Baillieston (Glasgow) By-Election, 18/03/2021

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NOTE: Due to the ongoing pandemic, this by-election may be re-scheduled at short notice.

Ward Profile

Next in the batch of by-elections happening on the 18th of March, we’re looking at Glasgow’s Baillieston ward, which follows the shock removal of very long serving Labour councillor Jim Coleman. He’d served on the council since 1988, starting out in the Barlanark ward, but was the second councillor in January to fall foul of the law which disqualifies councillors who fail to attend a meeting for six months. 

Given the pandemic and Coleman’s length of service, this has been seen by many as an open and shut case of digital exclusion. At the risk of wading into some very defensive waters, I’m not convinced that’s the entire explanation here. The relevant law isn’t quite as automatic as has been made out, allowing Councils to approve absences without limiting the reasons they may do so. Given the cost of a by-election and the inconvenience of organising one in a pandemic, I doubt the Council would have refused to approve such an absence had the thought occurred to anyone to do so. The fact it apparently didn’t suggests multiple points of failure.

The first would indeed be the council – why didn’t any of its officers notice the issue and suggest approved absence? For Coleman himself though, why didn’t he raise the issue, either directly or via a colleague? You’d assume given his tenure he should be aware of such rules, and able to phone someone to let them know. And why did not a single one of those colleagues, in one of the largest council groups in Scotland, notice and raise the issue? Any claim to have done so but been blocked by officers was glaringly absent in the statement of the group leader.

Certainly, digital exclusion is at the core of this one. Being frank though, I can’t help but feel there’s a certain embarrassment about the level of team working, both in the group and the council. It seems like no one at any point said “hang on, where’s Jim, is he doing alright?” and it has led to a deeply regrettable outcome.

Anyway, getting back to the ward itself, Baillieston is one of Glasgow’s 23 wards, and elects 3 councillors at a full election. Located at the very eastern end of the city, in addition to Baillieston itself it also covers the Swinton, Garrowhill and Queenslie areas.

At Holyrood, most of the ward is part of the Shettleston constituency, which like most of the city was historically Labour, before flipping to the SNP in 2011. The Queenslie portion is in Provan, which held out as Labour until 2016. For Westminster it’s entirely within Glasgow East, which the SNP famously won from Labour in a 2008 by-election – winning candidate John Mason had in fact been an SNP councillor for this ward. Labour regained the seat in 2010, before losing it more permanently to the SNP in their 2015 landslide.

Boundaries and Recent Election History

As originally drawn, the ward also included the Barlanark, Springboig and Greenfield area. That slightly larger ward elected 4 councillors, which at both the 2007 and 2012 election split two apiece to Labour and the SNP, with the former leading in vote terms.

By 2017, Glasgow as a whole had swung towards the SNP. That gave them a substantial lead in this ward, whilst the simultaneous Conservative revival saw that party quadruple(!) their vote versus 2012. With only three seats up for grabs this time, that meant each party won one of them.

Detailed 2017 Data

The SNP’s success here in 2017 was such that they had a clear lead in every polling district, though they had particular strength in Queenslie. Though smaller parties barely registered here, that area did see the strongest vote share for any of them, with nearly 4% for the SSP.

Labour’s much reduced vote had them strongest in the postal ballot, their best performance in the in-person vote coming in Swinton. The Conservatives were in a similar situation,  with their in-person support highest in Garrowhill and the eastern portion of Baillieston.

Given the spread of votes here, the only transfers that would really matter in a re-calculation here would come from the Conservatives. The fact that a third of their voters opted not to preference anyone is by itself a strong indication that Labour would struggle to close the gap with the SNP.

Candidates

We’ve got a few familiar faces on the ballot for this one, which has UKIP joining the Holyrood 5. Most notable is the SNP’s David Turner, who was one of the councillors for the ward before losing his seat in the drop to three members. The Lib Dems Daniel Donaldson stood in Dennistoun, whilst Green candidate Lorraine McLaren contested Calton. The full list of candidates is:

John Daly (Conservative)
William Docherty (Labour)
Daniel Donaldson (Liberal Democrat)
Christopher Ho (UKIP)
Lorraine McLaren (Green)
David Turner (SNP)

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 3468 votes.

Stage 8 (final head-to-head stage); 

SNP - 3296 (47.5%)
Labour - 2588 (37.3%)
Didn't Transfer - 1051 (15.2%)

Although Labour do close the gap somewhat when re-calculating for one seat, the SNP simply start too far ahead to be overtaken. Given that the SNP are generally polling in a better position than they were in 2017, whilst Labour are worse off, it’s hard to imagine this not going to the SNP.

Call: SNP win.

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