North East (Dundee) By-Election, 02/05/19

For the second city council by-election of the year, we’re heading slightly north to the City of Discovery. Unfortunately, this one has been prompted by the sad death of North East ward’s Labour councillor, Brian Gordon. Gordon had represented the ward since 2007, and his passing has led to what is likely to be simultaneously the most impactful yet boring by-election of this council term.

North East is one of Dundee’s eight wards, and elects 3 councillors at a full election. The ward covers a number of communities at the city’s border with Angus (from west to east); Claverhouse, Mill o’ Mains, Fintry, Whitfield and Balumbie. With the exception of relatively affluent Claverhouse, these areas have a historically working class character, as demonstrated by consistently low support for the Conservatives. Dundee as a whole has typically been one of the main SNP-Labour battlegrounds, with the SNP dominant in the city since 2007.

For the UK Parliament, North East is entirely within the Dundee East constituency, which has been held by the SNP since 2005. At Holyrood, Forfar Road acts as a dividing line, with Claverhouse and Mill o’ Mains being within Dundee City West, and the remainder of the ward within Dundee City East. Both have been held by the SNP for the majority of the Scottish Parliament’s existence.

The ward’s boundaries have remained unchanged since it was created in 2007, though the Boundary Commission had recommended expanding the ward to include the Pitkerro area. However, changes to Dundee wards were not accepted by the Scottish Government following objections from residents of the Broughty Ferry area of the city, which was going to be split under those proposals. Every election to the ward has returned two SNP and one Labour councillor. Each time the SNP have won more than 50% of the vote, and Gordon was elected easily on first preferences.

Steven Rome was one of only two Dundee SNP candidates not to be elected in 2017 when he stood in the West End ward, but he’s almost certain to get in this time. Labour’s Jim Malone is a new face but is highly unlikely to be able to hold the seat for his party. The Greens’ Alison Orr is making a return to the ballot, as is TUSC’s Michael Taylor under the “Scottish Anti-Cuts Coalition” banner.

Robert Lindsay from the Conservatives is likewise a returning name, but from neighbouring Strathmartine ward. Rounding out the ballot is a mysterious candidate for “Citizens First”, who appears to be a rather peculiar mix of “pensioner’s interests” and “climate change is man-made but comes from our sins against god”, so that’s fun. Notable by their absence are the Lib Dems – though this was their weakest ward in the city in 2017, there were 3 wards they stood 2 candidates in despite very low support in 2017, so it’s difficult to imagine they simply couldn’t find even a paper candidate. Full list;

  • Roger Keech (Citizens First)
  • Robert Lindsay (Conservative)
  • Jim Malone (Labour)
  • Alison Orr (Green)
  • Steven Rome (SNP)
  • Michael Taylor (Scottish Anti-Cuts Coalition)

As ever, to get the best comparison between the original vote and the by-election, we need to go beyond the surface and re-calculate a result for electing a single councillor. The top half of the chart shows the first preferences in 2017, as well as the party of the successfully elected councillors. Transfer flows are on the bottom half. Remember that in a single seat election under STV, a candidate needs 50%+1 of the valid votes cast (a quota) to win.

Round 7 (final head-to-head stage);

  • SNP – 2132 (55.7%)
  • Labour – 1344 (35.1%)
  • Didn’t Transfer – 350 (9.1%)

Obviously, given the SNP have always won more than half of the votes in this ward, they’d have won an election for a single councillor here easily – I just did the usual chart for completeness. At present, the SNP have 14 of 29 seats on Dundee City Council, and govern with the support of an Independent councillor. If as expected they do waltz to an easy win here, they’ll have a majority in their own right. That’d make Dundee the only council in Scotland to have a single-party majority administration.

Labour may be hoping to defend the seat, prevent the SNP from having a clean-sweep of ward councillors, and block that majority, but it’d take quite the upset for them to win. That’s why I said earlier that it’s likely to be impactful but boring.

Call: SNP win.