Scotland’s first council by-election of the year was held in Clackmannanshire Central yesterday. I reckoned this would be a close race between the SNP, whose councillor had resigned to trigger the by-election, and Labour, who would have won a notional election for a single seat in 2017 and had a narrow first preference lead. I thought it tilted very marginally towards Labour on that basis, but published the preview saying that just before two polls showing Labour losing ground in national elections.
Sure enough, that did not bode well for Labour who shed around a fifth of their votes, and the SNP went on to win the seat. The Conservatives also saw a modest increase in their vote share, but still only enough to draw roughly level with their second-worst performing ward of the five in 2017. First preferences in full;
- SNP – 865 (40.9%, +2.6)
- Labour – 675 (31.9%, -8.0)
- Conservative – 419 (19.8%, +3.2)
- UKIP – 69 (3.3%, +3.3)
- Green – 53 (2.5%, -2.7)
- Lib Dem – 36 (1.7%, +1.7)
It wasn’t just Labour that went backwards as the Green vote was more than halved, slipping behind UKIP. UKIP ahead of Green results aren’t at all uncommon in England and Wales, but are vanishingly rare in Scotland. That said there weren’t a lot of votes for the three smaller parties overall. Given recent events, or non-events as the case may be with the arrival of Brexit Day with no Brexit, it’s likely UKIP primarily benefited from the handful of serious Brexit supporters in the ward.
Comparing the final head-to-head round at stage 5;
- SNP – 933 (44.1%, +3.3)
- Labour – 814 (38.5%, -8.8)
- Didn’t Transfer – 370 (17.5%, +5.4)
A whopping 68% of the votes the Conservative candidate had accumulated by the time he was eliminated went straight into the pile of non-transferables, a useful reminder that constitutional alignment doesn’t guarantee transfers. With the SNP having a comfortable lead in first preferences, what transfers Labour did pick up weren’t nearly enough to close the gap. That means the makeup of Clackmannanshire council remains as it was before.
As ever, a caution not to read too much into one by-election result!
Since this was a machine count, there’s the full set of data available for this by-election that you don’t get with a hand count. The most interesting thing to look at here would be where each party’s second preferences went, which isn’t fully captured in the normal process of counting and elimination.
Most notably those who voted for the SNP, Labour, Conservatives and UKIP really didn’t like anyone else, with over 40% of all of their voters not marking any second preferences at all. For Labour, such single preferences were actually a majority of their votes. It’s interesting that we’re 12 years into the use of STV for council elections in Scotland and people are still loath to fully use their preferences in by-elections.
For those votes that actually transferred, there was a clear inter-Independence party linkage between the SNP and Greens, both being each other’s most favoured transfer destination. Nothing was reciprocal amongst the pro-Union parties, as Labour voters favoured the SNP, Conservatives the Lib Dems, the Lib Dems quite liked Labour, and UKIP curiously tied between the SNP and Conservatives. UKIP were solidly unpopular with everyone except the Conservatives, who unsurprisingly enough had the SNP as their least favoured second preference, whilst UKIP voters themselves liked the Lib Dems the least.