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