Forth and Endrick (Stirling) By-Election, 06/05/2021

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

If you think you’ll have a lot on your plate on the 6th of May given the size of your regional ballot, spare a thought for the good people of Stirling’s Forth and Endrick ward. They’ll have a third ballot to deal with as they vote in a by-election very tragically prompted by the death of SNP councillor Graham Lambie. He’d served the ward since 2007, but suddenly passed in February.

Forth and Endrick is one of 7 wards in Stirling Council, electing 3 councillors at a normal election. Covering the south of the rural section of the council, this ward covers a pretty vast area, bounded by the River Forth along the north and with the Endrick Water flowing through the middle. In the northwest you can start the climb up Ben Lomond from Rowardennan, whilst Gargunnock in the east is a stone’s throw from the city of Stirling itself, and Strathblane in the south is close to Glasgow. Between these points are a number of important villages including Balfron, Kippen, Killearn, Fintry and Drymen.

As an aside, Strathblane is somewhere that has brought me great solace during the pandemic. Early on I was looking for places to cycle to within my roughly usual distance for exercise for some variety. Getting up the hill from Milngavie to Mugdock is a slog, but once you’re up there, you get spectacular views out over Glasgow to the south, and across the Campsies and to Ben Lomond to the north. If you’re in the north west of Glasgow, a route to be recommended for sure!

Returning to election patter, this ward is in the Stirling constituency for both parliaments. The Holyrood version started out as a Labour seat before the SNP won it in 2007. At Westminster it has been more varied, having been Conservative before Labour’s 1997 landslide, then going to the SNP in 2015, and back to the Conservatives in 2017. That made it one of Scotland’s most marginal seats for the 2019 election, though the SNP won it back on a weighty swing.

Boundaries and Recent Election History

There haven’t been any boundary changes since the ward was created for 2007, so it all compares easily. At that first election the seats went one apiece to the Conservatives, Labour and SNP, with first preferences falling in that order. In 2012, the SNP moved into a first preference lead, and Lambie was joined by a party colleague at Labour’s expense.

With the Conservatives surging across rural Scotland in particular by 2017, they re-took their vote lead here and managed to win a second seat quite easily. That meant the two SNP councillors were left to duke it out over the remaining seat, with Lambie very narrowly coming ahead and holding his seat. Although he was quite far off winning a seat, it’s also notable that an Independent candidate, Ewan McLean, put in a very strong showing that placed him ahead Labour.

Detailed 2017 Data

Breaking 2017 down into individual polling districts, we see the Conservatives were ahead in most, with a strip of neighbouring SNP leads through Buchlyvie, Balfron and Fintry. Of these the SNP performed strongest in Fintry, whilst for the Conservatives the postal ballot was their best result, followed by the districts around Balmaha and Croftamie.

McLean was clearly based in or near Buchlyvie, as he did so well there he was very close to beating the SNP to the lead. Labour’s best result came from Gargunnock, whilst the Greens were most felt in Fintry.

Looking at 2017’s second preferences, we can see what is by now the usual strong flow between the SNP and Greens. Although not as substantial, there was also a degree of mutual preferencing between the Conservatives and the Independent candidate, though McLean’s voters were very nearly as favourable to the SNP. That left Labour as the only party not to be anyone else’s largest second preference, with their voters most favouring the Greens.

Although Labour and more narrowly the Independent had more of their voters give a second preference to the Conservatives than the SNP, Green to SNP transfers here would be a bit larger. Though it wouldn’t close it entirely, we’ll probably see this translate to a narrower gap between the Conservatives and SNP in the re-calculation stage.

Candidates

It’s a standard Holyrood 5 affair for this by-election, and every candidate is (as far as I can make out) a completely fresh face, having contested neither the 2017 Council election nor the 2019 UK election within Stirling.

Wendy Faulkner (Green)
Paul Goodwin (SNP)
Jane Hutchison (Conservative)
James MacLaren (Liberal Democrat)
Colin O'Brien (Labour)

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 3107 votes.

Stage 6 (final head-to-head stage); 

Conservative - 3084 (49.6%)
SNP - 2258 (36.3%)
Didn't Transfer - 871 (14.0%)

As suggested earlier, there was something of a narrowing between the two parties here, but really not that much – from a gap of 14.9% in first preferences to 13.3% after transfers. For a single seat in 2017, the Conservatives would have had a comfortable lead over the SNP throughout every stage of the count.

I wouldn’t go so far as to call this one a guaranteed Conservative win though. As we saw in Ellon and District, the SNP can win in these rural wards when they really go for it, and it’s possible they’ve already been substantially boosted by their 2019 GE result here. Nonetheless, I still think the Conservatives have the clear advantage here, especially considering that by-elections move things in their direction somewhat already.

Call: Likely Conservative.

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