From radical to mainstream: a taxonomy of requirements for political party development based on the Scottish National Party 1934-2017
Spring, Stacey Gorski
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Many scholars have sought to explain the patterns of success and failure among fringe parties which seek to increase their initially limited political influence, but prevailing explanations do not fully consider the parties themselves as institutions that can generate change. Based on historical and discursive institutionalism as well as existing literature on political parties and the growth of regional parties in Europe, this dissertation posits a taxonomy of requirements for internal political party development. The progression is conceptualized as a path dependent feedback loop that starts with (1) the consolidation of ideas, a process which requires consensus about the party’s primary ideological positions and policy. It is followed by (2) a consolidation of methods—or an agreement on how to communicate those ideas while also maintaining party discipline. The party will then seek to (3) increase its exposure both in the media and with voters, before (4) establishing persistence in elections, media coverage, and party membership. Finally, leaders will (5) reallocate resources and reorganize party structure as demands on the party change over time. Under the premise that separatist parties in Europe and Canada face significant barriers to entry in substantive democracies, this dissertation considered 108 Stateless Regional National Parties (SNRPs) to select the most extreme case for testing the party development taxonomy. Once the Scottish National Party (SNP) was selected as the primary case study, then the taxonomy was tested via process tracing using extensive archival records including party manifestos, broadcasts, press releases, and other party documents, as well as secondary sources, elite interviews, and a detailed content analysis of the manifestos from 1992-2017. While the taxonomy holds through much of the SNP’s history, the key elements to entrenched positive growth were exposure breakthroughs (measured via the party’s own increased output or greater volume of coverage in the media) and proactive party reforms prior to an electoral breakthrough or significant institutional change such as the establishment of Scottish Parliament in 1999. Further testing should be conducted against other parties to establish greater external validity and precision regarding the number of cycles required for party development under specific institutional conditions.