Wednesday, 10 December 2014

By-election Previews: 11th December 2014

With eleven by-elections to cover this week, there is a certain lack of detail in this week's previews.  Nonetheless, here Scottish Elections brings news of polls in the cathedral city of Elgin and at completely the opposite end of the Highlands.

Moray council
Caused by the resignation of Labour councillor Barry Jarvis who is pursuing a teaching career.

Elgin Cathedral
One of two urban wards within the generally rural Moray council, Elgin City North does exactly what it says on the tin.  It includes the Bishopmill area of Moray to the north of the River Lossie, together with the ruined cathedral, part of the city centre and the housing along the East Road (the A96 towards Aberdeen).

The two elections held here under proportional representation have both seen the SNP leading with Labour second.  The SNP stood only one candidate in 2007, with the ward's three seats going one each to the SNP, Labour and an independent.  In 2012 the independent councillor stood down and his seat very narrowly went to a second SNP candidate, whose majority over the Tory candidate in the final round was less than one vote.  Overall first preferences in 2012 were 43% to the SNP, 30% for Labour and 17% for the Conservatives.

Labour have it all to do in this by-election.  Their candidate is Craig Graham, a 21-year-old history and politics student at Moray College.  The SNP candidate is Kirsty Reid, a 32-year-old who runs her own dog care business.  A crowded ballot paper also features Alex Griffiths from the Tories, independent Sandy Cooper, Morvern Forrest for the Scottish Green Party and UKIP's Ramsay Urquhart.

Parliamentary constituency: Moray
Holyrood constituency: Moray
ONS Travel to Work Area: Moray

Sandy Cooper (Ind)
Morvern Forrest (Grn)
Craig Graham (Lab)
Alex Griffiths (C)
Kirsty Reid (SNP)
Ramsay Urquhart (UKIP)

May 2012 result SNP 1111 Lab 766 C 448 Ind 241 (seats: 2SNP/1Lab)
May 2007 result SNP 1500 Lab 866 Ind 671 C 592 (seats: SNP/Lab/Ind)

Argyll and Bute council
Caused by the resignation of SNP councillor John Semple on the day after the independence referendum.

Ferry in Campbeltown Harbour
One of the most remote parts of the Scottish mainland, the South Kintyre ward lies at the end of the long Kintyre peninsula.  The ward is based on the town of Campbeltown, which is around 140 miles and well over three hours from Glasgow by road.  The town's isolation means that the most convenient way to travel is by air or sea; on weekdays there are two return flights to Glasgow, and ferries connect the town with Ballycastle in Northern Ireland and with Ardrossan, via Arran, in the summer months.  Campbeltown itself is a fishing port named after Archibald Campbell, earl of Argyle, which also specialises in Scotch whisky; the town has three distilleries and forms its own malt whisky producing region.

There was once a canal and a light railway connecting Campbeltown to Macrihanish, a name which will be familiar to listeners of the Shipping Forecast; the reason for these transport links is that Macrihanish was home to one of Britain's smallest coalfields.  Since the exhaustion of the coal Macrihanish's economy has been based on the nearby Campbeltown Airport, formerly RAF Macrihanish which was a key military airport during the Cold War; a legacy of this is that Campbeltown airport has the longest public runway in Scotland and was certified as an emergency landing site for the Space Shuttle.  Sadly, this is not the ward's only link with the air: the southern end of the peninsula (the well-known Mull of Kintyre) has a history of plane wrecks, notably that of an RAF Chinook which crashed on the peninsula in 1994, killing almost all of the UK's senior Northern Ireland intelligence experts.

Argyll and Bute's last first-past-the-post election was in 2003, with the Tories' Donald Kelly winning South Kintyre, independent Alastair McKinlay carrying Campbeltown Central and and the Lib Dems' Rory Colville elected by East Central Kintyre.  Kelly and Colville were re-elected under proportional representation in 2007, with McKinlay standing down and his seat going to the SNP's John Semple.  In that election Kelly polled so far over the quota that the Tories had a chance of two seats, but the transfers weren't there for them: Colville and Kelly's running-mate got ahead of the Labour candidate, who had started third, on transfers from Kelly's surplus, and Labour transfers elected Semple and Colville to the final two vacancies.  The three councillors were easily re-elected in 2012, the Tories not trying for two seats this time; they polled 46% of the first preferences to 25% for the SNP and 14% for the Lib Dems, with three independent candidates getting 15% between them.

That large Tory vote will make this SNP defence a difficult one, and the fact that the SNP group on Argyll and Bute council has more or less collapsed doesn't help matters.  Their candidate is John Armour, a broadcaster with the local radio station Argyll FM.  The Tories have selected Charlotte Hanbury, who gives an address fifty miles away in Lochgilphead; she fought her home ward of Mid Argyll in the 2012 election.  Also standing are Joyce Oxborrow for the Lib Dems and Michael Kelly for Labour.

This will be Scotland's last local by-election of 2014, and your columnist shall return in the new year for Scotland's first by-election of 2015, which will be held in Kirkcaldy on 22nd January.  In the meantime, Scottish Elections wishes a Merry Christmas and a Happy Hogmanay to Sid, Doris and all our other readers, and to close for the year we end with a song which is appropriate for both the time of year and location.

Parliamentary constituency: Argyll and Bute
Holyrood constituency: Argyll and Bute
ONS Travel to Work Area: Campbeltown

John Armour (SNP)
Charlotte Hanbury (C)
Michael Kelly (Lab)
Joyce Oxborrow (LD)

May 2012 result C 1133 SNP 618 Ind 368 LD 351 (elected: C/SNP/LD)
May 2007 result C 1484 SNP 663 Lab 444 LD 441 Solidarity 76 (elected: C/SNP/LD)#

Thursday, 27 November 2014

By-election Previews: 27th November 2014

There are twelve by-elections on 27th November.  Nine will be covered in English Elections and three in Scottish Elections.  In Scotland there is a poll to the non-partisan Orkney islands council, while the SNP have chances to take a seat in northern Aberdeenshire off the Tories and a seat in Midlothian from Labour.

