There was the huge rise in SNP membership after the referendum, overshadowing more modest rises in membership of the other parties. As Labour wrestles with the unexpected consequences of widening the franchise for taking part in the Labour Leadership election, well over 500,000 people have been recognised as eligible to take part. The political monogamists in this total are those who have been party members all their days and feel a resentment that the future leadership of their beloved party could be decided by those who have developed a sudden and possibly passing flirtatious relationship with Labour. Worse than that, they fear that there are some political bigamists trying to tie the knot with Labour while retaining membership of another party.
Your links to a political party have never been more analysed than today. There was a time when there was widespread social political monogamy - "our family are Labour - always have been, always will". Then there came along all the disgruntled ex Labour supporters that you meet on the doorstep. "I used to be Labour but never again. I didn't leave Labour, Labour left me". For many that is an honest description of bitter disappointment over the Iraq war or the general move to the centre under New Labour. However, with just as many, there is a lingering suspicion that those who assure you they 'will never vote Labour again' never voted Labour in the first place. You have the young 21 year old SNP MP, Mhairi Black, using her Maiden Speech to praise the era of Tony Benn and tell us 'Labour left me not the other way about'. Well it must have left her long before she was even born.
A person's relationship with a political party can fall into one of several categories. There is a kind of evolutionary relationship development which follows a clear progression until you find your political home. Then there is political monogamy, a state of being totally committed to one party come what may. Another category are entrists who join a party to further the ideas and programmes of another organisation. Finally there are political bedhoppers who change parties for career purposes or on a whim.
Of course people take their lead on all this from the politicians themselves. A number of politicians have found political monogamy too exacting a standard to live up to. There is a distinction to be drawn between political evolution and political bedhopping. Keir Hardie, for instance, started of as a Liberal, founded the Scottish Labour Party, then the ILP, then the Labour Party. But he was a catalyst for the development of the Labour movement helping it take steps forward to becoming the modern Labour Party. Dennis Healey, himself started out in the Communist Party for a few years before joining Labour on his return from the War. Big beasts like Winston Churchill, and Oswald Mosley on the other hand, changed mid stream. Churchill was a Conservative then a Liberal before moving to the Conservatives again. Mosley was a Tory MP then a Labour MP (and ILP) before founding his own New Party of British Fascists. There are not that many examples in recent years of MPs 'crossing the floor' as it is known. I can think of former Labour Minister, Reg Prentice taking the Tory whip and serving as a minister under Thatcher. Tory MPs Alan Howarth, Shaun Woodward and Peter Temple Morris defected from the Tories to join New Labour. On a very different scale we had around 30 defections mainly from Labour to found the SDP in 1981, as I mentioned earlier.
Here in Ayrshire, we have had our fair share of politicians who have found their way around the political parties. The late George Younger, who went on to be the Tory MP for Ayr and Government Minister, is said to have resigned from the Socialist Society at Oxford because someone insulted his regiment. How true that is I don't know, but Jim Sillars certainly hopped from being an arch anti devolution Labour MP, to founding his own Scottish Labour Party, then joined the SNP. Chic Brodie MSP stood for the Liberals in Ayr back in the 90s then reappeared as an SNP candidate. Murray Tosh stood as a Liberal in Ayr before ending up as a Tory MSP and Deputy Presiding Officer in the Scottish Parliament.
This tradition seems to be passed on from one generation to the next. At the moment we have an SNP candidate for Carrick Cumnock and Doon Valley (Jeane Freeman) who started off in the Communist Party, did rather well out of serving the Labour Party before turning her coat inside out to find it was now SNP yellow. And in the Ayr East local by election due in a couple of weeks time, the Conservative candidate has managed to work for a Labour MP and be President of the University Labour Club before finding his true blue credentials, and all by the age of 25.
Whether you are aged 25 or 98, If you have already found your home in the Labour Party, well done. If you are thinking of joining, you really haven't a moment to lose if you hope to go on to match the constancy of Dennis Healey's 70 years membership