By-Election Preview: Linn (Glasgow) 17th of November 2022

Ward Profile

Cause of By-Election

For the second election in a row, Glasgow has tragically had to call a by-election very shortly afterwards following the death of a Labour councillor. This year, it was Linn representative Malcolm Cunning who sadly passed. Cunning was one of Glasgow Labour’s most prominent figures, having led the group into May’s election, which alongside 65 being no age at all to die these days made this a particular shock to local politics. He’d represented the Linn ward since 2012, and previously served a spell as councillor for the old single-member Strathbungo ward in 2003.

Ward Details

Linn is one of 23 wards in Glasgow, and elects 4 councillors at a full election. It hasn’t had any boundary changes since it was created, and draws its name from a local park – itself named for the geological feature. It includes the Cathcart, Castlemilk and Croftfoot areas of Glasgow, as well as an oddity in the village of Carmunnock. Although Carmunnock is within Glasgow City Council boundaries, there’s enough separation between it and the rest of the urban area that it is still statistically considered distinct from the rest of the city.

For elections to the Scottish Parliament, the ward is entirely within the Glasgow Cathcart constituency. This has been held by the SNP since their landslide in 2011, and previously by Labour. At Westminster it’s within Glasgow South, which similarly flipped from Labour to the SNP in 2015. As a notable electoral titbit, the historic Glasgow Cathcart seat at Westminster was the second last seat the Conservatives held within the city, losing it in 1979.

Electoral History

At the first STV election Labour easily won two seats in the ward, although they’d ambitiously pitched for three. That didn’t work out in this ward due to the strength of the Lib Dems, who joined the SNP in taking a single seat. The same pattern held in 2012, though with a new SNP councillor and Cunning taking over from a departing colleague. This left Linn as the only ward in the city with a Lib Dem councillor.

Margot Clark couldn’t resist her party’s declining fortunes forever however, and lost her seat in 2017, ending decades of Liberal representation in Glasgow. Labour too dropped a seat, with a newcomer failing to replace retiring Lord Provost Sadie Docherty. In their place came a Conservative and second SNP councillor. This year it was the Conservatives’ turn for a dramatic reversal in Glasgow, allowing Labour to equalise with the SNP on two apiece – the latter with a new councillor to replace one who had left the party in 2019.

If we look at vote shares instead, we can see the SNP have never come close to the dominance Labour had prior to their decline. Whereas Labour had in excess of two quotas in the first two STV elections, the SNP have been short their second and reliant on transfers for the two elections they’ve been in front. In 2017 Labour appear to have lost a large chunk of their vote to both the SNP and Conservatives, before recovering much of the latter this year to put them within touching distance of the SNP.

It’s also easy to see how the Lib Dems managed to cling on in 2012, only losing just over 1% of the vote even when they were losing as much as 12% in the other wards they had councillors in. Since then though they’ve declined far below the level they’d need even to squeak in via transfers. From my recollection of the 2017 campaign, it seems like they took for granted they’d hold this seat and poured all of their effort into the new Partick East/Kelvindale ward. Instead, they failed to win either, and have completely withered away in both since. This is the only ward in the city they still beat the Greens, who without campaigning weren’t very far behind.

Although I’ve not broken them out in this chart, in both 2017 and 2022 Castlemilk-based community Independent candidates ran strong campaigns and won strong shares for Independents by Glasgow standards. In 2017 it was Cathy Milligan who won 8.5% of the vote, then James Toner won 9.4% this year. You can see Toner’s relative strength in the Castlemilk districts in one of the charts below. Given distributions of support within the ward and what we know about voting patterns of different demographics, that may be part of why the SNP have had lower shares than elsewhere.

Councillors and Key Stats

4 Councillors, in order elected:
🔴Labour: Malcolm Cunning
🟡SNP: Paul McCabe
🟡SNP: Margaret Morgan
🔴Labour: Catherine Vallis
Change vs 2017: +1 Labour, -1 Conservative
Turnout: 41.2%
Electorate: 22308
: 8994 (97.8%)
Spoiled: 200 (2.2%)
Quota: 1799


🔵Conservative: Euan Blockley
🔴Labour: Malcolm Cunning
Alba: Angela Jones
🟡SNP: Paul McCabe
🟠Lib Dem: Joe McCauley
🟡SNP: Margaret Morgan
Independent: James Toner
🔴Labour: Catherine Vallis
🟢Green: Keith Warwick

First Preferences
Transfers (single winner recalculation)
Two-Candidate Preferred



As is often the case with big city by-elections, there’s a very full ballot for this one, with Alba and three other minor parties joining the Holyrood 5. Lots of returning candidates too, most notably Lib Dem Joe McCauley taking another run at the ward. The other returnees have almost all crossed the river relative to May’s ballot – Labour (Anderston, City and Yorkhill), Freedom Alliance (Partick East and Kelvindale) and Conservative (Drumchapel and Anniesland). Only the UKIP candidate contested a southside ward, in Greater Pollok. That leaves the Greens, Alba, SNP and SSP as the parties with fresh faces.

🟢Green: Jen Bell
🔴Labour: John Carson
Alba: Kirsty Fraser
🟤UKIP: Christopher Ho
🟡SNP: Chris Lang-Tait
🟤SSP: George MacDougall
🟠Lib Dem: Joe McCauley
🟤Freedom Alliance: Di McMillan
🔵Conservative: Pauline Sutherland


From the pattern of first preferences alone you might have been able to guess this would be the outcome, but for a single seat election Cunning would have ended up winning for Labour by 44.3% to the SNP’s 40.2%. Although that’s an easily reversible lead, my instinct is that Labour have the edge in this by-election.

For one thing, they generally benefit from by-election dynamics in Scotland anyway, tending to do better amongst higher than with lower turnout groups. If you look at the difference between postal and in-person votes in the polling districts chart below, you can see that effect in play. Since higher turnout groups are more likely to come back out at by-election time, that could add a bit to Labour’s advantage over the SNP.

Secondly, Labour have made a substantial recovery at the Conservatives’ expense in recent polls. Even if they don’t eat directly into the SNP vote, that alone could add a percentage point or two to their tally. Although we’d expect Conservative voters to transfer Labour in Glasgow anyway, we also now know lots of voters are just not great at using transfers. A direct move from a Conservative to Labour first preference helps minimise transfer losses from bullet-voters. 

Having noted earlier that this was the last ward with a Lib Dem advantage over the Greens, a little side-drama worth watching will be to see if that remains the case at the by-election. Even in their weaker Glasgow wards, the Greens do tend to pop up with a bit of campaigning in off-season by-elections. It’ll make no difference to the overall result if that does put them ahead of the Lib Dems, but it would continue the story of Liberal decline in Scotland’s largest city.


Lean Labour.

2022 Results (Detailed Data)

Transfers (full election)
Results by Polling District
Second Preferences

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