Mid Galloway and Wigtown West By-Election Result

For the very first Scottish election of the decade, we were down in Dumfries and Galloway. The unfortunate passing of Conservative councillor Graham Nicol had caused a vacancy in the Mid Galloway and Wigtown West ward. Given consistently strong Conservative results in the area since their revival I didn’t think there was much chance they’d fail to win the seat, especially with no potentially popular Independents on the ballot.

Not only did they win the seat, but they did so with a truly crushing share of votes, well beyond what they needed to win on first preferences alone. First preferences in full;

  • Conservative – 2177 (61.8%, +22.3)
  • SNP – 898 (25.5%, +1.9)
  • Green – 225 (6.4%, +4.2)
  • Labour – 320 (6.3%, -0.6)
  • Note: Independents won 27.9% here, including one successfully elected

That’s a pretty comprehensive victory for the Conservatives, it must be said. The SNP did increase their share marginally, whilst the Greens had a relatively substantial increase in their vote that led them to narrowly take third place. Labour’s recent trend of poor results continues here with a small decrease despite all those Independent votes going spare. However, I was actually prepared for their share to drop by as much as half, so that pretty modest dip is what passes for comfort for the party at the moment.

The stonking Conservative figure means this is the first single-seat by-election since Ballot Box Scotland launched two years ago where the winner did so on first preferences. The Bridge of Don by-election in October also saw purely first preference victory, but that was for two seats and therefore the threshold for victory was much lower at a third plus one vote. As impressive as the result is within the context of the by-election, I’m again being the nerd that (somewhat fruitlessly) reminds you to beware large swings when popular independents aren’t on the ballot.

As Jim McColm remains a councillor and didn’t need to re-stand in the by-election, the comparison with 2017 is weakened as his votes (and the other two independents) had to go somewhere. Throw in the almost 14% decrease in turnout, and the Conservatives 22.3% swing only amounts to 51 additional votes. If McColm doesn’t stand again 2022, then this bodes well for the Conservative’s prospects of winning three of the four councillors. If he does, then expect a repeat of 2017’s 2-1-1 pattern.

On the other hand, the lack of Independents does make this more representative of the current “natural” partisan balance in the area. So whilst excitedly taking this as evidence of a huge increase in Conservative support in the area would be daft, it does pretty clearly show their existing support is genuinely huge. Voter behaviour is a lot more complex than people allow for on Twitter, basically.

Not that other councils have been any good at providing the Preference Profile Report for by-elections of late, but since this was a hand count there isn’t any further data available on preferences.