Orkney Islands council
Caused by the resignation of independent councillor Jack Moodie due to "lack of motivation and enthusiasm".

Kirkwall Harbour from the Cathedral
Up to the remote northern isles.  The Kirkwall West and Orphir ward is a combined rural-urban ward: Orphir is a rural parish at the south-western corner of Orkney Mainland.  The ward has a long coastline on the northern edge of Scapa Flow, and also includes the western half of the Orkney Islands' capital, Kirkwall, including the Balfour Hospital, Orkney's main NHS hospital where most Orcadians begin and end their lives.

Orkney's elections are essentially non-partisan.  Jack Moodie had been elected at the top of the poll at the first STV election in 2007, polling almost twice the quota in this four-seat ward, and had also topped the poll in 2012 with 476 first preference votes (31%).

There are four candidates competing for Moodie's seat.  First in alphabetical order is Laurence Leonard, who fought the ward in 2012 and came a poor sixth out of eleven candiates with just 42 first preferences; a builder and Kirkwall community councillor, he made the news a few years ago by threatening to kill two police officers with a non-existent nail gun, for which he was sentenced to 18 months' probation.  Lorraine McBrearty is a singer from Kirkwall, who had a Patsy Cline tribute show at this year's Edinburgh Fringe.  Leslie Manson has recently retired after a 37-year career with the council, latterly as a long-serving director of education; he was gazetted MBE in the 2013 New Year Honours for services to Scottish education and the community in Orkney.  Last on the ballot paper is Gillian Skuse, chair of Orkney Health and Care and non-exec director of NHS Orkney.

Westminster and Holyrood constituency: Orkney and Shetland (Highlands and Islands region)
ONS Travel to Work Area: Orkney Islands

Laurence Leonard (Ind)
Lorraine McBrearty (Ind)
Leslie Manson (Ind)
Gillian Skuse (Ind)

2012 first preferences Ind 1480 SNP 50 (seats: Ind 4)
2007 first preferences Ind 1576 (seats: Ind 4)

Midlothian council
Caused by the resignation of Peter Boyes, who was elected as Labour but had left the party and was sitting as an independent.

New bridge for the Borders Railway
This is a slightly awkwardly-shaped division, running southeast from the Sheriffhall roundabout (scene of many a traffic jam on the Edinburgh bypass) around the south of Dalkeith to include several villages along the A68 Edinbugh-Carter Bar road.  The principal settlements in the ward are Eskbank, the southern part of Dalkeith and Mayfield, a 1950s development for colliery workers at Newtongrange and Easthouses; Easthouses also lies within the ward and effetively has merged into Mayfield.

The first proportional representation election here in 2007 was neck-and-neck between the SNP and Labour on first preferences, with the Lib Dems winning the final seat easily thanks to a combination of the SNP only standing one candidate and Labour failing to balance their vote between two candidates.  The Lib Dem councillor then defected to Labour and stood for re-election in 2012 on the Labour slate.  The SNP were clearly ahead on first preferences in 2012 (polling 43% to 36% for Labour) and with no official Lib Dem candidate had a chance of winning two out of three; however, another failure by Labour to balance their candidates saw the second Labour candidate (the ex-Lib Dem) eliminated, and Labour and Conservative transfers elected independent candidate Peter Devink to the final seat with a majority of 19 votes over the second SNP candidate.  With the SNP riding high in the polls they now have an opportunity to take a second seat in the ward for the first time.  Midlothian council is currently run by a coalition of the SNP and Devink which has half the seats, and if the SNP gain this by-election the administration will have a majority on the council.

Defending for Labour is Kenny Young, a former press officer for Ed Miliband.  The SNP candidate is Colin Cassidy, who fought Dalkeith ward in 2012.  Robert Hogg, the secretary of Mayfield and Easthouses community council, is standing as an independent.  Also on the ballot paper are Andrew Hardie for the Conservatives, Euan Davidson for the Lib Dems and Bill Kerr-Smith for the Scottish Green Party.

Parliamentary constituency: Midlothian
Holyrood constituency: Midlothian North and Musselburgh (Lothian region)
ONS Travel to Work Area: Edinburgh

Colin Cassidy (SNP)
Euan Davidson (LD)
Andrew Hardie (C)
Robert Hogg (Ind)
Bill Kerr-Smith (Grn)
Kenny Young (Lab)

May 2012 first preferences SNP 1777 Lab 1478 Ind 461 C 379 TUSC 52 (seats: SNP 1 Lab 1 Ind 1)
May 2007 first preferences SNP 1988 Lab 1974 LD 831 C 812 Solidarity 82 SSP 63 (seats: SNP 1 Lab 1 LD 1)

Aberdeenshire council
Caused by the death of Conservative councillor John Duncan, who had served on Aberdeenshire council since winning a by-election in 2002.

Macduff from the War Memorial
We finish this week with a large rural ward in the north-east of Scotland.  Troup runs along the north coast of Aberdeenshire from Banff to Fraserburgh without including either town; the name comes from Troup Head, a promontory roughly halfway in between those towns.  The ward's only town is Macduff, named not after the king of Scotland and Shakespeare character but after James Duff, the second Earl of Fife, who constructed the town's harbour in the late eighteenth century; it is the last place in the UK where deepwater fishing boats are built out of wood.  Outside Macduff the ward is miles and miles of tiny villages.

