Wednesday, 9 December 2015

By-election Preview: 10 December 2015

Seven local by-elections this week - one taking place in Scotland with six more covered over on the English Elections blog.

South Lanarkshire council
Caused by the death of Labour councillor Jim Handibode.  A South Lanarkshire councillor since 1995, and before that a Hamilton district councillor since 1992, Handibode was a former Royal Engineer and veteran of the Borneo confrontation in the mid-1960s; on the council he was Chair of Social Work for many years.

This ward should not be confused with the commercial capital of the African country of Malawi.  There is, of course, a link: Blantyre was the home town of David Livingstone, the African explorer who was the first European to see the Victoria Falls.  His birthplace on the south bank of the Clyde is now a museum, handily located for Blantyre's railway station on the Hamilton Circle line, with regular trains to Hamilton and Glasgow.  Apart from Livingstone, Blantyre is noted for an appalling pit explosion in 1877 which killed 207 men and boys.

Before PR was introduced in 2007 this area was represented by three Labour councillors and one independent, with Handibode representing Coatshill/Low Blantyre ward.  PR enabled the SNP to get in on the act, their candidate John McNamee gaining a seat from Labour and independent Bert Thomson also winning a seat, Labour being represented by Handibode and Hugh Dunsmuir, who topped the poll.  The same four councillors were re-elected in 2012, but this time McNamee was on the Labour slate and Thomson was the SNP candidate, so effectively Labour gained a seat from the independents to split the seats 3-1 Labour-SNP.  In terms of votes, Labour had 54% of the first preferences to 31% for the SNP.

Defending for Labour is Mo Razzaq, a shopowner and businessman, Scottish president of the National Federation of Retail Newsagents and secretary of the Scottish Grocers Federation.  He is opposed by the SNP candidate, Gerry Chambers.  Also standing are Tory candidate Taylor Muir, Lib Dem Stephen Reid, Sean Baillie of the Scottish Socialist Party and UKIP's Emma Docherty.

Parliamentary constituency: Rutherglen and Hamilton West
Holyrood constituency: Rutherglen (most), Uddingston and Bellshill (small part)
ONS Travel to Work Area: Lanarkshire

May 2012 result Lab 2476 SNP 1399 Ind 234 CPA 209 C 176 Ind 40 LD 32
May 2007 result Lab 2707 Ind 1365 SNP 1253 Ind 748 C 327 Ind 52

Thursday, 26 November 2015

By-election Previews: 26 November 2015

Nine by-elections on 26th November 2015, five in England, two in Wales and two in Scotland.  In Scotland the SNP have to defend two seats in the Kingdom of Fife.  Your columnist hasn't had a lot of spare time this week, so some of these entries may be slightly abbreviated.

Fife council
Caused respectively by the resignations of Scottish National Party councillors David Mogg and Douglas Chapman.  Chapman is now the Member of Parliament for Dunfermline and West Fife.

Conoisseurs of Fife by-elections have had a vintage year, with these being the fifth and sixth polls of 2015.  Dunfermline North does pretty much what it says on the tin, being the northern third of Dunfermline plus a small rural hinterland.  Rosyth ward covers the whole of that town plus the village of North Queensferry at the northern end of the Forth Bridges - currently two, with a replacement road bridge now under construction.  Rosyth is of course a naval town - the Navy moved out in 1994 but there is still some shipbulding here together with regular freight-only ferries to Zeebrugge in Belgium.

The two wards have fairly similar electoral histories: they both elected one councillor each from Labour, the Lib Dems and the SNP in 2007, with Labour gaining the Lib Dem seats in 2012 which was the most recent election here.  In 2012 Labour had 48% in Dunfermline North to 32% for the SNP and 14% for the Lib Dems, while in Rosyth Labour beat the SNP 48-36.  The surge for the SNP since last year's referendum suggests that both these seats are well within their grasp.

Defending for the SNP in Dunfermline North is Ian Ferguson, a hypnotherapist.  The Labour candidate is Joe Long, an exec member of the Scottish Fabians.  On the Lib Dem side, their 2012 candidate James Calder tries again.  Also on the ballot are the Tories' James Reekie, the Greens' Lewis Campbell and UKIP's Chloanne Dodds.

The defending SNP candidate in Rosyth is Sharon Wilson, a publisher and treasurer of the local community council.  She is opposed in the red corner by Labour's Vikki Fairweather, a working mum and occasional boxer.  Also standing are Matthew Hall for the Lib Dems, David Ross of the Tories, UKIP's Colin Mitchelson, Cairinne Macdonald of the Green Party and independent candidate Alastair MacIntyre.

Dunfermline North
Parliamentary constituency: Dunfermline and West Fife
Scottish Parliament constituency: Dunfermline
ONS Travel to Work Area: Dunfermline

May 2012 result Lab 1841 (2 seats) SNP 1204 (1 seat) LD 518 C 253
May 2007 result Lab 1526 (1 seat) LD 1451 (1 seat) SNP 1236 (1 seat) Local Health Concern 690 C 313 Ind 59

Parliamentary constituency: Dunfermline and West Fife
Scottish Parliament constituency: Cowdenbeath
ONS Travel to Work Area: Dunfermline

May 2012 result Lab 1843 (2 seats) SNP 1382 (1 seat) LD 275 C 223 UKIP 101 Ind 41
May 2007 result Lab 2035 (1 seat) SNP 1672 (1 seat) LD 1081 (1 seat) C 415

Wednesday, 4 November 2015

By-election Preview: 5 November 2015

Aberdeenshire council
A double by-election caused by the death of SNP councillor Joanna Strathdee and the resignation of Liberal Democrat councillor Alastair Ross.  Strathdee, who has died of cancer at the age of 60, was first elected to Aberdeenshire council in 1999 and led the SNP group from 2007 to 2010; she also fought Gordon in the 2005 Westminster election and Aberdeen North in 2010.  Outside of politics, Strathdee was a former bus driver with a passion for motorcycling and Highland dancing - becoming a Highland dancing teacher while she was in her 20s.  Ross, whose resignation came for health reasons, had been an Aberdeenshire councillor since 2007.

We have here a large rural ward in the interior of Aberdeenshire.  The largest town is Huntly, on the main road and railway line from Aberdeen to Inverness; named after the Earls of Huntly, the chief of the Clan Gordon, the town is home to the ruined Huntly Castle, the Earls' ancestral home until the time of the Civil War.  In later times Huntly was the home of the former Gordon Highlanders regiment, while its main industries now are tourism and shortbread.

Huntly is the centre of the wider Strathbogie district, named after the River Bogie, while to the south lies the Howe of Alford, based on the small but surprisingly busy village of Alford (the L is silent).  Alford claims to be the home of the Aberdeen Angus breed of cattle, while the Grampian Transport Museum attracts tourists; the village is growing strongly as a commuter area for Aberdeen, thirty miles away, thanks to the strength of the oil industry.

The Tories had the most to lose here from the introduction of PR in 2007, as they had won two of the predecessor wards in 2003 (Huntly East and Strathbogie), while Huntly West was SNP (it was Joanna Strathdee's seat) and Alford voted Lib Dem.  However, the Lib Dems were the strongest party across the area in terms of votes and they were the only party to try for two seats in 2007: a decision which the SNP must have regretted after topping the poll but only having one candidate.  In the 2012 election the Lib Dems gave up one of their seats without a fight, while the SNP tried for two: on first preferences the SNP consolidated their lead on 35%, the Tories polling 26%, the Lib Dems 18% and independent candidate John Latham getting 14%, but it was Latham - thanks to strong transfers from the Greens and Tories - who picked up the second Lib Dem seat by finishing 77 votes ahead of the second SNP candidate.

This is Scotland's second double by-election under the Single Transferable Vote (the first one was in Edinburgh in September), and to win one of the two available seats candidates will need to get one-third of the vote, either on first preferences or by attracting transfers.  That shouldn't be a problem for the defending SNP candidate Gwyneth Petrie, office manager for the local MSP Dennis Robertson.  The defending Lib Dem candidate Daniel Millican, a solicitor from Alford, has a tougher task starting from third place in the first preference vote: in order to win he will need to overtake the Tory candidate Margo Stewart, a farmer's wife and retired teacher.  Also standing are Sarah Flavell for Labour and Derek Scott for the Libertarian Party.

Parliamentary constituency: Gordon (former Huntly East, Huntly West and Strathbogie wards), West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine (former Alford ward)
Scottish Parliament constituency: Aberdeenshire West
ONS Travel to Work Area: Aberdeen

May 2012 result SNP 1430 C 1091 LD 752 Ind 593 Grn 256
May 2007 result SNP 1839 LD 1790 C 1635 Lab 375 Grn 251 Ind 91

Thursday, 8 October 2015

By-election Previews: 7/8 October 2015

Two local by-elections in Scotland this week - first a rare Wednesday contest out in the Western Isles, followed by a large rural ward in the Highlands on Thursday...

