By-Election Result: Tain and Easter Ross


The middle ballot in our trio of autumn by-elections was Highland’s Tain and Easter Ross. Lib Dem councillor Sarah Rawlings, who had been freshly elected in May last year, unfortunately felt she could no longer manage the role alongside her ill-health and stood aside to let someone else take up the role.

In classic Highland style, re-calculating the 2022 winner was complicated by the presence (or not) of popular Independents. One of those Independents was elected and would also have been the winner for a single seat. Eliminate him and the other Independent would have been the winner, but she wasn’t standing in the by-election. That therefore left the re-calculation a Lib Dem vs SNP matchup, with the Lib Dems squeaking narrowly ahead.

Given the circumstances I thought the Lib Dems had the better chance of winning out of those two parties. Nonetheless, I pointed out that a new Independent muddied the predictive waters as we had no way of gauging her support. As such I had this pegged as only leaning the Lib Dem’s way, and advised keeping an eye on that Independent.

Headline Results

Councillors and Key Stats

1 Councillor elected:
⚪Independent: Maureen Ross
Change vs 2022 (notional): Independent Gain from Lib Dem
Change vs vacating: Independent Gain from Lib Dem
Turnout: 34.4% (-13.6)
Electorate: 7226
Valid: 2463(99.0%)
Spoiled: 25 (1.0%)
Quota: 1232
2 Continuing Councillors:
🟡SNP: Derek Louden
⚪Independent: Alasdair Rhind


🟡SNP: Gordon Allison
🟢Green: Andrew Barnett
🟤Libertarian: Harry Christian
🔵Conservative: Veronica Morrison
🔴Labour: Michael Perera
Independent: Maureen Ross
🟠Lib Dem: Charles Stephen

First Preferences

Note: Two independent candidates, Alasdair Rhind (21.1%) and Fiona Robertson (16.1%) accounted for 37.3% of the vote in 2022.

Watching Maureen Ross was indeed the wise thing to do, as she stormed to a very comfortable lead in first preferences that it would be simply impossible to overturn. That left the Lib Dems a rather distant second, albeit with their best share in the ward thus far. They are also the only party that can claim a good news story from these figures, and although by-elections always come with a health warning, that’ll give them comfort for their prospects in the parliamentary seats the ward sits within.

The SNP placing third isn’t necessarily a shock in this part of the country with a strong Independent on the ballot, but they lost a big chunk of their support whilst doing so, with their worst result since 2012. It’s a similar tale for the Conservatives, though with a less sharp decrease in their vote, as 2012 was also the last time they did worse than this. That should emphasise the point I made in my analysis of their victory in Girvan and South Carrick last week; that wasn’t a sign of a party back on the up, but instead of being the obvious local non-SNP option, which just didn’t apply to them here.

Both Labour and the Greens won pretty paltry shares of the vote, though Labour’s was the second best out of the three times they’ve stood here. That shouldn’t be a surprise for the dual reason that this is a pretty weak area for both parties at other levels of election anyway, and the fact their candidates weren’t local. You can generally just about get away with a degree of non-locality in the Lib Dems or SNP in the Highlands, counting on a traditionally popular party affiliation swelling your vote share, but it’s pretty much fatal if you haven’t got that advantage. They did at least manage to cross the support of a whole percentage point, which the Libertarians in last place did not.

Two-Candidate Preferred

Looking at the transfer rounds, and it was basically just a slow process of all the weaker candidates dropping out in order to confirm Ross’ eventual victory. She started with decent enough support that she was able to cross quota without the Lib Dems being eliminated to leave her the sole candidate, which isn’t always the case in STV by-elections. Since she was a new Independent though, there’s no useful comparison to be made with 2022 on these figures…

Two-Party Preferred

So we can instead do exactly what we did for the initial re-calculation and eliminate her from the equation for a party political head-to-head. The Lib Dems gains are a bit lower by this measure than pure first preferences, but by the same token the SNP’s losses are larger, a further encouraging sign for sitting and prospective parliamentarians here. In the same way that the SNP can often suffer from their voters staying at home at by-election time, I wonder if voters were also less likely to give them a preference at all? Some of that will, it’s important to note, be down to having slightly more candidates overall (we know from 2022 that voters rarely go beyond a third preference) but that’s a big surge in non-transfers regardless.

Detailed Results

First Preference History
Results by Polling District
Second Preferences

Unlike South Ayrshire last week, Highland Council opted for a machine count so we have all the detailed data that comes with that. Looking at the results by polling district, Ross was able to turn her big overall lead into a lead in every district. There’s a little bit more merging of districts than in 2022 just because of the lower turnout, but we can see that Ross and Labour both had their best shares in the districts covering Hill of Fearn and Balintore. For the Lib Dems, SNP, Greens and Libertarian, Tain itself was their hottest spot. And lastly, the Conservative base of support was evidently in the area around Barbaraville, Pitcalnie and Milton and Kildary. Spare a thought for Inver and Portmahomack, who but for 0.25% of the vote for the Lib Dems end up not being anyone’s best bit.

As they so often do, second preferences fall in predictable patterns. Those backing Ross or the Lib Dems were most likely to then give their next preference to the other, and the SNP and Greens have their usual mutual preference piles. Conservative voters most commonly plumped for the Independent and Labour for the Lib Dems. The Libertarian meanwhile had an extremely even preference pattern with no clear plurality for any other candidate.

If these local by-elections have whet your appetite, then next week you’ll get the feast of the Rutherglen and Hamilton West by-election for the UK Parliament. That is the current focus of national attention, for obvious reasons, and it feels like all we’ve been talking about for months by this point. After having been unable to cover this by-election result as it happened due to unmovable work commitments, I’ve got next Friday off so I can burn the midnight oil for Rutherglen!

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