree on who amounts to an acceptable donor.  Agreement on basic rules on who should be allowed to give what would have been nice but it was always a long shot.  Secondly, we should all just agree that some of the people donating to the campaigns aren’t the sort of folk we’d want to invite over for tea.  Some of them will have done things to make their money which make us want to hold our nose;  others will have dodgy beliefs that we shudder at the thought of.  Reaching for the figurative frying pans on social media sites when a donor we disapprove of is unveiled ain’t going to change a thing. Finally, this episode and a cursory glance at the historical fundraising powers of our mainstream political parties should remind those on the yes side of a basic fact – the naysayers have more money and more sources from which to raise it.  And always have.

Simple arithmetic dictates this:  in party terms, there are more of them than there are of political parties supporting independence.  By definition, they are all part of UK wide accounting units, so can tap into as much of that funding as their UK bosses will allow.  But even in purely Scottish terms, the combined funds raised by Labour, Conservatives and Liberal Democrats are at least going to equal if not surpass what the SNP can generate.  In 2012, the Scottish Green party had two donations that needed to be declared, both of them coming from their MSPs.  The SSP had none.  Better Together seems to think that the dominance of SNP funding sources in Yes Scotland is an issue for the Scottish people.  Good luck with that.

Despite being in government, the SNP has no big business bankrolling it:  it might accrue in an election year a few substantial donations from SME type businesses, but these tend to be run by longstanding party supporters and members.  Only Brian Souter comes into big business category and his donations are personal. Nor does it have annual declarable union contributions at branch, constituency and national level, the way the Labour party has.  One or two disaffected unions might make local donations to MSP candidates but little else;  there is no sign of trades unions which have disaffiliated from Labour switching allegiance to the SNP, sadly.

The only difference to the SNP’s financial backbone has been the contribution from public sources in recognition of its significant parliamentary presence, particularly at Holyrood.  But this is money paid for a specific purpose, to enable MSPs to do the job they were elected to do (though it might be pertinent to ask how the parliamentarians are making that money and what it buys in terms of payroll, work cohesively alongside the party’s and Yes Scotland’s campaign objectives towards achieving a yes vote.) 

But aside from this, the SNP continues to rely almost exclusively on its people to fund its existence:  either in death or life, most of its declarable donations come from members or supporters.  Yes Scotland is probably beginning to realise this and wishing there were more record-breaking Euro lottery winners like Chris and Colin Weir. 

So, everyone on the Yes side might care to reflect on what last week’s Tom and Jerry episode taught some and reminded others.  The pro-independence movement cannot and will not out-fundraise and out-spend the antis.  So what is required is for people to think how best to make the resources that can be mustered work to best effect.  Allow me to make a few suggestions.

The SNP might care to desist from sending its usual fundraising appeal letters to members and supporters;  what it is raising funds for, in a non-election year, other than to keep an already well-oiled machine well-oiled is beyond me.  Re-learning a little parsimony might be in order and the only appeal that should continue is the ring-fenced one for the sixteen week campaign.

All the blogs and grassroots movements in the mix of the Yes camp need to stop seeking funds to support their aims, which for some appear to be to turn a hobby into paid employment.  Each might be able to muster a respectable five-figure return from such efforts but think how much more effective all those small pots could be if turned into a six figure sum located in one place.  Economies of scale matter and no amount of crowd-sourced funding is going to enable blogs and online news outlets to compete with the mainstream media.  In any event, they are all largely raising money from the same small pool of potential donors: this isn’t sustainable.

Yes Scotland is the only game in town:  griping and gurning about it is wasted energy; withholding cash is misguided folly; trying to establish an alternative is pointless.  If you are a supporter of independence and have means at your disposal, and have not already contributed an ongoing tithe to it, why not.  If you want to win in 2014, then give until you cannot give anymore.

And for all its capacity to raise easy money and much larger amounts of it, there is one way in which the No camp can never hope to compete:  people power.  The SNP got where it is today by investing its limited resources wisely in national campaigns while relying heavily on the efforts of its people on the ground, who from economic necessity, worked out that successful campaigns can be won on a shoestring, ingenuity and shoe leather.  Not everything which works costs money:  indeed, no amount of money makes up for a dearth of activists prepared to put everything into campaigning for the attainment of a cause.  Those campaigning for a Yes vote should remember this, put the frying pans down and just get on with it.


