Thursday, 28 February 2013

By-Election Preview: 28 February 2013

As well as the major excitement this week in Eastleigh, there are three local by-elections taking place in England that have been covered by Andrew Teale on the English Elections blog, as well as this contest coming from Coatbridge.

COATBRIDGE WEST
North Lanarkshire Council; caused by the death of Labour councillor Tom Maginnis at the age of 68, while on holiday in Tenerife.  Maginnis had been a councillor for twenty years, starting his career on the now-abolished Monklands District Council.


Glen Court and Millbrae Court, Coatbridge
  © Copyright Chris Upson and licensed for
reuse under this 
Creative Commons Licence.
Similar to Rutherglen, where we had a by-election earlier this month, Coatbridge lies just outside the border of Glasgow City Council although out to the east instead of the south.  Also like Rutherglen, Coatbridge has an ancient and independent history from that of Glasgow dating back to the 12th century when a Royal Charter was bestowed upon the Monks of Newbattle Abbey - hence the name of the Monklands to describe the local area as well as the former local government district.  At the time of the reorganisation of Scottish local government into unitaries, Monklands was combined with the Motherwell and Cumbernauld & Kilsyth districts, along with parts of Strathkelvin around Chryston, to form the new North Lanarkshire Council, which largely comprises the eastern outer suburbs of Glasgow.

Also like Rutherglen, Coatbridge has an industrial heritage.  The Monklands Canal was built to ship coal and iron, which were abundant in the area, to Glasgow and then overseas.  Indeed, Coatbridge was a major industrial centre of the British Empire, with rapidly expanding industry and population throughout the 19th century, leading Robert Baird to describe the town as thus in 1845:

"There is no worse place out of hell than that neighbourhood. At night the groups of blast furnaces on all sides might be imagined to be blazing volcanoes at most of which smelting is continued on Sundays and weekdays, day and night, without intermission."
Much of the industry has now gone, although one remnant of its former draw is the large concentration of local residents of Irish descent.  It is also one of the most economically deprived towns in Scotland, with high unemployment and a high proportion of social housing stock.  The town won the 'Plook on the Plinth award' for most dismal town in Scotland in 2007, an 'award' since shared with numerous other Lanarkshire towns and other post-industrial communities such as Linwood.

Coatbridge West is one of three wards covering the town, and largely covers the vast post-war council estate of Kirkwood that extends west from the town centre towards Glasgow, as well as the separate small village of Bargeddie that sits right on the Glasgow border.  The ward is, by some margin, the safest Labour seat in all of Scotland with the party taking an overwhelming 74.8% of the first preference votes last May.  In comparison, the other two Coatbridge wards, while safe Labour, have smaller Labour shares of just 62.0% in Coatbridge South and 53.0% in Coatbridge North and Glenboig.  Labour could easily have won all three Coatbridge West seats on that level of vote share, though as they only nominated two candidates, the third seat went to the SNP.

The Labour candidate, who barring some unimaginable catastrophe for the party should become the new councillor, is Kevin Docherty.  Docherty is also the only candidate who actually lives within the ward.  Patrick Rolink from Airdrie is standing for the SNP - he was the third SNP candidate in Airdrie North ward last year, where the other two candidates were elected.  The Lib Dems are standing John Love, who was a councillor for Airdrie South ward between 2007 and 2012 - to date the only seat the Liberal Democrats have ever held on North Lanarkshire Council.  The Conservatives are also seeking a return from their 2012 wipeout standing local Conservative Future organiser Ashley Baird from Motherwell.  The candidate list is completed by Billy Mitchell from UKIP, who have no history of contesting local elections in North Lanarkshire before now.

Westminster constituency: Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill
Holyrood constituency: Coatbridge and Chryston (Central Scotland region)
ONS Travel to Work Area: Lanarkshire

Ashley Baird (C)
Kevin Docherty (Lab)
John Love (LD)
Billy Mitchell (UKIP)
Patrick Rolink (SNP)

May 2012 first preferences Lab 2865 SNP 858 C 107 (seats: 2Lab/1SNP)
May 2007 first preferences Lab 3348 SNP 1218 C 251 SSP 192 (seats: 2Lab/1SNP)

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