Comhairle nan Eilean Siar
Caused by the death of Independent councillor Iain Morrison at the age of 60.  "Iain a' Mhillichan", as he was better known on Lewis, was one of the longest serving Western Isles councillors, having been first elected in 1999 for the former Barvas and Arnol ward.  Morrison was a director of and driver for the family bus company.  A keen footballer who once played in goal for Stornoway United against Celtic, Morrison served for eight years as chairman of the Western Isles Island Games association, standing down after the 2013 Island Games in Bermuda at which the Western Isles team won ten medals, four of them gold.

For the first of this week's two Scottish by-elections we travel to the Isle of Lewis.  An Taobh Siar agus Nis can be loosely translated into English as "West Side and Ness", and consists of a series of villages along Lewis' north-west coast, from Shawbost at the western end to the Port of Ness at the eastern end.  This is a little-known and less-visited area, and a stronghold of the Gaelic language: this is the ward with the highest proportion of Gaelic speakers in Scotland, and has the distinction of being the most northwesterly electoral district in the European Union.  Included within the ward is the remote island of Sula Sgeir, a dot in the north Atlantic forty miles to the north of Lewis inhabited only by gannets: these are a local delicacy on Ness, with the supply coming from a controversial licensed hunt each autumn.

The Outer Hebrides' local politics are dominated by independents, although not to the same extent as in the non-partisan Orkney or Shetland: in the 2012 election official party candidates took ten of the islands' 31 seats.  One of those was an SNP gain in West Side and Ness, coming from an independent councillor who had stood down.  The other three independent councillors were all re-elected very easily, Iain Morrison coming top of the poll; between them the five independent candidates had 80% and the SNP 20%.  One of the other independent councillors, Kenneth Murray, died earlier this year and was replaced by Alistair Maclennan, who had been a distant runner-up in the 2012 election; however, that by-election wasn't covered in this column because it was uncontested - the first uncontested local election in Scotland since the introduction of PR in 2007.

Two independent candidates are standing to succeed Morrison.  John Norman Macleod is prominent in the local community and was prominent in Lewis' Yes campaign during last year's referendum, while Richard Froggatt is a carer who migrated here from England nine years ago.  Completing the ballot paper is the ward's only official party candidate, TV editor Gavin Humphreys of the Scottish Green Party.

Parliamentary constituency: Na h-Eileanan an Iar
Holyrood constituency: Na h-Eileanan an Iar
ONS Travel to Work Area: Eilean Siar

March 2015 by-election Ind unopposed
May 2012 result Ind 1166 (5 candidates) SNP 298
May 2007 result Ind 1787 (7 candidates)

Highland council
Caused by the resignation of Scottish National Party councillor Drew Hendry, who is now the Member of Parliament for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey.  Hendry was the leader of Highland council from 2012 to 2015, and had served as a Highland councillor since 2007.

As the name might suggest, this is one of Highland's large rural wards.  The Aird is an area of high ground immediately to the west of Inverness, between Loch Ness and the Beauly Firth.  The Beauly Firth terminates at Beauly, which is the ward's largest population centre and the site of its railway station, which reopened in 2002 and provides a commuter service to Inverness.  The rest of the population is scattered across a series of tiny villages in the Aird, Strathglass, and on and to the east of Loch Ness.

Before PR all four wards covering this area - Beauly and Strathglass, Kirkhill, Loch Ness East and Loch Ness West - had returned independent councillors, and the two Loch Ness wards were uncontested at their last election in 2003.  The introduction of PR in 2007 led to contested elections across Scotland and also to established parties getting in on the act - since 2007 two of the four seats in Aird and Loch Ness have been independent-held, with one going to the SNP and one to the Lib Dems.  In 2012 all four outgoing councillors were re-elected, with the two independent councillors polling 46% between them, the SNP 28% and the Lib Dems - who beat the second SNP candidate very comfortably - on 12% of the first preferences.

Since May the SNP have had to defend seventeen seats in local by-elections, that large number mostly coming about because of newly-elected MPs departing for Westminster - and they have held all seventeen and gained two (one each from the Greens and Tories) for good measure.  However, this hold may be the most difficult of the lot from a starting point of only 28% and being in the leadership on Highland council.  The task of defending the ward falls to Emma Knox, the former Procurator Fiscal for Inverness who was unlawfully dismissed from that job in 2013 after being banned from driving following a near-fatal road accident.  The independent candidate is Zofia Fraser, chairwoman of the Inverness Polish Association who recently won an award for her efforts to help Poles integrate into Highland life.  The Lib Dem candidate is Jean Davis, now a steward at Inverness cathedral following a career in occupational health, who was twice a parliamentary candidate for the Western Isles.  Also standing are George Cruickshank for the Tories and Vikki Trelfer of the Scottish Green Party.

Parliamentary constituency: Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey (part: former Kirkhill, Loch Ness East and Loch Ness West wards); Ross, Skye and Lochaber (part: former Beauly and Strathglass ward)
Holyrood constituency: Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch
ONS Travel to Work Area: Inverness and Dingwall

May 2012 result Ind 1853 SNP 1127 LD 498 C 279 Lab 221 UKIP 66
May 2007 result Ind 2854 SNP 892 LD 550 C 355 Lab 292

Tuesday, 29 September 2015

By-election Previews: 1 October 2015

October is traditionally a busy month for by-elections and this October is no exception, with 27 polls scheduled so far.  Eight of these occur on the 1st, with an unusual feature: seven of them are in Scotland, a total boosted by the resignation of four SNP councillors who have moved on to the House of Commons.  The SNP have successfully defended all the seats they have lost to Westminster in by-elections so far, and they have another five seats to defend tonight; of the other three seats, one in Moray is defended by independents; one in Banbury, England, by the Conservatives; and one in Aberdeen was Conservative in 2012 but the Tory councillor then went independent.  Confused?  You will be...

Aberdeen city council
Caused by the resignations, respectively, of Andy May of the Scottish National Party and Fraser Forsyth who was elected as a Conservative.  May, who has served since at least 2003, is resigning for personal reasons, while Forsyth is moving to England with his family after first being elected in 2012.

We start this week in the city of Aberdeen which hosts two of this week's eight by-elections.  George Street/Harbour is Aberdeen's central ward, and as such the centre of Aberdeen's booming economy.  Here can be found most of the central business district, the main shopping area for the largest city in the UK north of the River Forth, and the city's harbour, a centre of the North Sea oil industry and as such one of the UK's busiest ports, with regular passenger ferries to Orkney and Shetland.  To the east of the harbour is the southern end of Aberdeen's sandy beach.  Here can be found Robert Gordon University and North East Scotland College, together with many of Aberdeen's public buildings including the Kirk of St Nicholas and St Andrew's Cathedral, the sheriff court and the city council's headquarters in Marischal College.

Directly to the west of the city centre is Midstocket/Rosemount ward.  Running along the Westburn Road, this ward is Aberdeen's medical centre covering Aberdeen Royal Infirmary, the smaller Woolmanhill, Children's and Maternity Hospitals, the Royal Cornhill Hospital which specialises in mental health, and the University of Aberdeen's dental school.  The ward also includes the Denburn valley and the sunken Union Terrace Gardens, recently the subject of a controversial redevelopment proposal which the council threw out in 2012.

George Street/Harbour ward elected one councillor each from Labour, the SNP and the Lib Dems at the first PR election in 2007.  In the 2012 election the SNP topped the poll with 34% to Labour's 31% and the Lib Dem vote falling to 10%; however, the SNP failed to balance their candidates and excellent balancing from Labour delivered them two seats from just 1.26 quotas.  The Lib Dems, who got strong transfers from the Greens, finished just 30 votes short of holding their seat.

Midstocket/Rosemount is another ward which the SNP carried in 2012 having been behind in 2007; however, the party which topped the poll here in 2007 was the Conservatives, this being a very middle-class ward.  The four main parties all had very similar vote shares in 2007, the Lib Dems missing out on a seat mainly by trying for two seats when they only had the votes for one.  The Tory councillor died almost immediately afterwards and the Conservatives lost the by-election to the SNP, who won in the final round by 53% to 47% in what was one of Scotland's first AV by-elections.   The 2012 election saw the Conservatives regain their seat from the SNP but was very different in terms of votes: the SNP topped the poll on 39%, Labour had 32% and the Tory candidate polled 14%, fairly easily holding off the second SNP candidate in the final round.  The new Conservative councillor, Vote UK contributor Fraser Forsyth, briefly became leader of Aberdeen's six-strong Conservative group and went into the city's ruling administration as junior coalition partner to Labour.  The Aberdeen Conservative group split down the middle in 2014 and Forsyth left the party.

The Tories have it all to do to hold (or regain) their seat in Midstocket/Rosemount starting from third place and 14%.  Instead this should be a SNP versus Labour contest, and the SNP would be fancied to make the gain and reduce the Labour/Tory/Independent administration in Aberdeen to a majority of one.  The defending Tory candidate is Tom Mason, a councillor for the former Queen's Cross ward from 1998 to 2000 and a long-standing lecturer at Robert Gordon University.  The SNP have selected Alex Nicoll, an employment law consultant and former policeman.  Labour's candidate is Howard Gemmell, an MS sufferer who worked for many years in the nuclear medicine department at the Royal Infirmary.  Also standing are Jennifer Phillips for the Green Party and Ken McLeod of the Lib Dems.

