Inverness Central (Highland) By Election, 14/11/2019

Having already given us two by-elections last year, we’re onto the third Highland council by-election since Ballot Box Scotland started, and the fourth since the last election. Whereas the previous by-elections have been in large rural wards, this time we’ve got a city by-election in the Highlands capital. Inverness Central’s SNP councillor Richard Laird is standing down due to ill-health, having served as a councillor since 2012.

One of the council’s 21 wards and 5 that cover the city, it elects three councillors at a full election. As the name implies the ward includes the city centre and the Haugh area on one side of the river, plus South Kessock, Merkinch and the west of Dalneigh on the other. Inverness as a whole is Scotland’s fifth largest city, though there are seven towns larger than it, and the fact it doesn’t have it’s own City Council is yet another reminder how badly we do local government in Scotland. The combination of being a large urban area yet nonetheless at the heart of the rural Highlands is probably how Inverness has been an area of relative strength for all of the SNP, Lib Dems and Labour.

The SNP currently hold both parliamentary seats covering the city. A member of one of Scotland’s leading political dynasties, Fergus Ewing, has held the Scottish Parliament seat of Inverness and Nairn (and its preceding version) since the first election in 1999. Labour were the main competitors for that seat until 2016, when the Conservatives narrowly pipped them for second place. At Westminster it’s in the Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey constituency which was held by the Lib Dems from creation in 2005 until their near wipeout at the SNP’s hands in 2015.

Map of Inverness Central WardThe ward saw a slight change in boundaries for the 2017 election, losing the eastern portion of Dalneigh in the middle of the ward. As Highland Council lost a half dozen councillors in those changes, it also dropped from four to three councillors. In 2007, the councillors went one apiece to the SNP, Lib Dems and Labour plus an Independent. In 2012, the SNP gained a second councillor at the Lib Dems expense, though the former Lib Dem councillor was re-elected as an independent. In the reduction to three seats in 2017 it was back to a single seat for the SNP, with their original 2007 councillor failing to be re-elected as an independent.

The Greens’ Russell Deacon is taking another run at the ward, whilst it looks like Ardalan Eghtedar stood in neighbouring Inverness West in 2017 – assuming “Adie” is a short version of the name and not someone else. All the other candidates seem to be fresh faces. Full list of candidates;

  • Russell Deacon (Green)
  • Mary Dormer (Liberal Democrat)
  • Ardalan Eghtedar (Labour)
  • Rachael Hatfield (Conservative)
  • Richie Paxton (Independent)
  • Emma Roddick (SNP)

As ever, to get the best comparison between the original vote and a single seat by-election, we need to go beyond the surface and re-calculate a result for electing a single councillor. The top chart shows the first preferences in 2017, transfer flows are in the bottom chart. Remember that in a single seat election under STV, a candidate needs 50%+1 of the valid votes cast (a quota) to win.


Stage 7 (final head-to-head stage);

  • SNP – 1547 (45.2%)
  • Ind (Campbell) – 1184 (34.6%)
  • Didn’t Transfer – 688 (20.1%)

Somewhat awkwardly, a straight re-calculation of the 2017 result shows the independent councillor Janet Campbell overtaking Labour by just 15 votes at stage 6 to set up an SNP vs Ind finale. Since Campbell was actually elected, she obviously won’t be re-contesting the by-election and since Independents aren’t interchangeable the way party councillors (mostly) are, this isn’t brilliantly informative. So, let’s eliminate her instead of Labour…

Stage 7 (final head-to-head stage);

  • SNP – 1525 (44.6%)
  • Labour – 1158 (33.9%)
  • Didn’t Transfer – 736 (21.5%)

The main difference here is actually that pile of non-transfers inflates, but the margin between the SNP and Labour is almost identical to the SNP-Ind one. Strictly speaking, the best way to re-calculate this would be to eliminate Campbell at the start. However, that’s time consuming so I’ve made the pretty safe assumption that given Campbell only eked out a 15 vote lead over Labour and as a former Lib Dem was more transfer-friendly for Lib Dems and Conservatives than former SNP councillor Kerr, giving us that SNP vs Lab finale.

The Highlands are the best place though to remember that a 2017 re-calculation is not a by-election prediction. Given Labour’s recent difficulties and the general strength of Independents in the Highlands, I doubt they’ll be the ones for the SNP to beat this time around. If a well-known local appears on the ballot as an Independent they’ll probably be the SNP’s main challenger. In any case, given their strong lead last time and holding relatively steady since, I’d expect this to go the SNP’s way.

Call: Likely SNP