Tuesday, 16 February 2016

By-election Preview: 18 February 2016

Nine by-elections on 18th February 2016, seven in England, one in Wales and one in Scotland.

Argyll and Bute council
Caused by the resignation of independent councillor Duncan MacIntyre on health grounds.  He had served on Argyll and Bute council since 1999, originally being elected for the former Ardconnel-Kilmore ward.

Inverliver Bay, Loch Etive
Not again, I hear you cry. Yes, we are back in Oban North and Lorn for the third by-election in two years, and the fourth in five years.  This geographically vast ward with a high councillor attrition rate essentially contains the whole of the hinterland of Oban but only the northern third of the town itself (the other two-thirds of Oban is in a ward with Mull and various other islands).  The ward goes a long way inland along the line of the A85, past Dalmally and as far as Bridge of Orchy; also here are the Benderloch and Appin areas on the north side of Loch Etive, together with the island of Lismore in Loch Linnhe.  As well as tourism, one of the main drivers of the local economy is the hydroelectric power station at Ben Cruachan, knowledge of which once won your columnist a bottle of rare Belgian beer.

The ward was created for the 2007 elections in Scotland which were the first to be held under proportional representation.  In 2003 at the last first-past-the-post election, all four of the predecessor wards (Awe, Oban North, Ardconnel-Kilmore and North Lorn) returned independent councillors.  Two of the independents were re-elected in 2007, including MacIntyre, while one was defeated; the other two seats went to the Lib Dems and the SNP.  The SNP councillor died in 2011 and the SNP held the by-election, polling 44% of the vote; at the decisive stage of the count she had 51% of the vote to 25% for the Tories and 24% for an independent candidate.  In the 2012 election the Lib Dem vote collapsed and their seat went to a third independent, who defeated the second SNP candidate by a margin of less than one vote.

In 2014 Oban had three local by-elections.  The first was held in May (simultaneously with the European elections) in the other Oban ward, and was unexpectedly won by Labour who had not previously contested the area.  For the second, held here in July following the resignation of the SNP councillor, your columnist wrote that "even with Scottish by-elections using the Alternative Vote anything can still happen" and we certainly got an unusual and interesting result.  The SNP topped the poll on first preferences but with less than 25% of the vote, and the nationalist party (whose Oban branch had suffered a damaging split) attracted so few transfers that they failed to make the final round of voting, in which John MacGregor narrowly defeated Labour by 920 votes to 874.

MacGregor's election meant that all four of the ward's seats were now in the hands of independents, but that didn't last long: two weeks later MacGregor was dead, and the SNP got their seat back in the town's third by-election of 2014, Iain MacLean (who had lost the May by-election in Oban South) beating independent candidate Stephanie Irvine, who picked up the lion's share of the transfers, by 1199 votes to 1080 to win Scotland's first election after the independence referendum.

For this third Oban North by-election of the current Argyll and Bute council (which is an entertaining mess, with an initial SNP administration falling apart in 2013 and various independent groups keeping themselves busy bickering with each other) the defending independent candidate is an interesting one: Kieron Green, who was the Labour candidate in both 2014 by-elections and runner-up in the July poll that year.   There is no official Labour candidate.   The SNP have selected Julie McKenzie, an Oban community councillor.  Completing the ballot paper are the Tories' Andrew Venner, who stood in both 2014 by-elections and finished fourth both times; and Pat Tyrrell of the Green Party.

Westminster constituency: Argyll and Bute
Holyrood constituency: Argyll and Bute

Oct 2014 by-election SNP 1090 Ind 629 Lab 530 C 415; after transfers SNP 1199 Ind 1080
July 2014 by-election SNP 595 Ind 548 Lab 526 C 445 Ind 301; after transfers Ind 920 Lab 874
May 2012 result SNP 1117 Ind 807 Ind 421 Ind 361 C 332 Ind 222 LD 188 Ind 125 Ind 58
Nov 2011 by-election SNP 1081 C 505 Ind 438 LD 260 Ind 165; after transfers SNP 1179 C 591 Ind 561
May 2007 result SNP 1019 Ind 1005 Ind 779 LD 665 C 387 Ind 200 Ind 188 Ind 176 Ind 140