Livingston South (West Lothian) By-Election Result


We had three by-elections taking place across Scotland on the 11th, in wildly varying political arenas. The third and final set of results we’re looking at are from West Lothian’s Livingston South followed the resignation of SNP councillor Peter Johnston. He’d served an impressive 35 years on the Council.

Although the SNP led in first preferences in this ward in 2017, there was some classic STV action as Labour emerged as the winners for a single seat per the usual recalculation. Effectively, there was a small enough gap between the two parties that later transfers from the Conservatives pushed Labour over the line. Given the mix of the small margin, polling, and typical by-election dynamics, I thought this was a tossup between the SNP and Labour.

First Preferences

In fact it wasn’t nearly so close as that this time, with a relatively slim initial lead for the SNP in 2017 widening into a yawning chasm for the by-election. First preferences in full were (changes versus 2017 election):

SNP - 2465 (43.9%, +3.0)
Labour - 1382 (24.6%, -10.9)
Conservative - 989 (17.6%, -1.8)
Independent - 332 (5.9%, +5.9)
Green - 234 (4.2%, +1.7)
Liberal Democrat - 185 (3.3%, +1.5)
UKIP - 29 (0.5%, +0.5)

At the 2017 election, there was a bit over 5% separating the two lead parties, and not far off 20% this time around. We’ll see the exact transfers shortly, but my experience is that is a lead that it’s simply impossible to close via transfers.

Bearing in mind the Independent candidate had been selected for the Conservatives for the previous November date, it’s perhaps surprising his former party weren’t worse off here. When compared to a crashing Labour vote, their losses look much more moderate.

Though West Lothian isn’t exactly an area of strength for them overall, it’s also worth noting that both the Greens and Lib Dems did benefit from bumps to their vote, in terms of both share and raw votes.


As no candidate had an outright majority of the vote, transfer rounds were necessary. The quota to reach here was 2809 votes.

Looking at the transfers for the final head-to-head at stage 6 (changes vs final head-to-head stage in 2017 election re-calculation):

SNP - 2763 (49.2%, +9.4)
Labour - 2098 (37.4%, -9.3)
Didn't Transfer - 755 (13.4%, -0.1)

See what I mean about that gap simply being too wide for transfers to close? It does narrow substantially from the 19.3% to 11.8% over the process, but that’s still beyond typical realms of marginality. It also gives the SNP a larger lead than Labour had in 2017, though that shouldn’t be a surprise given the first preference gap.

It’s always unwise to pin national theories onto individual by-elections, but when we combine this with the previous week’s North Lanarkshire results, a picture of the SNP gaining ground at Labour’s expense begins to materialise. With two Glasgow by-elections due this week, we’ll have further info for whether this theory holds any water.

Detailed Data

Machine counts mean some really juicy data, starting with the breakdown of results per polling district.

Whereas the A71 neatly split the ward into an SNP leaning north and Labour south in 2017, that big dip in the Labour vote meant only the district covering Murieston retained its red tint. That was naturally their best performing district, as it was the for the Conservatives.

The SNP tipped Bellsquarry in their direction, though their strongest area remained Ladywell where they again won over two thirds of the vote. Conservative-turned-Independent candidate Millar meanwhile did best in Dedridge, the Greens in Williamston (not named on map), and the Lib Dems in Bellsquarry.

Moving over to second preferences and no prizes for guessing there’s that usual strong mutual SNP-Green transfer relationship. Labour and the Conservatives likewise most preferred one another.

Despite having previously been selected as Conservative candidate, Millar’s voters most preferred Labour, and only narrowly ahead of the SNP. Finally, the Lib Dems were most likely to go Green with their second preference, though Labour weren’t far behind.

That brings us to the end of the data for the 11th of March by-elections – next week has a whopping four by-elections, the busiest day both this month and since BBS launched.

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