Since 2007 the ward has had three councillors, split one each between the SNP, the Tories and an independent.  The SNP polled 47% here in 2007 and would have been in with a chance of two seats if they had run two candidates; as it was, their single councillor died less than a year into his term, resulting in a by-election in May 2008 which the SNP won in the first round with 63% of the vote.  However, the SNP vote delined to 40% in 2012, independent candidates polling 31% and the Conservatives 21%.  That suggests that the Conservatives are unlikely to hold the seat, although this likely loss won't affect the situtation on Aberdeenshire council: the SNP are the largest party but the administration is an anti-SNP coalition with a secure majority.

The defending Tory candidate is Iain Taylor, a farmer.  The SNP are standing Ross Cassie, a driving examiner and PCS union rep from Macduff.  There are two independent candidates, Philip Mitchell and Alan Still; for Mitchell I shall simply refer you to his stream-of-consciousness conspiracy-theory-and-hyphen-laden election leaflet, while Still is a director of Deveronvale FC and president of the Aberdeenshire and District FA.  Also standing are Labour candidate Alan Duffill, a solicitor from Macduff who fought the ward in 2012; Ann Bell for the Lib Dems; and Darren Duncan for the Scottish Green Party.

Parliamentary constituency: Banff and Buchan
Holyrood constituency: Banffshire and Buchan Coast
ONS Travel to Work Area: Banff (part); Fraserburgh (part)

Ann Bell (LD)
Ross Cassie (SNP)
Alan Duffill (Lab)
Darren Duncan (Grn)
Philip Mitchell (Ind)
Alan Still (Ind)
Iain Taylor (C)

May 2012 first preferences SNP 1128 Ind 880 C 593 Lab 185 LD 56 (seats: SNP 1 C 1 Ind 1)
May 2008 by-election SNP 1721 C 515 LD 503
May 2007 first preferences SNP 1798 C 914 Ind 770 LD 286 (seats: SNP 1 C 1 Ind 1)

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

By-election Preview: 30 October 2014

As well as the by-election below, there are five other by-elections taking place this week.  The Police and Crime Commissioner by-election in South Yorkshire along with three other local by-elections are covered over on the English Elections Blog, while one more local by-election is featured on the Welsh Elections blog.

North Ayrshire council
Caused by the death of SNP councillor Alex McLean, who had served on North Ayrshire council since 2012.

Great Cumbrae Ferry at Largs, taken by Kristofer Keane
The northernmost ward in Ayrshire, this ward is dominated by the town of Largs, a port and seaside resort on the Firth of Clyde which this year was named by Royal Mail as one of the most attractive postcode areas to live in Scotland.  It is notable in history for the thirteenth-century Battle of Largs, an inconclusive action between the Scottish and Norwegian armies, and as the place where the decision was taken to invade Europe through Normandy.  Famous residents include the soldier Sir Thomas Brisbane, after whom the Australian city was named, and the £161 million lottery winners Colin and Chris Weir.

Regular ferries run from Largs to the island of Great Cumbrae in the Firth, which contributes around 1,200 of the ward's electors.  Other settlements on the mainland include Skelmorlie to the north, which is effectively the part of Wemyss Bay that lies in Ayrshire, and to the south the village of Fairlie and the port of Hunterston, at which imported coal reaches Scotland.

The two elections held here since PR was introduced have both elected two SNP councillors, one Labour and one Conservative.  The four seats were fairly comfortably filled in 2007 with the runner-up, independent candidate Ian Murdoch, some way behind, although 2012 was a closer affair: at the decisive stage in 2012 Murdoch was 50 votes behind the Conservative candidate with an undistributed Labour surplus of 36 votes, which would have narrowed the gap.  The SNP improved to 45% of the first preferences in 2012, and seem to have received a boost in polling from the recent referendum; it may be difficult for the opposition transfers to line up behind a single candidate.  There are no implications for control of the council, which is run by an SNP/Independent coalition, although a Labour gain in the by-election would make them the largest party.

The defending SNP candidate is Grace McLean, Alex' widow.  Labour have selected mother-of-three Valerie Reid and the Conservatives' candidate is businesswoman Toni Dawson.  Drew Cochrane, recently-retired editor of the local newspaper Largs and Millport News, is standing as an independent, and Arran resident Meilan Henderson is the UKIP nominee.

May 2012 first preferences SNP 2795 Lab 1144 C 1143 Ind 1017 Soc Lab 124 (elected: SNP 2 Lab 1 C 1)
May 2007 first preferences SNP 3072 C 1726 Lab 1549 Ind 964 LD 493 (elected: SNP 2 C 1 Lab 1)

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

By-election Preview: 23 October 2014

There are eight local by-elections covered this week.  You can find previews for the rest over on the English Elections blog.

Argyll and Bute council
Caused by the death of independent councillor John MacGregor at the age of 62.  A businessman and property developer from the village of North Connel, MacGregor had sat on Argyll and Bute council for less than two weeks, having been elected in a by-election on 29th July.

Connel Bridge
The first Scottish electoral contest since last month's independence referendum will take place in the Highlands, in a geographically vast ward which essentially contains the whole of the hinterland of Oban but only the northern third of the town itself (the other two-thirds of Oban is in a ward with Mull and various other islands).  The ward goes a long way inland along the line of the A85, past Dalmally and as far as Bridge of Orchy; also here are the Benderloch and Appin areas on the north side of Loch Etive, together with the island of Lismore in Loch Linnhe.  As well as tourism, one of the main drivers of the local economy is the hydroelectric power station at Ben Cruachan, knowledge of which once won your columnist a bottle of rare Belgian beer.

The ward was created for the 2007 elections in Scotland which were the first to be held under proportional representation.  In 2003 at the last first-past-the-post election, all four of the predecessor wards (Awe, Oban North, Ardconnel-Kilmore and North Lorn) returned independent councillors.  Two of the independents were re-elected in 2007, while one was defeated; the other two seats went to the Lib Dems and the SNP.  The SNP councillor died in 2011 and the SNP held the by-election, Louise Glen-Lee polling 44% of the vote; at the decisive stage of the count she had 51% of the vote to 25% for the Tories and 24% for an independent candidate.  In the 2012 election the Lib Dem vote collapsed and their seat went to a third independent, who defeated the second SNP candidate by a margin of less than one vote.

