Kincorth/Nigg/Cove (Aberdeen) By-Election, 05/11/2020

NOTE: This by-election was delayed due to the Coronavirus pandemic, and may be re-scheduled again at short notice.

Ward Profile

We were facing the prospect of a very busy 5th of November with three by-elections, but the other two have already been postponed further as the pandemic ramps back up. That leaves us with just Aberdeen’s Kincorth/Nigg/Cove ward, where SNP Councillor Stephen Flynn stepped down after being elected MP for Aberdeen South. Flynn himself had first been elected at a 2015 by-election in the ward to replace party colleague Callum McCaig, who had been elected MP for Aberdeen South. Bit of a pattern, there! Don’t be surprised if this one ends up delayed in the coming weeks, though.

Kincorth/Nigg/Cove is one of 13 wards in Aberdeen City Council, and elects 4 councillors at a full election. It covers the south eastern chunk of the city, basically amounting to the three areas included in the name. The Altens and Tullos areas highlighted on the map are primarily industrial estates rather than residential.

For the Scottish Parliament, the ward is entirely within the Aberdeen South and North Kincardine constituency. That has been held by the SNP since it was created in 2011, but the preceding Aberdeen South constituency was held by the Liberal Democrats, with MSP Nicol Stephen serving as Scottish Lib Dem leader and Deputy First Minister from 2005 to 2007.

The UK Parliament’s Aberdeen South seat had a history of leaning Conservative with brief Labour interludes until Anne Begg put a firm Labour grasp on the seat in 1997, holding it until 2015 and the SNP tsunami. In 2017, it had a brief reversion to historic form by going Conservative, before the SNP again won it in 2019.

Boundaries and Recent Election History

There haven’t been any boundary changes to the ward since 2007, but it has had a name change (from Kincorth/Loirston) and increased from 3 to 4 councillors. In 2007 the seats went one each to the SNP, Labour and Lib Dems, with Labour narrowly leading in vote share. The Lib Dem collapse in 2012 saw them lose their councillor here to an Independent. When the ward gained an additional councillor in 2017, the SNP ended up with 2 seats, whilst the Conservatives picked one up at the expense of the Independent.

Since council elections are machine counted, we can get down to polling district level results. Note that the map and chart below show in-person votes per district, as postal votes are not broken down by district.

Given the massive gulf in first preferences between the SNP and the other parties here, it’s perhaps no surprise that they had a clean sweep of every polling district. They were particularly strong in the north and west of the ward, around Kincorth and Nigg. That was also where Labour tended to do best as well. The Conservatives were strongest in Cove Bay, which alongside Tullos was where the (defeated) Independent councillor had his base of support as well.

Candidates

This is a particularly busy by-election, with a whopping 10 candidates on the ballot. We have the usual Holyrood 5, plus a Libertarian and 4 Independents, and overall 3 of the candidates are entirely fresh faces. The only candidate making a direct return from this ward last time is former Independent councillor for the ward, Andy Finlayson. Labour candidate Shona Simpson contested the Aberdeen South constituency in December, whilst perennial Independent Simon McLean is back back back again. I think he just likes to stand wherever there is a by-election in the city. The full list of candidates is:

Lisette Bellizzi Houston (Independent)
Andy Finlayson (Independent)
Moira Henderson (Liberal Democrat)
Bryce Hope (Libertarian)
Sochima Iroh (Independent)
Simon McLean (Independent)
Miranda Radley (SNP)
Shona Simpson (Labour)
Daniel Verhamme (Green)
Christopher Wyles (Conservative)

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. The top chart shows the first preferences in 2017, transfer flows are in the bottom chart. Remember that in a single seat election under STV, a candidate needs 50%+1 of the valid votes cast (a quota) to win.

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Image Version

Stage 7 (final head-to-head stage);

SNP - 2716 (47.2%)
Conservative - 1581 (30.5%)
Didn't Transfer - 1154 (22.3%)

The 2017 re-calculation comes out with a strong lead for the SNP over the Conservatives. Given that was a month before the Conservatives took the overall constituency, it should be a safe call to say that with them likely in a weaker position following 2019, whereas the SNP are much stronger. They not only re-took the constituency in 2019, but have been polling very strongly since, so I can’t see this being anything other than an easy SNP victory.

It might be more interesting to watch what happens with the lower placed candidates. Referring back to the actual 2017 result for four councillors, Finlayson was only around 115 votes shy of beating Labour to hold his seat. Given Labour’s recent woes, if he overtakes them in this by-election, that might bode well for him making a triumphant return in 2022.

Call: SNP win

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