North Lanarkshire has been incredibly busy for elections this year, having already had a Westminster and two Council by-elections this year, in addition to the main Scottish Parliament election. That continued last Thursday with the Murdostoun by-election, which followed the very sad passing of popular local Independent councillor Robert McKendrick.
I had this as a bit of a wild card in that not only has North Lanarkshire tended to be a very tight between SNP and Labour over the past few years, but McKendrick’s son (also named Robert) was on the ballot too. I had no idea whether votes would transfer directly from father to son, but reckoned it was certainly likely enough to rate this as a three-way contest.
Instead, it ended up very one-sided. The younger McKendrick emerged with an unassailable lead, leaving the SNP and Labour in the dust. First preferences in full were (changes versus 2017 election):
McKendrick (Independent) - 1504 (41.3%, +13.7)
SNP - 884 (24.3%, -3.7)
Labour - 617 (16.9%, -6.8)
Arthur (Independent) - 293 (8.0%, +5.6)
Conservative - 264 (7.2%, -5.6)
Green - 61 (1.7%, +1.7)
Independence for Scotland Party - 14 (0.4%, +0.4)
Reform UK - 7 (0.2%, +0.2)
Note that in the 2017 election a third Independent candidate won 4.4% of the vote, and UKIP won 1.0%.
I’ve chosen to compare the younger McKendrick’s votes directly with his father’s – in the Independent stakes, “son clearly seeking to carry on his father’s work” is the next best thing to a party, and thus directly comparable in my view. He achieved a whopping 13.7% gain on his father’s share, which speaks to a very substantial degree of support even allowing for much lower turnout.
McKendrick wasn’t the only Independent from 2017 to have a good day however, as Robert Arthur gained a fair chunk too. Indeed, he actually managed to marginally grow his absolute number of votes as well, the only returning candidate or party that can make that claim. To make way for that Independent success, however, all three of the returning parties went backwards.
Of those, the SNP’s share dropped the least, perhaps reflecting continued strong support from the Holyrood election. The Conservatives lost almost half of their vote share, dropping into single digits, which has been relatively rare for them recently.
Labour fell the hardest, dropping below the level that would guarantee electing a councillor at a full election. Though they’d obviously pick up the transfers to make up the difference for one seat, it’s much less likely they’d be able to hold their second seat were this result repeated, with Arthur probably better placed to squeak ahead of whoever the weaker candidate was.
Low results all round for the smaller parties. For the Greens this is pretty par for the course in North Lanarkshire by-election terms – indeed, including the 2017 election, they’ve never cracked 4% in a ward here this cycle. The Independence for Scotland Party had an extremely muted debut despite running a former councillor, and Reform UK did so poorly that all of their voters can legally gather together outdoors despite COVID restrictions.
As no candidate had an outright majority of the vote, transfer rounds were necessary. The quota to reach here was 1823 votes.
Looking now at the transfers for the final stage 7 (changes vs final head-to-head stage in 2017 election re-calculation):
McKendrick (Independent) - 1873 (51.4%, +6.4)
SNP - 1060 (29.1%, -2.2)
Didn't Transfer - 711 (19.5%, -4.2)
No surprise given that chunky first preference lead that this was an extremely easy victory for McKendrick after transfers, with a wider gap between the him and the SNP challenger than had been the case with his father last time round. Though more distantly second this time, the SNP were more secure in that position, with their lead over third-placed Labour going from around 2.9% to 6.6%.
Machine counts mean some really juicy data, starting with the breakdown of results per polling district.
Note that the merged districts here are slightly different to those from 2017, and thus some of the colour changes in this map versus the 2017 version may reflect that more than genuine voter shifts.
Like his father before him, McKendrick was utterly dominant in the Newmains area, coming not far off a whopping three-quarters of the in-person vote there. That was also Arthur’s strongest area, with none of the parties breaking into double figures in those districts.
The SNP meanwhile held onto their leads in Coltness and Cambusnethan, whilst Labour continued to do best in and around Cleland. For the Conservatives the postal vote was their friendliest portion, with Cambusnethan delivering the best in-person share. Despite their low share in the ward overall, the Greens had a noticeable bright spot in Coltness, accounting for over a third of their total vote.
The two smaller parties just didn’t win enough votes to draw any conclusions about their strongest or weakest areas, but it’s perhaps interesting the ISP didn’t pick up a single postal vote, whilst for Reform UK that was the source of 5 of their 7 votes.
Sadly, the data necessary to work out second preferences hasn’t been published – it’d have been particularly fascinating in this case, given McKendrick’s massive lead in first preferences. As the end of this council term approaches, I’m afraid I’m having less and less energy to email council election departments chasing up data, given mixed results. (Though elsewhere in the country, Perth & Kinross have a superb team, to give credit where due!)
That means we’ve now got a nice little summer break away from by-elections, with nothing due in July. However, expect some preview pieces for August’s votes to appear at some point next month!