This is Oban's third local by-election in five months.  The first was held in May (simultaneously with the European elections) in the other Oban ward, and was unexpectedly won by Labour.  For the second, held here in July following Louise Glen-Lee's resignation, I wrote in this column that "even with Scottish by-elections using the Alternative Vote anything can still happen" and we certainly got an unusual and interesting result.  The SNP topped the poll on first preferences but with less than 25% of the vote, and the nationalist party (whose Oban branch had suffered a damaging split) attracted so few transfers that they failed to make the final round of voting, in which John MacGregor narrowly defeated Labour by 920 votes to 874.  MacGregor's election meant that all four of the ward's seats were now in the hands of independents.

The defending independent candidate is Stephanie Irvine, who runs a small business in Oban town centre.  Labour have reselected their runner-up from the July by-election, Oban-based Kieron Green.  The SNP want back the seat they lost in July, and have selected Iain MacLean, from North Connel, who lost the May by-election in Oban South and was selected for the July by-election here but then withdrew at a late stage.  The last candidate on the ballot paper is the Tories' Andrew Venner, who tries again after his fourth place in the July by-election.

Westminster constituency: Argyll and Bute
Holyrood constituency: Argyll and Bute
Holyrood electoral region: Highlands and Islands
ONS Travel to Work Area: Oban

July 2014 by-election SNP 595 Ind 548 Lab 526 C 445 Ind 301 (after transfers: Ind 920 Lab 874)
May 2012 first preferences Inds 1994 SNP 1117 C 322 LD 188
Nov 2011 by-election SNP 1081 C 505 Ind 438 LD 260 Ind 165 (after transfers: SNP 1179 C 591 Ind 561)
May 2007 first preferences Inds 2488 SNP 1019 LD 665 C 387

Thursday, 2 October 2014

New Panelbase Voting Intention Polls

Panelbase have published the first full set of Scottish voting intention polls since the end of the independence referendum campaign.

They show a big lead for the SNP in the Holyrood campaign, and a more narrow lead for the party in Westminster voting intention.  Full figures below, including seat projections made using the Scotland Votes website here.


Vote Share
Vote Share
61 (-8)
35 (-2)
19 (+4)
9 (+7)
Lib Dems
4 (-1)
1 (-)

The projected other seat would be an Independent gain from Liberal Democrats in the Orkney Islands constituency.

(Due to requirements of the software, 0.25% was added to the totals of each of the four parties winning seats when projecting seats.)

Vote Share
18 (+12)
34 (-7)
3 (+2)
Lib Dems
4 (-7)

The Westminster seats changing hands on these figures would be:

SNP gains from Labour
Aberdeen North
Ayrshire North and Arran
Dundee West
Edinburgh East
Ochil and South Perthshire

SNP gains from Liberal Democrats
Argyll and Bute
Caithness and Sutherland
Edinburgh West
Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey

Conservative gains from Liberal Democrats
Aberdeenshire West and Kincardine
Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

John Wilson MSP Quits SNP

John Wilson MSP
John Wilson, list MSP for Central Scotland, has resigned the SNP citing opposition to party policy - primarily the 2012 decision to support Scotland remaining a member of NATO after independence.

He joins former SNP MSPs in the Highlands and Islands Jean Urquhart and John Finnie in having resigned from the party over the issue.  Wilson's own partner, Cllr Frances McGlinchey (North Lanarkshire, Strathkelvin) also resigned the party over the same issue back in 2012 (The Herald), which at the time led to speculation that Wilson too would resign.  Wilson instead hung on, and has now revealed that he didn't want to interfere negatively with the independence referendum campaign, and thus had delayed his resignation until now.

It has been speculated that he may join the current technical group of Greens and Independents in the Scottish Parliament, which includes Urquhart and Finnie.  This group was recently deprived of its representation on the influential parliamentary bureau after the death of Margo MacDonald reduced its numbers below the minimum required group size of five MSPs.  Wilson joining this group would allow the Greens and Independents to again gain more speaking time in parliament, and guaranteed representation on parliamentary committees.

The SNP meanwhile have their total seats in Holyrood cut now to 64 - a majority of just one over the combined 63 MSPs of opposition parties with one seat left vacant by Margo's death, although they can also rely on the casting vote of the formerly SNP presiding officer Tricia Marwick.

Of the 69 SNP MSPs elected in 2011, three have now defected to Independent (Wilson, Urquhart and Finnie), one (Marwick) was appointed the presiding officer, and one was expelled from the party and subsequently resigned from parliament, resulting in the Dunfermline by-election that was won by Labour.

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Salmond Wins Over Undecided Voters in First Debate

As the referendum debate between Alistair Darling and Alex Salmond draws to a close, most commentators have acknowledged Darling as the victor with the First Minister giving a less stellar than expected performance.

An instant ICM poll held at the end of the debate gave Darling the win overall with 56% of respondents choosing him as the winner to Salmond's 44%.  However, this lead comes from Darling's stronger support amongst those definitely voting no (90%-10%) compared to Salmond's support amongst those definitely voting yes (80%-20%).

Amongst the key undecided swing voters, Salmond was considered narrowly victorious with 55% to Darling's 45%.  Salmond's winning margin is even greater however amongst those who remained uncertain after the debate - 74% to 26%.

The relevant polling data table is available here.

Thursday, 17 July 2014

By-election Preview: 17 July 2014

Argyll and Bute council
Caused by the resignation of SNP councillor Louise Glen-Lee for personal reasons.

