Concluding the trio of early-2023 by-elections, Stirling’s Dunblane and Bridge of Allan ward went to the polls last Thursday (16th of March) after the sad passing of SNP councillor Graham Houston. Note that whilst I usually aim to get result analysis pieces out no later than the Monday following the vote, as I’ll explain later on, I was waiting for further data to be made available, delaying publication somewhat.
In my preview for this, published the evening before one Nicola Ferguson Sturgeon MSP decided to announce her resignation as First Minister and SNP Leader, I’d pegged this as an SNP-Conservative tossup, the SNP narrowly having won the single-seat recalculation for 2022, but Conservatives generally benefitting from by-election dynamics. Obviously, the situation changed very quickly, so when I was promoting it closer to the time, I’d moved towards the view the Conservatives were probably now favourites.
Councillors and Key Stats
1 Councillor Elected:
Conservative: Robin Kleinman
Change vs 2022 (notional): Conservative Gain from SNP
Change vs vacating: Conservative Gain from SNP
Turnout: 38.1% (-22.3)
Valid: 4472 (99.4%)
Spoiled: 26 (0.6%)
3 Continuing Councillors:
Conservative: Douglas Dodds
Green: Alasdair Tollemache
Independent: Ewan Dillon (elected as Labour)
Green: Clare Andrews
SNP: Ahsan Khan
Conservative: Robin Kleinman
Lib Dem: Dick Moerman
Family: Nickie Willis
Labour: David Wilson
Note: An Independent candidate, Alastair Majury, won 5.3% and Alba 0.9% in May 2022.
That reassessment proved wise, as the Conservatives pulled off a significant increase in their vote share. It is worth interpreting that increase with two things in mind. The first is the usual by-election dynamics – “by-elections have lower turnout, that favours parties popular amongst high turnout groups, most especially the Conservatives.” Turnout was down enormously here, by well over a third. The second is that the Independent who stood last May winning 5.3% had been elected in 2017 as a Conservative. Not all of his voters will have went to the Conservatives, but it would be fair to assume a large number did.
Although the SNP share was up very marginally, it was significantly less than the combined loss for the Greens and (absent) Alba. That meant they were simply too far behind to have any chance of making up the difference. Labour also experienced a small uptick in their vote – nowhere near as much growth as their polling would suggest though, in line with what seems to be the trend towards vote shares concentrating heavily on the strongest non-SNP option, where that option is obvious.
Despite a very mild drop for the Lib Dems, they managed to pull themselves into fourth by placing just 10 votes ahead of the Greens. I’d joked the Greens could win this if there was something in the Allan Water, given the strength of their candidate last year, but I’d also noted there was a strong likelihood he had a personal vote. That has proven to be the case, but even so, for the Greens to come below 10% and behind the Lib Dems in an area they’ve had a councillor for a decade suggests an extremely poor local operation.
Looking at the transfer rounds, the SNP did prove a marginally more popular transfer destination than the Conservatives, gaining 10.8% versus 7.6%. That did them precisely hee-haw good given they’d started 13.1% behind, but does demonstrate the general continued transfer unfriendliness of the Conservatives, which can hurt them in tighter contests.
First Preference History
Results by Polling District
The Conservatives took a lead in most of the polling districts this time, with their best result being a slender majority of votes in Bridge of Allan, which was also the best area for the Greens. The SNP meanwhile narrowly clung onto a lead in western Dunblane, whilst Labour and the Lib Dems performed best in the east of the town.
Some of the usual unsurprising things in the second preferences – big mutual SNP-Green and Labour-Lib Dem transfers, plus the Family Party’s voters plumping for the Conservatives. Interestingly though there was a straight tie between Labour and the Lib Dems in terms of Conservative second preferences. Commonly, Conservative second preferences tilt towards whoever is seen as the stronger other Pro-Union party locally, but perhaps in this ward voters didn’t feel it was clear which it was.
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.