2018’s final by-election will take place in the Dee and Glenkens ward of Dumfries and Galloway Council, following the resignation of Conservative councillor Patsy Gilroy. Gilroy is a long-serving councillor, first elected for one of the single member Kirkudbright wards in 1999 and consistently re-elected since. She held the post of convener of the council – the civic head, comparable to (Lord) provosts in other councils – for the 2007 to 12 term.
Dee and Glenkens is one of D&G’s 12 wards and elects 3 councillors at a full election. Sitting slap-bang in the middle of Galloway, it covers most of the western portion of the Stewartry of Kirkudbright, including the town itself nestled on the southern coast. Gatehouse of Fleet is the other major settlement in the ward, also in the south, whilst the much smaller villages of New Galloway and Dalry are the main population centres in the much more rural northern end.
For the Scottish Parliament the ward is entirely within the Galloway and West Dumfries constituency which has been held (in some form) by the Conservatives since 2003. The 2007 to 11 term Presiding Officer, Alex Fergusson, represented the constituency until his retirement in 2016. At UK level it’s in the Dumfries and Galloway constituency, which went blue in last year’s snap election. That ended a brief SNP stint which itself followed a decade of Labour representation.
Overall, Galloway has had quite a mix of representatives over the years – it was one of the SNP’s handful of seats in 1997 UK and the first Holyrood election, then electing Scotland’s only Tory MP in 2001. Historically, it seems that Labour have been strongest in the western end of Galloway round Stranraer, the SNP in the middle around Wigtown, and the Conservatives in the Stewartry in the east, which is where Dee and Glenkens is located.
Finally, a ward with boundary changes worth remarking on! The wards in D&G changed quite significantly last year as a result of dropping 4 councillors. Dee and Glenkens consists of most of the previous Dee ward, excluding the area around Creetown, and the Glenkens portion of the former Castle Douglas and Glenkens ward. As with the current ward, these previous wards elected 3 councillors, going one apiece to the SNP, Conservatives and Independents each time, except for Dee in 2012 where the SNP were replaced by a particularly popular independent. Gilroy herself previously represented the Dee ward.
It’s quite a sparse field for this by-election, with Labour and the Lib Dems opting not to stand candidates. Combined with new faces for the Conservatives, SNP and UKIP that leaves Green candidate Laura Moodie as the sole returning candidate from last year’s election. However, that second, popular independent for Dee in 2012 I mentioned? He’s having another go this time, having let 2017 pass him by. Pauline Drysdale will be hoping to hold the ward for the Conservatives, whilst the SNP’s Glen Murray will be eyeing up the prospect of tipping the currently equally balanced scales in the Labour-SNP administration in his party’s favour. The full list of candidates is;
- Jennifer Blue (UKIP)
- Pauline Drysdale (Conservative)
- Laura Moodie (Green)
- Glen Murray (SNP)
- Colin Wyper (Independent)
As ever, to get the best comparison between the original vote and the by-election, we need to go beyond the surface and re-calculate a result for electing a single councillor. The top half of the chart shows the first preferences last year, as well as the party of the successfully elected councillors. Transfer flows are on the bottom half. Remember that in a single seat election under STV, a candidate needs 50%+1 of the valid votes cast (a quota) to win.
- Conservative – 2340 (50.6%)
- SNP – 1425 (30.8%)
- Didn’t Transfer – 857 (18.5%)
For only one councillor not only would it have been Gilroy, who would have held a comfortable lead throughout, but she’d have made quota without having to eliminate literally everyone else. This is only the second of the ten by-elections this year where a re-calculated 2017 result would have seen a victory at or before the final head-to-head stage, which spared me having to tot up another 1425 transfers.
Although Gilroy almost certainly had a large personal vote that would have contributed to that substantial margin of victory, I feel quite confident saying the Conservatives are the obvious front-runners here given their recent dominance in all elections in the area. It looks like the SNP simply have far too much ground to make up. They might not be as close run for second as they were in this recalculation by Jane Maitland, another long-serving local councillor, but unless there’s a significant turnaround in where transfers go that won’t make much difference.
Wyper throws a bit of a spanner in the works given just how well he did in 2012, but with big shifts in Scottish politics since then and some controversy over his previous links to the BNP, he may find it hard to pick up the necessary transfers. Additionally, I’ve since been told by a local source that he attempted to withdraw his nomination after the deadline and has not been campaigning.
Call: Likely Conservative.