After a pandemic-induced break, the first by-elections since March not just in Scotland but anywhere in the UK took place over the past week. This was a gentle easing back into by-elections for politics nerds, as both were for largely-Independent Islands councils. I always caution against hanging theories about the nationwide political climate on the shoogly peg of council by-elections anyway, but even the most partisan bits of Twitter would struggle to do so for these!
The first of the two was last week, for the North Isles ward in Orkney. This had been very sadly prompted by the death of first-time councillor (and local GP) Kevin Woodbridge. His daughter Heather stepped up to contest the resulting by-election, facing off against a further two Independents and, very surprisingly for Orkney, a Labour candidate. A local tip had me expecting the younger Woodbridge to win this seat.
That is exactly what happened, as she swept to an extremely easy victory on first preferences, which in full were:
- Woodbridge – 638 (69.9%)
- Labour – 158 (17.3%)
- Stevens – 75 (8.2%)
- Adams – 42 (4.6%)
Despite this being their first appearance at a council election in Orkney for at least decades (possibly in history), the Labour candidate Coilla Drake managed a respectable second place. This being Orkney I’d be inclined to view that as down more to her being a weel-kent face locally than any great enthusiasm for her party, but it’s interesting nonetheless. If that was to be repeated at a full election, which there is no guarantee of given the absence of the other serving councillors in this by-election, she’d be in with a shot at joining the Orkney Manifesto Group and Greens in adding some partisan flavour to the council.
Yesterday’s by-election took us to Na h-Eileanan an Iar, where an Independent resignation had triggered a by-election in the Na Hearadh agus Ceann a Deas Nan Loch ward. Though the Western Isles have the largest party-political contingent of councillors of any of the islands councils, and this ward has had an SNP councillor since 2007, this was an entirely Independent affair.
This saw an even larger margin of victory for the successful candidate than we saw in the North Isles, coming just shy of three quarters of votes cast. First preferences in full:
- Fulton – 536 (74.9%)
- Macdonald – 158 (22.1%)
- O’Donnell – 22 (3.1%)
It’s perhaps not surprising Grant Fulton came out on top, as he was the only one of the three candidates to live on Harris, which provides the bulk of the population of the ward. The other two candidates lived in the Lochs area, one of them just outside the boundaries of the ward. In an entirely Independent election, that kind of local connection matters. It’s worth noting this ensures that the Comhairle retains the very dubious distinction of being the only council in Scotland with no women serving as councillors.
As important as these by-elections are for residents of the wards and councils in question, they did lack a certain excitement that comes with partisan contests. Barring any further pandemic delays that excitement will return next week with the Ellon and District by-election in Aberdeenshire. In addition to being a good ol’ party-political bust-up, it should also give us some fun transfer rounds rather than another simple first preference victory!