Clackmannanshire North By-Election 01/03/18

A third by-election in as many weeks is due on the 1st of March, this time for Clackmannanshire North. A good old fashioned “more time for family” resignation from SNP Councillor Archie Drummond is at the root this time. Although a member of the SNP previously, Drummond was first elected as an independent in 2012. He rejoined the party in 2016, and was re-elected under that banner last May.

Clackmannanshire North is one of just five wards in Clacks, and normally elects 4 councillors. The council has some of the most cryptic ward names in Scotland, so you could be forgiven for not being entirely sure where the ward covers even if you’re familiar with the Wee County. It takes in the two middle Hillfoots villages, the roughly equally sized Alva and Tillicoultry, as well as the much smaller village of Coalsnaughton on the other side of the River Devon. Clacks has typically been a Labour-SNP battleground, but the Tories have been mounting a strong challenge recently. For the Scottish Parliament, it’s part of the Clackmannanshire and Dunblane constituency, which has been held by the SNP since 2003 (as Ochil until 2011). For Westminster it falls under Ochil and South Perthshire, one of the seats the Conservatives won last June.

Just like the last two wards with upcoming by-elections, Clackmannanshire North has kept to the same boundaries since 2007. The ward has consistently returned two SNP, one Labour, and one other councillor at each election. It was the Lib Dems only seat in Clacks in 2007, there was Drummond’s spell as an independent in 2012, and in 2017 the Conservatives won a seat as part of their surge. The SNP’s unsuccessful third candidate last year, Helen Lewis, is taking another run at the ward, as is the Lib Dem’s Damian Sherwood-Johnson. Marion Robertson, standing for the Greens, is also a returning candidate but stood in the neighbouring East ward last year. The full list of candidates is;

  • Afifa Khanam (Labour)
  • Helen Lewis (SNP)
  • Marion Robertson (Green)
  • Damian Sherwood-Johnson (Lib Dem)
  • Alex Stewart (Conservative)

So a conventional “parliamentary parties” by-election, without any independents or minor parties to muddy the waters. The 2017 election was the same, so it was comparatively easy running it back through for a single councillor as below. The top half of the chart shows the first preferences last year, as well as the party of the successfully elected councillors. Transfer flows are on the bottom half. Remember that in a single seat election under STV, a candidate needs 50%+1 of the valid votes cast (a quota) to win.

Archie Drummond would have come out on top if there had only been one seat up for grabs, but it would have been relatively tight – 170 votes between him and Labour’s Dave Clark. Clark’s lead over the Conservative’s Martha Benny would have been even more slender, with a mere 26 votes putting him in the lead at the last possible moment. For whatever reason, the votes Clark had accumulated by the time he was eliminated didn’t favour the SNP or Drummond, who’d have come up short of quota. That’s not unheard of in STV elections, but unusual for a by-election.

The SNP, Labour and the Conservatives all look to have a good shot at it. Although the ward has leaned SNP for at least the past decade, that 2017 result looks pretty right. Add in a recent history of parliamentary representation by all three parties and it’s hard to say who may come out on top. Additionally, which of Labour or the Tories go on to face the SNP in the final round of counting may come down to Green and (especially) Lib Dem preferences. As such I’m inclined to call this a complete toss-up.