Wednesday, 13 February 2013

By-Election Preview: 14 February 2013

14th February sees four by-elections, all caused by deaths of councillors.  There are three contests in England which Andrew Teale will cover on the English Elections blog.  The Scottish contest is an SNP defence in South Lanarkshire that could see Labour gain an overall majority control of that council.

South Lanarkshire Council; caused by the death of SNP councillor Anne Higgins.  Higgins had been a member of the SNP for over 30 years, and her husband had also been an SNP councillor for Cambuslang East ward until his own death in 2007.

King of the Castle
  © Copyright Lairich Rig and licensed for
reuse under this 
Creative Commons Licence.
Rutherglen, from the Scottish Gaelic "An Ruadh-Ghleann" (Red Valley), is located just outside the southern boundaries of Glasgow City Council.  The town has its own distinctive history that goes back to 1126 when King David I of Scotland bestowed the status of Royal Burgh upon the town, and the local population has since long been opposed to being included in its now much larger neighbour, Glasgow. Thus when the new unitary councils were set up across Scotland, Rutherglen was placed not in Glasgow but in South Lanarkshire, in the very furthest northwestern point of the largely suburban and rural council area.

The town has a strongly industrial character, associated originally with coal mining, then later with a specialisation in the production of chromate products - the local J&J White's Chemical Works were responsible for the majority of the UK's entire production of these chemicals.  Most local industry has since closed, and Rutherglen is now effectively a commuter suburb of Glasgow.

Rutherglen is covered by two three-member council wards - Rutherglen Central and North, and Rutherglen South.  Central and North is a fairly typical Lanarkshire seat with a strong Labour lead that gave them two seats, with the SNP picking up the third.  South is somewhat more unusual in that in 2012 it elected the sole Lib Dem to hold a seat anywhere in Lanarkshire - the ex-MSP Robert Brown winning just short of a full quota on first preferences alone.

Rutherglen South covers the areas of Cathkin, Fernhill and Burnside.  Cathkin and Fernhill are both relatively modern housing estates that span Rutherglen's edge of the Glasgow Green Belt.  Cathkin borders onto the Whitlawburn area of Cambuslang, while Fernhill lies beside Castlemilk in Glasgow. Fernhill is an area of particular social deprivation, and has been undergoing a programme of demolitions and new building to regenerate the area.  Fernhill is also home to the locally well known "King of the Castle" statue that depicts a boy looking downhill towards Glasgow City Centre.  Closer to the town centre lies Burnside which, on the other hand, is one of Glasgow's most affluent suburbs and a preferred residence for many of the city's middle class professionals and financial sector workers.

This mixed nature is reflected in the mixed representation this ward has seen since the introduction of the Single Transferable Vote system in Scotland - both the 2007 and 2011 elections returned one Labour, one Liberal Democrat, and one SNP councillors.  Labour still have a considerable lead in first preferences, though it is not as unassailable as in other parts of Lanarkshire.  They will however be fighting this contest with a particular ferocity, as winning would give them their first majority control of South Lanarkshire since 2007 when the introduction of proportional representation threw most Scottish councils into no overall control.

The Labour candidate, Gerard Killen, was the second and unsuccessful Labour candidate in this ward last time - his running mate not leaving enough votes left over to let him overtake the Lib Dem and SNP candidates.  The Lib Dems' David Baillie is a former councillor for Cambuslang West who lost his seat in 2012, and will be hoping he can at least match the higher profile ex-MSP Robert Brown's result here.  Margaret Ferrier will be the SNP's candidate in their uphill struggle to hold a seat from third place in the first preference share.

Of the other parties, the Conservatives are fielding previous Conservative Future Scotland chairman Aric Gilinsky, the Greens are standing local activist Susan Martin, UKIP have put forward Donald Mackay who contested Larkhall ward in 2012, and completing the ballot paper is independent Craig Smith who contested Hamilton South ward for the Christian Party in 2012.

UK parliamentary constituency: Rutherglen and Hamilton West
Holyrood constituency: Rutherglen (Glasgow electoral region)
ONS Travel to Work Area: Glasgow

David Baillie (LD)
Margaret Ferrier (SNP)
Aric Gilinsky (C)
Gerard Killen (Lab)
Donald MacKay (UKIP)
Susan Martin (Grn)
Craig Smith (Ind)

May 2012 first preferences Lab 2095 LD 1181 SNP 1141 C 232 Scottish Unionist 130 (seats: Lab/LD/SNP)
May 2007 first preferences Lab 2380 LD 1583 SNP 1045 C 529 Ind 285 Grn 150 Scottish Unionist 135 SSP 106 (seats: Lab/LD/SNP)


  1. Its a shoo in for Labour, isnt it? About as politically interesting as watching Manchester United play Stenhousemuir.

    1. Well, if they win 50% of the first preferences then it's all over. If not, it comes down to transfers, and most parties will probably transfer against Labour. Still, it'd need either the Lib Dems or the SNP to be within a few hundred first prefs of Labour to make it close.

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