Almond and Earn (Perth & Kinross) By-Election, 25/03/2021

If you feel a bit stumped by any of the information here, or wonder how it’s possible to get this level of depth, you can check this little guide to how I preview By-Elections.

NOTE: This by-election may be re-scheduled at short notice due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Ward Profile

Rounding out a very busy March for by-elections, we have two due on the 25th. The first of them brings us back to Perth & Kinross, with a vacancy in the Almond and Earn ward arising from the sad passing of SNP councillor Henry Anderson. He’d first been elected in 2012.

Almond and Earn is one of 12 wards in Perth & Kinross, electing 3 councillors at an ordinary election. As the name indicates the ward is largely defined by two rivers, the Almond in the north and Earn in the south. It covers a broad sweep to the west and south of Perth itself, most notably Bridge of Earn, Abernethy and Methven. It also includes smaller villages such as Forgandenny, Balgowan, and Glenalmond.

For the Scottish Parliament the ward forms part of the Perthshire South and Kinross-shire constituency, which has been held by the SNP for the duration of devolution. At UK level it’s in the Ochil and South Perthshire seat, which was Labour in 2005 and 2010, before going to the SNP in their 2015 landslide. In 2017 it was one of the seats the Conservatives gained, but went yellow again in 2019.

Boundaries and Recent Election History

There was a slight boundary change to the ward ahead of 2017, which removed the Almondbank area from the ward, though this didn’t impact on councillor numbers. At the first STV election in 2007 the Conservatives were the leading party, followed by the SNP and Lib Dems, with each party winning one councillor.

In 2012 the Conservative councillor Alan Jack stood as an Independent and was successfully elected, effectively taking the Lib Dem seat as a fresh Conservative won a seat the SNP held theirs, albeit with Anderson displacing a party colleague. The SNP came ahead in votes this time, though the combined Conservative-former Conservative vote was slightly higher. Jack sadly passed in 2016, and the Conservatives easily won the resulting by-election.

For the slightly redrawn ward in 2017, the Conservatives were the runaway favourites with nearly 60% of the vote, easily securing two councillors. The SNP held the remaining seat, without much competiton from the Lib Dem or Green candidates.

Detailed 2017 Data

Given their absolute dominance of first preference votes it shouldn’t be a surprise to see the Conservatives running away with the lead in every district – indeed, they won a majority of the votes in them all. Their postal vote was narrowly their best result, with in-person results strongest in the merged boxes covering St David’s, Balgowan and Tibbermore. 

The SNP drew their most support from Bridge of Earn and Milltown of Aberdalgie, whilst both the Greens and Lib Dems saw their highest shares in the districts covering Fogandenny and Forteviot.

Since I started presenting this data, I’ve used the second preferences as a teaser for the dynamics we can expect to see play out in the transfers stage. Given the Conservatives stonking majority of the vote here in 2017, that isn’t really necessary. No surprises that SNP and Green voters most prefer each other, or that the Conservatives mostly preferred the Lib Dems – though they mostly didn’t express further preferences. Lib Dems directed the largest chunk of their preferences to the Conservatives, though only narrowly more than the Greens.

Candidates

A pool of just 4 candidates for this one, with the Greens opting not to stand this time, and Labour stepping into that gap. As far as I can make out this is also an entirely fresh set of candidates, none of them having stood in the 2017 election or the 2019 UK General. The full list of candidates is:

Michelle Yolande Frampton (SNP)
Craig Masson (Labour)
Claire McLaren (Liberal Democrat)
Frank Smith (Conservative)

2017 Re-Calculation and Prediction

As ever, to get the best comparison between the original vote and a single seat by-election, we need to dig a bit deeper and re-calculate a result for electing a single councillor. Remember that in a single seat election under STV, a candidate needs 50%+1 of the valid votes cast (a quota) to win. For this re-calculation, that was 2049 votes.

Stage 3 (final stage); 

Conservative - 2388 (58.3%)
SNP - 1178 (28.8%)
Didn't Transfer - 31 (0.8%)

Obviously, the Conservatives win this. I’ve only put the transfer chart in to show the exhausted votes, really. Although the SNP have proven capable of overturning big Conservative leads, a la Ellon last year, I would find it very difficult to envision that extending to a 30% lead. This should therefore be a pretty safe bet for the Conservatives, which would hand them every councillor in the ward – not that it would be their fault, but totally defeating the point of STV.

Call: Conservative win.

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