Has the SNP Dominance in Scotland set involvement in Politics backwards?

One of the biggest results in the SNP dominance of politics in Scotland has been the decline in members and participation in the other older established parties in Scotland.

Now I completely understand that in many ways the utter incompetence of the other parties, namely the Conservatives, Labour and the Scottish Liberal Democrats, has added to that situation. Their failure to engage with voters, their old boys networks, their policies and perceived betrayal of Scotland’s needs over their own have helped bring about this situation. Add in the bias nature of our media and you have the perfect storm.

But is it good for our democracy and our politics.

While the membership of the SNP has soared since the referendum the other parties would have appeared to suffer, although they are all secretive about their membership numbers the estimates below show the state that the parties are in.

Labour in Scotland 14,000 approx members.
SNP 100,000 members.
The Conservatives 11,000 approx members.
The Scottish Liberal Democrats 3,000 approx members.
The Green Party 9,000 approx members.

None of this of course is the SNP’s fault in any shape or form, the other parties have failed to grasp that Scotland has changed and in many ways Scottish people are no longer willing to be the after thought of the London HQ’s of the other parties. But is the SNP dominance in Scotland good for our democracy?

Overall the SNP Government has been as good, if not better, than the previous Governments at Holyrood. While I have concerns around Police Scotland, the super data base, the centralisation of power and the dictating to local councils around the Council Tax freeze their record does stand up against all of the others.

However, the lack of debate, the lack of quality opposition in Holyrood, the failure of the other parties to change and engage with voters is resulting in a bit of a vacuum in Scotland. Without proper and effective opposition the Scottish Government and Holyrood in general will become stale and bad decisions will become the result of that.

Now I am a member of the Scottish Liberal Democrats and since I have been a member of the Dundee Party I have been pleasantly surprised by the acceptance of differing opinions within the Party, the standard of debate, the welcome I received as a YES voting Liberal and the general desire to make Dundee and Scotland a better place. I have however been disappointed with the party at the national level. They have failed to learn any lessons at all from the referendum and the result last May.

However those aspirations for proper opposition cannot and will not be met if the opposition parties don’t change or attract members who are not nationalists but who want to see change in how our politics are done. While the referendum engaged and informed many in the debate, brought about a surge in SNP membership, the failure of the other parties to learn from their mistakes has resulted in this dangerous vacuum.

Better Together may have won the referendum but they lost the overall argument by being found to be Westminster’s parties in Scotland.

I have no love for Labour or the Conservatives and have mixed feelings in many ways about the Scottish Liberal Democrats but I understand that the continued failure of those parties to engage with voters and to welcome differing opinions is resulting in a democratic deficit in Scotland that is not good in long-term.

We need debate in our politics and in our political parties, we need to welcome differing voices but we also need to get involved. This post is a plea in many ways, no matter how you voted in the Referendum or the recent General Election, no matter if you are a YES or a NO in the constitutional debate I would urge you to get involved, to express your opinion. Right now in Scotland we have two polar extremes, there is the SNP and there is Westminster, that is not good for debate, it is not good for policy development, and it is not good for political engagement. Even if you don’t feel you want to join a party then blog if you can, express your opinion, write to your local councilor, MSP, MP or MEP. If we want change we have to engage, and if the politicians won’t engage with us then we need to change the parties from within.

Just a thought.



  1. tris

    Well, as you say it is not the fault of the SNP.

    I think there is quite good engagement. Certainly far better than in the UK.

    People have been kinda laughing at Labour for the continual stream of policies to be paid from the non reduction of APD (which has been pointed out over and over again doesn’t exist).

    And now tax to poor to make up for the rebates to the rich in the likes of Google.

    I honestly don’t know that the Liberals sand for apart from the fact that they seem to think that whatever the SNP does is bad.

    The Tories…well, they stand for whatever Jeremy Hunt and IDS are doing.

    I think.

    If people don’t know about then Tories and Labour it’s not for the lack of information in the papers. I accept that the Liberals and the Greens don’t get the same level of coverage, becasue they have no compliant press, and the best Liberal blog seems to have gone quiet.

    it is a pity that the opposition is so poor. That said, I want a majority so that we can push forward to our goal of independence.

    • grumpyscottishman


      I can see your logic as far as a future yes vote goes but the lack of opposition and engagement is not a good thing in the long run, the SNP need opposition to keep them on their toes but it’s hardly their fault the other parties are shit.

      I would just like to see more people take an interest and get involved.

      Thanks for commenting.


  2. lanark

    Good points. A democracy needs good opposition and sadly Scotland only has venal opposition for oppositions’ sake at the moment.

    Since the referendum, politics in Scotland has polarised into Unionist and Nationalist. Similar to N. Ireland but thankfully without the violence. The Nationalist side are well catered for at the moment, but what of the Unionist side? They cannot continue to simply mirror the Westminster model.

