Unlikely to be at the forefront of anyone’s mind as the US Presidential election rumbles interminably on, yesterday saw only the fourth by-election anywhere in the UK (though all in Scotland) since the pandemic started. Aberdeen’s Kincorth/Nigg/Cove ward went to the polls to fill the vacancy left by the SNP’s Stephen Flynn, who was elected MP for Aberdeen South in December.
Given the strength of the SNP’s lead here in 2017 and the current political dynamics, I wasn’t even hedging my bets on this one. With an eye on the US elections, this contest was much more of a Maryland or Missouri than it was a Georgia or Florida – I had it firmly down as an obvious SNP win.
That proved absolutely spot on, with the SNP having an absolutely insurmountable lead on first preferences. In full, those were:
SNP - 1661 (47.4%, +6.7)
Conservative - 709 (20.2%, -1.3)
Labour - 429 (12.2%, -5.3)
Finlayson (Ind) - 367 (10.5%, -0.4)
Liberal Democrat - 128 (3.6%, -1.6)
McLean (Ind) - 92 (2.6%, +2.6)
Green - 58 (1.7%, +1.7)
Bellizi Houston (Ind) - 31 (0.9%, +0.9)
Iroh (Ind) - 16 (0.5%, +0.5)
Libertarian - 16 (0.5%, +0.5)
Note that in 2017, a different Independent stood and won 4.3% of the vote.
Basically, everyone who stood in this ward in 2017 lost out except the SNP, who were up substantially in percentage terms. Conservative and Lib Dem losses were relatively small, with Labour suffering the most substantial decline of just over 5%. The former Independent councillor, Andy Finlayson came off relatively unscathed with a decline of less than half a percent.
Perennial candidate Simon McLean has stood in 4 elections across 3 wards in recent years. This is his best performance of any of those, seeing him come ahead of the Greens. The other two Independents came in below 1%, with Sochima Iroh tying with the Libertarian candidate for last. Given that tie and the need to eliminate, I’m not actually sure how order of elimination was decided! Someone on Twitter said by coin toss, but no idea if that was a joke or truth.
Looking now at the transfers, and taking us up to the final stage 8 (changes vs equivalent stage in 2017):
SNP - 1785 (50.9%, +3.7)
Conservative - 834 (23.8%, -6.8)
Labour - 529 (15.1%, +15.1)
Non-Transfer - 359 (10.2%, -12.1)
The SNP’s lead here was such that, although it took a few rounds of eliminations given the small vote pools up for grabs each time, they actually nabbed the seat with both the Conservatives and Labour uneliminated. The Conservative swing versus 2017 is therefore misleadingly low, as the final head-to-head round at that election was a pure SNP-Conservative contest. Once (if) the Preference Profile for this is available, I can eliminate Labour for a pure two party preferred figure.
More interesting than that foregone conclusion is the performance of Finlayson. I’d wondered whether he might come ahead of Labour, which he didn’t quite manage. However, a gap of 62 votes on first preferences narrowed to 16 when he was eliminated. Remember that at a full election the line to cross for a seat is 20%, so the SNP have 7.4% (255 votes) going spare that would have transferred.
Again, I’ll be able to accurately reconstruct this if I get a Preference Profile, but in 2017 around 27% of the SNP vote with just those two left would have went to Finlayson versus 14% to Labour. If this by-election was similar, that’d be 69 to Finlayson versus 36 to Labour, which would flip the margin to 17 votes in Finlayson’s favour, giving him seat 4. That’s a really, really narrow margin, but it highlights that with that level of lost support, Labour are in trouble.
November is a busy by-election month for Scotland, so check back this time next week for the results of Edinburgh’s Craigentinny/Duddingston vote.
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