Today was the day the most serious political nerds in Scotland have been waiting for for years. No, not the (currently ongoing and inconclusive) results of the US Presidential Election – the next round of Islands Act council ward boundary reviews! Last year, initial proposals for the three purely Islands councils were published, which I took a detailed look at here. This time around, it’s the three “mainland” councils that include islands – Argyll & Bute, North Ayrshire, and Highland. Given Highland is larger than the other two put together, it’s getting a solo post.
The basics of how the Islands Act impacts wards is, whereas wards must otherwise elect 3 or 4 councillors, a ward including an inhabited island can elect 1 or 2. This has since been augmented by the Electoral Reform Act, which for all wards has broadened out the possible range of councillors between 2 and 5. For the rest of the country, reviews to account for that change won’t be implemented until at least 2027, but the timing was right to bring them into this process.
For ease of discussion, I’ve divided councils into informal “chunks” consisting of multiple wards.
Argyll and Bute
Of the three “mainland with islands” councils, Argyll and Bute has the largest island population, accounting for around 17% of residents. At present, the Council consists of 11 wards which elect a total of 36 councillors. Under the proposed changes, it would bump up to 12 wards, but with a reduced group of 34 councillors.
You can read more about the Argyll & Bute review and respond to the consultation at the Local Government Boundary Commission’s website.
Bute and Cowal
This section, which covers the island of Bute plus the Cowal peninsula of Argyll, would see the least changes. It currently has 3 wards electing a total of 9 councillors. None of those boundaries change, but Bute sheds a councillor given a declining population.
Helensburgh and Lomond
Helensburgh and Lomond is the chunk of Argyll and Bute that is historically neither Argyll nor Bute, belonging instead to Dunbartonshire. Helensburgh itself is at the north western extreme of the Central Belt, making it very different to much of the rest of this council. At present, the three wards here amount to 10 councillors.
The changes proposed are relatively mild, with Helensburgh Central losing a little bit of area to Helensburgh and Lomond South. It also drops a councillor, without any corresponding increase for the receiving ward, reducing the total for thus chunk to 9 councillors.
Kintyre, Mid Argyll and the Whisky Isles
This is a really quite extensive part of the council, stretching right down from the boundary with Cowal to the very bottom of Kintyre on the mainland, and including numerous islands to the west. Currently 3 wards with 9 councillors, that overall pattern is retained but the boundaries change radically.
In what was the Kintyre and the Islands ward, the islands (bar Gigha) would be spun off into an Islay, Jura and Colonsay ward electing 2 councillors. The Kintyre portion of the ward would then split between an expanded Mid Argyll stretching beyond Tarbert with 4 seats, whilst what was South Kintyre absorbs the rest to become simply Kintyre.
As an aside, South Kintyre was one of a handful of uncontested wards in 2017. Chances are that means it won’t be next time as folk will be keen to stand, but it’s nonetheless interesting to see how these changes (if enacted) would affect things.
Lorn and the Central Hebrides
The last of my four informal chunks, this covers the major town of Oban and the surrounding Lorn area on the mainland with the large island of Mull, and smaller islands such as Tiree, Coll and Lismore. Currently Oban is split in half, and the 2 wards covering the area amount to 8 councillors. Changes here would keep the total number of councillors, but give 3 wards.
The main island are suggested to become a Mull, Iona, Coll and Tiree ward electing 2 councillors. Oban is united and becomes, alongside a southern chunk of Lorn including the Slate Islands, a 4-member ward. That leaves the remaining majority of the area of Lorn with 2 councillors.
Looking at North Ayrshire, Arran and Cumbrae have an outsized cultural footprint borne of easy day trips from the rest of the Central Belt (and, of course, their gorgeous scenery) – as a share of population, they only account for about 4% of the Council. Changes here therefore end up mostly relating to the Electoral Reform Act provisions rather than the Islands Act. The proposals would take this council from 10 wards down to 9, but keep councillors static on 33.
You can read more about the North Ayrshire review and respond to the consultation at the Local Government Boundary Commission’s website.
Irvine and Kilwinning
Covering the headquarters town of Irvine and the smaller burgh of Kilwinning, this chunk has precisely zero changes. No boundaries moved, it’s still 3 Irvine wards plus one for Kilwinning, and still a total of 14 councillors. It’s perhaps interesting, given what we’ll see shortly, that the Commission didn’t decide to make Irvine into two 5-member wards.
Three Towns and Arran
The Three Towns are (from west to east) Ardrossan, Saltcoats and Stevenston. Although retaining individual identities, the overall Three Towns area is a well integrated local unit. Ardrossan is the home of the ferry crossing over to Arran. As it stands, this area has 3 wards electing 9 councillors.
As you’d expect given its size, the big change here is that Arran becomes its own ward – though with just a single councillor. A slightly redrawn Ardrossan then becomes a 3 seater in its own right, with the remaining 5 seats coming from a combined Saltcoats and Stevenston ward. Keep an eye on this one after the consultation – I have a sneaking suspicion some locals might prefer to keep a separate ward for each town, and thus try and split this into a 2 and a 3. I’m also pretty sure that the electoral parity numbers wouldn’t work for that!
Coastal and Garnock Valley
This is basically the entire northern half of the mainland of North Ayrshire. Presently 3 wards electing 10 councillors, it keeps those councillors but becomes 2 wards.
Effectively, the Dalry and West Kilbride ward is abolished. Dalry joins Kilbirnie and Beith to become a Garnock Valley ward with 5 councillors. That means West Kilbride becomes part of an expanded North Coast ward that also includes Largs, Fairlie and Cumbrae. With only around a quarter of the population that Arran has, Cumbrae is simply far too small for its own ward – but it’s a bit cruel it’s been taken out of the ward name as well.
Remember that these are only initial proposals! Councils have already had a chance to feed in on these, but further changes could come as a result of public consultation. That is, after all, the point of running one. If you live in one of these areas (or you’re just a nerd with an interest), make sure to put a response in.
As, unlike the Islands Councils, these councils are largely partisan, it would be possible to partly reconstruct 2017 results for new boundaries. I’ll save doing so until we have the confirmed final boundaries however, as the process would be time consuming, and I don’t want to put the effort in and then find it was unnecessary.
Tomorrow, we’ll take a look at Highland. This is the largest single (most) local government unit in the UK, and I wouldn’t be surprised if that was true of Europe as a whole. Given the size, it would have been absurd to try and shoehorn it into this post as well!
You have until the 26th of January to respond to the consultations in this set – so Highland as well as these two! All consultations are available on this page.
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