Apologies for running a bit late to the party for the Caol and Mallaig by-election due in Highland Council next week, on the 5th of April. This one follows the death of SNP Councillor Billy Maclachlan. He was elected to the ward for the first time last May but served as the independent councillor for the old single member Claggan and Glen Spean ward between 1999 and 2003.
Caol and Mallaig is one of the 21 huge wards in the positively ginormous Highland Council area, typically electing 3 councillors. It covers the Northern half of of the Lochaber area – a reminder that Scotland’s conception of “local” democracy isn’t exactly the most sensible. Most of the population of the ward lives along the southern edge, stretching from Spean Bridge through Caol, Glenfinnan, Arisaig and Mallaig. This is the route of the world famous West Highland Line, and the Glenfinnan Viaduct known to many as the route of the Hogwarts Express. It also contains the Small Isles of Canna, Eigg, Muck and Rùm.
In the Scottish Parliament, the ward sits within the Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch constituency and is almost perfectly contained in the UK Parliament’s Ross, Skye and Lochaber constituency, both of which are held by the SNP. The latter is reasonably well known as the long held seat of the late Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy.
This is yet another ward that hasn’t seen any boundary changes since 2007 – I promise, they happened in some places, I stood in such a ward! Both the 2007 and 2012 elections returned three independent councillors, though shortly after the 2012 election one of them joined the SNP. In 2017, the two incumbent independents were re-elected, whilst Billy Maclachlan took up the SNP banner to win the third seat. The SNP’s Alex MacInnes will be hoping to retain the seat for the party, whilst of last year’s unsuccessful candidates only the Lib Dems Denis Rixon has thrown his hat in the ring again. The full list of candidates is;
- Ronald Joseph Campbell (Ind)
- Alex MacInnes (SNP)
- Catherine MacKinnon (Ind)
- Denis Rixon (Lib Dem)
- Ian Smith (Con)
- Colin “Woody” Wood (Ind)
The dominance of independents in last year’s election make this a little bit more complex than the other by-elections so far. There’s no way doing a re-run of the 2017 vote to find the winner for a single seat that would give a credible result, given the independent nature of local politics in the Highlands. So I’m not going to waste anyone’s time trying.
Basically, whether the SNP candidate can hold the seat or it goes to one of the three independents is going to depend in large part on the profile of each candidate in the community. I wouldn’t say there’s zero chance of the Lib Dems mounting a surprise win should none of the independents take the voter’s fancy, given the electoral history of the area, but I think we can safely discount the Conservatives. If anyone has some of the local tip-offs that proved so useful in the Selkirkshire by-election, I’d love to hear them!