    As a former Labour voter, I hope they disappear. The Tories I have little time for, but hardline Unionists and right wingers have a right to a voice (we are a democracy remember). That leaves the LibDems, perhaps a separate Scottish party (Social Democratic Liberal Party?) advocating proper Home Rule or Independence with Liberal values may have a chance to grow.

    For the time being, I will vote SNP.

    • grumpyscottishman


      I agree, the lack of a proper opposition I just think longer term is not good. I remain a YES voter but the way to achieve it is by showing competence and good governance, which the SNP have mostly showed I think.

      I would be happy to see Labour go in it’s current form and the Lib Dems I suspect must be on the brink given the lack of members, if there were a alternative Liberal party formed I would get involved as the leadership and the hangers on in the party I find uninspiring to be honest but the members, certainly in Dundee, are good people and there for the right reasons, I just wish more people of the liberal mind would get involved.

      I think the SNP will continue to clean up for the next while as the union slowly self destructs because I can’t see what the strategy is for the Tories if it isn’t that.

      Thanks for commenting.


  3. squidgybidge

    I think on this one bud that you have missed the point entirely.

    Only so many people will ever join a political party and if I am not mistaken the overall amount of people in political parties in Scotland has never been higher. It just so happens that most of those people have fallen in behind the SNP, so debate is happening, it is just largely internallised in the SNP.

    Even then though, Green membereship has quadruplled and is around 9000 from somewhere near 1700 and the SSP tripled up to about 3700 from what I remember reading.

    The Unionist parties have imploded, yes, but that is there own fault. Debate though isn’t dead it’s still happening, justt in a different place.

    Now back to only so many people will join a political party. I’m willing to stick my neck out and suggest the bulk of the people that ditched the other parties did not ditch being in a party. It has already been suggested that the SNP has recieved a massive boost by taking in large numbers of seasoned Labour party members who now prefer what they see in the SNP. My gut feeling is that many people who held party cards in other parties have now joined the SNP, Greens or the SSP.

    On top of that we have the new influx of freshly politically motivated individuals all of which again means the debate is happening, its just that people have by and large moved past the old guard and have embraced new ways / structures. ie different parties and social media.

    Just for clarity. I’m not in a party, but the Greens most closely represent my ideal’s, but maybe the Socialist’s do or maybe even Nationalist’s. Hence why I’m not in party.

    For me it is easier to hold ALL parties to account by remaining outside of them and thus not falling into the trap of “This is my team, so I must defend the team even when bad decisions are made.”.

    • Anonymous


      I totally agree that the YES movement were energised and joined YES parties and that debate is taking place. What I was trying to say is that the debate in one place may not be a good thing in the long run.

      Of course the other parties only have themselves to blame, too many years of taking their vote for granted and too many old boys networks. But we still need debate across the board, I remain a YES voting Liberal but I recognise that good governance is vital if the arguments are to be won and that has to involve good opposition.

      I am trying to encourage more people not already involved to get involved, whatever side of the fence they sit on, we need to hear all the voices and hopefully of the members and not the leadership of the parties whom I have found , certainly in the Lib Dems, don’t reflect the feelings of the membership.

      I understand what you mean by not joining a party, I was the same for. Long time and you may have see in my blog I am very critical of the Lib Dema when I have to be and I’m the same at the meetings. Maybe some would like to leave but I figured we won’t win the next time if we don’t convince people of the merits of the arguments for YES or at the very least proper federalism.

      Thanks for commenting, really appreciate you sharing your opinions.


  4. Political Tourist

    Sure i read somewhere that something like 10% of the paper membership is active.
    Pre the very recent political activity in Scotland it was doubtful even all four main parties had collectively anymore than 10,000 activists from end of Scotland to the other.
    Take away,
    59 MPs
    129 MSPs
    1100 odd councillors

    It’s not exactly a lot of people when you add in staffers.
    It’s about 5/6 activists for every politician.
    Scotland’s political class is relatively small.

    • grumpyscottishman


      I don’t know about Labour or the Tories but I don’t think the Liberal Democrats have that many activists anymore, esp in Scotland and Dundee. I have done a little but struggle because of work and family to be honest.

      I know that the Lib Dems lost a lot of staff after the election which is what happens when you face a near wipe out, I don’t think the bank balance is very healthy either. The Tories really played both the Lib Dems and Labour right to a tea, virtually wiping out both parties. They have to learn from that and any talk of coalition, like the liberals are doing now down south, is stupidity at it’s best. The Lib Dems need to try and re-build but there are too many of the same old Clegg crowd at the top so I suspect that they may not slip any farther but there is no recovery anytime soon and populist things like de-criminalizing cannabis without the evidence to back it up won’t make any difference.

      I don’t even know how long I will stay involved, I have a real issue with all women short lists and if the party goes down that road then I have a decision to make.

