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