In George Street/Harbour the defending SNP candidate is Michael Hutchison, an army reservist and assistant to Kevin Stewart, MSP for Aberdeen Central.  Labour have selected Mike Scott who runs a company carrying out Energy Performance Certificates.  The Lib Dem candidate is Euan Davidson, a support worker and president of Liberal Youth Scotland who fought Aberdeen North in the recent general election.  Completing the ballot paper are Alex Jarvis of the Green Party and Brian Davidson of the Conservatives.

George St/Harbour
Parliamentary constituency: Aberdeen North (most)/Aberdeen South (part)
Holyrood constituency: Aberdeen Central
ONS Travel to Work Area: Aberdeen

May 2012 first preferences SNP 896 Lab 837 LD 262 Ind 222 Grn 194 C 178 NF 29 Ind 26 Ind 14
May 2007 first preferences Lab 1282 SNP 1272 LD 801 Grn 306 C 261

Parliamentary constituency: Aberdeen North (most)/Aberdeen South (part)
Holyrood constituency: Aberdeen Central
ONS Travel to Work Area: Aberdeen

May 2012 first preferences SNP 1497 Lab 1247 C 531 Grn 245 LD 245 Ind 82
Aug 2007 by-election SNP 873 C 821 LD 693 Lab 518 Solidarity 31 Ind 20; after transfers SNP 1258 C 1112
May 2007 first preferences C 1503 SNP 1431 LD 1200 Lab 1144 SSP 153

Moray council
Caused by the resignation of Independent councillor Eric McGillivray, who had served on Moray council since 2003.

This is a rather misleadingly named ward covering the countryside to the west of the tiny city of Elgin, named after two geographic features: Heldon Hill can be found at the southern end of the ward, south-west of Elgin, while the Laich o' Moray is the coastal plain between the rivers Spey and Findhorn on which Elgin is built, a rich agricultural area (certainly when compared with the rest of Morayshire).  At the north-west corner of the ward is the tiny burgh of Burghead, a small port on a peninsula in the Moray Firth, while the feature of the Laich which is probably best known to the outside world is the Gordonstoun public school, where three generations of the Royal Family have been educated.

But the reason I describe the ward as misnamed is that about half its electorate lives in the port town of Lossiemouth, and the ward's economy is almost completely dependent on the RAF Lossiemouth airfield.  A major base for fast jets, including as current home of the 617 'Dambusters' squadron, RAF Lossiemouth is now Scotland's only operational RAF station and a base for the Eurofighter Typhoon; there was even talk of using the base as a Virgin Galactic spaceport until the coalition government squashed the idea just before the last election.

Before the introduction of PR for Scottish local elections in 2007 there were four single-member wards covering the area, three of which returned Independent councillors in 2003 with Lossiemouth West returning an SNP member.  In the rural areas, the Independent councillors for the old Burghsea, and Heldon and Laich wards (John Hogg and Eric McGillivray respectively) were re-elected in 2007, with the Tories' Allan Wright holding off independent candidate Chris Tuke to win the final seat.  Top of the poll that year by a large margin was the single SNP candidate David Stewart who polled 31% of the first preferences votes, 1.55 times the quota required for election.  Despite his party's pro-independence stace, Stewart spent most of the next five years campaigning to save RAF Lossiemouth from defence cuts.

Fast forward to the 2012 election, at which Hogg retired and the other three councillors stood for re-election.  This time the SNP stood two Lossiemouth-based candidates, Stewart being joined by Carolle Ralph.  Surprisingly Ralph was top of the poll on the first preferences, but was just one vote short of the quota for election, meaning Stewart, who started fourth in the count, could not rely on her surplus transfers; and so it came to pass that during the count he was overtaken by independent candidate Chris Tuke, from Burghead, who got significant transfers from an eliminated independent candidate who also lived in Burghead and from the Scottish Green candidate.  The partisan balance after the election remained 2 Independent, 1 SNP and 1 Conservative, but Stewart had effectively lost the SNP seat to his running-mate Ralph.

Ralph resigned from Moray council in December 2012, citing a hate-mail campaign against her, and the SNP went on to lose the by-election, held in March 2013, to independent and seafood merchant John Cowe, who had 60% of the vote in the final round to the SNP's 40%.  The first preferences in the by-election were 31% for Cowe, 27% for the SNP, 15% for the Conservatives and 13% for a second independent candidate.  That by-election gain gave a majority to Moray council's Independent/Conservative coalition administration, but the administration have since lost a by-election in Buckie to the SNP and now only hold 13 of the council's 26 seats.  The SNP are the largest party on the council with 11 seats and may seek to take over the council with Labour support if they can win this by-election.

Defending for the Independents is Dennis Slater, the chairman of the community association for the village of Hopeman and a former fishing skipper.  The SNP have selected Joyce O'Hara from Burghead, a former teacher who has led international education projects in Europe and Africa.  The Tory candidate from the last by-election stands again: he is Pete Bloomfield, a retired RAF air traffic controller from Lossiemouth.  Completing the ballot paper is the ward's regular Green candidate James MacKessack-Leitch.

Parliamentary constituency: Moray
Holyrood constituency: Moray
ONS Travel to Work Area: Moray

March 2013 by-election Ind 972 SNP 833 C 473 Ind 417 Grn 228 Ind 175; after transfers Ind 1507 SNP 1005
May 2012 first preferences Ind 1560 SNP 1475 C 688 Grn 262
May 2007 first preferences Ind 3057 SNP 1646 C 606

Fife council
Caused by the resignation of SNP councillor Peter Grant, who is now the Member of Parliament for Glenrothes.

We move south from Moray to the county town of the Kingdom of Fife, a New Town.  Originally intended as a pit town to serve a short-lived colliery at Thornton, Glenrothes instead became a centre for manufacturing specialising in electronics, resulting in the town turning into part of the so-called "Silicon Glen".  Global economic changes mean that the Silicon Glen is no longer as important as it was, but manufacturing, particularly in paper - the Tullis Russell paperworks has been here for over two centuries, predating the town - remains a major employer.  To the south-west of the town lies the pit village of Kinglassie; in between is Fife Airport which, despite its grand name, is in fact a minor aerodrome for private light aircraft.

In the noughties this has been a strong SNP area, the nationalists winning two or three wards in this area in 2003 (depending which areas you count as predecessors to the modern ward).  The two elections here since PR was introduced in 2007 have both resulted in the SNP and Labour winning two seats each.  The SNP tried for three seats in the 2012 election, but with Labour polling two quotas the third seat was not on; interestingly, a decline in the SNP vote led to the runner-up candidate being from the All Scotland Pensioners Party, who got ahead of the third SNP candidate on Tory transfers.  The nationalists did eventually get to three seats in the ward by gaining a by-election from Labour here in March this year, but the gain was short-lived as the ward's other SNP councillor walked off in May to become independent.  In that by-election the Nationalists won in the first round, beating Labour 55-36.

For the ward's second by-election in seven months Julie Ford defends for the SNP; she is a history graduate in her early 20s who works in Dundee for Shona Robison MSP.  Labour have reselected their candidate from March's by-election Alan Seath, who has had a long career in planning and construction.  Also on the ballot paper are the Tories' Jonathan Gray and the Greens' Lorna Ross.

Westminster constituency: Glenrothes
Holyrood constituency: Mid Fife and Glenrothes
ONS Travel to Work Area: Kirkcaldy and Glenrothes

March 2015 by-election SNP 2539 Lab 1643 C 202 UKIP 146 LD 61
May 2012 result SNP 2200 Lab 2132 All Scotland Pensioners Party 271 Ind 192 C 155 Ind 147 LD 83
May 2007 result SNP 3102 Lab 2212 C 384 Ind 376 LD 369

Stirling council
Caused by the resignation of SNP councillor Steven Paterson, who is now the Member of Parliament for Stirling.  He had served on Stirling council since 2007.

This is generally the less glamorous part of Stirling, running south from the city's railway station and based on the Braehead and Broomridge areas.  This is generally postwar housing with good motorway links to both Glasgow and Edinburgh.  The ward runs down to the banks of the River Forth, and the riverbank area is being redeveloped: Stirling Albion's football ground is here, and Stirling County's cricket ground next door (New Williamfield) is being rebuilt and improved to become the new home of Scottish cricket: earlier this year it hosted several matches in the World Twenty20 qualifying tournament.

Stirling is a generally Labour town where Labour's strength was generally increasing until the recent SNP surge.  In 2007 Labour and the SNP each won one seat in this ward, with the final seat going to the Lib Dems who did well out of Conservative transfers.  That trick didn't work for the Lib Dems in 2012, as their vote fell to 10% and they lost their seat to Labour, who topped the poll on 44% to 33% for the SNP.

Defending for the SNP is Gerry McLaughlan, a former chartered civil engineer who later became a self-employed energy consultant.  The Labour candidate is Chris Kane, the chairman of Braehead community council who runs a media production company.  The Lib Dems, who lost all their seats on Stirling council in 2012, have thrown in the towel, so completing the ballot paper are Luke Davison of the Tories and Alasdair Tollemache of the Green Party.

