Glasgow has very tragically gone two-for-two in having by-elections very shortly after the full election, with the main event in May being followed by the shock passing of a prominent Labour councillor. In 2017, that had been the sad situation with Cardonald councillor Alistair Watson (I revisited the resulting by-election ahead of this year’s vote). This year it was Linn councillor Malcolm Cunning, who had been his party’s group leader at the time of the election. Both men weren’t even (quite) at retirement age, adding to how dreadful these circumstances were.
Nonetheless, democracy required their respective seats to be filled, and so by-elections were duly held. For this vote in Linn, although the SNP had held a very narrow lead in first preferences in May, transfers would have tipped a single seat in Labour’s favour. That immediately gave them an advantage going into this by-election.
Add to that a bruising few months for the Conservatives likely peeling off some votes (first preferences being key, given what we now know about some voters not marking later preferences) and the fact Scottish Labour’s voter base tend to turn out at higher rates that the SNP’s, and my sense was Labour were the most likely winners here. I’d also flagged the potential for the Greens to overtake the Lib Dems, in the last ward in the city they hadn’t already done so.
Councillors and Key Stats
1 Councillor Elected:
Labour: John Carson
Change vs 2022 (notional): Labour Hold
Change vs vacating: Labour Hold
Turnout: 23.3% (-18.9)
Valid: 5132 (98.6%)
Spoiled: 73 (1.4%)
3 Continuing Councillors:
🟡SNP: Paul McCabe
🟡SNP: Margaret Morgan
🔴Labour: Catherine Vallis
Green: Jen Bell
Labour: John Carson
Alba: Kirsty Fraser
UKIP: Christopher Ho
SNP: Chris Lang-Tait
SSP: George MacDougall
Lib Dem: Joe McCauley
Freedom Alliance: Di McMillan
Conservative: Pauline Sutherland
Note: An Independent candidate, James Toner, won 9.4% in May.
I try not to be too much of a clever-clogs on Ballot Box Scotland, but look, you can’t fault that predictive power, can you? Sure enough, Labour did indeed emerge the clear victors, with their vote share growing by a third, giving them an unbeatable lead over a nearly-stationary SNP, who lost a small fraction of a percentage point. It wasn’t enough of a lead to win on first preferences, but given the balance of votes for other parties, transfers would obviously seal the deal.
The Greens likewise proved themselves capable of beating the Lib Dems now that, unlike the full election where careful targeting was in play, they were running a local campaign. Much to my surprise though they even clawed their way into third place, as the Conservative vote collapsed beyond what I expected. Despite a busy campaign schedule themselves, the Conservatives have gone from having a councillor in this ward before May’s election to their worst ever vote share in it, a dire result that leaves them the clearest losers here.
For the Lib Dems, a further decline in the ward to their own record low won’t exactly be welcome, but it’s also not as bad as it could have been. It’s a respectable performance for a party that didn’t seem to have much campaign presence beyond their candidate (who, in fairness, seems to have worked quite hard) – the other Holyrood parties were all posting much busier campaign photo ops. Interestingly enough, so too were Alba.
Not only did they trot out party leader Alex Salmond (for a session with upwards of 20 activists, no mean feat for a local by-election), they also had both of their sitting (defecting) MPs out on the campaign trail. Impressively, Neale Hanvey actually put in a physical appearance, rather than his preferred method of astral projection. This does seem to have been rewarded with a small vote share increase, but it’s still absolutely paltry, not even at 2%. At the risk of further enraging Scotland’s thinnest skinned (and represented) group of activists, the party continues to barely register.
The ghost of the Scottish Socialist Party continues to occasionally haunt the city, but with appropriately little substance to their result. And speaking of dead parties, UKIP’s result was even worse, placing them only one vote ahead of the anti-lockdown oddballs.
Looking at the transfer rounds, the fact it was a foregone conclusion is evident throughout. Once the parties that actually won meaningful numbers of votes start dropping out (sorry to Alba, SSP, UKIP and the Freedom Alliance), most of the votes obviously go Labour’s way. Only the Greens set up a larger flow to the SNP, but not even a 100% transfer rate could have closed the gap. In fact, enough Green voters plumped for Labour that despite a net increase in the SNP-Green-Alba total for first preferences, the SNP were very slightly worse off at the final round than they were in May.
First Preference History
Results by Polling District
Turning to the detailed data, and the polling district level results naturally give a much redder map than in May. Some of that may be down to the fact low turnout required much greater merging of boxes from separate districts, but it still shows a general separation where the SNP led in Castlemilk, but Labour took the lead everywhere else. In terms of best areas, Labour’s strongest share was in the southeast of Cathcart, and the SNP’s in eastern Castlemilk.
The Greens appear to have absolutely blitzed what I assume is the central portion of Cathcart in their campaigning, doing so well there they even beat the SNP by a hair. Conservatives were still strongest in Carmunnock, though that box merging with some of Castlemilk will have significantly diluted their share. The Lib Dems mirrored Labour by performing best in southeast Cathcart, and Alba, the only one of the micro-parties with enough support to draw any conclusions on, likewise echoed the SNP with eastern Castlemilk.
Second preferences meanwhile fell in pretty usual patterns for Glasgow. Big SNP to Green mutual preferencing? Naturally. Conservatives and Lib Dems favouring Labour? You betcha. Labour having the most scattered and least settled spread? Of course – though here favouring the Lib Dems. The two smaller pro-Independence parties unsurprisingly were most likely to plump for the SNP. The handful of UKIP voters narrowly preferred Labour over the SSP – absolutely wild – whilst the Freedom Alliance were most favourable to the Liberal Democrats.
And just to wrap up, Twitter loves nothing more than getting absolutely carried away with by-election results, so I’m doing one of my regular reminders that I’m afraid you simply cannot pin your theories of radical, sweeping, national political change on a single local council by-election. You couldn’t do it a couple of weeks previously when some particularly daft folk were quoting Labour’s 10% in the Buckie by-election to Anas Sarwar on Twitter as proof of his party’s coming demise, nor can you do the same this time proclaiming Nicola Sturgeon’s doom.
Apart from anything else, see the earlier linked 2017 election for a similar Glasgow example. But further, remember that point I’d made in the preview, that Labour do better amongst higher turnout voters? Turnout was down nearly 19%, pushing the postal total up from 31% to 39% of all votes cast. Given you’d also expect the Conservatives to do better amongst higher turnout voters, and they shed so many of their May votes, that’ll have further padded out Labour’s victory here.
None of that is to say this is anything less than a great result for Labour, and one the party and newly elected councillor should be very pleased with. Instead, it’s a (futile) plea to try and keep Ballot Box Scotland’s Twitter mentions (and searches) relatively free of bold pronouncements that, in fairness, people perhaps wouldn’t be drawn to make if we’d actually get some regular Scotland-only polling to help paint a proper national picture.
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