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

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