May 2012 result Lab 1720 SNP 1278 LD 403 C 302 Grn 163
May 2007 result Lab 2175 SNP 1821 LD 765 C 764

West Lothian council
Caused by the resignation of SNP councillor Martin Day, who is now the Member of Parliament for Linlithgow and Falkirk East.  He had served on West Lothian council since 1999.

Further down the M9 and the railway line from Stirling and we come to Linlithgow, a town which is the birthplace of many important leaders: King James V of Scotland, Mary Queen of Scots, Alex Salmond and Scotty from Star Trek were (or will be) all born here; James and Mary were both born in Linlithgow Palace, a former Scottish royal palace at one end of the town's high street, on the shores of Linlithgow Loch, which is now a burnt-out shell after being put on fire by Cumberland's army during the '45 rebellion.  The rest of the town, however, is a thriving Edinburgh commuter area.  The ward itself contains several villages in the town's hinterland, running down to Abercorn and Society on the south bank of the Forth estuary.

West Lothian council by-elections are like buses: you wait years for one and then two come along at once.  This is the council's second by-election this year following a poll in Armadale in March, but the last one before that was all the way back in 1997, so clearly West Lothian must be doing something right in retaining its councillors.  Linlithgow was a strong SNP area before PR was introduced, and in the 2007 election the Nationalists lost a seat to Labour who rather narrowly defeated the second SNP candidate by 148 votes with a 62-vote SNP surplus still to transfer.  The Labour seat was comfortably held in the 2012 election, in which the SNP had 42%, the Conservatives 33% (this is by far the strongest Tory ward in West Lothian) and Labour ran third with 20%.

Defending for the SNP is David Tait, who was Martyn Day's running-mate in the 2012 election; a director of an oil and gas company, he chairs the Linlithgow Business Association and publishes a local community magazine, the Black Bitch Magazine (named after a dog which appears on Linlithgow's coat of arms, in case you were wondering).  The Tory candidate is Ian Burgess, a management consultant.  Labour have selected David Manion.  Also on the ballot paper are independent Brenda Galloway, prominent Lib Dem blogger Caron Lindsay and Green Party candidate Maire McCormack.

Westminster constituency: Linlithgow and East Falkirk (most), Livingston (part)
Holyrood constituency: Linlithgow
ONS Travel to Work Area: Falkirk (most); Livingston and Bathgate (part)

May 2012 result SNP 2656 C 2112 Lab 1292 Action to Save St John's Hospital 280 NF 25
May 2007 result SNP 3132 C 2314 Lab 1328 LD 739 Grn 316 SSP 49

East Ayrshire council
Caused by the resignation of SNP councillor Alan Brown, who is now the Member of Parliament for Kilmarnock and Loudoun.

For the week's final Scottish by-election we travel to Ayrshire and The Valley.  The Valley is the upper Irvine valley, which forms the basis for a rural ward which covers the Loudoun area to the east of Kilmarnock.  The ward's main population centres are Galston to the west, Darvel to the east and Newmilns in between; a series of small towns in The Valley whose main industries were traditionally weaving and lace - Newmilns still has lace factories.

Loudoun has been a strong area for the SNP for some years: the SNP carried Newmilns and Darvel in the 2003 election under first-past-the-post, with Labour winning the two wards based on Galston and the Tories winning the North Kilmarnock, Fenwick and Waterside ward which covered a series of villages off the A77 to Glasgow.  (One of the Galston wards rejoiced in the not-at-all-unwieldy name of Crookedholm, Moscow, Galston West and Hurlford North.)  The two elections for the modern ward have both had very similar results: in 2012 the SNP topped the poll with 44% and won two seats, with the other two being shared by Labour (30%) and the Conservatives (18%).

Defending for the SNP is Elena Whitham, who is on the staff of Alan Brown MP.  Labour's candidate is Alex Walsh, on whom I have no information.  The Tories have selected Susan McFadzean, wife of their current ward councillor John McFadzean; and the ballot paper is completed by Jen Broadhurst of the Greens.

Westminster constituency: Kilmarnock and Loudoun
Holyrood constituency: Kilmarnock and Irvine Valley
ONS Travel to Work Area: Ayr and Kilmarnock

May 2012 result SNP 2099 Lab 1423 C 857 Ind 339
May 2007 result SNP 2748 Lab 1996 C 1293 Ind 274

Friday, 18 September 2015

By-election Preview: 17 September 2015

Five by-elections on 17th September, one in Scotland and four in England:

South Ayrshire council
Caused by the resignation of SNP councillor Corri Wilson, who is now the Member of Parliament for Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock.  Wilson was first elected to South Ayrshire council in 2012.

The largest town in the county which bears its name, Ayr is a port and industrial town based on the mouth of the River Ayr.  While most of the town's traditional industries are now gone, Ayr still thrives as a major shopping centre for the local area.  The railway service from Ayr to Glasgow is one of the busiest in Scotland, and Ayr is also the railhead for "rail and sail" ferry passengers to Belfast via Cairnryan.  The Ayr East ward runs south-east from the railway station along the Castlehill Road, and its main constituent is the socially-mixed Belmont area.

Ayr has a long-standing tradition of Conservative voting - the Tories have held the town's Scottish Parliament constituency since gaining it from Labour in a 2000 by-election - and the Tories have topped the poll in the two previous elections to Ayr East ward.  In 2007 the Tories polled 39% to 31% for Labour and 28% for the SNP, and won two seats to one each for the other two parties.  The 2012 election was closer at the top with 33% for the Tories, 31% for the SNP and 23% for Labour, and the Tories lost their second seat to the SNP who got transfers from two independent candidates.  Ayr is thought to have voted strongly No in the independence referendum, so the SNP's ceiling here might not be as high as in other parts of Scotland.

Defending for the SNP is John Wallace, the convenor of the party's Prestwick branch.  The Tories have selected Dan McCroskrie, a local lad who has recently graduated in politics and international relations from the University of Aberdeen.  The Labour candidate is Susan Wilson, a former nurse who served on the first South Ayrshire council from 1995 to 1999.  Also standing are independent candidate Andrew Bryden, who fought the ward in 2012 and polled 6%, and Boyd Murdoch for the Scottish Green Party.

Parliamentary constituency: Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock
Holyrood constituency: Ayr
ONS Travel to Work Area: Ayr and Kilmarnock

May 2012 first preferences C 1689 SNP 1610 Lab 1199 Ind 331 Ind 291
May 2007 first preferences C 2736 Lab 2147 SNP 1933 Solidarity 183

By-election Previews: 10 September 2015

The summer is over, the kids are back at school, the nights are drawing in and it's time for us to enter the autumn.  Autumn is peak by-election season, as with no local elections due until May 2016 there is no reason to defer polling until then; and a bit of a backlog of vacancies has built up over the summer.

We start this autumn with six polls on 10th September 2015 for seven vacancies. In Scotland the SNP defend seats in Edinburgh and Midlothian where their councillors have moved on to Westminster, while the Edinburgh vacancy is combined with a Green Party defence in Scotland's first double by-election for at least forty years.  In England, over on the English Elections blog, the Tories defend two seats in Kent, while Labour have a tricky defence in Essex and a safer one in the Black Country. 

Edinburgh city council
A double by-election caused by the resignations of SNP councillor Debbie Brock and Green Party councillor Maggie Chapman.  Brock is now the Member of Parliament for Edinburgh North and Leith.  Chapman, the co-leader of the Scottish Green Party, is now rector of the University of Aberdeen, has a new job in Dundee and will stand for Holyrood next year as top of the Green Party list for North East Scotland.  Both councillors were first elected in 2007.

There aren't many wards which are named after streets, but Leith Walk is certainly a street which deserves that accolade.  Leith Walk is one of the longest streets in Edinbugh and still the main route between Leith and the city centre.  The ward doesn't include the Foot of the Walk or the top end at Picardy Place, but does cover most of the area in between; it also extends to the lower north slopes of Calton Hill along Easter Road; Pilrig, at the centre of the ward; Canonmills, just to the north of the New Town; and Bonnington to the north, on the far side of the Water of Leith.  Pilrig Street, which runs south-east to north-west through the centre of the ward, once marked the boundary between Edinburgh and Leith, while the pele tower which gave Pilrig its name may have been incorporated into Pilrig House, once home to Robert Louis Stevenson's mother Margaret Balfour and mentioned in RLS' novel Catriona.  Leith Walk and trams have had a vexed history; until 1925 tram passengers on the Walk had to change at Pilrig Street because Leith's and Edinburgh's tram systems weren't compatible with each other; and the modern Edinburgh tram was intended to go down the Walk but cancelled as the project spiralled out of budget.

Before PR was introduced in 2007 this area was covered by Broughton, Calton, Harbour and part of Lorne ward; all of these areas were safe Labour except for Harbour ward which was a three-way Lab/SNP/Lib Dem marginal.  The advent of PR brought pluralism to the area's politics: in 2007 the SNP, Lib Dems and Green Party all made the 20% of votes required for election, leaving the two Labour candidates to duke it out for the one seat remaining.  In 2012 the Lib Dems lost their seat to the second Labour candidate who very comfortably beat the Conservatives for the final seat.  In terms of first preferences Labour were top with 33%, the SNP had 28% and the Greens were third on 20%.

