By-Election Result: Falkirk South

Background

In what I hoped would be the last by-election of this term, Falkirk South went to the polls last Thursday. I’m very sad to say this has turned out not to be the last, following the sad passing of a councillor in Highland – more on that early in November, when the preview will be published.

Although this one had been prompted by a Labour resignation, they’d placed third in 2017. The SNP had relatively narrowly come out ahead of the Conservatives, for whom this was their second strongest ward in Falkirk. That meant that I had this pegged as a very close contest between those two parties, with no expectation of Labour success.

First Preferences

That proved absolutely spot on, as everyone else benefitted from Labour’s vote crashing. That was mostly to the Conservatives’ advantage, their share going up by about twice as much as the SNP gains. That brought them to within 15 votes, which is a lead that could be overturned easily by transfers if, and only if, enough Labour voters wanted to.

Green gains were very modest, which nonetheless might be a relatively positive note for them to end this council term on. I’m not expecting them to appear in the final Highland vote given the ward, but you never know.

Transfers

As no candidate had an outright majority of the vote, transfer rounds were necessary. The quota to reach here was 2157 votes.

Despite their first preference gains, after transfers the Conservatives actually ended up very marginally further behind the SNP than they had been in 2017. Though the Conservatives won 34 more transfers from Labour than the SNP did, the latter’s advantage in Green transfers was 135 votes. That kept them ahead for the entire process, allowing them to pick up the seat.

Although Labour did very poorly overall, I’d expect them still to win a seat here in May on these figures. After the Greens’ elimination and election of first SNP and Conservative candidates, there’d be a maximum of 17.8% of the SNP and 14.3% of the Conservative vote left over, versus roughly 17.0% for Labour. Whether or not the Conservatives stand a second candidate, that vote would then transfer, and obviously it’d favour Labour over the SNP.

Detailed Data

Machine counts mean some really juicy data, starting with the breakdown of results per polling district.

There’s a lot of merging going on here – both in terms of the fact that some districts were fully merged into new ones since 2017, and boxes falling foul of the 200 votes rule being combined with others. That then appears to give the map above an even split of four polling districts for each of the SNP and Conservatives.

Effectively, the SNP led in the districts either side of the town centre, most strongly in those covering Tamfourhill. The Conservatives meanwhile led in the mega-merge of the town centre, Woodlands, Hallglen and the Glen Village. Boxes for all of those districts were combined in ways that make them nigh on impossible to separate, though if I was guessing based on 2017 results, Woodlands was likely their best bit.

In a slight surprise, the SNP also narrowly led in the postal vote. I’d typically expect that given the relative demographics of postal versus in-person voters, such a close result overall would have had the Conservatives leading on that front. Rounding out with the two non-competitive parties, Labour followed the SNP in having a best performance in Tamfourhill, whilst the Greens did best in Bantaskin.

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.

Nothing at all surprising for these. A very strong mutual relationship between the SNP and Greens, with a majority of each party’s voters opting for the other with their next preference. Similarly, both Conservative and Labour voters were most likely to preference the other party – at least those that marked another preference at all. However, whereas almost four times as many Conservatives plumped for Labour as for the SNP and Greens combined, more Labour voters went cross-constitutional than Conservative.

That’s about as much as we can glean from Falkirk South – as I noted at the start, sadly this has not ended up being the final by-election of this local government term. We’ve got one more to go in Fort William and Ardnamurchan ward, and that should close out both the year and the term.

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