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

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