By Scottish standards we had a bumper crop of by-elections this week, with a trio of ballots open on Thursday. Dalry and West Kilbride in North Ayrshire was an SNP vacancy, though in a ward which was remarkably Independent-leaning for the Central Belt. Running the usual re-calculation of the 2017 result for a single seat one of those Independents, Robert Barr, would have emerged triumphant.
As a sitting councillor he obviously didn’t feature on the ballot, nor did three other Independent candidates from last time. Eliminating all of them from the re-calculation meant piling the exhausted ballots high, but showed a narrow Conservative lead over the SNP. Given that and the general trends in the overlapping Holyrood constituency lately, I had this one down as a tossup between those two parties.
It turned out to be less of a tossup and more of a steamrollering. With almost half of the 2017 vote up for grabs, the Conservatives took the lion’s share and won the seat on first preferences alone. Given Councillor Robert Barr was a former Conservative himself it’s not a huge surprise to see them out in front. However, I think I’d underestimated both the extent to which the party had dug in locally and how many of 2017’s exhausted ballots would end up in the Conservative column at a by-election.
Though a rather distant second, the SNP picked up a reasonable portion of those loose Independent votes to grow their share a bit. By contrast, the fact Labour lost vote share at all when there was 45% of the vote up for grabs likely indicates they’ll do even more poorly if any of those Independents make a run at the full vote next year.
None of the other candidates made any real splash, though the fact the Lib Dems almost tied with the Socialist Labour candidate perhaps speaks to why the party hadn’t stood a single Ayrshire council candidate in 2017. And sole returning Independent from 2017, John Willis, remained dead last.
As the Conservatives won on first preferences, there were no transfer rounds. However, it’s still useful to calculate a two-party preferred style result, to replicate the head-to-head of the re-calculation:
Conservative - 2130 (56.5%, +19.4)
SNP - 1418 (37.6%, +2.3)
Didn't Transfer - 222 (5.9%, -21.7)
Both parties actually pick up roughly the same number of transfers, as what started as a 19.2% gap between the two parties barely budges to an 18.9% gap after we remove all the other candidates.
Machine counts mean some really juicy data, starting with the breakdown of results per polling district.
I don’t think it will come as a surprise to anyone that, since the Conservatives had such a big lead, they managed a clean sweep of the ward’s polling districts as well. They did particularly well in Dalry, meaning that West Kilbride was where the SNP and Labour had their strongest support. For the three minor candidates, support is just too low to really read anything from their distribution.
Now, let’s end by having a look at the second preference votes, bearing in mind we can’t get those simply from the transfer chart.
The main thing here is really that for everyone but Lib Dem voters, “I’d rather not, actually” was clearly the most popular second preference option. For where folk did mark next preferences, there was a mutual plurality between Conservatives and Labour, with the former also being the most popular second preference for the Lib Dems. The SNP and Socialist Labour Party leaned more towards Labour, whilst the Independent’s voters tended towards the SNP.
That wraps up Dalry and West Kilbride – if you’re waiting for the detailed data from the Highland by-elections, I’ll be tweeting that later today, and the full analysis piece will go up tomorrow.
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