34 thoughts on “The Tom and Jerry episode of the referendum campaign

  1. Pingback: Birth, rebirth and renewal – maybe Spring has arrived at last – Scottish Roundup

  2. McFascist – I’d be quite happy to be scrutinised. I don’t play the market or do deals in war torn countries.I am a bog standard PAYE average wage earning average person. As are most people who donate to political campaigns or parties. We are the kind of people who don’t even get the opportunity to do anything questionable financially. We wouldn’t know how to minimise our tax because it just gets taken off our wages at the end of the month. And we pay our council tax because we know we should and if we don’t we’ll get a visit from the sheriff officers. That’s how most folks live. Doesn’t need that much scrutiny tbh. I confess I have used foreign coins a couple of times as change for the bus.

  3. If this article is intended to tell people where they should be donating their money, I’m not sure it’s had the desired effect.

    It reminds me a bit of the head teacher scolding the pupils. I am sure you mean well Kate, but this article is patronising beyond belief.

  4. The prospect of the yes & no campaigns forensically examining the backgrounds of 16,000 donors over the next year and a bit, and ritually slagging-off those with a criminal record etc. is hardly an enthralling prospect. If the campaigns disappeared down that route, the next thrilling chapter in the bore-a-thon could be whether the guy that runs international hedge-funds that gave one of the campaigns £250,000 ever invested in the oil trading organisation that gave one of the campaigns £500,000, etc, etc, ad infinitum.

    • Well they won’t be. Only large donors are scrutinised.Most people give small amounts.

      • Sorry – I think I equated individuals with companies, which would probably be libelous.

        Anyway, if a collection of individuals donate £1MM, and an individual donates £1MM, they should all be subject to the same scrutiny, ie does it comply with the agreed donation rules? If it does, then that is the end of the story. If people think they will be subject to interrogation by internet, people would not donate to causes they believe in, whether it be referendum campaigns, or Oxfam.

    • You must be a No-Man, because only such would make a puerile comment like that above. We only need to and should examine the bona fides of the largest donors. And on that basis the YES campaign wins hands down.

      • I am agreeing with the burd.

        The general agenda of this donations bandwagon appears to be about which campaign has more / less grassroots support, in terms of donations vs. who is bankrolled by the wealthy & large organisations. I think that the current answer is that both campaigns appear to have quite a low level of grassroots support, in terms of donations, when the gravity of the subject is taken into account.

        Sorry, but bona fides only become relevant where there are questions of individuals influencing political policy by means of donations, and I don’t think that is an issue here.

    • “Sorry, but bona fides only become relevant where there are questions of individuals influencing political policy by means of donations, and I don’t think that is an issue here.”

      What!? So Taylor is not trying to influence political policy? Aye right. He is doing it because he likes to give people money. And let us not forget the 2nd largest donor to the Bitter campaign. One CJ Sansom who contributed £161,000 and who also will not be able to vote in the Referendum. What does he want for his money? He has a long history of having farcical ideas about history and an obsessive hatred against the SNP and Scottish Independence. He is lucky Taylor is taking all the heat.

  5. “All the blogs and grassroots movements in the mix of the Yes camp need to stop seeking funds to support their aims, which for some appear to be to turn a hobby into paid employment. Each might be able to muster a respectable five-figure return from such efforts but think how much more effective all those small pots could be if turned into a six figure sum located in one place.”

    I take it that means the little “Donate” button on the top right corner of takes you straight to the YesScotland donation page then? I mean, it would be pretty hypocritical if it turned out that takes you to PayPal asking for a donation towards a non-YesScotland website…

    I’ve always thought one of the strengths of the Yes campaign is that there are a mixture of groups and sites promoting the cause. We have the official body, which promotes the message aimed at the broadest spectrum of society, and tries to “play a good game” at all times.

    But then we also have the unofficial groups, who can focus on more niche audiences and, when the situation calls for it, can play the part of attack dogs, thus leaving YesScotland to keep its nose clean. Compare and contrast the two official campaigns last week – BetterTogether posted a ridiculously over-the-top blog firing shots at various targets, while YesScotland just get on with trying to promote their message. Repeat over and over for 17 months, and you have one campaign looking like petulant fools, and the other able to hold its head up high.

    The reason this can happen is because YesScotland doesn’t need to “get its hands dirty” so to speak, and that’s because of other places like National Collective, Newsnet Scotland and Wings Over Scotland doing it for them. BetterTogether, on the other hand, has to do it themselves, because there are no prominent unionist websites or groups out there. But it’s not enough to expect these people to do it for free (or, more accurately, at considerable personal cost – especially if you get so popular that your server keeps falling down), so it’s good to fund them to keep up the good work. Even if it’s just the odd tenner here and there to help with admin costs.

