This week started with the expectation of three by-elections, but ended up with just this one in Clackmannanshire East. The two in North Lanarkshire were cancelled after it was announced that area would be moving to Level 4 at the end of the week. For folk wondering, that means all postal ballots received will be securely destroyed without opening, and effectively a fresh by-election process begins for the 4th of March.
Anyway, this by-election had originally been scheduled for March before being postponed at the last minute. At that point, I’d had it down as being very likely to go Conservative. After last month’s surprise SNP success in the Ellon and District by-election, I’d revised that expectation to a Conservative-SNP tossup.
As it turned out, I needn’t have made that revision. First preferences in full:
Conservative - 1226 (51.2%, +9.7)
SNP - 766 (32.0%, +1.8)
Labour - 195 (8.1%, -12.1)
Green - 139 (5.8%, +2.0)
Liberal Democrat - 69 (2.9%, -1.4)
The Conservatives swept to a clear, and very rare, first preference victory – this is only the second such result since I started Ballot Box Scotland. The SNP did have a modest increase in their share, but that counts for hee-haw when your opponent is on over 50%.
Labour meanwhile recorded a result that is nothing short of disastrous, even allowing for much lower turnout at by-elections. If anything like this was repeated in 2022, the Conservatives could pick up two seats and make this the only ward in Clackmannanshire without a Labour councillor. By pure coincidence, Labour’s results in the past four by-elections have shown ever larger decreases in vote share, which has been quite striking to see.
The Labour collapse allowed the Greens to get within touching distance of overtaking. In addition to having a bump in their vote share, the Greens were also the only party to actually increase their hard votes compared to 2017. That put them ahead of the Lib Dems, who suffered a bit of a decline but got the consolation of a meme-worthy number of votes.
As this was a machine count, there was a whole bunch of juicy additional data available. Props to Clackmannanshire Council for being so quick with publishing the data, as it often takes until at least after the weekend.
For the first bit, since there weren’t any transfers needed in this by-election, we can run them anyway to get a “Two Party Preferred” result between the Conservatives and SNP (note that I always like to show exhausted ballots, so it’s slightly different from the Australian style, and changes are versus the 2017 re-calculation):
Conservative - 1323 (55.2%, +4.3)
SNP - 909 (38.0%, +2.5)
Didn't Transfer - 163 (6.8%, -6.7)
Both parties are up compared to the 2017 head-to-head thanks to a reduction in votes that didn’t transfer, and the Conservatives increase their lead over the SNP slightly due to having the larger increase.
The next of our fun pieces of extra data is looking at where each party’s second preferences go. We can’t learn this just from the transfer process in normal circumstances, never mind when there weren’t any transfers!
Let’s get the stuff that’s par for the course out of the way first:
- Conservatives least likely to use later preferences
- Those who do are most favourable to Lib Dems
- Labour and SNP more likely than Conservatives to use later preferences
- Greens and Lib Dems most likely to use later preferences
- Strong mutual SNP-Green preferencing
Specific to this by-election, Lib Dem voters were most likely to prefer the Greens. It’s not uncommon to see a weighty transfer from Lib Dem to Green, but it isn’t always their most preferred option. Meanwhile those Labour voters who marked second preferences split almost entirely evenly between the other four parties, with Conservatives having a slight plurality.
Then we can look at how support was distributed throughout the ward.
The pattern of support for each party here is roughly similar to 2017, though the OC587 district around a small chunk of Alloa had its box merged with the OC590 box covering Muckhart. On Twitter I’d remarked that I reckoned the SNP probably had the lead in the Alloa section. Having since re-checked 2017, the Conservatives weren’t far behind there, so I do actually think that flip blue is accurate.
The Conservatives, who had already steamrolled all opposition in the northern half at the last election, were even more dominant there this time, claiming a mighty 61.1% in the district around Dollar. This end was also where the Greens proved strongest, outperforming Labour, and doing twice as well as their overall result with 11.5% around Muckhart (Alloa box merger caveat in mind).
In the southern end, apart from that wee corner of Alloa, the SNP remained in the lead. Both they and the Conservatives ate massively into Labour’s share, which dropped by an astonishing 25% in the district covering Clackmannan itself. They’d been 0.5% behind the SNP there in 2017, and this time were around 35% short.
Though winning only a very small share overall anyway, it’s perhaps notable that just like in Craigentinny last week, their postal vote massively outperformed their in-person vote. Almost half (30 out of 69) of their votes were postal, versus just shy of a third in the ward overall.
Next week should see the last by-elections both in this busy November and in 2020, with all other pending by-elections scheduled for 2021. We’ve got two by-elections in the Perth City section of Perth and Kinross. Hopefully, these aren’t pulled at the last minute! I’d taken today (Friday) off just to use up my holidays specifically because I expected to have three by-elections to cover, and instead I had one, which counted last night.
If you find this or other Ballot Box Scotland output useful and/or interesting, and you can afford to do so, please consider donating to support my work. I love doing this, but it’s a one-man project and takes a lot of time and effort. All donations, no matter how small, are greatly appreciated and extremely helpful.