Recruited by Referendum: Party Membership Energised

Recruited by Referendum: Party Membership Energised

The Subject: The Scottish National Party (SNP) and Scottish Green Party (SGP) experienced an extraordinary surge in membership following the 2014 referendum on Scottish independence.  The referendum brought the two parties and other groups together in support of independence, campaigning under the common banner of Yes Scotland.  Despite defeat in the referendum, the SNP and Scottish Greens saw a quite dramatic increase in membership in the aftermath of the vote.  The SNP’s membership grew from 25,000 to 120,000, a nearly five-fold increase. Scottish Green membership multiplied by six, from 1,500 to 9,000.  Over a few short months, the SNP and Scottish Greens had become parties of new recruits. Both the scale and pace of these surges were unprecedented, bucking the trend of modern party membership elsewhere. 

Project Aims: The project aims to explain this unusual case in the history of party membership, and to examine the longer-term consequences for the parties and movement politics. The project’s key objectives are:

  • To explore the relationship between the SNP, SGP and movement politics, in the 2014 Scottish independence referendum and since
  • To explain the post-referendum member surges theoretically and empirically
  • To analyse motivations for joining
  • To present a demographic profile of the parties’ members
  • To examine the political identities and attitudes of members
  • To understand the role of the members within their party organisations
  • To assess the challenges and prospects of the modern independence movement

In this way, we assess how the membership surges have changed the parties, socio-demographically, ideologically and organisationally.

Methods: The project is funded by the ESRC (RG13385-10) and is a multi-method research study, combining online surveys of the parties’ members with approximately 100 face-to-face, semi-structured interviews with senior figures and activists in the two parties and across the national movement.

Research Team: Dr Lynn Bennie (University of Aberdeen), Professor James Mitchell (University of Edinburgh) and Professor Rob Johns (University of Essex).