  6. Has the burd been taking what Euan Mccolm has been on?

  7. Exactly. They may have the money. We have the army – and it has to be said that we opened a small shop in Dunoon as a YES Centre more in hope than expectation and have never looked back. Since we opened it it has cost over £2000 and cost us a weekly sum all of which we are now comfortably exceeding and producing a surplus – most of this from small momthly S/Os and small daily donations by people who come in.

  8. This article has certainly given me food for thought, though I am not sure I entirely agree with your view that “[i]All the blogs and grassroots movements in the mix of the Yes camp need to stop seeking funds to support their aims, which for some appear to be to turn a hobby into paid employment[/i]”.

    Whilst I can see your point of view, I am also struck by an apparent need for people to seek out alternative news as the main stream media appear to be persistently reluctant to report anything positive regarding the Yes campaign and appear to be hell bent on discrediting the Independence movement, with a total disregard for truth.

    A few, I haven’t read them all, of the online news blog sites. Often take another look at the current news stories and point out the failings of the original reports. I have yet to see the official Yes Scotland group directly tackle or challenge the false news stories that take prominence of the main stream media. So, I have contributed financially to one such news blog and have contributed a lesser amount to the official Yes Scotland group for the simple reason I currently get more information from the blogs than from Yes Scotland. I really believe that Yes Scotland needs to be more challenging of the media. To see Blair Jenkins telling a BBC journalist that he has no complaints over their handling of the Independence debate while there are protests of quite obvious bias, worries me deeply.

  9. The Burd and the likes of Euan McColl are spitting feathers that WOS has been able to raise the money it has to fund the WOS website. That is the reason behind all the animosity we are seeing on Twitter. That and the smoke screen to cover up donations from people who deal with mass murderers and avoid paying taxes. The UKOKs are up to their nostrils in filth, and floundering badly. The lies pouring out of them now are subject to the law of diminishing returns, as the trend swings behind the Yes camp. The public are sick and tired of their negative sniping and lies, it is all going very badly wrong. Alex Salmond was right to wait until 2014, by then UKOK will be toast.

    • That is Euan McColm, who seems to have sobered up and removed all comments to his twitter hate fest on Scotland on Sunday.

    • Twitter is not real life and will influence only a small number of people because the vast majority of people who engage politically on twitter have already decided how they are going to vote – they are already partisan. I think Wings over Scotland is a good and well researched website and I totally understand why the guy behind it is outraged at being called a racist, a misogynist, a homophobe etc.However I think people should refrain from being drawn into personal debates with journalists and No campaign people. It is pointless. The journalists are just trolling and the No people are by definition partisan. Better to just tweet the links – get the information out there to people who are genuinely undecided.They are the ones who matter.

      • Those are wise words, Indy. Although as the host of this very site is sadly one of those regularly found lambasting Wings Over Scotland with the exact sort of smears you mention, I’m not sure you can say it’s only the No camp that are trolling our own team.

        I tend to agree with other commenters that the call not to donate to non-official campaigns smacks a little of personal spite/jealousy (particularly the line about turning a hobby into a job, which can only be directed at one person), and that’s unworthy of a respected Yes voice like Kate. She clearly has a huge problem with Wings, and I can’t help feeling it’d be better for all of us if she kept it to herself and focused her attacks on the real enemy.

        As it is, she seems keener to align herself with those on the other side whose reasons for trying to discredit Wings are easier to understand, which is concerning.

  10. I am having a problem trying to understand where you are coming from here, it seems to me there is suggestion that the yes campaign have received dodgy donations which is not the case at all, not sure how to take this post

  11. The above article is absolute nonsense. And it is supposedly written by a supporter of Independence. Well if she’s a friend we don’t need any enemies. I cannot understand why she tries to put the donors to the YES campaign on a par with those from the Bitter people. There is no comparison. ALL of YES Scotland’s money comes from within Scotland whereas the bulk of the No-Men’s money is from England and from only two people who won’t have a vote in the Referendum campaign. To crown matters the largest donation to the Bitter No-Men is from a Mr Ian Taylor the shabby Britnatz donor of £500,000 supposedly a Scotsman, but who has never lived here and there are now doubts that he was even born here, employer of Serbian hitman Arkan, tax dodger and CEO of Vitol at the time of its conviction in a US court for Grand Larceny.
    Also she writes even more nonsense about the contributors to the Blogs Wing over Scotland, Newsnet Scotland and National Collection. I contributed to all of them so that the Independence voice could be heard just as loudly on the Internet as the Bitter peoples’ is in the dying traditional media. The contributions to those three outlets will achieve far more than if they had been given to the YES campaign. And the proof … the fact that they are all currently under vicious attack by the dead tree press and the lawyers of Taylor and the Bitter NO campaign. And it ill behoves a supposed supporter of Independence to help them in that.

