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

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