This month’s only by-election was held yesterday in Coatbridge South. I had this one down as a very close contest between the SNP and Labour, tilting just a bit in the SNP’s favour based on the 2017 result. That said, I reckoned the fact Labour had won the Westminster seat could give them a boost. Having resisted the Tory Tide in 2017, I was very confident the Conservatives weren’t in with even a whisper nevermind a shout in Coatbridge.
As it turned out, Labour pulled out in front with a wafer-thin margin of 12 first preferences over the SNP. That lead held as all the other candidates were eliminated, meaning the ward is restored to the 2:2 balance between the two parties established at the election. First preferences in full;
- Labour – 1355 (41.5%, +12)
- SNP – 1343 (41.1%, -1.6)
- Con – 492 (15.1%, +3.2)
- Green – 47 (1.4%, +1.4)
- UKIP – 14 (0.4%, +0.4)
- Lib Dem – 13 (0.4%, +0.4)
In my haste to get these results out from my at the count source, I’d originally typo’d that small 1.6% decrease for the SNP as -16%, which has been haunting me for the past 12 hours. It’s a slip, not a slump! Labour’s 12% jump does look impressive, but do remember that last year there were two deselected Labour councillors standing under the “Independent Alliance North Lanarkshire” banner who together won 11.2%, so Labour’s vote then was somewhat deflated. This looks more like a reversion to a norm rather than a dramatic surge in support with that in mind. The Conservatives also picked up a few votes but look at the smaller parties, none of whom stood in 2017. Even by North Lanarkshire standards those are low figures.
Comparing the final head-to-head round at stage 5;
- Labour – 1549 (47.5%, +9)
- SNP – 1405 (43.0%, -2.6)
- Didn’t Transfer – 310 (9.5%, – 6.4)
Still not a lot in it, but the margin between the two did widen throughout the transfer process. Compared to other by-elections this year, that’s actually a notably small number of exhausted ballots. Perhaps the fact it was clearly going to be a tight-run race made voters more likely to use their later preferences. As has proven common though the victor hadn’t hit quota by this point, the Scottish electorate proving quite fractured in general.
As ever, a caution not to read too much into one by-election result. Whilst this serves as another reminder that we’re past “peak SNP”, that’s still a commanding vote share. Similarly a Labour victory seems notable in the context of the party having hit rock bottom recently, but even at those depths North Lanarkshire has been an area of strength for them. Were this result replicated at an ordinary election, it would almost certainly return the same two councillors apiece result we saw last year.