By-Election Result: East Garioch

Background

Scottish Councils are continuing to work their way through what will be the last batch of by-elections in this term, as the full elections in May 2022 draw ever closer. Last week saw Aberdeenshire’s East Garioch by-election, which had followed the unfortunate passing of Lib Dem councillor Fergus Hood. 

Apologies for the slight delay in covering this result. I’ve tried to get myself into the habit of only publishing once the full suite of data is available from the council, which often takes until after the weekend. In this case, it’s still not available, and I don’t want to get a whole week past the date of election. I’ve therefore put together the basics on the first preferences and transfers, and will edit in the more detailed stuff when and if it becomes available.

In common with much of the more rural North East, I reckoned this one was going to be tilted substantially in the Conservatives’ favour, with the SNP only in with a small chance of picking up the seat. I also expected that the Lib Dems and, especially, the Greens would perform much worse this time around without the personal votes linked to their candidates.

First Preferences

Those were all pretty solid calls, as the combined Conservative-SNP vote went from below 60% to just over 80%, leaving all other parties in the dust. First preferences in full were (changes versus 2017 election):

Conservative - 1240 (45.5%, +14.2)
SNP - 963 (35.3%, +7.7)
Liberal Democrat - 281 (10.3%, -8.3)
Green - 130 (4.8%, -13.7)
Labour - 111 (4.1%, +0.1)

The Conservatives really weren’t very far off winning this on first preferences alone, increasing their vote share versus 2017 by almost half again. Though the SNP also experienced a notable positive swing, it was only just over half as big.

Part of the reason those swings are so big are because the Lib Dems and Greens dropped precipitously versus 2017. The Green decrease is particularly sharp, polling just over a quarter of the share they did in 2017, whilst the Lib Dems were on just a bit over half as much. As noted in the preview piece, a lot of that is going to be down to personal votes.

For Green Councillor Martin Ford, it’s very clear he is elected as Martin Ford rather than as a Green, and I’d be surprised if he wasn’t returned next year on that basis. There’s probably more cause for concern for the Lib Dems, who won’t be able to rely on any personal vote in May, and this result echoes their quite substantial loss of votes across Aberdeenshire in the Holyrood election this year. I’d say it’s quite likely the Conservatives will take two seats here at the full election.

Though not in the running for the seat, it’s notable that Labour did increase their vote share very marginally in an area that isn’t particularly good for them. It’s possible that relatively more of their local supporters were die-hard enough to turn out in a by-election.

Transfers

As no candidate had an outright majority of the vote, transfer rounds were necessary. The quota to reach here was 1363 votes.

Looking now at the transfers for the final head-to-head at stage 6 (changes vs final head-to-head stage in 2017 election re-calculation):

Conservative - 1394 (51.2%, +2.9)
SNP - 1146 (42.1%, +5.8)
Didn't Transfer - 185 (6.8%, -8.7)

A reasonably comfortable victory for the Conservatives, who were able to pick up the seat without the vote going all the way to (the mathematically irrelevant to outcome) elimination of the second placed candidate. Despite their gains in first preferences far outstripping the SNP’s, it’s the opposite way about when transfers are allocated, slightly narrowing what had been a 12% gap between the two parties in the 2017 re-calculation to around 9% this time around.

We’ve got another by-election due this week, but we’re headed south into the very heart of the Central Belt for that one. As I said above, we’re short some of the detailed data for East Garioch just yet – hopefully, the Council either publishes it or responds to my enquiry soon…

Detailed Data

Machine counts mean some really juicy data, though – perhaps because the end of the term is approaching – I’m finding councils are increasingly bad at making it available. We’ve only got the polling district level data for this one, no second preference breakdown.

As the lead party per polling district was the same as in 2017, I’ve just been lazy and reused the same graphic rather than make a new one!

Although the pattern of leads is the same as in 2017, there are some slight differences in overall distributions. The district covering Kintore had been third out of four for the Conservatives at that election, but was by far their best area this time. Newmachar was still the SNP’s best bit, but whereas there wasn’t too much in it last time, their result here massively outstripped everywhere else in the ward.

The Lib Dems meanwhile did a complete flip, with their worst district in 2017, Kintore, their best this time. Though Green support was much reduced for lack of Martin Ford’s name on the ballot, they still had their strongest support in the same Hatton of Fintray area, as did Labour.

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