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)#