This is Scotland's first double by-election under the Single Transferable Vote.  With two seats up for election the winning candidates will need to reach 33% of the vote, either on first preferences or by attracting transfers.  The realignment of Scottish politics means that SNP should get to 33% on first preferences alone, which means that the other seat is likely to be between Labour and the Greens, who should do well out of the SNP surplus.  None of the parties are going for two seats here, which is probably wise as no-one is going to get anywhere near the 67% which would be required for two seats.

The two defending candidates are (John) Lewis Ritchie for the SNP and Susan Rae for the Green Party.  Ritchie is a director and board member of a local immigration charity and a CAB adviser.  Rae's Twitter describes her as a "feminist, activist, trade unionist, poet, constant reader and avid shoe collector".  Labour have selected Marion Donaldson, a qualified pharmacist and food band volunteer.  Also standing on a long ballot paper are Gordon Murdie for the Conservatives, Mo Hussain for the Lib Dems, independent candidate John Scott, Tom Laird for the Libertarian Party, UKIP's Alan Melville, the Scottish Socialist Party's Natalie Reid and Left Unity candidate Bruce Whitehead (who gives an address in South Queensferry).

Parliamentary constituency: Edinburgh North and Leith (part generally west of Easter Road); Edinburgh East (part generally east of Easter Road)
Holyrood constituency: Edinburgh Northern and Leith
ONS Travel to Work Area: Edinburgh

May 2012 first preferences Lab 2611 SNP 2237 Grn 1593 C 637 LD 400 Ind 200 TUSC 109 Lib 69
May 2007 first preferences Lab 3081 SNP 2550 LD 2170 Grn 1754 C 1114 Solidarity 203 Lib 193 SSP 182 Ind 16

Midlothian council
Caused by the resignation of SNP councillor Owen Thompson who is now the Member of Parliament for Midlothian.  Thompson was first elected in 2007.

Just outside the Edinburgh City Bypass, Midlothian West ward, despite its name, covers the north-western corner of the county (the western ward of Midlothian is called Penicuik).  The largest town within the ward is Loanhead, traditionally a mining town - coal, shale and limestone were all mined here - but whose main export is now haggis from the MacSweens factory. The ward's other main population centre is Roslin, known for Rosslyn Chapel, one of the most beautiful buildings in Scotland, and as the birthplace in 1998 of Dolly the cloned sheep.  The Roslin Institute has since moved within the ward to the Easter Bush campus of Edinburgh University, a centre for veterinary and avian research.  Also within the ward are Rosewell and a couple of villages just outside Penicuik (Greenlaw Mains and Milton Bridge).

In 2007 the ward elected one candidate each from the SNP, Labour and the Lib Dems.  The Lib Dems lost their seat in the 2012 election and the SNP made the gain in a tight race with Labour, Owen Thompson being re-elected to the final seat with a majority of 44 votes over the second Labour candidate.  The first preference votes in 2012 were 40% for the SNP, 35% for Labour and 11% for the Conservatives, whose transfers favoured Labour but not by enough for Labour to get the final seat.

Defending for the SNP is Kelly Parry, whose Twitter describes her as a "policy geek, lover of public sevices, mum and feminist".  Labour's candidate is Ian Miller, from Penicuik, who fought Midlothian South, Tweeddale and Lauderdale at the last Scottish Parliament election in 2011.  The Tory candidate is NHS litigation coordinator Pauline Winchester.  Also standing are Jane Davidson for the Lib Dems, Daya Feldwick for the Greens and independent candidate David Tedford.

Parliamentary constituency: Midlothian
Holyrood constituency: Midlothian North and Musselburgh (part: most of ward); Midlothian South, Tweeddale and Lauderdale (part: Greenlaw Mains and Milton Bridge)
ONS Travel to Work Area: Edinburgh

May 2012 first preferences SNP 1719 Lab 1538 C 462 LD 246 Grn 226 Ind 103 TUSC 41
May 2007 first preferences SNP 1981 Lab 1506 LD 868 Ind 667 C 634 SSP 108 Had Enough Party 105 Solidarity 99

Tuesday, 18 August 2015

By-election Preview: 18 August 2015

One by-election on Tuesday 18th August 2015:

Orkney Islands council
Caused by the death of councillor Alistair Gordon.  A former journalist at the local newspaper The Orcadian and teacher at Kirkwall grammar school, Gordon was first elected to Orkney council in 2003 and was convener of the council's Orkney Manifesto group, which is seeking to improve the islands' governance.

The West Mainland ward is pretty much what it says, a large and mostly empty area of the Orkney Mainland to the north and north-east of Stromness.  This is a land of small agricultural villages, including Orkney's biggest parish (Sandwick, on the west coast), inland Stenness at the southern end of its namesake loch, and Evie and Rendall on the north coast.  West Mainland ward has been inhabited for centuries, as evidenced by the Neolithic archeological sites of Skara Brae, Maes Howe, the standing stones of Stenness and the Ring of Brodgar, all of which are within this ward and since 1999 have formed a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  While these doubtless attract some intrepid tourists, another draw is the wonderfully-named village of Twatt, in the north of the ward.

Alistair Gordon was first elected in 2003 for the former Firth and Sunnybrae ward, rather narrowly defeating Eoin Scott who later join him on the council at the 2007 election for the new West Mainland ward.  Gordon was the only councillor to be re-elected in 2012, polling 17.5% of the first preferences to finish second out of nine candidates.

Orkney's elections are traditionally non-partisan, and so I have not given previous election results below, but party politics appears to have broken out with a vengeance with this by-election.  Defending for the Orkney Manifesto Group is Rachael King, an art psychotherapist from Sandwick.  In Orkney's first all-female election, Birsay resident Barbara Foulkes stands as an independent, while Sandwick resident Fiona Grahame, who has turned her love of knitting into a business, stands for the Scottish Green Party.

Parliamentary constituency: Orkney and Shetland
Holyrood constituency: Orkney
ONS Travel to Work Area: Orkney Islands
Postcode districts: KW15, KW16, KW17

Thursday, 13 August 2015

By-election Previews: 13 August 2015

Six by-elections this week in an unusually busy August, with two each in England, Wales and Scotland.  One of the Welsh and both the Scottish polls are caused by newly-elected MPs resigning their council seats.

Falkirk council
Caused by the resignation of SNP councillor John McNally, who is now the Member of Parliament for Falkirk.  McNally had served on Falkirk council since 2007.

Another two SNP councillors have caused by-elections following their election to Westminster in the SNP surge.  We start in Stirlingshire in the town of Denny, next to the M80 and M876 motorways around seven miles west of Falkirk.  The ward includes several villages in Denny's hinterland such as Dunipace to the north and Banknock, on the Falkirk-Kilsyth road and the Forth and Clyde canal, to the south.  This was an area of heavy engineering, with Denny itself specialising in ironworking and some coalmining in the area.

The SNP did well here in 2007 to come top of the poll, having won none of the four predecessor wards (Banknock, Denny, Denny South and Herbertshire) in 2003 and having run the council from 2003 to 2007 in a coalition with independents.  In a complete clearout of the previous representation, the SNP won two seats that year, with Labour winning one and the final seat going to independent candidate Alex Waddell.  Waddell lost his seat in the 2012 election, but his transfers elected another independent candidate, Brian McCabe, who easily defeated the second Labour candidate to win the final seat.  The first preferences here in 2012 were 39% to the SNP, 31% to Labour and 12% to McCabe.  There are no implications for control of Falkirk council which is run by a Labour-led anti-SNP coalition.

In a four-cornered race the defending SNP candidate is John Garner, a radio engineer from Denny who joined the party during the independence referendum campaign.  Labour have selected Andrew Bell, from Larbert.  Also on the ballot paper are David Grant for the Conservatives and Brian Capaloff for the Green Party.

Parliamentary constituency: Falkirk
Holyrood constituency: Falkirk West
ONS Travel to Work Area: Falkirk
Postcode districts: FK4, FK6, G67, G68

May 2012 first preferences SNP 2073 Lab 1632 Ind 622 Ind 411 Ind 387 C 196
May 2007 first preferences SNP 2882 Lab 2482 Ind 991 C 384 Ind 238 SSP 134 Ind 83

North Lanarkshire council
Caused by the resignation of SNP councillor Marion Fellows, who is now the Member of Parliament for Motherwell and Wishaw.  Fellows had served on North Lanarkshire council since 2012.

Overshadowed by its neighbour Motherwell, Wishaw is a Victorian-era town which was incorporated as a burgh in 1855.  It was traditionally a steelworking and coalmining town thanks to its proximity to the former Ravenscraig steelworks, but today services and distribution (Royal Mail's main distribution centre for Scotland is here) are the major employers.  At the centre of town is Wishaw's railway station, located on the Argyle Line with half-hourly trains to Motherwell, Lanark, Glasgow Central and beyond.

The town's industrial legacy added up to a strong Labour vote in those long-gone days before the independence referendum.  Labour easily held all the predecessor wards under first-past-the-post, and comfortably won three of the ward's four seats at the 2007 election, the SNP winning the other.  In the 2012 election the SNP went for two seats, and got them thanks to Labour failing to balance their three candidates.  First preferences in 2012 were 58% to Labour and 34% to the SNP, so the SNP would need a swing of 12% to lead on first preferences and 16% to win in the first round.  Eminently achievable in the current political climate.  There are no implications for control of North Lanarkshire council where Labour have a strong majority.

