There are 32 local councils (officially, local authorities) across Scotland, consisting of a total of 1,227 elected councillors. Given the number of councillors, there’s usually a lot more movement in seats in between elections than is the case for parliamentary seats. The current seat numbers for each council, showing changes vs 2017, are;
Breakdown of current “Others”;
- Aberdeen, Labour group currently suspended from party.
- Dumfries and Galloway, Dumfries and Galloway Socialist Group, formed of 2 councillors, one elected Independent one elected Labour (Left)
- East Ayrshire, Rubbish Party (Local issues)
- Glasgow, Change Glasgow, formed of 2 councillors elected as SNP (Centre?)
- Orkney, Orkney Manifesto Group (Centre-Left Localist)
- West Dunbartonshire, West Dunbartonshire Community Party (Left Localist)
NOTE: The scheduled dates for by-elections are subject to change due to the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic.
The Basics and How To Vote
Elections to Scottish councils are conducted via the Single Transferable Vote (STV). As used in Scotland, STV is a partially proportional system used to elect multiple candidates to represent a single area. Each of Scotland’s councils is divided into wards which each elect either 3 or 4 councillors. Voters cast their ballot by ranking each candidate in order of preference (1,2, 3 etc) for as many or as few of the candidates as they like. This allows their vote to transfer to a later preference in certain circumstances.
Beware of a couple of common misconceptions about how STV works, however! It’s not uncommon to be advised to “only vote for the candidate(s) from one party, as marking more preferences can damage their chances.” That’s completely untrue. A vote will only transfer if;
- The candidate it is currently with is eliminated for having the fewest votes – vote transfers in full
- The candidate it is currently with is elected with more votes than the quota – vote transfers at fractional surplus value.
It is impossible for your 1st preference to count for your 3rd preference, for example, unless both your 1st and 2nd have been eliminated or elected. Similarly, you might be told not to rank your very least preferred candidate at all, as even that last preference can help them get elected. This is also untrue, though it doesn’t actually matter – the only way an absolute last preference would be counted is if that candidate was the only candidate remaining. In that case, they are elected by virtue of being last candidate standing anyway – the only thing a last preference does is add to their final tally of votes.
Of course, it’s up to you as a voter how many preferences you use. You are entirely welcome to vote for only candidates from your most preferred party, or to stop somewhere in the middle. However, the best advice for voting in STV remains what they say in Northern Ireland where it is used regularly – Vote ’til you Boke.
It is recommended that if there is any candidate on the ballot you’d rather see elected over any other candidate, you should preference them. Only stop when you can’t stomach any of the remaining candidates. Your later preferences cannot harm your first preference, but could prevent someone who gies you the boke from being elected.
Calculating the results is a bit more complex than the actual voting is under STV. The most important part of the calculation is the “quota” which is used to determine successfully elected candidates. The quota is equal to the total number of valid votes cast divided by one more than the number of seats up for election, plus one more vote. That means the quota for a 3 member ward is 25% +1 vote, and for 4 members it is 20% +1 vote.
Another important part of an STV count is the “surplus”. This is when a candidate has won more votes than the quota needed to win. These extra votes can be transferred. For example, if a candidate wins 100 votes but only needed 90, they have a surplus of 10 that can transfer. Rather than picking 10 random votes to transfer as surplus, all 100 votes will be transferred at a fractional value. This value is the number of surplus votes divided by the total number of votes – so in this case, 10 divided by 100, which gives a fraction value of 0.1. Effectively, 0.9 of every vote this candidate received stays with them, and 0.1 of every vote transfers to whoever has the next preference on each ballot paper.
Once all votes have been counted and the quota is known, the actual count can get underway. The count will go through the following steps as many times as needed to fill every seat available;
- Check if any candidate has reached quota. If yes and quota exceeded, go to step 2. If no, or if yes and quota is not exceeded, go to step 3.
- Transfer surplus votes above quota from elected candidates at fractional value. Return to step 1.
- If the number of candidates remaining is equal to number of seats remaining, go to step 4. Otherwise, eliminate the candidate with the fewest votes, transferring those votes to the next valid preference at their present value. Return to step 1.
- When the number of candidates and number of seats remaining are equal, those candidates are elected even if they have not reached quota.
In effect, the aim of STV is to minimise the number of votes that don’t count towards electing a candidate. The existence of the quota also makes it partially proportional,by making it extremely difficult for one party to win every seat in the ward.
The boundaries for Scotland’s 32 councils are shown below. Boundary maps for the wards within each council are available on the relevant 2017 results pages.