Distillery and McCaig's Tower, Oban
Up in the Highlands here, for a geographically vast ward which essentially contains the whole of the hinterland of Oban but only the northern third of the town itself (the other two-thirds of Oban is in a ward with Mull and various other islands).  The ward goes a long way inland along the line of the A85, past Dalmally and as far as Bridge of Orchy; also here are the Benderloch and Appin areas on the north side of Loch Etive, together with the island of Lismore in Loch Linnhe.    As well as tourism, one of the main drivers of the local economy is the hydroelectric power station at Ben Cruachan, knowledge of which once won your columnist a bottle of rare Belgian beer.

The ward was created for the 2007 elections in Scotland which were the first to be held under proportional representation.  In 2003 at the last first-past-the-post election, all four of the predecessor wards (Awe, Oban North, Ardconnel-Kilmore and North Lorn) returned independent councillors.  Two of the independents were re-elected in 2007, while one was defeated; the other two seats went to the Lib Dems and the SNP.  The SNP councillor died in 2011 and the SNP held the by-election, Louise Glen-Lee polling 44% of the vote; at the decisive stage of the count she had 51% of the vote to 25% for the Tories and 24% for an independent candidate.  In the 2012 election the Lib Dem vote collapsed and their seat went to a third independent, who defeated the second SNP candidate by a margin of less than one vote.  A by-election was held in May (simultaneously with the European elections) in the other Oban ward, which was unexpectedly won by Labour, so we should remember that even with Scottish by-elections using the Alternative Vote anything can still happen.

The SNP nomination for the by-election was messy: the party originally selected the losing candidate in the Oban South by-election, Iain MacLean, but he then withdrew at a late stage.  The replacement SNP candidate is Gerry Fisher, from the hamlet of Ledaig in Benderloch.  There are two competing independent candidate: John MacGregor from North Connel and Marri Malloy from Oban.  Standing for the Conservatives is Andrew Vennard from Oban, and completing the ballot paper is the ward's first Labour candidate Kieron Green, from Oban.

Westminster constituency: Argyll and Bute
Holyrood constituency: Argyll and Bute
Holyrood electoral region: Highlands and Islands
ONS Travel to Work Area: Oban

Gerry Fisher (SNP)
Kieron Green (Lab)
John MacGregor (Ind)
Marri Malloy (Ind)
Andrew Vennard (C)

May 2012 first preferences Inds 1994 SNP 1117 C 322 LD 188
Nov 2011 by-election SNP 1081 C 505 Ind 438 LD 260 Ind 165 (after transfers: SNP 1179 C 591 Ind 561)
May 2007 first preferences Inds 2488 SNP 1019 LD 665 C 387

Tuesday, 29 April 2014

By-Election Preview: 1 May 2014

Highland Council; caused by the resignation of independent councillor Eddie Hunter, who is moving away from the area.

Glenfinnan Viaduct
Welcome to the Highlands.  The Caol and Mallaig ward sprawls over almost 800 square miles, an area larger than several European countries, of mostly inhospitable mountains.  The ward's population is concentrated along the Atlantic seashore and in the glens along the lines of communication, notably the West Highland railway line.

To describe the population centres (such as they are), Caol is essentially a suburb of Fort William (which forms the centre of a separate ward) at the northern end of the sea inlet of Loch Linnhe.  The eastern half of the ward consists of the southern half of the Great Glen together with Glen Spean; the two valleys meet at Spean Bridge, which is the biggest village in the area.  To the west of Fort William, the ward runs along the northern shore of Loch Eil, up to Glenfinnan (whose viaduct will be familiar to anyone who has seen the Harry Potter films) and then down to the Atlantic coast and the village of Arisaig, home to the UK's most westerly railway station.  The railway terminates at the fishing port of Mallaig, from which there are regular ferries to Armadale on the Isle of Skye (which is not part of this ward), to the Small Isles of Rhum, Eigg, Canna and Muck, and to Knoydart; the last wilderness on the British mainland, Knoydart is accessible only by boat or by a 16-mile hike through some of the most rugged country in Great Britain.  Skye is a ward of its own, but the Small Isles and Knoydart are both covered by Caol and Mallaig ward.  Also in this ward is reliable quiz-question fodder Loch Morar, the UK's deepest inland lake.

The notice of poll shows that over half the ward's 7,087 electors live in Caol and the neighbouring village of Corpach.  The only other settlements with more than 500 electors are Spean Bridge (696) and Mallaig (673).  The Small Isles have a single polling station on Eigg catering for 133 electors (although if I recall correctly the residents of Canna, Rhum and Muck traditionally vote by post), while the ward's smallest polling station is at Inverie, the largest hamlet on Knoydart, with 75 electors.

This was the place where the 1745 Jacobite rebellion started, the Young Pretender landing on the mainland at Loch nan Uamh near Arisaig and raising his standard at Glenfinnan.  Even after the rising was put down the Highlands were essentially bandit country for many years (a young James Wolfe learned how to command a regiment here before finding lasting fame in the hour of his death at Quebec) and there are persistent rumours that the Jacobite treasure is buried somewhere in the vicinity of Loch Arkaig, an offshoot of the Great Glen.

In the modern day, the Highlands is the realm of the independent councillor.  When the modern ward was introduced (along with proportional representation) for the 2007 election 74% of its votes went to independent councillors Bill Clark, Allan Henderson and Eddie Hunter, all of whom were easily re-elected in 2012.  Ballot box counts are available for the 2012 election; they reveal that Hunter narrowly led in Caol (where he lived), Clark in the Corpach polling district (where he lives) and Henderson everywhere else, including the postal votes; Henderson polled 82% of the first preferences in the Mallaig, Small Isles and Knoydart boxes.  The 2012 results showed the strongest challenge to the independents coming from the SNP, who polled 15% (the five independent candidates polled 81% between them, with the remaining 4% shared between the Tories and the Christian Party).

