Livingston South (West Lothian) By-Election, 11/03/2021

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

Ward Profile

The second in our trio of by-elections due on the 11th of March, Livingston South follows the resignation of SNP councillor Peter Johnston. He had an impressively long record of service on the Council, going back 35 years and thus to the previous West Lothian District of the Lothian Region, and twice served as council leader.

Livingston South is one of 9 wards in West Lothian Council, and elects 4 councillors at a full election. It covers the south western portion of Livingston, one of the largest towns in Scotland, including the town centre as well as areas such as Ladywell, Dedridge, Bellsquarry and Murieston.

In Holyrood terms the ward lies entirely within the Almond Valley constituency, which has been held by the SNP since 2007, though that first election was in its previous guise as Livingston. Before 2007, that seat and the corresponding Livingston constituency of the UK Parliament had been held by Labour. Notably, the MP for Livingston from 1983 until his untimely death in 2005 was Robin Cook, who served as Foreign Secretary during New Labour’s first term in office. At Westminster the seat would remain Labour until the SNP surge in 2015, and since then it has remained yellow.

Boundaries and Recent Election History

This is another ward that neatly allows comparisons all the way back to 2007, as boundaries haven’t changed since then. In both 2007 and 2012, the councillors split two apiece for Labour and the SNP, with Labour leading the vote each time. So far, so standard Central Belt Scotland.

Those two parties remained very clear leaders in 2017, though the lead flipped in the SNP’s favour. That year’s Conservative resurgence was also strong enough to see them take one of the seats previously held by Labour. Again, this was very par for the national course for that election.

Detailed 2017 Data

Looking at 2017 results broken down by polling district, there’s a clear and striking division visible on the map, with areas north of the A71 leaning towards the SNP, and those south of it towards Labour.

In terms of particularly strong areas, the SNP were crushingly dominant in the district covering Ladywell, winning over two-thirds of the in-person votes there. Labour and the Conservatives both had their best results in the Murieston area, winning about half and a third of the vote respectively. 

Perhaps because the SNP had three candidates here, the exhaustion rate amongst their voters was massive – not that their votes would have went anywhere, given the SNP lead. Though Green voters had a strong preference for the SNP, there weren’t very many of them. By contrast, although the proportion of Conservative to Labour transfers was very similar, it amounted to over seven times as many votes.

Candidates

We have quite a broad field this time, with a candidate from UKIP and an Independent joining the Holyrood 5. Perhaps because it’s so far out from the last election though most of these are newcomers, at least in this electoral cycle. As an interesting little sidenote, Independent candidate Eddie Millar had been selected as the Conservative candidate before the postponement, but has since left the party.

Only one candidate, the Lib Dems’ Caron Lindsay, stood in the 2017 elections, though in the neighbouring Livingston North ward. Green candidate Cameron Glasgow stood for the Westminster seat in 2019, and was notable at that election for being the youngest person standing for election in Scotland. The full list of candidates is:

Gordon Connolly (Labour)
Cameron Glasgow (Green)
Caron Lindsay (Liberal Democrat)
Maria Macaulay (SNP)
Eddie Millar (Independent)
John Mumford (UKIP)
Douglas Smith (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. 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 4109 votes.

Stage 7 (final head-to-head stage); 

Labour - 3831 (46.6%)
SNP - 3271 (39.8%)
Didn't Transfer - 1114 (13.6%)

Some quality STV action here! Labour’s second place in first preferences is close enough to the SNP that Conservative transfers help push them quite far past the SNP and into winning the single seat. The SNP actually finish here with fewer votes with their remaining candidate than they started with across three. We only know how people voted, not why, so it’s hard to say how much of that is down to simple failure to mark later SNP preferences versus a genuine refusal to preference Johnston in particular.

In any case, the Labour lead over the SNP isn’t massive, and the recent political direction has been downwards for Labour and upwards for the SNP. That alone would push me towards viewing this as leaning SNP. On the other hand, the demographics of by-election turnout are more favourable to Labour (perhaps via Conservative transfers). I’d therefore peg this one as a total tossup.

Call: Labour-SNP Tossup

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