By-Election Preview: Broxburn, Uphall and Winchburgh (West Lothian) 1st of December 2022

Ward Profile

Cause of By-Election

Continuing a string of early by-elections arising from the untimely deaths of sitting councillors, we head to West Lothian’s Broxburn, Uphall and Winchburgh ward. Labour councillor Ann Davidson had only been elected for the first time in May but sadly passed in early September, though her late husband Alex had previously been a councillor for the ward and earlier in the FPTP era.

Ward Details

Broxburn, Uphall and Winchburgh is one of 9 wards in West Lothian, and elects 4 councillors at a full election. The overwhelming bulk of the ward is accounted for in the name, though it also includes the smaller villages of Dechmont and Ecclesmachan. Boundaries in West Lothian have gone unchanged since STV was introduced in 2007, allowing easy comparisons across elections.

For elections to the Scottish Parliament, the ward lies entirely within the Linlithgow constituency, which the SNP won in 2011. On previous boundaries, only Winchburgh had been within the Linlithgow seat which was held by Labour from creation of Holyrood, whilst the rest of the ward lay within the Livingston constituency, which was similarly Labour held at first before being won by the SNP in 2007. At the UK Parliament the ward (bar some very small rural components) is within the Livingston constituency, which the SNP gained from Labour in 2015.

Electoral History

At the initial STV vote in 2007, the ward elected two councillors from Labour, and one apiece from the SNP and local outfit Action to Save St John’s Hospital. In 2012, the SNP displaced the Action councillor, whilst one of the Labour seats shifted to a new councillor. Only the two SNP councillors re-stood in 2017, whilst Labour were reduced to a single councillor as the Conservatives picked up their other seat – late in 2021, they’d also gain the Labour councillor as a defector. When this year returned the same pattern, it was with a new Labour councillor, and the previous Conservative having made an ill-fated shift to Linlithgow to make way for their defection gain.

For the first two elections Labour had a slight advantage over the SNP whilst Action polled respectable double figures, leaving the Conservatives in single digits. That shifted dramatically in 2017, when Labour’s vote took a nosedive into third place as the Conservatives almost quintupled their vote share. Action had disappeared by this point, whilst the Greens and reappearing Lib Dems recorded very modest shares, which continued into this year. Labour reasserted themselves in May, though with a much bigger gap behind the SNP than the SNP had used to have short of Labour.

Councillors and Key Stats

4 Councillors, in order elected:
🟑SNP: Diane Calder
🟑SNP: Janet Campbell
πŸ”΄Labour: Ann Davidson
πŸ”΅Conservative: Angela Doran-Timson
Change vs 2017: No change (Angela Doran-Timson elected as Labour in 2017)
Turnout: 42.2%
Electorate: 16643
Valid: 6853 (97.6%)
Spoiled: 167 (2.4%)
Quota: 1371

Candidates

🟑SNP: Diane Calder
🟑SNP: Janet Campbell
🟠Lib Dem: Charles Corser
πŸ”΄Labour: Ann Davidson
πŸ”΅Conservative: Angela Doran-Timson
πŸ”΄Labour: Hazel McLeod
⚫Alba: Phil Noble
🟣Family: Kenneth Sutherland
🟒Green: Cam Wright

First Preferences
Transfers (single winner recalculation)
Two-Candidate Preferred

By-Election

Candidates

It’s the full Holyrood 5 slate for this one, as well as Alba and two Independent candidates. Of these, the Lib Dems, Greens, Alba and Independent Steven Laidlaw are all fresh faces. The SNP’s Thomas Ullathorne is returning, having fell far short of being re-elected in East Livingston and East Calder following his by-election win there last year. Former Conservative councillor for the ward Chris Horne, who failed to be elected in Linlithgow, is taking a run at it as an Independent after leaving the party. New Conservative candidate Douglas Smith stood unsuccessfully in the Livingston South by-election last March, whilst Tony Boyle represented the ward from 2012 to 2017.

πŸ”΄Labour: Tony Boyle
🟠Lib Dem: Peter Clarke
🟒Green: Chris Cotter
⚫Alba: Debbie Ewen
βšͺIndependent: Chris Horne
βšͺIndependent: Steven Laidlaw
πŸ”΅Conservative: Douglas Smith
🟑SNP: Thomas Ullathorne

Analysis

Given the combo of their May slump, competition in the form of their former councillor, and recent woes, we can probably write the Conservatives out of contention here. That leaves this a clear SNP-Labour competition, and it could be pretty close. The distance between the two in the single winner recalculation isn’t huge, and typical by-election dynamics could help move things in Labour’s direction. Nonetheless, given the general shape of the ward’s recent results, I reckon the SNP probably have the slightest of advantages here.

(Updated to add:) A point a few people on Twitter have raised since publishing this is whether or not the result here could impact on council control. If we look at things in purely constitutional terms, May’s result gave 17 Pro-Union councillors (12 Labour, 4 Conservative, 1 Lib Dem) to 15 Pro-Independence (all SNP), with 1 Independent. Labour are now obviously down one, so if the SNP win this by-election, that equalises the camps on 16 apiece. That would then seem to hinge control of the council on the Independent, Stuart Borrowman.

Borrowman has an interesting history – he was first elected for the SNP in the old single-member ward system and was in fact a senior figure in John Swinney’s leadership team. However, he chucked the party and temporarily joined Labour, before being elected as an Independent in 2007. Apparently, he then voted against Independence in 2014. From what I’ve been able to find, he also supported the Labour minority taking office this year.

On that basis, I’d be very surprised indeed if control of the council did hinge on Borrowman. That may depend on the exact balance (both for himself and the SNP group) between “what can be extracted from them in return for support” versus “just how burned the bridges are.” Saying for sure on either of those would require someone with a much closer ear to West Lothian’s ground than I have, I’m afraid!

Prediction

Lean SNP.

2022 Results (Detailed Data)

Transfers (full election)
Results by Polling District
Second Preferences

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