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.