      Thanks for commenting as always.


  5. Sue Varley

    Personally I think the whole model for politics is wrong.

    Why do we need a government and an opposition? Even if it works as intended, side A sets out a vision and spends 5 years trying to implement it while side B tries to hamper and block. Then we have an election, they change ends, side B now tries to undo what side A did, while trying to implement its own vision. Side A try to hamper and block. Sometimes one side will win twice running then they have up to ten years and it takes the other side correspondingly longer to undo and rebuild. Can you imagine any other important human activity being run that way?

    Since Thatcher we’ve had much longer periods of one side followed by the other, which seems to be even worse as it has led to (or at least coincided with) all UK parties converging into one basic position lined up with the power elite (or whatever we are calling them today). Since Blair both sides entice the electorate with a sham vision and then post-election do whatever they please, whether it is what they promised or its polar opposite. In England now there is almost no left and right, there is only a narrow band that they like to call the centre, which is very far to the right when compared to where the centre was 30 years ago. English politics seems to me banal and hopeless.

    It is only different in Scotland because we have an issue that does have exactly two polar opposites: as left and right have merged here, Yes and No has taken over in importance. We are fortunate to have a party that does have one overriding principle that they are not willing to compromise on which gives us a real differentiator, and the Yes/No question will continue to dominate until it is settled. This question, as the SNP rightly recognise, has to be settled by the people and not political parties.

    The problem the No parties have in Scotland is that they cannot offer anything positive because they are just branch offices trying to manage expectations while the real power does what suits London. Once we are independent, there will be a dramatic change in what they can offer because they will be answering only to the people of Scotland rather than their masters outwith Scotland. We will then have the opportunity to have much wider choice than we do now.

    Which brings me to my answer to the point of your post. I started out thinking we don’t need a strong political opposition, but I find to my surprise that while writing this response I have changed my mind somewhat. It will be bad for Scotland in the long run, but only at the point of independence. I could see the Tories and Labour disappear forever with no remorse, but we do need a strong Liberal voice in any system of government. Once the SNP have achieved independence there will be nothing to stop them drifting into just another establishment party (albeit the new Scottish Establishment) especially as they will be the obvious choice for would-be career politicians of the future.

    Because of the cruelty of the Tories, the deceitfulness of Labour and the ineffectualness of the Lib Dems there will be little goodwill towards these parties in a newly independent Scotland, which will be the very point at which we need the broadest possible spectrum of views in our parliament. I would like to see everything changed, the voting system, a proper constitution, they way government works, council boundaries, everything. Not all at once, but an unbreakable commitment to a root and branch reform of everything that has been the hallmark of UK-control of Scotland. And for this to be carried out and implemented with the approval of the electorate.

    I think the SNP genuinely try to do what they think is best for Scotland, but we will be setting up the very shape of our country’s institutions and we want the widest possible scope from which to choose the way we will ultimately go. It would be a shame and a great loss if we simply stuck a saltire over the model of government that has been devolved upon us by Westminster.

    My position now on your original point is that we DO need a strong diversity, but I think we need to move away from opposition politics altogether. I think Salmond demonstrated that minority government could be a good model for Scotland, but it’s only going to work if all parties will work towards getting what they want rather than trying to prevent what some other party wants. So my preference would be for a strong diversity of parties that will work constructively to get as much of their agenda passed as possible. Then we might end up with something approaching fairness.

    We might need all-new No parties though, they don’t seem good at concealing their bitterness at winning the first indyref, who knows how they will behave after losing the last indyref?

    Sorry this has turned out so long Bruce, but you really made me think!

    • grumpyscottishman


      Thanks for a really great point of view.

      I agree that the unionist parties have pretty much morphed into the same party and while I think Labour are pretty unelectable for the next 10 years, the Liberals will stay the same or go backwards, I actually think the Tories will pick up some votes from former Tories who went to Labour and some Lib Dems who see that the party is a bit of a joke right now overall.

      You are correct that Scotland has dived into Yes and No with the No side going to lose in the long term. I would much prefer to be a member of a Scottish Lib Dems totally independent of the UK Parties as they have a federal system. My YES vote won’t ever change, saying that I don’t know how long I will stay a Lib Dem if they bring in all woman short lists as I can’t stand that, discrimination is decrimination.

      However, I do think the SNP need to be kep on their toes now. They have a good record overall but, as they all do, they still make mistakes and they are a very top down party and the lack of decent opposition hinders them and the arguments for yes in my opinion. But I do agree that they are doing their best for Scotland where the other parties just won’t comproimise their unionism.

      I think when Scotland becomes independent the other parties will change as they will have no choice if they wish to remain in politcs and for people like Rennie and Davidson, Ballie who know nothing else but the gravy train they will change as they always do but hopefully by then they will be outside Scottish Politics never to be seen again.

      Thanks for commenting, you certainly gave me food for thought.


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