Inverkeithing and Dalgety Bay (Fife) By-Election 06/09/18

After a few months of quiet the followed that little flurry of by-elections at the start of the year, we’re back to business with Inverkeithing and Dalgety Bay. Labour councillor Lesley Laird was re-elected in May last year, and followed that up with being elected as MP for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath at the snap general election a month later. Some eyebrows had been raised at the fact Laird hadn’t resigned her council seat directly afterwards, and then taking on additional responsibility as Deputy Leader of Scottish Labour. Clearly, the prospect of serving a whole five year term trying to balance these roles became untenable as she finally did so in June.

Inverkeithing and Dalgety Bay is one of 22 wards in Fife, normally electing 4 councillors. It sits on Fife’s southern coast, and also takes in North Queensferry and Aberdour to either side of the two towns in the name. At Westminster, only the Dalgety Bay and Aberdour end is covered by the Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath constituency Laird now represents – the other end is in Dunfermline and West Fife, which is represented by the SNP. For the Scottish Parliament the whole ward is within the Cowdenbeath constituency, also held by the SNP. This gives the area quite a mixed electoral history, with Labour, SNP and even (for the Dunfermline end) Lib Dem parliamentarians over the past couple of decades.

North Queensferry was added to the ward for the new boundaries in 2017, previously having been part of Rosyth ward. In 2007, both wards elected Lib Dems, with Labour, the SNP and Conservatives each winning a seat in Inverkeithing and Dalgety Bay. In their post-coalition collapse, the Lib Dems crashed out in 2012, with Labour taking a second seat in the ward, as well as electing Lesley Laird for the first time. Last year, it was the SNP coming out with two seats, though the Conservatives saw a huge upswing in their vote that could potentially have seen them elect two councillors had they stood a second candidate. Labour clearly anticipated they’d suffer a large loss of votes, as this time Laird was their only candidate.

As such for the by-election there are no narrowly beaten returning candidates within the ward – only the Lib Dem candidate Callum Hawthorne stood here last year. However, a few of the other candidates contested surrounding wards. The SNP’s Neale Hanvey was unseated in Dunfermline Central, Labour’s Billy Pollock lost his seat in Dunfermline South, whilst Mags Hall stood for the Greens in Dunfermline North – quite a neat spread. Independent Alastair Macintyre was on the ballot for Rosyth, and even the Scottish Libertarian candidate Calum Paul is an auld face, having stood for Kirkcaldy Central. Only the Conservative and another Independent are completely fresh faces;

  • Dave Coleman (Conservative)
  • Peter Collins (Independent)
  • Mags Hall (Green)
  • Neale Hanvey (SNP)
  • Callum Hawthorne (Liberal Democrats)
  • Alastair Macintyre (Independent)
  • Calum Paul (Scottish Libertarian)
  • Billy Pollock (Labour)

As ever, to get the best comparison between the original vote and the by-election, we need to go beyond the surface and re-calculate a result for electing a single councillor. 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.

As a general note, the headline figures perhaps indicate why Labour seemed reluctant to call a by-election for the ward, coming a very distant third last year. Although the Conservatives came out on top, they weren’t miles ahead of the SNP, so this count was basically a game of finding out whether the SNP could pick up enough later preferences to overtake. They didn’t even come close, trailing the Tories by over a thousand votes when it came down to the two of them. The Conservatives may also benefit from slight outsider status, as Fife is an SNP-Labour administration. If those two start knocking lumps out of each other on the campaign trail, it risks looking either insincere or incompetent.

I’d therefore be inclined to suggest this is a Tory-SNP race in favour of the blues, with Labour not really in the running. I’d be surprised if they didn’t show a bit of recovery however, what with a large chunk of the ward being in one of the few Scottish constituencies they were able to win at Westminster.