By-Election Result: East Kilbride West


The first few weeks of summer have brought with them a couple of journeys into Lanarkshire. After a by-election three weeks earlier in the North, this week we headed into South Lanarkshire for the East Kilbride West by-election. This was prompted by SNP councillor, Ali Salamati standing down due to his new job requiring him to spend a lot of time abroad.

East Kilbride West is the only ward in the town that the SNP weren’t the overall winners in 2022, with Labour emerging relatively comfortably as the victor in a two-candidate preferred count. With that in mind they were already clear favourites to win the by-election – add in the fact the SNP have been experiencing a torrid auld time, and I frankly didn’t even consider anyone except Labour had a chance of winning this one.

Headline Results

Councillors and Key Stats

1 Councillor Elected:
🔴Labour: Kirsty Williams
Change vs 2022 (notional): Labour Hold
Change vs vacating: Labour Gain from SNP
Turnout: 25.7% (-25.2)
Electorate: 13412
Valid: 3423 (99.2%)
Spoiled: 27 (0.8%)
Quota: 1712
2 Continuing Councillors:
🔴Labour: Monique McAdams
Independent: David Watson


🔵Conservative: Bill Dorrian
🟢Green: Cameron Eadie
🟡SNP: Robert Gillies
⚪Independent: Kristofer Keane
🟣Family: Jonathan Richardson
🟠Lib Dem: Jake Stevenson
🔴Labour: Kirsty Williams

First Preferences

Note: An Independent candidate, David Watson, won 18.6% and UKIP won 0.3% in 2022.

I was not wrong. Although turnout halved compared to the full election in 2022 (worse even in relative terms than Bellshill, where it was about 58% of 2022 turnout), Labour’s share of that vote rocketed back up to territory they haven’t been in since 2012. These kinds of leads are usually unassailable in STV, and even a vague understanding of usual transfer patterns would allow you to know from first preferences alone that would remain the case here.

Moving onto the Conservatives, on the face of it it’s pretty positive for them to have gained share and pushed the SNP into third. However, this is where simply comparing with the last election in percentage terms doesn’t give the whole picture. Quite aside from the crash in turnout meaning it’s fewer voters in absolute terms, remember they were the leading party here in 2017, but this share is still 11% behind that point. I’d argue that this puts them in a very different position to Labour, in that by matching their previous best, even accounting for low turnout we can be pretty sure Labour would do better at a full election, whereas for the Conservatives it looks a lot more like just managing to turn out more of their core vote rather than convince any new voters.

That doesn’t make the SNP slipping into third any less bad for that party – indeed, you could argue it makes it worse, being gubbed by a party that’s reliant on a core vote. This is a dire share for the SNP, the worst they’ve yet seen in this ward. It may have been their worst bit of East Kilbride last year, but this is especially bruising when you consider how much of the Independent share from 2022 was up for grabs. Some on Twitter have over-egged the fact he was previously an SNP councillor – if you refer back to the preview, you’ll see only a quarter of his voters gave their next preference to the SNP, slightly behind those going Labour. That still should have been a few % of padding for them which just didn’t materialise. In short, a very bad day for the SNP.

Running through the smaller parties and candidates, the Greens put in a re-appearance with a higher share than the last time they contested the ward in 2017, though with the SNP in freefall they might have expected to pick up a few more votes, even allowing for the fact their young voter base basically doesn’t turn out for by-elections. Independent Kristofer Keane managed to squeeze ahead of the Lib Dems, who nonetheless had a little uptick in share. That leaves the Family Party as both the least supported and probably least happy of this grouping, as they are the only other returning party except the SNP to have lost support versus 2022.

Two-Candidate Preferred

Though the balance of transfers favoured the SNP over Conservatives, it wasn’t enough to close the gap and squeak the SNP into second at any point. At the final round, Labour then easily trounced the Conservatives for the seat, which is to be expected given where transfers were coming from. Although almost a third of the vote was up for transfer by that point, almost all of that had started with the SNP and Greens. The Conservatives are not a natural or popular transfer choice for those voters, so they only gained a further 1.8% of the total vote versus Labour picking up 13.4%.

As the head-to-head in 2022 was versus the SNP, the Conservatives get their full value as their +/- here, but if we do re-calculate 2022 for a Labour-Conservative it comes out at 47.7% to 25.1% with 27.1% not transferring. Swings in that case are therefore +6.2% for Labour and +3.1% for the Conservatives, so Labour further widen their notional lead.

Detailed Results

First Preference History
Results by Polling District
Second Preferences

Turning to the detailed data, the polling district map is a pretty simple change since last year’s election: everything that was SNP yellow then is now Labour red, with Thorntonhall Conservative blue in both cases. I did some rough de-mergers of merged boxes here, so take some of these as slightly looser estimates than normal – never mind the fact that in-person turnout was shockingly low, at possibly only around 15-17%, versus about 50% for postals, which adds further haziness to the apportionment of postals to districts!

Those caveats in mind, Labour’s best patch was in Newlandsmuir, which as also where the Independent did best, whilst the Conservatives obviously remained on top in Thorntonhall. The SNP and Family Party both had their strongest shares in Hairmyres, the Greens in Mossneuk, and the Lib Dems in western Stewartfield.

Much of what’s going on in second preferences is pretty usual, the strong mutual SNP-Green preferencing, whilst the Conservatives and Lib Dems both flow massively towards Labour. Labour voters were slightly less emphatic in their next choice, though a plurality plumped for the Conservatives. Keane’s voters were also on the less settled end, but the larger group went for Labour, leaving the Family Party’s small pool of voters most likely to transfer to Keane.

And that’s us, both for this by-election and for the summer! Upcoming by-elections in Highland and South Ayrshire aren’t due until September, so there won’t be any actual votes taking place for the rest of the nice weather. I don’t imagine pollsters will be taking a summer holiday mind you, so it won’t be all quiet on Ballot Box Scotland, but I’ll at least not have to write up anything more about by-elections until roughly late August.

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