By-Election Preview: Na Hearadh (CNES) 4th of July 2024

Ward Profile

Cause of By-Election

A little bit lost amongst all the drama of the UK general election, not least as it’s happening on the same day, is this vote for Na Hearadh ward of the Comhairle nan Eilean Siar. Independent Councillor Grant Fulton resigned the other month, citing unhappiness about the way the council was being run. When the Comhairle issued their Notice of Election on the 20th of May, just like the rest of us they were blissfully unaware that Rishi Sunak would steal their thunder and soak himself to the skin announcing a General Election later that week!

As is often the case when Ballot Box Scotland writes about the islands, this is a lot less detailed than usual, just due to the almost non-existence of party politics locally.

Ward Details

Na Hearadh is one of 11 wards in Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, and elects just 2 councillors at a full election. The ward covers Harris plus some minor outlying islands, of which only Scalpay is inhabited as far as I can make out. Harris is something of an oddity, in that most people have probably heard the phrase “Isle of Harris”, but if you look at it on a map you’ll see it’s very much attached to Lewis. Collectively, the two make up Lewis and Harris which is the third largest island in our little archipelago, after Great Britain and Ireland.

Previously, that geographic link was also reflected in the ward, as Harris was joined with parts of south Lewis in the Na Hearadh agus Ceann a Deas Nan Loch ward. Following the changes to ward sizing enabled by the Islands Act, Harris was able to be split off into its own two-seater ward. The ward is part of the Na h-Eileanan an Iar constituency in both the Scottish and UK Parliaments, with the SNP holding the seats since 2007 and 2005, respectively.

Electoral History

Since this consists of around about two-thirds of the previous Na Hearadh agus Ceann a Deas Nan Loch, I’m drawing comparisons with that ward, but do bear in mind that’s quite a significant change in size. At the first outing for STV in 2007 the ward split between two Independents, Morag Munro and Catherine Macdonald, leaving the final seat to the SNP’s Philip MacLean. Munro didn’t re-stand in 2012, leaving Macdonald the only Independent on the ballot, which paved the way for a Labour councillor, D.J. MacRae.

In 2017, although some of Labour’s CNES councillors re-stood, they did so purely as Independents. Neither MacRae nor constant Independent Macdonald got back in, replaced by new Independents Finlay Cunningham and Paul Finnegan, and with new SNP councillor John Mitchell, it was all change for the ward. Cunningham stood down mid-term and was replaced by Fulton. After the transition to the two-member Na Hearadh ward in 2022, all three sitting councillors re-stood, but it was the SNP who were left out in the cold.

The problem with having lots of different Independent councillors and candidates is that the above chart is pretty much meaningless. For example, Macdonald’s vote appears to surge massively in 2012, before plunging in 2017. Yet all that really shows is the difference between being the sole Independent, versus one of two, versus one of many, albeit failing to be elected from the many after 10 years in the job may be reflective. 

Councillors and Key Stats

2 Councillors, in order elected:
Independent: Grant Fulton
Independent: Paul Finnegan
Change vs 2017: New boundaries
Electorate: 1553
Turnout: 49.0%
Valid: 739 (97.1%)
Spoiled: 22 (2.9%)
Quota: 247


Independent: Paul Finnegan
Independent: Grant Fulton
🟡SNP: John Mitchell

First Preferences
Two-Candidate Preferred



Just two candidates on the ballot here, effectively making this a first past the post election. In a real oddity, it’s an Independent (normal for Comhairle nan Eilean Siar) and the Family Party (not uncommon to see on a ballot, but usually not as the sole party option!).

Independent: Kenny MacLeod
🟣Family: Steve Welsh


I expect the Independent to win? That’s kind of it, sorry. With Islands councils, I pretty much always have to put my hand up and say that the largely non-partisan nature of their politics means there is no point whatsoever in me pretending to be able to meaningfully predict an outcome. It’s not impossible the Family candidate wins if he’s a weel-kent name locally, but that’d be on the strength of his own name rather than the party name. However, if he wanted to be elected on his own name, given the council, you have to assume he’d have stood as such.


Independent Win.

2022 Results (Detailed Data)

Transfers (full election)
Results by Polling District

Due to the small size of the ward and its polling districts, no districts exceeded the 200 votes necessary to be recorded individually. As such, this chart simply shows the separate totals for in person and postal votes.

Second Preferences

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