Closing off our run of August by-elections was Aberdeenshire’s Mid-Formartine. This results piece comes a bit later than usual because I was taking a week out of this project after making the mistake of wading into a mathematical and polling issue on Twitter that was unsurprisingly contentious. As it turns out, the full suite of data I normally use isn’t available yet anyway…
This one had come about after SNP councillor Karen Adam was elected MSP for Banffshire and Buchan Coast and opted to stand down rather than double-job. That’s a relatively unusual approach for MSP-Councillors given the year between the two elections, but not an unreasonable one given the strain of both roles.
The Conservatives had been easily the strongest party here in 2017, so I reckoned they were in with the strongest chance. However, I put my estimate at “leans” rather than “likely” because the SNP had pulled off a shock victory in the neighbouring Ellon ward last year.
I think that call proved well founded, though you’ll have to wait for transfers to see the full effect. With a serving Independent not on the ballot there were quite a lot of spare votes going – though not quite so many as the previous week’s by-elections! That led to a pretty even increase in share for both the Conservatives and SNP, leaving the first preference gap between them basically where it was in 2017.
For the Lib Dems, though there appears to be a positive swing here, there’s a nuance. Their candidate Jeff Goodhall stood in 2017 not for the party, but as an Independent. In that role he got 4.8% of the vote, so a 3.3% swing for the Lib Dems here means coming 1.5% behind the combined vote last time.
That’s not too much of a surprise though – it’s been a few years, by-elections are different, and voters don’t move easily between parties and candidates like that anyway. Bringing up the rear, in the absence of Labour, were the Greens. That’s a very modest share, but about usual for them in the rural North East.
As no candidate had an outright majority of the vote, transfer rounds were necessary. The quota to reach here was 1621 votes.
Looking now at the transfers for the final stage 3 (changes vs final head-to-head stage in 2017 election re-calculation):
Conservative - 1645 (50.8%, -0.6)
SNP - 1409 (43.5%, +9.9)
Didn't Transfer - 187 (5.8%, -9.3)
Given they started very close to the 50% mark, the Conservatives had an easy path to victory, without needing to wait for the (mathematically meaningless) elimination of the SNP. They also won with almost as large a share of the vote as in the 2017 re-calculation. What differed this time was that far fewer votes were exhausted – and that seems to have overwhelmingly benefitted the SNP.
They ran the Conservatives a fair bit closer, cutting a nearly 18% lead to just over 7%. That I think shows the wisdom in settling on “leans” rather than “likely” in my prediction. However, on the assumption the Independent councillor runs again next year, it’s still enough of a gap that I’d expect the Conservatives to end up with two seats and the SNP just one, rather than a split of two each.
Machine counts mean some really juicy data… when the Council publishes it. Despite it being a week from the election, and BBS having been on hiatus in that time, they haven’t uploaded this stuff to their website. That is a bit disappointing, and I have noticed a wide variance in reliability and rapidity amongst councils on this front. West Lothian are the current gold medallists, and Aberdeenshire are… well, they competed, I guess!
That therefore brings us unusually quickly to a close for this by-election’s coverage. We’ve got another vote due up in October, but with any luck there won’t be many more before next May’s full elections. Not because I don’t enjoy covering them, just because with so little left of the term it’s increasingly likely any vacancies will be due to deaths, which I very much hope not to see.
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