Two independent candidates have come forward to succeed Hunter: they are Ben Thompson and Sandy Watson, both of whom are from the Caol area: Thompson owns a bicycle shop, while Watson is a former local business owner with a background in computing.  The SNP candidate is William Macdonald, who fought his home ward of Fort William and Ardnamurchan in 2012.  The Tories have given up on the ward, but a score of 1.6% last time out hasn't put off the Christian Party's Susan Wallace, who tries again.  Completing the ballot paper is the ward's first UKIP candidate, Liam Simmonds.

Westminster constituency: Ross, Skye and Lochaber (apart from some uninhabited areas)
Holyrood constituency: Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch
Holyrood electoral region: Highlands and Islands
ONS Travel to Work Area: Lochaber

William Macdonald (SNP)
Liam Simmonds (UKIP)
Ben Thompson (Ind)
Susan Wallace (Christian)
Sandy Watson

May 2012 first preferences Inds 905+710+506+71+60 SNP 411 C 66 Chr 45
May 2007 first preferences Inds 975+881+550+188+151+100+64 Lab 473 SNP 389 C 156

Friday, 28 March 2014

Defection Watch: From Tory to Labour in Dumfries and Galloway

Cllr Graeme Tait
A former Conservative councillor has joined the Labour Party in Dumfries and Galloway.  Cllr Graeme Tait (Annandale North ward) gained his seat from Labour in a by-election in November 2012.  In 2013, he was one of seven councillors in Dumfries and Galloway to quit the Conservative group, forming a new Independent Conservative group and resulting in the collapse of the Conservative-SNP administration and its replacement with a new Labour-SNP administration.  Tait said he chose to join Labour now as he felt its "policies and values" were closer to his own than any other party.

The defection restores the original composition of the ward after the May 2012 election - two Conservatives, one Labour and one SNP councillors.  Labour poll well enough to pretty much guarantee themselves one of the ward's four seats, so Tait could easily defend his seat if he chose to stand again under his new colours.

New council composition -
Labour - 15 (+1)
SNP - 10
Conservatives - 8
Independents - 7
Independent Conservatives - 6 (-1)

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

By-Election Preview: 27 March 2014

East Ayrshire Council; caused by the death of SNP councillor Andrew Hershaw at the age of 56.  Hershaw was first elected in 2012 and was in his first term as a councillor.

Knockinlaw Area of Kilmarnock
  © Copyright wfmillar and licensed for
reuse under this 
Creative Commons Licence.
As might be expected, this ward is northern Kilmarnock, a series of residential areas along the roads to Glasgow.  The town of Kilmarnock was called into existence by the Industrial Revolution, with surviving industries in the town including manufacture of valves and railway locomotives; former industries include carpet-making and distilling.  Until 2012, when production was moved elsewhere in Scotland, Kilmarnock's most famous export was the world's best-selling Scotch whisky, Johnnie Walker.

The SNP were sufficiently strong here to win all three of the predecessor wards (Altonhill, Hillhead and Longpark; North New Farm Loch and Dean; and Onthank) at the last first-past-the-post election to East Ayrshire in 2003, providing three of their eight councillors.  The introduction of PR in 2007 allowed the SNP to draw level with Labour across the council area, but also enabled Labour to gain representation in this area; the three seats in the new Kilmarnock North ward split two to the SNP and one to Labour in both the 2007 and 2012 elections.  Topping the poll for the SNP in 2007 was Willie Coffey, who on the same day was elected MSP for Kilmarnock and Loudoun; he stood down from the council in 2012 to concentrate on Holyrood and Hershaw inherited his seat; although Hershaw was in last place on first preferences, behind the Tory candidate, the surplus from his running-mate was enough to ensure his election.

It's been quite a long time now since the SNP won a council by-election in Scotland, but with the party polling over 50% of the vote here in both 2007 and 2012 it will take a fair amount for the nationalists to lose this one.  Their candidate is Elaine Cowan, while Scott Thomson stands for Labour.  Also on the ballot paper are the Tories' Ian Grant, standing again from 2012, and Jen Broadhurst for the Scottish Greens.

Westminster constituency: Kilmarnock and Loudoun
Holyrood constituency: Kilmarnock and Irvine Valley (South Scotland region)
ONS Travel to Work Area: Ayr and Kilmarnock
Postcode district: KA3

Jen Broadhurst (Grn)
Elaine Cowan (SNP)
Ian Grant (C)
Scott Thomson (Lab)

May 2012 result SNP 1738 (2 seats) Lab 1176 (1 seat) C 383
May 2007 result SNP 2504 (2 seats) Lab 1202 (1 seat) C 709 SSP 85

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Defection Watch: Edinburgh SNP Cllr Quits Party

Cllr Jim Orr (Edinburgh, Southside/Newington) has quit the SNP to sit instead as an Independent councillor.  He blamed "far too many internal spats" for feeling unable to continue to work with the SNP though other SNP sources claim that he was "jumping before he was pushed".  Orr was vice-convenor of the city council's transport and environment committee, and known as a eager supporter of cycling, campaigning for more improvements in Edinburgh's cycling infrastructure.

Southside/Newington, like most of Edinburgh's central wards, is extremely marginal with four different parties holding its four seats.  In 2012, the Greens narrowly topped the poll here albeit with only 20% of the first preference votes. Labour were second with 19.8%, Cllr Orr then for the SNP came third with 18.3%, while the Conservatives took the last seat with 16.7%.  The full 2012 result for the ward is available here.  The ward itself is dominated by the student community of the University of Edinburgh, although large numbers of affluent professionals also live in the area.

Edinburgh itself has had a rather unusual Labour-SNP "grand coalition" administration since 2012, whose overall majority still remains.

New council composition -
Labour - 20
SNP - 17 (-1)
Conservative - 11
Green - 6
Lib Dems - 3
Independent - 1 (+1)

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Defection Watch: SNP Cllr Quits Party Over Equal Marriage

Veteran Cllr Bev Gauld (Clydesdale East ward, South Lanarkshire) has quit the SNP, citing his opposition to the Scottish Government's legalisation of equal marriage rights for same-sex couples.  Cllr Gauld was a former kirk minister, and had been expected to resign over the issue for some time.

