Torry/Ferryhill (Aberdeen) By-Election, 21/11/19

If the Bridge of Don double seater wasn’t enough Aberdeen by-election excitement for you, you’re in luck. A few wards over in Torry/Ferryhill, SNP councillor Catriona MacKenzie has resigned her seat for personal reasons, giving us an excuse for a return visit to the city. Although this one is just a standard single councillor by-election, there are murmurings that more could eventually be on their way.

The other SNP councillor for the ward, Christian Allard, was elected as an MEP in May which could prompt another resignation depending on how Brexit progresses. And councillor Alan Donnelly resigned from the Conservative group at the start of the year following sexual harassment allegations which are currently progressing through court.

Torry/Ferryhill is one of 13 wards making up Aberdeen City Council, and elects 4 councillors at a normal election. It covers the two named areas of the city, one on either side of the River Dee. Ferryhill to the west includes a good chunk of the city centre, whilst Torry to the east extends out to the north sea. Although much to my disappointment it wasn’t this ward, the latter area did lend its name to Scotland’s most political mannequin, Helena Torry, who caused a stir when she was entered as a candidate for the 2012 elections. Sadly, we’ll never know how appealing she was to the voting public, as she was disqualified on account of being plastic.

At Holyrood, the ward is split neatly between two constituencies. The Torry side is in Aberdeen South and North Kincardine, the previous version of which was Lib Dem. Ferryhill meanwhile is in Aberdeen Central, which was historically Labour. Both have been held by the SNP since 2011. For Westminster it’s entirely (except for a shopping centre) within the Aberdeen South constituency, which was Labour for nearly 20 years before the SNP landslide in 2015, and then went Conservative at the snap in 2017.

There have effectively been no changes to the ward boundaries since 2007 – since mussels, much like mannequins, can’t vote – when this was one of the highly diverse wards that went one apiece to each of the SNP, Labour, Lib Dems and Conservatives. With the Lib Dem collapse in 2012 their seat flipped to the SNP although Labour had a lead in first preferences, and the same seat pattern held again in 2017 although with an SNP lead overall that time.

2017’s Lib Dem candidate Gregor McAbery is back to take another run at the ward, there are two Bridge of Don connections with Labour standing former councillor Willie Young, plus persistent independent Simon McLean. Full list of candidates;

  • Roy Hill (UKIP)
  • Betty Lyon (Green)
  • Gregor McAbery (Liberal Democrat)
  • Simon McLean (Independent)
  • Neil Murray (Conservative)
  • Audrey Nicoll (SNP)
  • Willie Young (Labour)

As ever, to get the best comparison between the original vote and a single seat by-election, we need to go beyond the surface 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.

Round 9 (final head-to-head stage);

  • SNP – 2278 (40.7%)
  • Conservative – 1764 (31.5%)
  • Didn’t Transfer – 1556 (27.8%)

The SNP hold their lead throughout and would have won a single seat election in 2017, reasonably ahead of the Conservatives in second. Even after transfers though it wouldn’t take a lot for Labour and the Conservatives to swap places, were Labour doing better than they seem to be at the moment. I’m inclined to think that’s a solid enough lead that the SNP go into this the clear favourites.

Call: Likely SNP.

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