Defending for SNP is Rosa Zambonini, a single mum from Wishaw who briefly worked as a TV reporter.  Labour's candidate is Peter McDade.  Also standing are the ward's regular Tory candidate Marjory Borthwick, Maria Feeney from the Scottish Socialist Pary, Gerard Neary of the Lib Dems and UKIP's Neil Wilson.

Parliamentary constituency: Motherwell and Wishaw
Holyrood constituency: Motherwell and Wishaw
ONS Travel to Work Area: Lanarkshire
Postcode district: ML2

May 2012 first preferences Lab 3004 SNP 1792 C 412
May 2007 first preferences Lab 4298 SNP 2232 C 761

Thursday, 6 August 2015

By-election Previews: 6 August 2015

It's a Scottish by-election special this week with no fewer than five local by-elections, four of which are in Glasgow.

Glasgow city council
Caused by the resignation of SNP councillor Martin Docherty who is now the Member of Parliament for West Dunbartonshire.

Let's start at the most obvious point: the centre.  Anderson/City is Glasgow's central ward, covering the whole of the city centre on the north bank of the Clyde, together with the Anderston, Finnieston, Kelvingrove and Yorkhill districts to the west of the centre.  Anderston, an independent burgh until it was annexed by Glasgow in 1846, was comprehensively redeveloped in the 1960s thanks to slum clearance and the building of the M8 motorway and Kingston Bridge through the area, a redevelopment which saw the population fall by over 20,000 in twenty years.  Further out of the centre, Finnieston is a former industrial/dockland area now redeveloped into a major leisure and office centre: among other things the SECC, Scotland's largest exhibition centre and a venue for several events in last year's Commonwealth Games, is here.  Away from the riverside is Kelvingrove, part of Glasgow's bohemian West End and home to the Kelvin Hall and the Kelvingrove Art Gallery, the most-visited museum in the UK outside London.

While the west end may have a bohemian reputation, something which is reflected in a sizeable Green vote, the ward's political character is determined by the tower blocks in Anderston.  In those long-ago days of 2012, the last Glasgow council election, this ward was solidly Labour.  The main surprise came on the SNP side, where the SNP councillor Craig Mackay lost his seat to his running-mate Martin Docherty.  The Green Party councillor Nina Baker was re-elected to the final seat with the help of transfers from Labour and minor parties, defeating Mackay in the final round fairly comfortably.  On first preferences Labour led the SNP 50-30, so the SNP would need a 20-point swing to win in the first round.  Eminently possible, considering the very changed political landscape in Glasgow since 2012; and that the third party in the ward, with just over 10% in 2012, is the pro-independence Scottish Greens.

Defending for the SNP is Eva Bolander, a Swedish-born web designer.  No stranger to marathon struggles is the Labour candidate Katie Ford, whose Twitter describes her as an ultra-marathon cyclist and epilepsy campaigner.  Also standing are Christy Mearns for the Green Party, Ary Jaff for the Conservatives, Gary McLelland for the Lib Dems, Stevie Creighton for the Libertarian Party and Janice MacKay (who gives an address in rural Lanarkshire) for UKIP.

May 2012 first preferences Lab 2674 SNP 1573 Grn 558 C 249 LD 89 Solidarity 89 Pirate Party 46 Glasgow First 20 Britannica 17 (seats: Lab/Lab/SNP/Grn)
May 2007 first preferences Lab 2468 SNP 1632 Grn 880 LD 806 C 486 Solidarity 285 SSP 198 Ind 145 (seats: SNP/Lab/Lab/Grn)

Glasgow city council
Caused by the resignation of SNP councillor Alison Thewliss who is now the Member of Parliament for Glasgow Central.

If Anderson/City was the west end of Glasgow, this is the East End.  Here can be found the city's oldest park, Glasgow Green; the Barrowland Ballroom and Market; and Celtic Park, the home of Celtic FC.  With the presence of Celtic Park and the Sir Chris Hoy Velodrome, sport is now a major feature of the ward; however, this is an ex-industrial area and ranks very highly on the indices of multiple deprivation.

Obviously this was a strongly Labour ward in 2012, with Labour leading the SNP 55-30 and winning two seats to the SNP's one, Thewliss defeating her running-mate Alexander Belic in the final round by a rather narrow 106 votes.  Although a large number of parties stood in 2012 the Greens were best of the rest on just 3%, and not a lot of votes split for the last-placed Britannica, a far-right party who polled just nine first preferences.  Not much better was independent candidate Thomas Rannachan, who was second-last with 41 votes on a ticket of opposing Scottish legislation on offensive behaviour at football matches, and didn't do much better in a by-election in Govan ward the following year: confusingly given that electoral pedigree, he is the Labour candidate for this by-election.

Defending for the SNP is Greg Hepburn, formerly communications director for Young Scots for Independence.  Thomas Rannachan, as stated, stands for Labour.  Also on the ballot are Malachy Clarke for the Greens, Thomas Kerr for the Tories, independent candidate Tommy Ramsay, Chris Young of the Liberal Democrats and Karen King for UKIP.

May 2012 first preferences Lab 2487 SNP 1367 Grn 135 Glasgow First 131 C 120 Scottish Unionist Party 109 Ind 71 SSP 43 LD 43 Ind 41 Britannica 9
May 2007 first preferences Lab 2610 SNP 1143 Solidarity 302 C 245 LD 231 Grn 219 Scottish Unionist Party 195 Ind 128 SSP 126

Glasgow city council
Caused by the resignation of SNP councillor Iris Gibson on health grounds.  Gibson was one of the longest serving SNP councillors in Glasgow, having been first elected in 1999 in the years before PR was introduced; she is the mother of SNP MSP Kenneth Gibson, who is convenor of the Scottish Parliament's finance committee.

South of the Clyde now, and we move to an outer residential area on the Paisley Road.  The Craigton ward is based on the areas of Mosspark, Hillington and North and South Cardonald, former villages which boomed in the inter-war years thanks to its good rail and tram links to Glasgow and the opening of a large industrial estate centred on a factory which made engines for Rolls-Royce.  In 1950 Cardonald saw the building of Moss Heights, the first of Glasgow's many tower blocks of high-rise flats.  With over 24,000 electors, Craigton is one of the largest wards in Scotland.

The raw voting figures from 2012 mask the fact that this is in fact one of Glasgow's more pluralistic areas, with Labour having won only two of the predecessor wards at the last FPTP election in 2003: they were Cardonald and North Cardonald, with Mosspark being SNP as stated above and the former Pollok ward, part of which is here, being one of only a handful of wards in Scotland to elect a councillor for Tommy Sheridan's Scottish Socialist Party.  Support for Sheridan also had an effect in the 2007 election in which Labour tried for three seats: Labour failed to balance their candidates and the Solidarity candidate, Ruth Black, got transfers from the Scottish Socialist Party to defeat the third Labour candidate by 148 votes.  Labour played it safe in the 2012 election with only two candidates, resulting in the SNP easily gaining the Solidarity seat: the first preferences were 53-31 to Labour.

Defending for the SNP is Alex Wilson, who is opposed by Labour's Kevin O'Donnell.  Solidarity having thrown in the towel, the ballot paper is completed by Phillip Charles for the Tories, Katie Noble of the Green Party, UKIP's Arthur Thackeray and the Lib Dems' Isabel Nelson.

May 2012 first preferences Lab 4381 SNP 2576 Solidarity 472 C 292 Grn 169 Glasgow First 147 UKIP 86 LD 76
May 2007 first preferences Lab 5313 SNP 2729 Solidarity 1220 C 569 LD 457 Grn 315 Scottish Unionist Party 225 SSP 224

Glasgow city council
Caused by the resignation of Green Party councillor Liam Hainey due to health and family circumstances.

We end our tour of Glasgow in the south of the city.  Langside itself is at the western end of the ward that bears its name, with King's Park at the eastern end and Mount Florida in the middle.  At the ward's geographic centre is Hampden Park, home of the Scotland national football team and venue for the athletics events in the Commonwealth Games last year.  This is one of Glasgow's most desirable wards and very middle class; it once formed the core of the Glasgow Cathcart parliamentary constituency which for many years was a safe Conservative area.

The original Battle of Langside was fought in 1568 and resulted in defeat for Mary, Queen of Scots, who was then exiled to England.  Modern battles are, of course, fought over votes.  In 2007 the ward elected one councillor each from the SNP, Labour and the Lib Dems, who got strong transfers from the Conservatives after the Tory candidate (who had started fourth in the count) was overtaken by the Greens on transfers from Solidarity.  The 2012 result is muddied by a cockup at the count which led to the result being declared without one of the ballot boxes being included, although this did not in the end change the winning candidates.  The SNP topped the poll on first preferences but failed to balance their candidates, and their second candidate was overtaken by the Green Party's Liam Hainey who got transfers from the defeated Lib Dem councillor.

With the Greens only polling 9% here in 2012 there is little chance of them holding their seat.  Instead it'll be a battle between the SNP and Labour, and as stated the SNP were already ahead here in 2012, by 38% to 36%.

