By-Election Preview: East Livingston and East Calder (West Lothian) 5th of August 2021

If you feel a bit stumped by any of the information here, or wonder how it’s possible to get this level of depth, you can check this little guide to how I preview By-Elections.

NOTE: This by-election may be re-scheduled at short notice due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Ward Profile

Kicking off a rather busy month for by-elections in August, we’re making a return trip to West Lothian for the East Livingston and East Calder vote. Indeed, this is also a return to Livingston specifically, following a by-election in March for Livingston South. This has very sadly come about after the passing of Labour councillor Dave King, who had served since 1992, originally for the East Calder ward in the FPTP era.

Livingston East and East Calder is one of 9 wards in West Lothian Council, and elects 4 councillors at a full election. The name is partly self-explanatory, as the ward indeed covers East Calder and the eastern portion of Livingston, including the Craigshill and Pumpherston areas. It also incorporates the smallest of the Calders, Mid Calder, plus the village of Kirknewton.

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. 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

There haven’t been any boundary changes since the ward was created for 2007, so it all compares easily. At that first election the seats split two each for Labour and the SNP, with the former leading the vote. Interestingly, the SNP’s second councillor was only around 90 votes ahead of the candidate from the local “Action to Save St John’s Hospital” party at the final stage – they won three councillors elsewhere that election. The same pattern of seats held in 2012, though it was practically a tie in terms of first preferences, as the SNP squeaked 11 votes ahead.

At the last election, the SNP held both of their seats, but Labour fell further backwards and lost one of theirs. The Conservatives, surging across Scotland as a whole, did so quite remarkably here, almost quadrupling their vote compared to 2012, and easily securing a councillor.

Detailed 2017 Data

Breaking 2017 down into individual polling districts, the SNP led in most polling districts, proving particularly strong in those covering the Craigshill area. The one area that eluded them was East Calder, which was instead strongly Labour leaning, likely reflecting King’s long history in the area.

For both the Conservatives and the Greens the district around Kirknewton proved the most fertile grounds for support, whilst the Lib Dems did best just south of Mid Calder.

Looking at where second preferences went, and there are a couple of interesting points here. Firstly is that although there’s the usual mutual preferencing between SNP and Green voters, the SNP to Green direction is comparatively weak – perhaps because, as the SNP put up three candidates, many voters weren’t going any further with their votes.

The Greens were also narrowly the most popular next choice for Lib Dem voters, whilst Labour narrowly favoured the SNP. Conservative voters were quite favourable to Labour, which may give you an indication of what the transfer chart coming up shortly may show…

Candidates

For this one, the Holyrood 5 are joined by a second outing for the Independence for Scotland Party, who had a rather muted debut in the Murdostoun by-election. Most of the candidates here are fresh faces, with only the Greens’ Neal Drummond making a return from the 2017 election in this ward. Labour’s Danny Logue stood unsuccessfully for neighbouring Livingston South, where he had in fact been a councillor beforehand. 

Neal Drummond (Green)
Hans Edgington (Liberal Democrat)
John Hannah (Independence for Scotland Party)
Danny Logue (Labour)
David Philip (Conservative)
Thomas Ullathorne (SNP)

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 3682 votes.

Stage 7 (final head-to-head stage); 

Labour - 3259 (44.3%)
SNP - 2928 (39.8%)
Didn't Transfer - 1176 (16.0%)

This is in many respects quite similar to what happened in neighbouring Livingston South – the SNP have a clear first preference lead, but oddly the rate of exhaustion is such that they end up with fewer votes at the finish line here. Even if they held onto all of their votes, Conservative preferences would have still pushed Labour out in front for a single seat election anyway.

The question then is whether the by-election will similarly follow suit. That vote in March saw the SNP win quite easily, with Labour failing to live up to their notional 2017 victory. There’s only 4.5% between them by this measure, which is narrower than the 6.8% margin from 2017 in the other ward.

Remember as well that the late councillor King had a base of support specifically in East Calder that’s unlikely to fully translate to the party in this vote. Placing that alongside generally poor Labour results lately, I’m inclined to say the SNP go into this one with the advantage.

Call: Lean SNP

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