By-Election Result: Inverness South


Highland is a pretty regular visit for by-elections, as we’ll have unfortunate cause to see again in a couple of months, but fortunately this vote in Inverness South arose from the relatively benign circumstances of a councillor having to adapt to other employment patterns. Lib Dem Colin Aitken had been elected to the ward in 2022 to succeed a retiring party colleague, following his prior by-election win in Inverness West in 2021.

Following a run of pretty poor by-election results, albeit mostly in wards they weren’t the 2022 winners in, this was a ward in which the SNP had never come anything other than first. I therefore had it marked as their best bet at breaking that losing streak, though only at a “Lean”. Despite their weak starting point, the Lib Dems have Highland form for big positive swings, so I figured that they were the next most likely winners.

Highland by-elections also always have me saying never to write off an Independent win, and I said as much in my quick tweet following the close of nominations. I then actually did my check against 2022 elections and established the Independent had stood in a different Inverness ward and only won 5%. I therefore figured he wasn’t a particularly serious option, giving the vibe of one of those Independents that just likes to stand without really having much support, and wrote him off.

Headline Results

Councillors and Key Stats

1 Councillor elected:
Independent: Duncan McDonald
Change vs 2022 (notional): Independent Gain from SNP
Change vs vacating: Independent Gain from Lib Dem
Turnout: 26.3% (-18.1)
Electorate: 12664
Valid: 3305 (99.4%)
Spoiled: 20 (0.6%)
Quota: 1653
3 Continuing Councillors:
🟡SNP: Ken Gowans
Independent: Duncan MacPherson
🔵Conservative: Andrew Sinclair


🟠Lib Dem: Jonathan Chartier
Alba: Jimmy Duncan
🔵Conservative: Ryan Forbes
🟤Sovereignty: Andrew MacDonald
Independent: Duncan McDonald
🟡SNP: Gordon Shanks
🟢Green: Arun Sharma
🔴Labour: Ron Stevenson

First Preferences

Note: Sitting Independent Duncan MacPherson won 24.8% of the vote in 2022.

First Preference History

Never. Write. Off. Highland. Independents. I was punished here for my hubris and discarding my own longstanding advice, as Independent Duncan McDonald duly topped the polls in traditional Highland style. In fact, his vote was comparable to how the ward’s existing Independent Duncan (MacPherson, in this case) did at the full election. I wasn’t however wrong to anticipate a significant Lib Dem surge here, as they more than doubled their vote to squeak into second place just ahead of the SNP.

Slipping into third wouldn’t necessarily have been the worst thing for the SNP in this by-election, but losing nearly half of their vote in so doing is absolutely dire. Not only that but although the Conservatives were the only other party to lose vote share, it was such a small fraction it put the two parties far closer than you’d expect in Inverness.

All three of the returning smaller parties (in Highland terms) made advances too, with Labour pulling into double digits and the Greens winning their best share in the ward thus far. Although Alba already had a bit of an uptick for this segment of the electorate, their fellow Independence hardliners in Sovereignty managed to get into whole number territory, likely reflecting how much of the SNP vote was up for grabs.

Two-Candidate Preferred

With no candidate winning even as much as a quarter of the vote, this had to go through the maximum number of transfer rounds in order to come up with a final winner. McDonald’s already narrow lead over the Lib Dems was trimmed down to almost nothing by the final head-to-head stage, with just 12 votes in it. This really highlights the importance of preference use, as 63 times as many votes as would have been necessary to change the result were instead exhausted. 

Two-Party Preferred

As the McDonald-Lib Dem head-to-head is incomparable to anything in 2022, we can also run the figures for a Lib Dem-SNP contest. No surprises that the Lib Dems would have been the easy winners in that scenario, but much more surprising is that the SNP did so abysmally in this by-election that they’d only have won an SNP-Conservative fight by four (4!) votes, having trounced them by 22.3% in the 2022 matchup. 

Detailed Results

Results by Polling District

As if Highland Council’s incredibly high production value by-election coverage wasn’t enough reason to love their elections team, they are also consistently the best council for publishing data rapidly after the vote. For other councils I can often find myself waiting until the middle of the next week to get everything I need for these sections, but Highland had the complete set up and available within about an hour of the declaration. 

Anyway, moving onto the data itself, the very low turnout for this by-election means that a lot of box mergers were necessary, so some of the geographic data is a bit scattered. McDonald was the most popular candidate in districts covering Slackbuie and both the Newlands and Woodside of Culloden, of which the latter was his strongest patch overall. The Lib Dems meanwhile led and had their best result in the eastern portion of Inshes.

The SNP have a bit of an oddity here in that they were the lead party in the merged district covering western Inshes, Milton of Leys and Tomatin, but it wasn’t where their vote share was highest. That was instead in the Slackbuie and Newlands of Cullodon patches, which were also the top spots for the Conservatives and Greens. Meanwhile those yellow tinged districts were the best areas for all of Labour, Alba and Sovereignty.

Second Preferences

As I so often find myself writing, a lot of what you’d expect to see in these transfers. Although they were the two competing for the win, you have to presume both McDonald’s and the Lib Dems’ supporters were largely fine with either candidate winning, seeing as they were one another’s most likely second preference. The SNP and Greens had their usual mutual transfer pattern, whilst the Conservatives and Labour unsurprisingly most commonly opted for the Lib Dems and Alba for the SNP. Of the few voters backed Sovereignty, the biggest chunk then followed that with a vote for McDonald.

Scottish by-elections will continue in a couple of weeks with one in Angus, but as indicated at the start of this piece, I’m afraid we’ll be back in Highland before very long. At the same time as the count was going on for this vote, the funeral for Tain and Easter Ross Councillor Alasdair Rhind was being held, and his successor must legally be in place by the start of July. That’ll mean a second vote in nine months for that ward, following one held last September.

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