Thursday, 2 June 2016

By-election Preview: 2 June 2016

Seven by-elections on 2nd June 2016, one of which is unfinished business from May. One is covered here, two over on the Welsh Elections blog, and four more on the English Elections blog.

Argyll and Bute council
Caused by the resignation of councillor Iain Macdonald due to pressure of business.

Clachan Bridge, 'The Bridge Over the Atlantic'
If once is happenstance, twice is coincidence and thrice is conspiracy, what's four times?  Yes, this column has once again ended up in that beautiful corner of the Scottish Highlands which is served by the town of Oban, for the second by-election of the year, the fourth in two years, and the fifth in five years.  This really is getting beyond a joke, people; as well as all this the electors of Oban North and Lorn have had to be dragged out for the independence referendum in September 2014, the Westminster election in 2015 and the Holyrood election last May, and will be back at the polls later this month for the EU membership referendum.  Consequently, your columnist has described this ward several times before and this time will confine himself to saying that it covers the whole of Oban's hinterland together with the northern third of the town itself.

Iain Macdonald was first elected for this ward in 2012 as an independent candidate, gaining his seat from the Liberal Democrats and beating the second SNP candidate in the final round of counting by less than one vote; the other three seats for the ward went to two other independents and the leading SNP candidate.  The ward's high councillor attrition rate began to assert itself in the summer of 2014 with the resignation of the SNP councillor; with the party's Oban branch having suffered a damaging split (they had unexpectedly lost a by-election in the other Oban ward earlier in 2014) the defending SNP candidate was top in the first round but with less than 25% of the vote, and attracted so few transfers that they failed to make the final round of voting, in which Labour candidate Kieron Green narrowly lost to independent candidate John MacGregor.  MacGregor died just two weeks later, and the SNP got their seat back in the ensuing by-election which was the first to be held after the independence referendum, narrowly beating independent Stephanie Venner in the final round.  As stated, this is the second council by-election here of 2016, with long-serving independent Duncan MacIntyre having retired on health grounds at the start of the year; that by-election, held in February, saw a second SNP gain, beating Kieron Green (this time standing as an independent) 54-46 in the final round.  With Iain Macdonald having defected to the SNP during his term, the Nationalists now had three seats out of four in the ward having had none following the July 2014 by-election.  I hope you're keeping up at the back there, this is interesting stuff.

Macdonald's defection makes it rather difficult to identify a defending candidate for this by-election, particularly given the entertaining mess which is Argyll and Bute council which is nominally ruled by a galaxy of independent groups who appear to keep themselves busy by bickering with each other.  Two veterans of all three by-elections return for a fourth tilt: independent candidate Kieron Green (who had the Labour nomination in both 2014 polls and was runner-up in February) and Conservative candidate Andrew Venner.  The SNP candidate is Breege Smyth, who appears to be a radio producer from North Connel, and the Lib Dems are having a go this time by selecting Isle of Mull resident David Pollard.

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

Feb 2016 by-election SNP 1113 C 609 Ind 608 Grn 300; after transfers SNP 1241 Ind 1048
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

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