By-Election Result: South Kintyre


It’s now officially too late in the year for any new vacancies to lead to a 2023 by-election, so last week we had the second last Scottish vote of the year. Donald Kelly, Independent councillor for South Kintyre ward in Argyll and Bute, had stood down citing dissatisfaction with how the council operated. Kelly had been a councillor for over 20 years, serving most of that time as a Conservative before standing very successfully in his own right in 2022 after the party opted not to re-select him.

Before candidates were announced, I’d had this as an SNP vs Conservative tossup. Conservative support in the ward previously seemed clearly to be tied to Kelly on a personal basis, whilst the SNP vote held up well across candidates, so I felt that played in the SNP’s favour. On the other hand, the SNP are really struggling at the moment and tend to be vulnerable at by-elections to being pipped by their most obvious competitor, so that was in the Conservative’s favour.

However, when it became clear that Donald Kelly’s daughter Jennifer Kelly was on the ballot as an Independent, that threw my earlier prediction right off. Whilst I wasn’t certain how much of the father’s vote would pass to the daughter, I did think she’d perform well. I therefore viewed this as a three-way tossup, albeit with a 40-30-30 probability split in her favour.

Headline Results

Councillors and Key Stats

1 Councillor Elected:
⚪Independent: Jennifer Kelly
Change vs 2022 (notional): No partisan change
Change vs vacating: No partisan change
Turnout: 31.3% (-15.7)
Electorate: 5088
Valid: 1582 (99.4%)
Spoiled: 10 (0.6%)
Quota: 792
2 Continuing Councillors:
🟡SNP: John Armour
Independent: Tommy MacPherson (elected as Conservative)


🔵Conservative: Joe Cunningham
Independent: Jennifer Kelly
🟠Lib Dem: Kenny Mackenzie
🟤Freedom Alliance: Alan McManus
🟡SNP: John Richardson

First Preferences

Note: The retiring Independent councillor, Donald Kelly, won 36.0% in May.

In actuality, the younger Kelly had a storming victory that saw her easily elected on first preferences alone. To be honest, I shouldn’t have hedged my bets quite so much. This was a small ward in a rural council, with an Independent related to the outgoing Independent, and the two serious competitor parties both polling relatively poorly at the moment. Of course she was going to score an easy win! Still, I did say she had the edge, so my call was partway there at least. Although Kelly will be one of the younger councillors in Argyll and Bute, given her father had been a councillor for over two-thirds of her life, she’ll also likely be coming in as one of the most well-prepared new councillors ever elected!

That left both the SNP and Conservatives on their worst results in the ward’s history. That was a much sharper fall for the former than the latter, the Conservatives already having fared significantly worse at the elections where Donald Kelly wasn’t their candidate. Meanwhile, the Lib Dems could claim some relief in being the only one of the three returning parties to grow their vote share, and you can imagine them angling to snatch the Conservative seat in 2027 on these kinds of numbers.

The Freedom Alliance couldn’t even make it into double figures, equalling the measly 7 votes that they managed a few months ago in Bellshill. Ha.

Two-Candidate Preferred

Obviously there weren’t any transfer rounds here given Kelly won on first preferences alone, but we can use the data to pare the candidates down to a head-to-head anyway. Almost ten times as many transfers flow Independent rather than SNP, resulting in an even more impressive final total.  

Detailed Results

First Preference History
Results by Polling District

Due to the small electorate in this ward, the low turnout, and the need to merge boxes with fewer than 200 votes, these polling district estimates are even more of an estimate than usual. I’ve at least got the split between in  person and postal boxes, and then done my best to unpick based on the relative size of each district. What is clear regardless is that Kelly’s massive margin of victory would give a big lead in every polling district. It seems like her best result came from the district covering southern Campbeltown out to the Airport, whilst the three major parties all did best in the central Campbeltown district.

Second Preferences

It surely won’t come as a surprise given Kelly’s popularity that she was also easily the most popular second preference choice for everyone else who marked on, bar the statistically insignificant number of people who voted for the Freedom Alliance amongst whom she tied with the Lib Dems. Her own voters were most likely to plump for the Lib Dems if they gave a second preference. That said, those voting for Kelly and the SNP were on the whole most likely not to mark a second preference at all.

That leaves us with just one more by-election left for 2023, which will be Motherwell South East and Ravenscraig in North Lanarkshire. With all due respect to the good people of South Kintyre, that’ll be a much more exciting one to finish on, seeing as it’s a straight SNP vs Labour contest, with all the major parties in the mix.

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