Kicking off by-elections for 2023 in sad circumstances, Aberdeen’s Dyce, Bucksburn and Danestone ward went to the polls following the death of two-term Conservative councillor Avril Mackenzie. This was a by-election coming at a particularly dramatic moment in Scottish politics, as the SNP’s first contested leadership election since they first took office in 2007 got underway.
Whilst local by-elections are not nationally representative, they aren’t unaffected by national politics. In my preview for this one, although I had it leaning towards the SNP, I’d highlighted that political shifts since the local elections put Labour in with a chance of picking up a seat, though they’d need to overtake the Conservatives during the transfer rounds. That was of course written before anyone had any inkling the First Minister was about to resign, and though some of the postal votes (accounting for 60% of votes cast!) here will pre-date her announcement, there’s a strong likelihood it’ll have had an effect too.
Councillors and Key Stats
1 Councillor Elected:
Labour: Graeme Lawrence
Change vs 2022 (notional): Labour Gain from SNP
Change vs vacating: Labour Gain from Conservative
Turnout: 28.2% (-12.9)
Valid: 4725 (99.0%)
Spoiled: 47 (1.0%)
3 Continuing Councillors:
SNP: Gill Al-Samarai
SNP: Neil MacGregor
Labour: Barney Crockett
Alba: Charlie Abel
SNP: Tomasz Brzezinski
Lib Dem: Mevrick Fernandes
Green: Sylvia Hardie
Conservative: Akila Kanthaswamy
Labour: Graeme Lawrence
Independent: Simon McLean
Family: Amy-Marie Stratton
Sure enough, as you can tell even from looking at first preferences, that assessment of Labour’s chances proved wise. With the SNP losing about quarter of their previous share of the vote, they ended up just shy of 5% ahead of Labour, compared to a lead of over 23% last May. Labour themselves were less than 1% ahead of the Conservatives after a significant positive swing, though even if the Conservatives hadn’t lost a point themselves that’d have been good enough, as we’ll get onto when we talk transfers.
Looking at the parties that were never in contention, the Lib Dems have continued their modest upwards motion since their low in 2017, whilst Alba placed fifth on their first time contesting the ward, with a weel-kent local musician on the ballot. Though still only a very modest share, it put them ahead of the Greens, who lost half of their own share in a bruising but not surprising outcome for a ward far from any of their core areas of support. The returning Family candidate slid backwards too, and perennial Aberdeen Independent Simon McLean perhaps predictably finished last.
Given the SNP’s relatively narrow lead over Labour and the small shares won by the two other Pro-Independence parties, it was a foregone conclusion that Labour were going to sweep to victory here. Once the Conservative candidate dropped out, those votes easily catapulted Labour ahead of the SNP to win the seat. Labour also picked up more transfers from every eliminated candidate than the Conservatives did, widening their additional 0.8% advantage to 3.2%, hence why I said earlier they could still have won even if the Conservatives were slightly ahead of them to start with. Speaking purely for the theatre of it all, it would actually have been maximum STV drama and fun if Labour had won the seat from a narrow third place at the start!
Even with all those transfers though, Labour’s final tally put them just 5.1% ahead of the SNP. That’s still a marginal result, and it emphasises how important it was for Labour that the SNP’s first preference vote fell so sharply. Transfers alone wouldn’t quite have done the job had the SNP only lost about 5% of the vote instead of just over 10%. In addition, as I suggested would be the case in the preview, the Conservatives couldn’t have beaten the SNP – if we eliminate Labour instead, the SNP beat the Conservatives 41.1% to 34.7%. One final note from transfers is that I reckon that given the splits here, the Lib Dems would probably just about squeak the final seat if this result was replicated at a full, 4-seat election.
First Preference History
Results by Polling District
Turning to the detailed data, and the polling district level results are quite interesting in that despite Labour placing second overall and going on to win the seat, all of the district leads are split between the SNP (in Bucksburn, Bankhead and Stoneywood) and the Conservatives (in Dyce and Danestone). You also have to feel a little bit sorry for Dyce, as it wasn’t anyone’s best patch – the SNP and Alba were strongest in eastern Bucksburn, Labour and Greens in Stoneywood, and Conservatives and Lib Dems in Danestone.
Second preferences followed relatively ordinary patterns here. Both Alba and Greens flowed heavily towards the SNP, whose return was more favourable to the Greens but still chunky for Alba. Labour voters were reluctant to use later preferences at all, but the plurality went to the Lib Dems. Both Conservative and Lib Dem transfers were most favourable to Labour, though it was close with the Lib Dems for the former.
That’s it for the first by-election of the year, but we’ve got two coming up in March. The next one won’t be quite so interesting, I’m afraid, as it’s basically a foregone conclusion the Lib Dems will win it, but the following week is likely to be much more chaotic!
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.