I’ve been working away feverishly over the weekend and with my week off my day job to collate as much data as possible from last week’s election. For followers of BBS on Twitter, you’ll likely have seen me running through first preferences and seats for every council. Those are now all available on dedicated pages, centrally linked to here.
Before moving onto phase two of results collation, which is the really detailed stuff on transfers and much more, it makes sense to take a moment to reflect some more on the national picture. It’s all well and good seeing vote and councillor numbers, but what is each party’s spread like? What areas are they well embedded, and where are they largely absent? Where are they well-supported, and where are voters more wary?
Today, let’s take a look at the wards and councils side of the equation, and tomorrow I’ll pull together the data on vote shares across the country.
No change for the SNP in terms of net wards represented, though as boundary changes had increased the number of wards by one, it’s strictly a very small decrease in proportion. That’s their own fault really, as we can pretty safely assume they’d have gotten a Caol & Mallaig councillor elected had they stood a candidate, though the two Borders wards they failed to contest would have been much less likely anyway.
Still, 93% of wards are represented by at least one SNP councillor. Most of the absences are in the islands (including Arran, an island component of a mainland council), with only Morningside (Edinburgh), Lower Deeside (Aberdeen) and Annandale East & Eskdale (Dumfries & Galloway) on the mainland declining to elect their SNP candidate. They did however fill their gaps in Colinton & Fairmilehead (Edinburgh), Bearsden North (East Dunbartonshire) and North Berwick Coastal (East Lothian).
Naturally, that means the SNP are represented on almost every single council, as they have been since the advent of STV. The only gap is Orkney, which is also the only council they didn’t contest at all. That’s the same as 2017, which is as you’d expect for the dominant party.
Though Labour will rightly be happy they recovered somewhat at this election, a net gain of 12 wards still has them with less presence than in 2007. This is all made up of relatively minor changes, with net increases of 2 in Aberdeen, East Dunbartonshire, Moray and Stirling, and 1 in Angus, Argyll & Bute, East Renfrewshire, Edinburgh, Falkirk, Inverclyde, Perth & Kinross, Shetland, and South Lanarkshire.
It wasn’t a universal picture of growth however. They also suffered a small number of setbacks, with net losses of a single ward in all of Aberdeenshire, Dumfries & Galloway, Fife and North Ayrshire.
Looking at it in terms of councils with a Labour presence however, and it looks just as healthy as at their 2012 peak. They are now present in Angus, Argyll & Bute and Shetland, though they lost their representation in Aberdeenshire. That joins the Borders as one of only two councils they contested but didn’t win seats in. For Borders in particular, they had a good share that proportionally should have led to a seat, but fell foul of STV’s small wards. As at the last election, Orkney and Na h-Eileanan an Iar went without Labour candidates.
The Conservatives may take some comfort in the fact Thursday’s results were still their second best of the STV era, but that’ll be cold comfort to the many councillors who lost out. That led to a sharp drop in the number of wards with a Conservative councillor, falling by 15% from over two-thirds to only just over half.
Unlike for Labour there are just too many losses and in too many sizes to easily list in full, but their sharpest decline came from Fife where they were ejected from 7 wards, from Edinburgh, Glasgow, and South Lanarkshire where they lost 6, and North Lanarkshire where it was 5. You can see most of these in the above map as the huge patch of pale blue running across the Central Belt.
Against national trend however, they made a net gain of a single ward in Argyll & Bute, and two in North Ayrshire. The latter was part of what helped them to surprisingly overtake Labour for second place there – boundary changes will have helped that too, giving the Conservatives an in for areas they hadn’t won previously, plus taking the sole seat on Arran.
As I’d predicted before the election, that didn’t mean going back to pre-revival numbers on terms of councils they were represented on. Only West Dunbartonshire experienced a Conservative wipeout, though they were extremely close to the same happening in Glasgow. Their group leader only held his seat in Shettleston by 41 votes over the SNP at the final decisive round, and their only other Glasgow councillor in neighbouring Baillieston was 126 votes away from defeat.
