Important as it was locally, you could have been forgiven for not realising there was a by-election in Stirling’s Forth & Endrick ward last Thursday, given the other vote happening that day. This one had arisen from the very sad circumstances of SNP Councillor Graham Lambie’s passing unexpectedly in February.
STV is of course more complex than “vacating councillor was the winner in 2017”, and this was one of Stirling’s most Conservative wards. I expected they were likely to win, though I didn’t go so far as to say the SNP had no chance.
Once first preferences were counted, the Conservatives did find themselves ahead of the pack. Overall, first preferences were:
Conservative - 3195 (39.5%, -5.5)
SNP - 2636 (32.6%, +2.2)
Labour - 1172 (14.5%, +6.0)
Green - 754 (9.3%, +3.3)
Liberal Democrat - 332 (4.1%, +4.1)
Note that in the 2017 election there was an Independent candidate that won 10.1%.
There was however a substantial narrowing of the gap between the two parties, perhaps bolstered by the record turnout for the Holyrood election, and the absence of the popular Independent candidate from the last time. From 14.7% between them in 2017, the Conservative lead over the SNP was slashed to 6.9%.
Though they weren’t anywhere near contention, Labour actually had a quite positive result here, with the largest increase in vote share of any party by quite some distance. The Greens also found themselves with a sizeable bump, whilst the Lib Dems had a relatively more modest (re)-entry to the ward, below 5%.
As no candidate had an outright majority of the vote, transfer rounds were necessary. The quota to reach here was 4045 votes.
Looking now at the transfers for the final head-to-head at stage 4 (changes vs final head-to-head stage in 2017 election re-calculation):
Conservative - 3717 (46.0%, -3.7)
SNP - 3445 (42.6%, +6.2)
Didn't Transfer - 927 (11.5%, -2.6)
As I’d expected, the Conservatives were indeed the winners of this one after transfers took place – but they were run very close, with their lead over the SNP here dropping from 13.3% to just 3.4%. Depending on where transfers go and whether the gains in this by-election could be sustained without a Scottish Parliament election to boost turnout, there is the prospect that Labour could pick up one of the three seats here from the Conservatives at a full election, so keep an eye out next year.
Machine counts mean some really juicy data, starting with the breakdown of results per polling district.
Looking at the district map, the ward has taken on a striped appearance as the SNP took a narrow lead in the district covering Balmaha, adding to their leads in Buchlyvie, Balfron and Fintry. The Conservatives maintained their leading position in Gargunnock, Kippen, Strathblane, Killearn, Croftamie and Drymen, as well as the postal vote.
Of these areas, the Conservatives were strongest in Killearn, and the SNP in Buchlyvie. Labour’s best result came from the district incorporating Croftamie, the Greens’ from Gargunnock, and Lib Dems’ in Fintry.
Looking now at the second preferences, remembering we can’t read these directly from the transfers chart that came earlier, some of the usual stories here. As is common there’s a strong mutual SNP-Green preference relationship, whilst Labour and the Lib Dems were most favourable to one another. Something more rare from the Conservatives, whose voters were most preferable to Labour – often, that’s the Lib Dems.
And that’s a wrap on Forth & Endrick! There will be a few more by-elections in coming months, though expect that by the end of the year they’ll start drying up as the actual election looms, especially if Coronavirus-related powers to delay elections remain in force.
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