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)