A good election for the Lib Dems, evidenced here by them breaking comfortably back across the 20% marker for the proportion of wards they are present in. A lot of those new wards are in their historic strongholds, with net increases of 5 in Highland, 3 in Edinburgh, and 2 in Fife. They were also up 2 in South Lanarkshire, not exactly a stronghold, but up only 1 in the Borders which they used to control, showing a lack of major recovery there. Other net gains of one ward were in Aberdeen, Dundee, Moray and West Lothian.
They’ve still got a long way to go before they were anywhere near their 2007 tally though, and they also made a net loss of one ward in Inverclyde and down 2 in Angus. The Inverclyde and one of the Angus losses were expected, as the former was a retiring incumbent with personal vote and the latter was a fluke due to Conservative under-nomination, but the other Angus councillor was a more worrying loss for the party.
None of those ward gains made any difference to the total number of councils the Lib Dems were represented on, with departures from Angus and Inverclyde balanced out by entering Moray and West Lothian. Given the Lib Dems only won that Moray councillor due to the ward being uncontested, they’ve only narrowly avoided going backwards by this measure, despite an otherwise good result, illustrating the degree to which it was rooted in some of their strongest areas, rather than being a national picture of progress.
Relative to expectations, it was an extremely good day for the Greens. I’d said pre-election that given STV is more difficult for them than AMS that 25 seats would be a good result, and they’ve instead ended up with a presence in 35 wards, just shy of 10% of the total. As is so often the case, some of those were very narrow, but they also narrowly missed out on other wards. So far, the closest contest I’ve seen for any candidate from any party in the country is the Green in Oban South and the Isles missing out by 0.3 (zero-point-three!) votes.
They made their biggest net gains of 3 wards in both Glasgow and Highland, despite actually losing the one ward they’d won in the latter in 2017. Edinburgh saw a net gain of 2 wards, failing to hold a ward with a new candidate, and Orkney was a net gain of 1, despite failing to hold a retiring councillor’s ward. That means of their 2017 councils only Stirling, where they missed a second seat by about 50 votes, and Aberdeenshire, where a councillor with a personal vote was retiring and they didn’t elect a replacement, didn’t improve on 2017. There are a lot of councils with a gain of one seat too, but it makes sense to talk about them below.
The breakthrough nature of this election for the Greens is very clear from this chart. They are now present on over twice as many councils as they were in 2017, and when accounting for dropping out of Aberdeenshire, a whopping 8 councils now have their first elected Green. Amongst the possibilities I’d identified in the Wards Worth Watching series came to pass in Argyll & Bute, Clackmannanshire, Moray and Shetland. They also picked up a seat in South Lanarkshire I had down as more likely to be won in 2027, and more unforeseen gains in North Lanarkshire, East Lothian and the Borders. Those last two were especially fascinating, with huge increases in vote share putting other wards in strong positions to be taken in future.
However, the party failed to make a breakthrough in Aberdeen, where I’d ranked George Street & Harbour as one of their top three best prospects at entering a new council. Dundee was a tougher prospect for them and I reckoned they were less likely to get in there, but did get 10% in about three wards, so may be well positioned for 2027 in both cities.
And that’s about it for this piece! As with a number of these entries, I’m glossing over Independents. Not because they aren’t important, but simply because they tell us less about the overall state of politics in Scotland, and given how much work I’m doing at the moment I’m prioritising the information I think is most useful to the most people. If you’re finding my work helpful, interesting, useful, or some other positive adjective, please do consider donating via the link below – but only if you can afford to do so!
If you find this or other Ballot Box Scotland output useful and/or interesting, and you can afford to do so, please consider donating to support my work. I love doing this, but it’s a one-man project and takes a lot of time and effort. All donations, no matter how small, are greatly appreciated and extremely helpful.