Defending for the Green Party is Robert Pollock.  The SNP candidate is Anna Richardson, an antenatal teacher.  Labour have selected Unison officer Eileen Dinning.  Also on the ballot paper are Kyle Thornton for the Tories, Will Millinship for the Lib Dems, Ian Leech for the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition and Cailean Mongan of UKIP.

May 2012 first preferences (corrected) SNP 2582 Lab 2441 Grn 618 C 498 LD 493 TUSC 162 Glasgow First 70
May 2007 first preferences Lab 3075 SNP 2522 LD 1207 C 993 Grn 891 Solidarity 467 SSP 179

South Lanarkshire council
Caused by the resignation of SNP councillor Angela Crawley, who is now the Member of Parliament for Lanark and Hamilton East.

Southern Hamilton here, running from the edge of the town centre along the road to Strathaven to the edge of the built-up area.  This is a strong Labour area and before the introduction of PR Labour held all four of the predecessor wards, although in the 2003 election they only just beat Lawson in Silvertonhill ward (covering the Silvertonhill, Low Waters and Eddlewood areas above Eddlewood Glen, connected by Silvertonhill Avenue).  In the two elections since proportional representation was introduced Labour have had the votes to elect three out of the four councillors but never stood more than two candidates; this has resulted in the Tories winning a surprise seat at the 2007 election with just 11% of the vote, and the SNP winning a second seat at the 2012 election to split the ward's representation 2/2.  The ward's other SNP councillor died in 2013 and the SNP lost the by-election to Labour by 52% to 33% - exactly the same scores as in 2012 - so Labour have a chance here to hold all four seats in the ward.

Defending for the SNP is John Ross, a former Hamilton district councillor who has recently retired from running a newsagents.  Labour's candidate is Jim Lee, secretary of the Scottish Co-operative Party.  Also on the ballot paper are Lynne Nailon for the Conservatives (who fought the 2013 by-election), Craig Smith for the Christian Party (fighting the ward for the third time), Donald MacKay for UKIP (who appears to be the husband of the UKIP candidate in the Glasgow Anderston/City by-election), Matthew Cockburn of the Lib Dems, Jane Kane for the Green Party and Andrew McCallum for the Pirate Party.

Oct 2013 by-election Lab 1781 SNP 1120 C 322 Christian 133 UKIP 86
May 2012 first prefs Lab 2775 SNP 1757 C 496 Pensioners 199 Christian 165
May 2007 first prefs Lab 3631 SNP 1791 C 808 Ind 679 LD 427 Grn 188

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

By-election Preview: 30 July 2015

Five by-elections on 30th July 2015.  The SNP will try to hold two seats in Aberdeen after their councillors were elected to Parliament in the recent SNP surge; while on English Elections, three contests will be held in mid-size English towns, two in the Midlands and one in Northumberland.

Aberdeen city council
Caused by the resignations of SNP councillors Kirsty Blackman and Callum McCaig respectively.  They are now MPs for the Aberdeen North and Aberdeen South constituencies.

There is a theme at the moment of by-elections being caused by councillors elected as MPs in the recent general election standing down from their councils and causing by-elections.  The surge for the Scottish National Party in the 2015 general election means that many of these by-elections are concentrated in Scotland: these are the first two by-elections caused by the resignation of newly-elected SNP MPs, and there are about ten more in the pipeline to come through over the next couple of months.  Starting off in Aberdeen: Hilton/Woodside/Stockethill ward is in the north-west of the city between the A90 and A96 roads, while Kincorth/Nigg/Cove is a more suburban area to the south of the Dee along the road to Stonehaven.

Hilton/Stockethill, as the ward was known then (the name was changed in 2013) was drawn up in 2007 to cover first-past-the-post wards which had elected councillors from Labour, the SNP and the Lib Dems, and all three parties comfortably won a seat here under PR in 2007.  The Lib Dem vote collapsed here in 2012 and Labour gained their seat: the first preferences that year were 45% for Labour and 36% for the SNP, while the final round suggests a two-party preferred vote that year of 53-47 to Labour.  Kincorth/Loirston (as Kincorth/Nigg/Cove was called before 2013) also elected one each of Labour/SNP/LD in 2007; in 2012 the Lib Dem councillor lost her seat to independent Andrew Finlayson, who picked up transfers from the minor parties to defeat the second Labour candidate fairly easily.  First preference votes here in 2012 were 38% for Labour, 34% for the SNP and 12% for Finlayson, while an AV count on the ballot papers cast gives a Labour win with 50.8%.

With the swing in Scotland to the SNP since 2012, both of these seats are capable of being held.  Defending for the SNP in Hilton/Woodside/Stockethill is Neil Copland, a former city council housing officer.  Labour's candidate is Charles Pirie, a retired BT manager who represented part of this ward on the city council from 1999 to 2003.  Also on the ballot paper are Roy Begg (who gives an address some way out of the city in Inverurie) for the Conservatives, Jonathan Waddell for the Lib Dems and Peter Kennedy for the Green Party.

In Kincorth/Nigg/Cove the defending SNP candidate is Stephen Flynn, Callum McCaig's parliamentary assistant, while Labour's candidate is part-time office worker Donna Clark.  Ken McLeod stands for the Lib Dems, Philip Sellar for the Conservatives and Dan Yeats for the Green Party.

Parliamentary constituency: Aberdeen North
Holyrood constituency: Aberdeen Donside (most), Aberdeen Central (part)

May 2012 first preferences Lab 1692 SNP 1335 Ind 101/87/55 C 203 LD 145 Grn 99 NF 41
May 2007 first preferences Lab 2033 SNP 1761 LD 1068 C 329

Parliamentary constituency: Aberdeen South
Holyrood constituency: Aberdeen South and North Kincardine

May 2012 first preferences Lab 1541 SNP 1389 Ind 471/120 LD 331 C 219
May 2007 first preferences Lab 1910 SNP 1883 LD 1429 C 423 Ind 179 Solidarity 58

Friday, 27 March 2015

By-election Previews: 26 March 2015

Five by-elections on 26th March 2015, four in Scotland and one in Wales:

West Lothian council
Caused by the disqualification of SNP councillor Isabel Hutton, who failed to attend any meetings of the council in six months.

Armadale Railway Station
This ward is centred on the town of Armadale at the western end of West Lothian, on the A89 Glasgow-Edinburgh road.  The A89 was once the principal road between the two cities, and Armadale's location roughly halfway between the two started to bring it some prosperity; but it was mining for coal and ironstone, together with some brickmaking, which brought the town properly into existence during the early nineteenth century.  The ward also covers a rural hinterland including the large village of Blackridge to the west, also on the A89, and the smaller Torphichen to the north-east, and has recently been re-connected to the railway network with the opening of the Airdrie-Bathgate line in 2011: part of the North Clyde line, Armadale and Blackridge stations have half-hourly trains to Bathgate, Livingston and through to Edinburgh and Glasgow.

Having won two out of three of the predecessor wards in the last first-past-the-post election of 2003, the SNP fell back a bit in the first PR election of 2007: the two SNP candidates between them polled 30%, but at the top of poll was independent candidate Stuart Borrowman, who had been elected for the SNP in 2003 but deselected; he polled just under 25% with the Labour candidate Jim Dixon on 24% and outgoing independent councillor Duncan Maclean on 14%.  Borrowman, Dixon and Hutton were elected, with Maclean finishing a long way behind.  In 2012 the three councillors were re-elected; Borrowman this time polled 56% of the first preferences to 23% for the SNP and 18% for Labour, with Dixon and Hutton being elected from Borrowman's surplus.  Borrowman's second preferences in 2012 slightly favoured Labour, although not by enough to catch the nationalists.

Defending for the SNP is Sarah King, a resource planner and mother-of-two.  Freelance writer Scott Mackay is standing as an independent, while the Labour candidate is Andrew McGuire.  Also on the ballot paper are Ian Burgess for the Tories and Jenny Johnson of the Green Party.

Westminster constituency: Linlithgow and East Falkirk
Holyrood constituency: Linlithgow (Lothian region)
ONS Travel to Work Area: Livingston and Bathgate

Ian Burgess (C)
Jenny Johnson (Grn)
Sarah King (SNP)
Scott Mackay (Ind)
Andrew McGuire (Lab)

May 2012 result Ind 2541 SNP 1029 Lab 788 C 125 (elected: Ind/Lab/SNP)
May 2007 result SNP 1673 Ind 1385 Lab 1330 Ind 780 C 252 LD 137 SSP 55 (elected: Ind/Lab/SNP)

Comhairle nan Eilean Siar
Caused by the resignation of Labour councillor Archie Campbell on health grounds.  A former teacher, Campbell had served on the council since 1999.

Balivanich, Isle of Benbecula
In English, that is "BENBECULA AND NORTH UIST, Western Isles council".  These are two islands connected to each other by a causeway, with a large number of small associated islets.  North Uist is the larger island by area, although Benbecula has a slightly larger population.  The population of the islands was once much higher, but the Highland clearances and the failure of the kelp industry led to major emigration to Cape Breton Island, off Nova Scotia, in the early nineteenth century.

