Friday, 18 September 2015

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

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