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)

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