By-Election Preview: Mid Galloway and Wigtown West (Dumfries and Galloway) 8th of December 2022

Ward Profile

Cause of By-Election

A little accident of timing aligned the close of nominations for Dumfries and Galloway’s Mid Galloway and Wigtown West ward with the result for Moray’s Buckie ward by-election. It’s not just timing, or a straight SNP vs Conservative election dynamic, that links these two wards however – it’s the circumstances of by-election. Just as Buckie saw a Lib Dem paper candidate unexpectedly elected due to a very short ballot, that appears to be exactly what happened to Labour councillor Sandy Whitelaw here.

I say “appears” because former councillor Whitelaw has been completely silent on the matter. In what seems to be the only public acknowledgement of his having stood down, he isn’t even quoted himself – instead, it’s the local Labour group leader announcing it. Whilst I remain as sympathetic to the accidentally elected (an occasional, unfortunate, feature of using STV) as in the preview piece about Buckie, it’s really very odd for the man himself not to have said a peep.

It’s worth however noting one difference with Buckie, which is that voters in Mid Galloway and Wigtown West did at least get to choose which paper candidate was going to be accidentally elected. It was between Whitelaw and the Greens’ Kenny Campbell, with Labour’s temporary triumph coming via a 1.4% lead at the final stage.

Ward Details

Mid Galloway and Wigtown West is one of 12 wards in Dumfries and Galloway, and elects 4 councillors at a full election. The name, it has to be said, is something of a misnomer, as this actually covers the eastern end of the historic county of Wigtownshire, the true west being Stranraer and the Rhins. A more accurate name would be Mid Galloway and the Machars, the Machars being the triangular peninsula containing Wigtown itself and extending from Glenluce to Newton Stewart to my ancestral home of Isle of Whithorn. Also included are Castle Kennedy and Creetown, the latter of which was traditionally within Kirkcudbrightshire.

2017 boundary changes within Dumfries and Galloway were extensive, with the area of the current ward previously split between three. The bulk lay within Mid Galloway, covering the central component from Glentrool down through Newton Stewart to Isle of Whithorn, whilst the western chunk of the Machars and Castle Kennedy were in the (correctly named, for the time) Wigtown West ward along with most of the Rhins. It seems they just lazily slapped the names of these prior wards together without thinking. The small patch around Creetown was in the Dee ward that centred on Kirkcudbright.

For elections to the Scottish Parliament, the ward is within the Galloway and West Dumfries constituency which has been held (including on previous boundaries) by the Conservatives since 2003. For the UK Parliament it’s in Dumfries and Galloway, which has bounced wildly from Labour to the SNP in 2015, then to the Conservatives from 2017. Folk used to Scotland’s current political dynamics may be surprised to hear that on previous boundaries in both parliaments, the SNP had won the seat in the respective late 90’s (’97 and ’99) elections.

Electoral History

Given the substantial boundary changes, direct comparisons are only possible with 2017. I’ve nonetheless included the councillor splits in the previous separate Mid Galloway (MG) and Wigtown West (WW) wards for context – given Creetown is such a small component within both the current ward and the preceding Dee ward, I’ve opted to leave Dee out here.

Both major preceding wards had one apiece from the SNP and Conservatives, with the SNP leading in votes in both elections, plus a Lib Dem rounding out MG and Labour WW in 2007. In 2012 these smaller parties were displaced by Independents, albeit in WW it was the formerly-Labour councillor standing very successfully under his own banner.

For the merged ward starting in 2017, the Conservatives took two seats, leaving one to the SNP and to Independent Jim McColm, who’d been elected in 2012’s Mid Galloway. McColm opted to retire in 2022, which doesn’t seem to have been anticipated by either the Conservatives nor SNP. If it had, both may have stood an additional candidate. Since they didn’t, it was guaranteed to be either a Labour or Green final seat, with Labour narrowly winning out, much to their candidate’s apparent surprise.

For vote shares we’re only going to look at the current ward, because including its predecessors would be complete visual chaos. The Conservatives have very comfortably beaten the SNP at every election thus far, including a 2020 by-election where they achieved an astronomical 62% of the vote. They weren’t quite so strong this year, but still won a slim majority of total votes cast. The SNP’s share has grown steadily across the three elections, as has the Greens’. The latter even squeaked ahead of Labour at the by-election, though couldn’t replicate that this time around.

Councillors and Key Stats

4 Councillors, in order elected:
πŸ”΅Conservative: David Inglis
🟑SNP: Katie Hagmann
πŸ”΅Conservative: Jackie McCamon
πŸ”΄Labour: Sandy Whitelaw
Change vs 2017: +1 Labour, -1 Independent (Jim McColm retired)
Turnout: 46.4%
Electorate: 10908
Valid: 4962 (98.1%)
Spoiled: 98 (1.9%)
Quota: 1169

Candidates

🟒Green: Kenny Campbell
🟑SNP: Katie Hagmann
πŸ”΅Conservative: David Inglis
πŸ”΅Conservative: Jackie McCamon
πŸ”΄Labour: Sandy Whitelaw

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

By-Election

Candidates

It’s a pure Holyrood 5 by-election this one, with nary an Independent nor minor party candidate to spice things up. The most notable candidate would be the Lib Dems Iain McDonald, who stood in Castle Douglas and Crocketford in May, the first time the party have stood west of the Cree since 2007. Given they’d won a councillor in Mid Galloway then and held the Newton Stewart-inclusive ward in the final FPTP election, that’s perhaps been an odd absence.Β 

With the SNP, Green and Conservative candidates all being fresh faces, Labour have the only other returning candidate, John McCutcheon having contested Stranraer and the Rhins in May. Given he’d (seemingly) contested this ward (very unsuccessfully) as an Independent in 2017, and the preceding Mid Galloway ward for Labour in 2012, the party might be regretting not having stood him here in the first place rather than the rapid-to-resign Whitelaw.

🟑SNP: Ian Gibson
🟒Green: Daniel Hooper-Jones
πŸ”΅Conservative: Richard Marsh
πŸ”΄Labour: John McCutcheon
🟠Lib Dem: Iain McDonald

Analysis

Given recent trends, the Conservatives are the obvious favourites here. Their lead of 11% over the SNP in two-candidate preferred terms in May will be artificially deflated by bullet voters failing to transfer from their second candidate to the first. Add in usual by-election dynamics, and it’s hard to see how they’d lose. However, the Conservatives are still having a very bad time of it in the aftermath of months of chaos. UK-level polling is slowly recovering following Sunak becoming Prime Minister but is still weak.

It’s not impossible that a hit, either in the form of direct first preference shifts to Labour that then don’t transfer back or voters choosing to stay at home, could be enough to allow the SNP to scrape a win. Emphasis however on “not impossible” and “scrape” – it’s not a particularly likely outcome. Nonetheless it’s enough for me to mark this one down as likely rather than certainly Conservative.

Prediction

Likely Conservative.

2022 Results (Detailed Data)

Transfers (full election)
Results by Polling District
Second Preferences

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