New council composition:
Labour - 35
SNP - 25 (-1)
Conservative - 3
Independents - 3 (+1)
Lib Dems - 1

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

By-Election Preview: 30 January 2014

Moray Council; caused by the resignation of Independent councillor Anne McKay for personal reasons.

Cluny Square, Buckie
  © Copyright J. Thomas and licensed for
reuse under this 
Creative Commons Licence.
Moray district's third largest town (after Elgin and Forres), Buckie developed in the nineteenth century as a fishing port concentrating on shellfish.  The fishing industry is less important now, but related industries such as boatbuilding (the local shipyard is the main company refitting Britain's lifeboats) and the North Sea oil industry are still important to the local economy.  The ward named after Buckie, which returns three members to Moray Council, also includes the villages of Rathven and Findochty to the east.

At local council level Buckie's votes traditionally to go independents.  In the last first-past-the-post council election in 2003 independents won two of the wards covering the town, the other (Buckie Central) being won by Labour.   The introduction of PR in 2007 led to a shake-up in the town's representation, as the two independent councillors stood down and the Labour councillor was defeated, two new indies and the SNP candidate (who topped the poll) winning.  The SNP tried for two seats in 2012 and managed to increase their vote from 1.29 quotas to 1.80 quotas, but it wasn't enough to dislodge the two independent councillors who polled 1.91 quotas between them and were both re-elected easily thanks to favourable Conservative transfers.

With the combined independents polling 48% in 2012 to the SNP's 45%, this by-election is difficult to call.  There are two new independent candidates: Gordon Cowie is a member of Buckie community council and formerly worked on the roads for Moray council, while Fochabers-based Mark MacRae is a director of Buckie Thistle football club.  The SNP have put up their second candidate from 2012 Linda McDonald, wife of the ward's current SNP councillor, while the Tories have re-selected their 2012 candidate Margaret Gambles, from Keith.  Don't wait up all night for the result, as the count is taking place on Friday.

Westminster constituency: Moray
Holyrood constituency: Banffshire and Buchan Coast (North East Scotland region)
ONS Travel to Work Area: Moray
Postcode district: AB56

Gordon Cowie (Ind)
Margaret Gambles (C)
Marc MacRae (Ind)
Linda McDonald (SNP)

May 2012 result Ind 1205 (2 seats) SNP 1136 (1 seat) C 179
May 2007 result Ind 1575 (2 seats) SNP 1188 (1 seat) Lab 507 C 397

Thursday, 23 January 2014

By-Election Preview: 23 January 2014

In a break from the norm, this by-election is being previewed by our editor-in-chief, a former resident of this ward.  Andrew Teale has a preview for this week's Cowdenbeath by-election in the next post here, and also previews one English local by-election for this week over on the English Elections blog.

North Lanarkshire Council; caused by the death of Labour councillor Anna McAuley.

  © Copyright Paul McIlroy and licensed for
reuse under this 
Creative Commons Licence.
Motherwell's three wards are more or less divided along railway lines.  Motherwell West lies to the west of the Argyle Line, that connects the town to Bellshill and Hamilton, and the West Coast Main Line. Motherwell South East and Ravenscraig on the other hand covers the parts of the town that lie between those two lines, as well as the vast expanse of the former Ravescraig Steelworks site, currently undergoing regeneration.  Motherwell North only really includes the little bit of Motherwell that lies to the north of the WCML, namely the Milton Road area, and also the Coursington estate, where your editor previously lived a few years ago now.  The larger part of the ward lies to the north-east of Motherwell itself, covering Jerviston, Carfin, New Stevenston and Newarthill.

Most of these areas are economically deprived, comprising communities built to serve local heavy industry, mostly coal mines and the steelworks, that have all long since gone.  These days, the major employers in the area are North Lanarkshire Council, and local retail businesses.  Motherwell has managed to somewhat diversify into the service industry, with a large number of call centres in the Airbles Road area of the town, while there are also a substantial number of Glasgow commuters in the area, served by Motherwell, Holytown and Carfin train stations.  However, local unemployment still remains well above the Scottish average.

As you'd expect from Motherwell, the ward is very safely Labour, returning three out of four seats for them in 2007 and 2012.  Indeed, this is the safest of Motherwell's three wards for Labour, who took 59% of the first preferences in 2007 and 68% in 2012. The closest competition comes from the SNP, who won the remaining seat in both years as well.  The Lib Dems came reasonably close to winning a seat in 2007 on transfers, with their young local candidate Stuart Douglas, but collapsed in the midst of their nationally cataclysmic showing in 2012.

This time around, the Lib Dems haven't even fielded a candidate, while defending for Labour is train driver and trade union rep Pat O'Rourke.  Continuing this ward's history of young candidates, the SNP is fielding 18-year old activist Jordan Linden, while the Conservatives have selected local businessman and perennial Motherwell candidate Bob Burgess.  Completing the line-up is UKIP's Neil Wilson, the first time UKIP have contested a local election in North Lanarkshire.

Westminster constituency: Airdrie and Shotts (part: Newarthill), Motherwell and Wishaw (rest of ward)
Holyrood constituency: Motherwell and Wishaw (part: part of Motherwell), Uddingston and Bellshill (rest of ward)
Holyrood region: Central Scotland
ONS Travel to Work Area: Lanarkshire
Postcode districts: ML1, ML4

May 2012 result Lab 3386 (3 seats) SNP 1261 (1 seat) C 217 LD 109
May 2007 result Lab 3833 (3 seats) SNP 1480 (1 seat) LD 465 C 383 Ind 379

Bob Burgess (C)
Jordan Linden (SNP)
Pat O'Rourke (Lab)
Neil Wilson (UKIP)

By-Election Preview: Cowdenbeath

Scottish Parliament; caused by the death of Labour MSP Helen Eadie at the age of 66.  One of the Scottish Parliament's original Class of 1999, Eadie had originally sat for the Dunfermline East constituency, moving to the successor seat of Cowdenbeath in 2011.

