The sad passing of Independent councillor John McAlpine triggered the first “normal” by-election of the term, as the other by-elections since May were for vacancies that went unfilled at the full vote. McAlpine had first been elected as a councillor in 2003, and had only just made a return to the council after losing his seat in 2017.
He’d have narrowly been the winner for a single seat in May, and in his absence I’d pegged this ward as a tossup between the SNP, Conservative-turned-Independent Alistair Redman, and the Lib Dems. However, I’d reckoned the Lib Dems were probably the least likely of the three to get across the line.
Councillors and Key Stats
Independent: Alastair Redman
Change vs 2022 (notional): No partisan change
Change vs vacating: No partisan change
Turnout: 34.1% (-20.9)
Valid: 1806 (98.6%)
Spoiled: 25 (1.4%)
Labour: Gopi Ageer
Lib Dem: Kenny MacKenzie
SNP: Lachie MacQuarie
Independent: Alastair Redman
Green: Tom Skinner
Conservative: Hamish Stewart
Note: John McAlpine won 23.5% of the vote in May.
My pre-election call proved justified, with Redman and the SNP miles ahead of the Lib Dems and clearly set to go head-to-head. Redman’s share of the vote doubled, and indeed he was the only returning option from May’s ballot to increase his raw number of votes too.
Swings for the returning parties were pretty mild, seeing the SNP, Labour and Lib Dems down, whilst the Conservatives were up. After an absence in May, the Greens easily achieved their strongest result yet in the ward. There’s something about the Greens in Argyll and 9.7% this year, as that’s what they scored in both Oban-inclusive wards earlier.
Given this result came at the same time as GB-level polling showing astonishing Labour leads over the Conservatives of 20-30%, the performance of those parties might be a surprise. As general points, remember a large chunk of postal votes will have been returned before the mini-budget, this is a largely rural ward, and that Scotland isn’t England. That might sound a bit glib, but whilst we’re waiting for a Scotland-only poll for confirmation, based on SNP shares at GB-level indications are Labour swings in Scotland are much more muted.
Specifically for the Conservatives, I’m always pointing out that they benefit from the lower turnout of by-elections. There’s a lot of overlap between the highest turnout and most Conservative voter groups, they often get a share bump in by-elections even if nobody who turns out votes any differently. It’s also not entirely comparable without McAlpine’s 23.5%. If we redistribute his votes in May’s election, the Conservatives end up with 12.2% of the total, or 13.3% excluding exhausted ballots, or 13.7% if we assumed those ballots would have transferred in same proportion as the rest. In short: a +1.2% swing for the Conservatives is pretty poor going in the context.
Turning to Labour, and they’ve got a double whammy of just generally not doing well in rural wards anyway, and having a candidate giving a North Lanarkshire address. That information shows up on the ballot, and they were the only candidate not to give a statement to the local paper, both of which are likely to leave voters pretty miffed. They were the very definition of a paper candidate, so it’s no surprise Labour did very poorly.
Moving now to the transfer rounds, and Redman was pretty secure the whole way through. The SNP did squeak ahead when the Green was eliminated, but so miniscule a lead was never going to survive contact with Conservative and Lib Dem transfers. Relative to the same pairing in May’s election, Redman made significant vote share gains, whilst the SNP slipped slightly.
First Preference History
Results by Polling District
Casting an eye across some of the detailed data we get from machine counts reveals some juicy stuff. Due to low numbers of votes, there are a lot of slightly awkward box mergers, but it’s nonetheless enough to point a pretty clear picture: Redman’s base of support was on Islay, and he did much less well in Kintyre, especially Tarbert. Naturally then the SNP were stronger in Kintyre, though only the bloc of merged districts including West Kintyre, Gigha and a sparse part of Islay saw them in the lead.
Tarbert itself, paired with Colonsay in the count, estimates out at a single vote lead for the Lib Dems per my model for integrating in-person and postal votes. As that’s an estimate it should be treated with some caution, though unless everyone on Colonsay voted Lib Dem it’s clearly the case that the party did well in Tarbert. The Conservatives and Greens both had their best results in the same area, that West Kintyre and Gigha bloc, whilst for Labour it was the pile that merged East Kintyre, Jura and Bowmore together.
Finally, second preferences fall roughly as you would expect, with strong mutual flows between the SNP and Greens and Conservatives most strongly opting for Redman, whose voters did likewise. The Lib Dems narrowly favoured the Conservatives over Redman, and Labour votes were most likely to go to the Lib Dems.
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