Ballot Box Scotland launched in January 2018, and has covered every Council by-election since then. However, seven by-elections had already taken place in 2017 after that year’s May elections. As a bit of a bonus to wrap up this term, I’m completing the set by going back to those early by-elections and uploading all the data the same way I have for every election since I started.
The second by-election to be called after 2017’s elections came about in extremely tragic circumstances. Alistair Watson, a Labour councillor for Cardonald ward, suddenly and unexpectedly passed not long after the election – he was only 59, no age at all to die. He’d been a very long serving councillor, first elected in 1995 for what was then the Craigton ward, and had spent some of his years in the role heading up the Strathclyde Partnership for Transport (SPT).
Cardonald is one of Glasgow’s 23 wards, and elects 4 councillors at a full election. In addition to Cardonald itself, the ward also incorporates the Mosspark, Corkerhill, Rosshall, Penilee and Hillington areas. For the Scottish Parliament the ward is entirely within the Glasgow Pollok constituency, which has been held by the SNP since 2016. Prior to that it was a solidly Labour seat, as was the case for the Westminster constituency of Glasgow South West until 2015.
Boundaries and Recent Election History
Although the ward didn’t have any boundary changes in 2017, it did have a change of name – it had previously been titled Craigton. As its absence on the map indicates, the actual built up area of Craigton is not within the ward, so the name never really fit. It did include the Hillington portion of Watson’s 1995 Craigton ward but boundaries there were redrawn ahead of 1999, and no ward called Craigton existed before the 2007 review.
Anyway, odd nomenclature aside, going back to that original 2007 election, Labour were easily the most popular party in the ward, winning roughly twice as many votes as the SNP. That gave them 2 seats to the SNP’s 1, with the final seat going to Ruth Black of Tommy Sheridan’s post-SSP splinter party, Solidarity. That was the only seat that party have ever won at an election, and their councillor didn’t even last the year before joining Labour.
In 2012 Labour managed to win an outright majority of the vote – in fact, they won so many votes that had they stood a third candidate they may very well have elected them. Instead, they ended up splitting the seats evenly two apiece with the SNP, who picked up the former Solidarity seat. Oddly enough, having ended up in the short-lived Glasgow First party by the election, Black opted to stand in a different ward rather than defend her seat here.
Gravity had caught up with Labour by 2017’s election, as the SNP pipped them to a lead in first preferences. That didn’t effect any change in seats, and Labour weren’t that far behind – Cardonald ended up as their third-strongest ward in the city. The other two Glasgow parties did pretty poorly here as a result, with a roughly mid-table figure for the Conservatives, and fourth weakest share for the Greens.
Detailed 2017 Data
The SNP ended up leading in all but one of the polling districts, with their strongest results in Penilee. Labour were left with a single in-person lead in the district around Rosshall, as well as the postal vote. They shared their best district with both the Conservatives and the Greens. The other three parties had an even lower share of the vote, and apart from the Lib Dems in the postal vote, none of them exceeded 3% anywhere.
There’s a lot going on here as there were so many candidates. First thing that jumps out is just how many SNP and Labour voters didn’t preference any other party. For the SNP it’s actually a majority of their vote, and my theory is that’s partly down to them having stood three candidates. Otherwise, the most popular next preferences here largely follow constitutional lines.
The SNP and Greens have their usual mutual support, though much more from the Greens than to them, given the SNP’s huge pile of non-transfers. Solidarity voters were also most favourable to the SNP.
On the other side of the constitutional aisle, the Conservatives and Lib Dems were next most keen on Labour, whilst Labour and UKIP voters were most likely to put their next preference against the Conservatives. In Labour’s case that’s extremely marginal, at just 3 votes more than for the SNP, so don’t read too much into it.
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 4631 votes.
It shouldn’t come as any real surprise from having looked at the first and second preferences that for a single seat this would have been a very close contest between the SNP and Labour, with the former winning by about 1.8%. If this was a by-election that had arisen now, I’d have deemed it an SNP-Labour Tossup on that basis.
For the by-election it was the Holyrood 5 with a Libertarian joining the mix, whilst neither Solidarity nor UKIP made another go of it. Of the six candidates, two were each of in-ward returns, out-ward returns, and fresh faces.
For the in-ward returns it was the SNP’s third candidate, Alex Mitchell, plus the Lib Dems’ Isabel Nelson. Thomas Haddow for the Conservatives had contested Langside then the South West Westminster constituency, giving him a very busy few months, whilst the Libertarian Anthony Sammeroff had been on the Hillhead ballot. Finally, Labour’s Jim Kavanagh and the Greens’ John Smith were completely new candidates.
Thomas Haddow (Conservative)
Jim Kavanagh (Labour)
Alex Mitchell (SNP)
Isabel Nelson (Lib Dem)
Anthony Sammeroff (Libertarian)
John Smith (Green)
By-Election First Preferences
The by-election saw a substantial swing towards Labour, as they came within touching distance of winning without need for transfers. That came at almost everyone else’s expense, with a sizeable dip for the SNP, and smaller declines for the Conservatives and Lib Dems. The Greens bucked the trend with a very slight increase in share, though given the much lower turnout, that effectively only meant they lost fewer voters compared to May than the other losing parties had.
As no candidate had an outright majority of the vote, transfer rounds were necessary. The quota to reach here was 2689 votes.
Given Labour were just shy of 50% on first preferences, transfers were simply a case of going through the legal motions until their inevitable victory. This gave us one of those relatively rare cases of a by-election win without needing to go all the way to the (mathematically meaningless) elimination of the second placed candidate. Although the circumstances were dreadful, Labour would likely have been pretty pleased to have turned a 1.8% gap into a 15.5% lead in the space of a few months.
Detailed By-Election Data
As this was also a machine count, we have that juicy extra data… or at least, one part of it.
This time around saw Labour coming out ahead in almost every district, most strongly in Corkerhill. The SNP held onto their lead in just two districts, around Mosspark and an area that isn’t clearly labelled either on my map or Google Maps, which I’m going to dub “North Crookston”. Whatever it really is, it was the SNP’s best bit.
The Conservatives meanwhile did best in the postal vote, with a peak in-person share in south eastern Cardonald, whereas for the Greens support peaked in Mosspark. Basically, that south eastern corner of the ward overall is where the exciting data was.
You may notice that this chart shows every district, whereas the full election one doesn’t. Glasgow City Council, ahem, presented the data differently in a way that might have been a mistake for this one. The trade-off is that they also didn’t actually make the proper preference profile report available, so I can’t get second preference data. Alas!
For next week’s dive into the archives we’ll be looking at an election that took place on the same day as this one. Fortunately, given the unfortunate context of Cardonald as well as the upcoming Highland by-election, that’ll be a by-election that arose in objectively amusing circumstances.
If you find this or other Ballot Box Scotland output useful and/or interesting, and you can afford to do so, please consider donating to support my work. I love doing this, but it’s a one-man project and takes a lot of time and effort. All donations, no matter how small, are greatly appreciated and extremely helpful.