Cowdenbeath High Street
  © Copyright Colin Kinnear and licensed for
reuse under this 
Creative Commons Licence.
This is a long, thin constituency running down to the Firth of Forth.  The main town in the constituency is Cowdenbeath itself, a Victorian-era town which grew thanks to coal and iron mining; the population of Cowdenbeath doubled between 1890 and 1900 and, as the centre of the Fife coalfield, the town became host to several related institutions such as the Fife Mining School.  The mining industry also led to a boom in several villages in the area: Kelty, Lochgelly, Lochore and Cardenden, turning them into towns.  With the death of Scottish coal-mining the economies of these villages are changing; Lochgelly in particular is dependent on a large ethylene plant, while Kelty is turning into an Edinburgh commuter village thanks to its proximity to the M90 motorway.  This is not the only Edinburgh commuter area in the constituency, as we see by going down the M90 to the Forth shore and three communities which are rather detached from the rest of the constituency: the medieval port town of Inverkeithing, the railway suburb of Dalgety Bay and the village of North Queensferry, on a promontory in the shadow of the Forth Bridges.

The Fife coalfield had a reputation for radicalism, and the West Fife constituency which covered this area until 1974 was represented from 1935 to 1950 by the Communist MP William Gallacher; even in 1955 the Communist Party could save its deposit in the constituency, when they had long since collapsed into oblivion everywhere else in the UK.  However, the West Fife constituency only covered the countryside, with the towns of Cowdenbeath and Lochgelly (joined by Inverkeithing in 1950) being part of the Dunfermline Burghs contituency which remained safe Labour throughout this period.  In 1974 the area was split, with Inverkeithing and its hinterland joining the Dumferline constituency and the coalfield area transferred to the new Central Fife seat.  Fife gained a fifth seat in Parliament at the 1983 election in Dunfermline East, with very similar boundaries to the modern Cowdenbeath constituency.  Dunfermline East never contained any part of Dunfermline town; the name came about because it was one of two seats covering the then Dunfermline local government district.  All of these were of course very safe Labour seats.

The lucky beneficiary of the new seat was a 32-year-old partially-sighted TV journalist and ex-Edinburgh University rector called Gordon Brown, who had stood for Labour in an Edinburgh constituency in 1979 and lost to the Conservatives.  With a secure political base in his new safe seat, Brown's political career flourished.  Whatever you may think of his political legacy, Brown deserves some respect for his sheer staying power: nearly five years as Shadow Chancellor under Smith and Blair turning into over ten years as Blair's Chancellor of the Exchequer and nearly three years as Prime Minister, when the economic music stopped in 2008.  That game of Pass the Parcel didn't end well, and Brown is now trying to adjust to life on the backbenches as constituency MP for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath, having moved to that seat after the Westminster seat of Dunfermline East was abolished in 2005.  One candidate he defeated at the 1987 election was the SDP's Evan Harris, who went on to have a parliamentary career in Oxford.

All of these were of course very safe Labour seats, and it took until the late noughties for things at the ballot box to get interesting; first the Liberal Democrats gained the Dunfermline and West Fife parliamentary constituency (which includes the Inverkeithing area) at a 2006 by-election, then the SNP surge of 2011 very nearly delivered them the Cowdenbeath seat, the Labour majority being cut from around 4,000 votes (after boundary changes) to 1,247.  Cowdenbeath was the only constituency that Labour held in the Mid Scotland and Fife electoral region in 2011; the SNP won the other eight constituencies, although they have since lost Dunfermline to Labour in a by-election.

At Fife Council level the Cowdenbeath constituency contains the whole of three wards (Cowdenbeath, Inverkeithing and Dalgety Bay, and Lochgelly and Cardenden) and part of a fourth (The Lochs).  In the 2007 election Labour carried all of those wards except for Inverkeithing and Dalgety Bay, where the SNP were top of the poll; over those four wards Labour won five council seats to four for the SNP, one each for the Tories and Lib Dems (both in Inverkeithing and Dalgety Bay) and two independent candidates in Cowdenbeath and The Lochs wards, both long-serving councillors who were originally elected as Communists.  At the 2012 local elections the independent councillor in Cowdenbeath stood down and his seat went to Labour, who also gained the Lib Dem seat in Inverkeithing and Dalgety Bay.

This is likely to be the last major electoral test in Scotland before the European elections and then the independence referendum later this year, and with the Labour majority being small there is a lot at stake.  Defending for Labour is Alex Rowley, the leader of Fife council who fought Dunfermline in the 2011 Holyrood election.  The SNP have selected Natalie McGarry, a political commentator from Glasgow who co-founded Women for Independence.  The Tory candidate is their local councillor in the seat, Dave Dempsey, while the Lib Dem candidate is Renfrew-based IT worker and European candidate Jade Holden.  UKIP have selected Denise Baykal, who gives an address in Perthshire; Stuart Graham stands for the newly-formed Victims Final Right party, which is campaigning for the 2007 death of a local man to be re-investigated; and Glasgow-based James Trolland, undaunted by fighting two Glasgow council by-elections last year for a combined total of 7 votes, continues to appear on ballot papers for his Scottish Democratic Alliance.

Denise Baykal (UKIP)
Dave Dempsey (C)
Stuart Graham (Victims Final Right)
Jade Holden (LD)
Natalie McGarry (SNP)
Alex Rowley (Lab)
James Trolland (Scottish Democratic Alliance)

May 2011 result Lab 11926 SNP 10679 C 1792 LD 997 Land Party 276