Monday, 26 November 2012

By-Election Preview: 29 November 2012

Andrew Teale is a new blogger for this site, who will be providing these excellent by-election previews in advance of any upcoming local by-elections.  Read a full introduction to Andrew here on the English Elections blog.

Comhairle nan Eilean Siar; caused by the death of Scottish National Party councillor Bill Houston at the age of 60.  Twice an SNP parliamentary candidate (in Stirling in 1983 and Falkirk in 1992), he had worked for the council for fourteen years before his election in 2012.

Bernera Bridge
© Copyright David Martin and licensed for
reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.
The ward name Sgir' Uige agus Ceann a Tuath nan Loch and the council Comhairle nan Eilean Siar are mouthfuls in a language which may not be familiar to many readers of the column.  The language is Scottish Gaelic; the council is the Western Isles; and the ward name roughly translates as Uig and North Lochs, covering a large swathe of the southern part of the Isle of Lewis.

Uig is a Viking name (from the Norse word "vik" meaning "bay") and much of the Outer Hebrides were under Norwegian control.  One result of this is perhaps Lewis' most famous export, the Lewis Chessmen, a set of 12th-century ivory chess pieces which were found in a sandback on Uig in the nineteenth century.  Most of these are now on display in the British Museum.  Last year Uig started exporting whisky from the recently-established Abhainn Dearg distillery.

Further to the east is the island of Great Bernera and the villages of Breasclete and Carloway on the eastern shore of Loch Rog.  The ward then moves inland into the low-lying North Lochs district, so-named because of the number of small lochs in the area, and comes out on the east coast of Lewis at Loch Eireasort.  Here can be found the village of Balallan on the main Lewis-Harris road.

Western Isles politics is of course dominated by independents, and previous election results in this ward are even more confusing to interpret because of the number of candidates called MacDonald (which is apparently the most common surname on Great Bernera).  In 2007 four of the six candidates were called MacDonald and three of those were elected: the SNP's Annie MacDonald topped the poll and was elected on first preferences, her surplus elected independent Alex MacDonald  while Labour's Norman Alexander MacDonald fought off the other three independents to narrowly win the final seat.  Before the introduction of PR in 2007 Annie MacDonald had represented Lochs ward (which covered Balallan and the Park area) and Norman Alexander MacDonald had been councillor for Uig ward.

Fast forward to 2012 and Alex MacDonald has stood down while Labour's Norman Alexander MacDonald is standing for re-election as an independent.  He is not to be confused with another 2012 independent candidate, Norman "Puss" MacDonald   The SNP ran two candidates, Annie MacDonald and Bill Houston; although Annie was the sitting councillor Houston emerged as by far the stronger of the two, and was the first candidate to reach quota after Annie was eliminated.  Houston's surplus re-elected Norman Alexander, who had topped the poll, and gave the final seat to a new independent candidate, Cudig MacLeod.  The three councillors gave a good geographical spread across this huge ward, with Houston from Liurbost (a village in North Lochs), Norman Alexander MacDonald in Uig and MacLeod living in Callanish (a hamlet near Breasclete, known for its standing stones), and polling district data indicates that each candidate polled best in their home area.

The defending SNP candidate will not have such home advantage in this by-election, although he is described as having strong family ties with Lochs and Great Bernera; he is yet another MacDonald  this time John Norman MacDonald  who lives on the Eye Peninsula east of Stornoway and polled poorly in his home ward (Sgire an Rubha) in May.  He is opposed by two new independent candidates, both of whom live in Balallan: Les Mac an Ultaigh, a tour guide, and Angus Morrison, who is described as a former newspaper boss.

Parliamentary constituency: Na h-Eileanan an Iar
ONS Travel to Work Area: Eilean Siar

May 2012 result Ind 315/233/229/147 SNP 292/172 (seats: SNP/Ind/Ind)
May 2007 result Ind 406/246/130/124 SNP 442 Lab 295 (seats: SNP/Ind/Lab)

Aberdeenshire Coalition Teetering on Collapse

It has been reported that Fraserburgh and District Independent Cllr Ian Tait has resigned from the ruling coalition on Aberdeenshire Council, leaving control hung in the balance between 34 coalition councillors and 34 opposition councillors.  The coalition will now have to rely on their casting vote to pass motions through full council, leaving no room for absence or dissent.  A futher defection could potentially lead to change in administration, with an SNP-led coalition or minority administration being the most obvious alternative.

The SNP won the most seats on the Council in May, but were blocked from power by a deal between the Tories and the Liberal Democrats with the support of some Independents.  As well as the SNP, the opposition comprises two Labour, one Green, and some more Independent councillors.  Fraserburgh and District ward itself elected two SNP councillors and two Independents - an Independent gain from SNP on the 2007 result.

Tait, who himself was once an SNP councillor, appears to have resigned from the ruling bloc after Fraserburgh was overlooked for additional council investment as part of the council's "Strategic Growth Area".

Aberdeenshire Council
Lib Dems

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Green and Independent MSPs Form Working Group

It was announced today that five MSPs have agreed to form a new 'technical group' within Holyrood.  The Green and independent MSPs are co-operating with the aim of giving them greater influence over parliamentary business, so as to enhance their ability to represent their constituents.

Such cross-party co-operation has existed before, notably in the case of the 'three amigos' of the 1999-2003 Parliament (the Greens' Robin Harper, SSP's Tommy Sheridan and independent MSP Dennis Canavan).  In that case, the aim was to ensure that these sole representatives of minor parties received a voice in the then new parliament, and couldn't be sidelined by the larger parties.

The advantage of this new group being formed seems to centre on the size of the group granting them a seat on the key Parliamentary Bureau, which sets the parliamentary agenda at Holyrood.  The four main parties are all represented on this group, but the Greens have been denied access since they were reduced to two seats in the 2007 election.  The formation of the group will also ensure its members more speaking time in debates and more opportunities to participate in First Minister's Questions.

The MSPs involved are the Green Party's Patrick Harvie and Alison Johnstone, elected independent Margo MacDonald, and the two ex-SNP independents John Finnie and Jean Urquhart.  Finnie and Urquhart both left the SNP last month in protest against the party dropping its historic opposition to membership of NATO.  The other ex-SNP independent in parliament, Bill Walker, does not appear to be involved.  The group will hold the same number of members as the Liberal Democrats' group of five MSPs.

Although all five members of the group are pro-independence and broadly interested in social and environmental issues, they have been keen to stress that they will maintain their previous policy positions and there have been no changes in party membership by the creation of the group.

With the addition the new group, the composition of Holyrood now looks like this:

Scottish Parliament
Lib Dems5
Independent 1