By-Election Results February 2018

It’s been less than a year since they were elected, but Scotland’s Councils are already seeing a slew of by-elections. Unfortunately, too many come about following the deaths of sitting councillors. Unpleasant circumstances in which to call a ballot, democracy nonetheless trundles on.  We had two by-elections in February – one in the Central Belt, and one in more Rural Scotland.

The first of our February by-elections was held for Falkirk’s Bonnybridge and Larbert ward on the 15th. This was an SNP defence after the Provost, Tom Coleman, passed away. Ahead of the vote and based on the 2017 result, I reckoned it would be a relatively comfortable win for the SNP.

On the day, the SNP did indeed take the seat, as the lack of independents saw every party except the Greens improve on their 2017 vote share, albeit with turnout down 18.6%;

  • SNP 1295 (38.6%, +4.9)
  • Con 1088 (32.4%, +8.1)
  • Lab 813 (24.2%, +7.5)
  • Green 124 (3.7%, -0.1)
  • UKIP 35 (1%, +1)

This had to go all the way to stage 5, the elimination of every candidate except the victorious Niall Coleman – though I note again that’s not uncommon given the need to either get 50%+1 vote or be the last candidate standing. It’s useful to look at stage 4 for the split between the two most successful candidates (changes vs equivalent stage of 2017 result recalculated for a single councillor);

  • SNP 1619 (48.3%, +0.4)
  • Con 1280 (38.2%, +2.6)
  • Didn’t Transfer 456 (13.6%, -2.9)

So a very slight tightening of the margin between the SNP and the Tories here, but a comfortable hold nonetheless.

Selkirkshire in the Scottish Borders followed a week later on the 22nd, this time to replace a Conservative councillor who had become an MSP. With the Borders having become something of a stronghold for the revived Scottish Conservatives, I’d initially called this one as safe bet for them. However, a few Borderers on Twitter were sure that one of the Independents, Caroline Penman, was in with a strong chance, so I shifted to viewing it as a Con-Ind scrap.

Those local tip-offs turned out to be spot on, as Caroline Penman clinched the seat with a last minute leapfrog over Trevor Adams. Apart from a tiny uptick for Labour, all parties saw a decrease in their share of the vote that can likely be attributed to Penman’s local popularity.

  • Con 1247 (35.7%, -6.4)
  • Ind Penman 1040 (29.7%, +29.7)
  • SNP 691 (19.8%, -2.4)
  • Lab 134 (3.8%, +0.1)
  • Lib Dem 95 (2.7% -0.6)
  • Green 70 (2%, -1)
  • Ind Gunn 219 (6.3%, -2.5)

Again this saw the elimination of every other candidate before the victor reached quota;

  • Ind Penman 1522 (43.5%, +43.5)
  • Con 1342 (38.4%, -11.2)
  • Didn’t Transfer 632 (18.1%, -2.6)

Here the Tories proved remarkably transfer unfriendly, only picking up 95 of the around 1200 votes from the 5 candidates who dropped out earlier; though this may not be hugely surprising given that the four other parties lie to the left of the Conservatives. I wouldn’t read a huge amount into that Conservative defeat though – they still had a very clear lead over the SNP, and Independents in rural councils are a different game entirely. Those looking for signs that Ruth Davidson’s party has slipped back into decline should look elsewhere.