The 1980s: The difficult years
The 1980s saw the SNP membership shrink from nearly 80,000 at the beginning of the decade to 10,000 by its end. London branch was severely affected by this downturn and had a membership hovering in low double figures, far fewer than the many hundreds of members it now embraces.
Lachie Munro was convener in the early 1980s. He had been the designer, publisher and all-round inspiration of ‘The Exiles’ newsletter for a number of years. Well before the advent of email and social media, the eight-page newsletter was posted to members each month. Lachie went on to complete a PhD and publish about the life and times of Cunninghame Graham, the first president of the SNP. John Green succeeded Lachie as convener in the mid 1980s.
‘The Exiles’ and an annual phone-around kept the small but committed membership together through these very difficult times, helped and encouraged by a regular presence at Speakers’ Corner. Branch member Isobel McHarg would bring a lectern and whoever was brave enough to speak would inevitably be heckled by the crowd – great practice for conference and meetings! Isobel became treasurer in 1982 and would go on to serve the branch in that capacity for over 25 years.
Always focused on the fight for independence, the branch would send a car-full of activists to Scotland for elections in constituencies including East Kilbride, Dumfries & Galloway and Cumbernauld, where support was growing. We were always made very welcome and were found digs with local activists – a butcher in Wigtown, party fundraiser Jim Henderson in East Kilbride and many others. On one trip, London branch activist Duncan Ross went above the call of duty by scaling a cliff face in Dumfriesshire to replace Liberal Democrat leaflets with SNP ones – though it was perhaps not as big a challenge as becoming National Secretary when he later returned to Scotland. (Duncan also served as convener of the branch in 1996/1997.)
SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford MP was a member the London branch in the 1980s, having also been SNP National Treasurer.