It was an absolute corker in Edinburgh’s Leith Walk ward for the first City council by-election since Ballot Box Scotland launched. Although it was prompted by a Labour resignation, the SNP had a clear lead in the ward in 2017 which I reckoned stood them in good stead for winning the by-election. I did however note that it was potentially a three-cornered contest, with transfers capable of tilting it to either Labour or, much less likely, the Greens.
As it turned out, we did get that flash of relative excitement to see the Greens going head-to-head with the SNP for the seat. You can count on one hand the number of wards where Greens are currently top-two placers, making this a rare occurrence. With a jam-packed ballot of 11 candidates, this went all the way to the wire. First preferences in full;
- SNP – 2596 (35.7%, +1.3)
- Green – 1859 (25.5%, +5.8)
- Labour – 1123 (15.5%, -7.0)
- Conservative – 777 (10.7%, -3.7)
- Lib Dem – 623 (8.6%, +4.8)
- Independent (Illingworth) – 110 (1.5%, +1.5)
- UKIP – 85 (1.2%, +1.2)
- Socialist Labour – 56 (0.8%, +0.2)
- Independent (Scott) – 16 (0.2%, +0.2)
- For Britain Movement – 14 (0.2%, +0.2)
- Scottish Libertarian – 12 (0.2%, +0.2)
Labour’s vote share plummeted substantially, taking them miles out of contention for the seat. The Conservatives also saw a substantial slide in votes – that’s notable as they have recorded increases in their vote share in every by-election since the start of 2018 until now, with the sole exception of Selkirkshire. Counterbalancing that were big gains for the Greens and Lib Dems, alongside a smaller increase for the SNP, plus the various minor contenders. It’s also quite pleasing to see the people of Leith Walk have zero time for the fascists of For Britain, giving them a paltry 14 votes.
The SNP managed to maintain their lead throughout to eventually win the seat, but they were run pretty close. Comparing the final head-to-head round at stage 10;
- SNP – 3021 (41.6%, -3.0)
- Green – 2765 (38.0%, +38.0)
- Didn’t Transfer – 1481 (20.4%, +2.1)
Not only did the Greens run the SNP close (only 256 votes, or 3.6%, in it), but they had a narrower gap than Labour did in the equivalent recount for 2017, which was 7.6%. The Greens first ever by-election win continues to elude them, but they’ll no doubt be pleased with such a strong performance. A less commented upon aspect of this by-election has been to return the SNP to joint-largest party status with the Conservatives. Although the SNP had a single-seat lead in 2017, defections had eroded that to leave the Conservatives as the largest party – a status they’d made a bit of noise about when it first happened.
Since this was another machine count, there’s the full set of data available for this by-election that you don’t get with a hand count. The most interesting thing to look at here would be where each party’s second preferences went, which isn’t fully captured in the normal process of counting and elimination. I’m only looking at the Holyrood 5 and UKIP here, as there are so few votes for the others and a chart of 11 candidates would be pretty hard to read.
Compared to Clackmannanshire Central a couple of weeks ago, there was much better use of later preferences here. Where everyone but the Greens and Lib Dems were over 40% only preferences there, here everyone is below 30%. The SNP-Green reciprocal second preferences were extremely strong, and the Greens were also the most favoured transfer destination for Labour and the Lib Dems. Conservatives favoured the Lib Dems, whilst hidden in UKIP’s transfers to “Others” is the not entirely surprising fact that their most preferred next party were For Britain.
Fortunately For Britain were highly unpopular with everyone else, and of the parties broken down here, UKIP were also pretty heavily reviled by the voters of every major party except the Conservatives, who as ever reserved their deepest distaste for the SNP.