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