By a Newsnet reporter
On the eve of the Scottish National Party’s spring conference in Inverness, SNP leader and First Minister Alex Salmond has welcomed the 25,000th member of the party.
The party's newest member, Elysee Ahmed-Sheikh of Glasgow, has joined the SNP because she believes the party best reflects her “ambitions for Scotland”.
A House of Commons Library paper published last December showed that the SNP’s booming membership is bucking the trend of decline in the UK-wide ranks of Labour, the Lib Dems and the Tories.
The Commons Library paper shows that, while membership of all three of the biggest Westminster parties declined significantly between 2003 and 2011, SNP membership more than doubled in the same period.
Between 2003 and 2011, individual party membership of the Tories across the UK declined by at least 31.5%, the Lib Dems fell by 31.0%, and Labour membership declined by 10.2%.
Over a longer period, the report shows that Labour membership fell by 52.3% between 1997 and 2011. The Labour party is reluctant to publish membership statistics, the party issued only 13,135 ballot papers during its UK party leader election in 2010, although party sources claimed to have more than 20,000 members just a few months previously. According to a report published in the Independent newspaper http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/the-strange-death-of-labour-scotland-8430502.html in December 2012, many of Labour's constituency branches in Scotland are little more than "battered husks".
At her party's conference in 2012, Scottish leader Ruth Davidson claimed that Scottish Conservatives had around 11,000 members. However the real figure is significantly lower. During the party's Scottish leadership election in 2011, Conservative supporting columnist Alan Cochrane of the Telegraph estimated party membership at around 8,500.
The Liberal Democrats are believed to have had some 3,080 members in Scotland in 2011. However this figure is likely to be an over-estimate, as many former members have allowed their membership to lapse in protest over the party's alliance with the Conservatives. The party's recent conference in Dundee was poorly attended, with delegates unable to fill all the seats in a small hall.
By way of contrast, between 2003 and 2011, SNP membership increased by 111.6%. Party membership has continued to grow strongly as the referendum campaign heats up. The SNP is now, by a considerable margin, the largest party in Scotland in terms of membership.
The latest Ipsos MORI poll ratings (1,003 sample, from 4-9 February) showed SNP support at 43% - around the same level which delivered the landslide victory in 2011.
Mr Salmond said:
“Hitting a high of 25,000 members demonstrates both the strength of the SNP, and the energy and excitement of the Yes campaign for an independent Scotland.
“Over the past 10 years, SNP membership has increased by over 160 per cent – and since 2011 it has surged by a quarter.
“More and more people are responding positively to our record in government, the team, and our vision of an independent Scotland - and they want to play their part in bringing it about.
“The plummeting membership of the Westminster parties reflects the fact that the Westminster system isn’t working – and our spring conference will spell out the 'why of independence' to people the length and breadth of Scotland.”
Elysee Ahmed-Sheikh, who is 17 years-old, lives in Glasgow and wants to study medicine, said:
“I joined the SNP because I’ve grown up witnessing the benefits of having powers in Scotland, with our own parliament able to make decisions best suited to the needs and aspirations of all people who live here.
“Scotland has done well with the powers we have, and I believe will do even better with the full powers of independence.
“As a young woman, the SNP best reflects my ambitions for Scotland."