  12. Appreciate the thought in the article, but don’t agree on the idea of pooling all donations into the one Yes Scotland pot, or of encouraging grassroots websites to stop asking for donations. Take two prominent grassroots/crowd-funded sites; Wings Over Scotland and National Collective. These each provide something Yes Scotland is neither interested in doing, nor able to do. So there would be no economy of scale, because their aims and methods cannot be amalgamated with Yes Scotland.

    • Taken together both have raised barely £30k, not enough to sustain either one. If there was a central pot held by Yes, which could then distribute sums to blogs and sites which want/need funding that might make the money go further? And if you think that blogsites like these are going to help win a yes vote, interesting though they are, then you are very sadly wrong. All they do is sook up resources better deployed elsewhere.

      • Sorry, I think you haven’t quite grasped my point, because your response doesn’t address it.

        On the one hand you apparently don’t think these blogs/sites should be funded at all, because they “won’t help win a Yes vote”. What on earth gives you that idea? They’re only “interesting” to you? What does that even mean, if not that they might say something persuasive or informative about this debate?

        On the other hand you seem to advocate Yes Scotland disbursing funds to support blogs and sites it might deem worthy of funds. This is exactly what we *do not* want: a centrally-controlled, single-flavour, campaign.

        “And if you think that blogsites like these are going to help win a yes vote, interesting though they are, then you are very sadly wrong. All they do is sook up resources better deployed elsewhere.” Are we to understand this is therefore your last blogpost?

      • This seems to be a reply to at least part of my comment. What evidence do you have for stating … “And if you think that blogsites like these are going to help win a yes vote, interesting though they are, then you are very sadly wrong.”? They will at the very least garner more votes to the YES campaign than your blog. And the amount of resources they have sucked up is, at about £40,000 (not £30,000) so far, negligible in the context of the YES campaign’s fund of nigh on £2.0 m.
        Anyway, are you sure you really are an Independence supporter? The YES campaign has the NO crowd on the run over its donations and then you come along with the above article which contributes nothing except to muddy the water. Was that deliberate? Or are you really clueless about politics?
        And what is it with bringing Brian Souter into the mix? He hasn’t contributed to the YES campaign yet you imply in a few comments btl that he would be an unsuitable donor to the YES campaign. Why? Because he is anti-homosexual? Surely he is just as entitled to his opinion about homosexuality as gay people are to theirs. Or is it now a case of … agree with us or else.

  13. It is about publicity – the SNP will be putting out information as well as Yes. I know what you mean about counter-intuitive and I would prefer if we could avoid it but people do keep asking those questions!

  14. I don’t understand this article at all. It seems to be founded on the premise that the anti-independence campaign has raised more money than Yes Scotland. This is an entirely false premise.

    It also seems to assume some sort equivalence between the two campaigns in terms of “dodgy donations”. But there is no such equivalence. There are no question marks over any donations received by Yes Scotland. The same certainly cannot be said of Better Together.

    • No it’s not. It’s founded on the premise that Better Together will be able to muster far greater sums over the piece – it was always thus. Not a single union or UK party has made a donation to the campaign yet, that will change. Everyone on the Yes side has to raise over £2m for the 16 week campaign alone, with no big backers. Double that for the whole campaign – do-able? Not if everyone is putting small amounts into a range of enterprises.

      And while Souter’s money will be welcome by some, when it comes, it will be criticised by the No lot and some on the yes side will accept it out of necessity rather than joy.

      • Yet another false premise. This time, the notion that it’s all about the amount of money that can be raised. As if that was the point of the exercise and not the constitutional issue at all. Even supposing it was true that Better Together has access to loadsa “easy money” and that Yes Scotland cannot even hope for big backers that in itself does not mean the latter is at a disadvantage.