The ward's main settlements are Balivanich on Benbecula and Lochmaddy, on North Uist.  Lochmaddy has regular ferries to Uig on the Isle of Skye and Leverburgh in Harris, while there are regular flights from Benbecula Airport to Stornoway and Glasgow - the ward's only direct link to the mainland.  Benbecula Airport was once an RAF base, and the air force maintains a radar station in the ward: Benbecula is also the site of the main offices for QinetiQ's military firing range on South Uist.  Over half the population is Gaelic-speaking, while the generally low-lying and peaty nature of the islands results in a reputation for birdlife.  Included within the ward, although with no electorate, is the isolated St Kilda archipelago, one of Scotland's five world heritage sites and highly unusual in being on both the natural and cultural list of world heritage sites.

The Outer Hebrides generally votes for independent candidates, although Archie Campbell was a bit of an exception as an official Labour candidate: before 2003 he represented the Paible ward which covered the northern half of North Uist, being returned unopposed at that election - as were the independent councillors for the two other predecessor wards, Lochmaddy and North Benbecula.  The introduction of PR led to contested elections but no change in the partisan balance: Campbell topped the poll in 2007 ahead of four independent candidates, and was safely re-elected in 2012 in second place ahead of an independent and an SNP candidate.

There is no defending Labour candidate in the by-election, so this seat is up for grabs.  It will be a straight fight between two Benbecula-based candidates, both of whom are calling for more flights to Stornoway.  Independent candidate Andrew Walker is secretary of Benbecula community council and is retired after forty years' experience as a social worker.  In the nationalist corner is Roslyn Macpherson, a counsellor for a childbirth charity.

Westminster and Holyrood constituency: Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Highlands and Islands region)
ONS Travel to Work Area: Eilean Siar

Roslyn Macpherson (SNP)
Andrew Walker (Ind)

May 2012 result Ind 696 Lab 204 SNP 177 (seats: 2Ind/1Lab)
May 2007 result Ind 855 Lab 459 (seats: 2Ind/1Lab)

Moray council
Caused by the death of Independent councillor Joe Mackay at the age of 86.  A retired fishing boat skipper, Mackay had been a Moray councillor since winning a by-election in 2004, and gave his name to an annual award for Buckie High School's brightest student.  His death was the result of an accident in which he was run down by his own mobility scooter.

Gordon Street, Buckie
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.   Mackay, as stated, won a by-election in Buckie West in July 2004.  The introduction of PR in 2007 led to a shake-up in the town's representation: the ward's other independent councillor stood down and the Labour councillor was defeated, a new independent and the SNP candidate (who topped the poll) joining Mackay on the council.  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.  The other independent councillor, Anne McKay, resigned in late 2013 for personal reasons: the by-election, held in January 2014, saw new independent candidate Gordon Cowie defeat the SNP 59-41 in the final round.

None of the candidates from the 2014 by-election are trying again.  The new independent candidate is Norman Calder, a retired naval officer who competed in the 2014 series of Great British Bake Off, finishing seventh out of twelve contestants.  Businesswoman Sonya Warren stands for the SNP, and Tim Eagle is the Conservative candidate.

Westminster constituency: Moray
Holyrood constituency: Banffshire and Buchan Coast (North East Scotland region)
ONS Travel to Work Area: Moray

Norman Calder (Ind)
Tim Eagle (C)
Sonya Warren (SNP)

Jan 2014 by-election Ind 830 SNP 670 Ind 220 C 143 (after transfers: Ind 1034 SNP 710)
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

Fife council
Caused by the death of Labour councillor Betty Campbell at the age of 76.  Described as a tireless community worker, Campbell had served on Fife council since 2007.

"Twa Heads", Glenwood Roundabout, Glenrothes
For our final Scottish by-election of the week we move on to a New Town which has become the county town of Fife.  Originally intended as a pit town to serve a short-lived colliery at Thornton, Glenrothes instead became a centre for manufacturing specialising in electronics, resulting in the town turning into part of the so-called "Silicon Glen".  Global economic changes mean that the Silicon Glen is no longer as important as it was, but manufacturing, particularly in paper - the Tullis Russell paperworks has been here for over two centuries, predating the town - remains a major employer.  To the south-west of the town lies the pit village of Kinglassie; in between is Fife Airport which, despite its grand name, is in fact a minor aerodrome for private light aircraft.

In the noughties this has been a strong SNP area, the nationalists winning two or three wards in this area in 2003 (depending which areas you count as predecessors to the modern ward).  The two elections here since PR was introduced in 2007 have both resulted in the SNP and Labour winning two seats each.  The SNP tried for three seats in the 2012 election, but with Labour polling two quotas the third seat was not on; interestingly, a decline in the SNP vote led to the runner-up candidate being from the All Scotland Pensioners Party, who got ahead of the third SNP candidate on Tory transfers.  The SNP are, of course, doing very well in Scotland at the moment, and held a by-election in nearby Kirkcaldy a couple of months ago thanks to a big swing from Labour: a gain here could have implications for Fife council's minority Labour administration, which only holds 35 out of 75 seats.

Defending for Labour is Alan Seath, who has had a long career in planning and construction.  The SNP candidate is Craig Walker who was the third SNP candidate here in 2012; he is the chairman of the local SNP branch and a keen cricketer.  Also on the ballot are John Wheatley (from Lochgelly) for the Tories, Jane Liston (from St Andrews) for the Lib Dems and Martin Green for UKIP.

Westminster constituency: Glenrothes
Holyrood constituency: Mid Fife and Glenrothes (Mid Scotland and Fife region)
ONS Travel to Work Area: Kirkcaldy and Glenrothes

Martin Green (UKIP)
Jane Liston (LD)
Alan Seath (Lab)

Craig Walker (SNP)
John Wheatley (C)

May 2012 result SNP 2200 Lab 2132 All Scotland Pensioners Party 271 Ind 192 C 155 Ind 147 LD 83
(seats: 2SNP/2Lab)May 2007 result SNP 3102 Lab 2212 C 384 Ind 376 LD 369 (seats: 2SNP/2Lab)

Friday, 23 January 2015

By-election Preview: 22 January 2015

We start Scottish Elections' coverage of 2015 with a by-election taking place in Kirkcaldy.  Meanwhile, English Elections has the low-down on one other local by-election taking place this week, way down south in East Sussex.

Fife council
Caused by the resignation of SNP councillor Arthur Morrison, who now lives and works in Austria.

Low Tide at Dysart Harbour
This ward is based on the old town of Dysart, a royal burgh which was an important port from the late mediaeval period, exporting salt and coal to the Low Countries; as a result of this trade Dysart became known as "Salt Burgh" or "Little Holland".  The port declined in the inter-war period following the closure of the local colliery, and in 1930 Dysart was annexed by Kirkcaldy.

The Kirkcaldy East ward has several other points of interest, notably the ruined Ravenscraig Castle on the coast at Pathhead.  Pathhead also includes the Manse in which the polymath John Buchan and his novelist sister O. Douglas were brought up; while traditional industries in the village include nailmaking, as commemorated in Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations and on the Bank of England £20 note.  There is still manufacturing in the ward, with a flour mill and one of the world's biggest linoleum factories.

This was one of the weakest areas of Kirkcaldy for Labour at the 2003 elections to Fife council, the party winning just one of the predecessor first-past-the-post wards (Dysart and Gallatown) while the SNP won the other two (Glebe Park, Pathhead and Sinclairtown by 23 votes over Labour, and Smeaton and Overton more comfortably).  The first PR election to Fife in 2007 saw Labour top the poll in the ward with 42% to 35% for the SNP, 12% for the Lib Dems and 8% for the Tories; Labour took two seats to the SNP's one, but the second Labour seat had a majority of just nine votes over the Lib Dems who got strong transfers from the Conservatives.  In 2012 the votes for smaller parties crashed and Labour polled 50% to 36% for the SNP, the two Labour councillors being comfortably re-elected and the SNP winning the final seat.

Much has been made recently of an SNP surge in Scottish opinion polling, but their local by-election performances since the referendum have been mixed, so an SNP hold in this by-election could be an important indicator for the next general election.  Their candidate is Marie Penman, who ran the Yes campaign in Kirkcaldy.  Labour have selected Liz Easton, who is a manager at the Kirkcaldy YMCA.  Also standing are Edgar Cook for the Conservatives; Callum Leslie for the Lib Dems; Peter Adams for UKIP; independent candidates Ronald Hunter and Alastair Macintyre, who will probably dispute the UKIP vote (Macintyre is a former UKIP figure); and Claire Reid from the Scottish Green Party.

Westminster constituency: Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (except for a small part in Glenrothes)
Holyrood constituency: Kirkcaldy
ONS Travel to Work Area: Kirkcaldy and Glenrothes
Postcode districts: KY1, KY2

Peter Adams (UKIP)
Edgar Cook (C)
Liz Easton (Lab)
Ronald Hunter (Ind)
Callum Leslie (LD)
Alastair Macintyre (Ind)
Marie Penman (SNP)
Claire Reid (Grn)

May 2012 first preferences Lab 1856 SNP 1352 C 224 All Scotland Pensioners Party 180 LD 104
May 2007 first preferences Lab 1994 SNP 1680 LD 572 C 361 SSP 138