By-Election Result: Tain and Easter Ross (2024)


Continuing what is an incredibly busy weekend for BBS coverage, the second by-election of last week was in Highland’s Tain and Easter Ross ward. This one had arisen from the sad and sudden passing of Alasdair Rhind, a long serving and popular local Independent councillor. Given we had a by-election in this ward quite recently, and the tendency of the Highlands to deliver Independent victories, I was pretty sure that would happen here too, albeit I had no idea which of the two it’d be.

Headline Results

Councillors and Key Stats

1 Councillor Elected:
Independent: Laura Dundas
Change vs 2023 (notional): New Independent
Change vs vacating: New Independent
Turnout: 20.0% (-20.2)
Electorate: 15794
Valid: 3107 (98.5%)
Spoiled: 48 (1.5%)
Quota: 1554
2 Continuing Councillors:
🟡SNP: Derek Louden
⚪Independent: Maureen Ross


🟡SNP: Gordon Allison
🟢Green: Andrew Barnett
🟤Libertarian: Harry Christian
🟠Lib Dem: Barbara Cohen
Independent: Laura Dundas
Independent: John Shearer
🔵Conservative: Eva Short

First Preferences

Note: Independent Maureen Ross won 41.5% and Labour 3.6% in last year’s by-election. At the full election in 2022, Independents Alasdair Rhind and Fiona Robertson won 21.1% and 16.1%, respectively.

First Preference History

That was obviously the right call, and from amongst the two Independents there was a clear favourite, with Laura Dundas easily winning the most votes. She fell a fair bit short of winning on first preferences alone, but given party voters can all typically get behind an Independent, her eventual victory was assured given how far ahead she was.

The SNP managed to make up a lot of ground to regain second place, recovering more than half of the share they had lost at last year’s election. That still leaves them lower than 2022 of course, but given how poorly things have been going for them of late, they’ll take any positive movement they can find. Their renewed lead over the Lib Dems wasn’t very big however, not even in the double-digit votes, as the Lib Dems also had a tiny little gain to again give to complete a hat trick of “best result yet” outcomes in this ward.

No happiness, whether caveated or uncaveated, to be found for the Conservatives however. They dipped to their third-worst share in the ward thus far, halving their support compared to 2022. That left them not all that far ahead of the Greens, who although still on a very modest share indeed, also managed to add support compared to last year, with a score-draw on first preferences with the second Independent, John Shearer. Last of all, the Libertarians registered a microscopic increase in their vote share, but that’s good enough to mean that every party bar the Conservatives showed growth compared to 9 months ago.

Two-Candidate Preferred

Two completely expected things happened through the transfer process. First, and most obviously, was that Dundas was able to easily remain ahead the entire time and secure the seat. Secondly, the Lib Dems were very easily able to close the gap on the SNP through transfers, which meant they were the party facing off against Dundas in the final stage. Just like last year’s by-election though, this tells us very little given it’s another totally new Independent.

Two-Party Preferred

As such, it’s worth comparing a head-to-head between the top two parties. Just due to how this chart displays compared to others, I’ve only put the changes vs the 2023 by-election directly on it. For interest, changes vs 2022 are -9.4% for the SNP, -2.0% for the Lib Dems, and +11.4% for non-transfers.

In other words this backs up the story of First Preferences, which is the SNP gaining ground on the Lib Dems compared to last year, but still in a worse position than 2022. Overall I’d say that is something that bodes well for the Lib Dems gaining Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (in notional terms; as I keep saying, remember their tiny 204 vote majority in 2019 has been swamped by over 20,000 additional voters added to the seat), but that it might not be a complete routing for the SNP.

Detailed Results

Results by Polling District

Thankfully, unlike the Clydebank Central by-election at the same time, Highland like to do a machine count these days so we get all the detailed data I like to pull together for BBS. As was the case last year, the winning Independent swept the board with a lead in every polling district. The top result both for her and the other Independent came from the district covering Balintore.

The SNP and Greens meanwhile performed most strongly in Tain itself, and the Lib Dems in the merged districts containing Inver and Portmahomack, rectifying the fact they were a bit left out as nobody’s top spot last year. That leaves the Conservatives and Libertarians with the combined smaller districts covering Barbaraville, Pitcalnie, Hill of Fearn, Milton and Kildary.

Second Preferences

Second preferences followed a pretty similar pattern to last year’s by-election, namely that those backing most of the other candidates (Lib Dems, Conservatives and Shearer) were most likely to give their next preference to Dundas as the leading Independent. The SNP and Greens meanwhile had their usual mutual swap, though in both cases this was weaker than last year, the flow from the SNP in particular being relatively anaemic by usual standards. Lastly, what few Libertarians there were had the SNP down as their most common second preference.

Phew! And that’s a wrap for the two 13th of June by-elections. The next by-election is for Na Hearadh (Comhairle nan Eilean Siar) and falls on the same day as the general election, which means I haven’t even got a preview for that together yet. I’ll hopefully do so next weekend, though it’ll be a pretty short affair just for completeness. Over the next few days though, it’ll be the usual Ballot Box Battlegrounds series for the big election. Remember you can keep tabs on all BBS coverage and analysis on the GE24 Hub page here.

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