        All that is being counted here are donations to the main campaign organisations. No account is taken of the different nature of those organisations. Better Together needs more cash in the central pot because that pot has to pay for everything. Most of the work of the Yes campaign is being done at grass-roots level without recourse to funding from Yes Scotland. It wouldn’t surprise me if a reckoning of the aggregate value of the resources held by various Yes groups equalled what has been collected by the people at Hope Street.

        It is foolish to discount the donations to various pro-independence organisations simply because that money isn’t boosting the coffers of Yes Scotland. And just as foolish to assume that it will not be used effectively to win Yes votes just because it’s not being spent by Yes Scotland.

  15. “The pro-independence movement cannot and will not out-fundraise and out-spend the antis.”

    Uh, so far it’s out-fundraised them by about 3:2, and it took a massive dodgy donation from outside Scotland to get the antis that high. Why so negative?

    • As the blogpost points out, simple arithmetic – there are 3 big UK parties to one big Scottish based one. They can pile much more money into this – and they will if they see momentum towards a yes. We are a long way from the finish line, wait and see what is to come.

      • No matter what “simple arithmetic” is telling you, the reality may be quite different.

        There will be a Westminster election in 2015 whatever happens in September 2014 and I don’t think there’s any chance that Conservative, Labour and Lib Dem HQs will forget that for a second. Right now you can get an idea of where it sits with the Tories from Cameron’s decision to offer a “cast iron” guarantee (some conditions apply) of an EU referendum post-2015. We come somewhere below UKIP in Cameron’s calculations. Nice!

        So does that mean that the Euroelections in 2014 – when UKIP may be expected to do quite well in some areas based on past performance – will be a higher priority that the referendum? Only time will tell, but wouldn’t it be nice if it was?

  16. I should add I am not making any allegations there about anyone – don’t want anyone to get into trouble! Least of all me. I have no idea whether allegations that have been made are true and since it looks likely to be settled in court have no comment. My general point is that there should be a high level of interest in political donations and where money comes from. If they influence political campaigns we should know the source of all funding, which brings with it the likelihood of intensive scrutiny.

    • I agree but this isn’t the campaign to fix that! People will take money from wherever they can get it, this will be the most expensive campaign ever fought in Scotland because the stakes are so high. I like that just as little as you do but it is what it is. Post the referendum, we can campaign for rules changes.

  17. I think there are serious issues around the Vitol saga but let’s leave that to one side.

    Looked at purely cynically this is good politics for Yes and in particular for the SNP.

    1. It pretty much kills the Brian Souter attack – in my opinion. I could be wrong but in future if anyone says to me the SNP are terrible because they took money from Brian Souter, well, actually I don’t think they WILL say that in future. They won’t be able to because they know what the response will be.

    2. It means everyone who makes a substantial donation to either side will know that they will be looked at very closely. That will benefit the Yes camp primarily since, as you say, the British establishment is far more likely to sponsor the No campaign. But some of them may think twice if they believe they will be subject to a high level of scrutiny. Although this is politically expedient for the Yes campaign it is also A Good Thing in itself as people donating to political campaigns should actually be squeaky clean no matter what side they are on.

    3. A lot of people on the left of the Better Together camp are uncomfortable with the degree to which the Tories are funding it and are wondering why exactly are we in the same camp as these guys? Over time this uneasiness can only increase – again, this is just my opinion but based on people I know in the Labour Party who would, I think, prefer an entirely separate Labour campaign on this issue which emphasises different things and promises more in the way of change. I really don’t know anyone who joined the Labour Party to wave a union jack and take money from Tory donors. It makes them very uncomfortable.

    Re your point about the SNP holding money back – I think there is a case for this because the SNP can say things about issues like NATO, the currency and monarchy etc which Yes Scotland cannot. These issues are controversial,yes, but I think the SNP has done a lot of research and identified them as being important in securing a convincing Yes vote. But quite rightly Yes Scotland cannot produce materials which espouse SNP policies so the SNP will do that. It is all going towards a Yes vote so it is fine by me.

    • I agree with much of what you say especially the uneasy bedfellows bit.

      Re the SNP – how does the party need money to do these policy things? Especially when it has government machinery to help with some of that. And a legion of researchers and parliamentary assistants etc in Holyrood. That is my point – all the brainpower is there and on the payroll, doesn’t need more money spent on it, just more co-ordination of who doing what and contributing what. The SNP has to be able to spend what it is allowed to match Yes Scotland’s limits to even get close to a level playing field for the 16 week campaign. And the SNP setting out policies for indy Scotland is almost counter-intuitive to the idea of what a yes vote means in 2014. But that’s a whole separate debate!

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