CANCELLED! By-Election Preview: Paisley Southeast (Renfrewshire) 14th of December 2021

If you feel a bit stumped by any of the information here, or wonder how it’s possible to get this level of depth, you can check this little guide to how I preview By-Elections.

THIS BY-ELECTION HAS BEEN CANCELLED!

In a truly incredible turn of events, yet nonetheless fitting for the absolute chaos that has been this entire saga, this by-election was pulled with less than three weeks to go. As it turned out, the disqualified councillor in question still had avenues of appeal open. Having taken one of those avenues, the by-election could no longer go ahead, as his disqualification was not yet final. It’s hard to find any word other than “farce” to describe this situation, but it does lighten my load at exactly the time of year where we all want less work to do.

Ward Profile

Following the “final by-election of the term” last month in Falkirk South, further by-elections are continuing to pile up. Paisley Southeast comes at the end of a very long saga, at the centre of which is Independent and now former councillor, Paul Mack. He’d served as a councillor since 2012, as well as a previous stint for Labour between 1995 to 1999 in the descriptively named “Renfrewshire 13” ward, failing to be re-elected at the intervening elections.

Unlike most vacancies, this hasn’t arisen due to resignation or the untimely passing of a councillor. Instead, Mack has become the third councillor to be disqualified this year. Whereas the two in Glasgow arose from councillors failing to attend Council meetings for six months, Mack has been very specifically and deliberately disqualified for a campaign of harassment directed at his colleagues. Mack was initially handed a disqualification for this by the Standards Commission beginning in October 2020.

He lodged an appeal on the basis of having been unable to attend the hearing due to COVID-19 self-isolation. The appeal was successful, but he was then simply handed another disqualification through a second process which he did get to attend, and this time the appeal failed. Thus, finally, a very hurried and rare Tuesday by-election – I’d basically expected it to drag on so long a vote never happened. He will also be unable to contest May’s full election, as I understand it, as he will still be disqualified from serving as a councillor at that point.

All that drama aside, Paisley Southeast is one of Renfrewshire’s 12 wards, of which 6 cover Paisley itself, and elects 3 councillors at a full election. It covers some or all of the Charleston, Thornly Park, Potterhill and Glenburn areas of the town.

For the Scottish Parliament, the ward lies within the Paisley constituency, which has been represented by the SNP since it was drawn in 2011. Prior to that the area had been within Paisley South, which had been Labour held. At Westminster it’s part of Paisley and Renfrewshire South, a similarly historically Labour seat that provided one of 2015’s biggest upsets, when the SNP’s Mhairi Black defeated former Cabinet Secretary Douglas Alexander to become the youngest MP elected in the democratic era.

Boundaries and Recent Election History

Prior to 2017, this ward had been known as Paisley South, and also included the Dykebar and Hunterhill areas of the town. It had elected 4 councillors in that form, before being cut down to 3 when redrawn to the current smaller Paisley Southeast.

At the first STV election in 2007, although Labour proved the most popular party overall, they only elected one councillor, behind the SNP’s two. The final seat was taken by a Lib Dem, though she joined the SNP late in the term. Mack won just 5.5% at this election.

In 2012, Labour benefitted from the Lib Dem collapse and gained a councillor, whilst the SNP dropped to a single seat, won by their erstwhile Lib Dem councillor. Mack doubled his vote this time to 11%, and was elected, effectively taking the second SNP seat.

As in so much of the Central Belt, 2017 saw the sweeping political changes across Scotland catch up with Labour at local level, as the SNP topped the poll in the new boundaries. With just three seats up for grabs however both parties picked up a single seat, whilst Mack held the third and final seat, having grown his share once again. The Conservatives roughly doubled their vote versus 2012 here, but transfers weren’t favourable enough for them to remain ahead of Mack.

Detailed 2017 Data

Breaking 2017 down into individual polling districts, the SNP held the clear lead in all of them, proving particularly strong in the district around Glenburn. Labour did squeak a narrow lead in the postal vote, with their best result otherwise coming from the western Charleston area. That was also Mack’s strongest portion. The Conservatives polled best in Thornly Park, whilst the Greens had their highest share in Potterhill. The Lib Dems meanwhile followed the SNP in doing best around Glenburn.

Turning to the second preferences from each party, we see some of the usual patterns here. The SNP and Greens were, as they so often are, each other’s preferred next preference, whilst the very small clutch of SSP voters also heavily favoured the SNP. Mack’s voters likewise were most likely to mark an SNP second preference, albeit the Conservatives were close behind.

Labour voters were also somewhat indecisive, with Mack their most favoured next option, but not miles ahead of the SNP. It’s a similar story for the Conservatives, narrowly favouring Labour over Mack. Finally, Lib Dem voters were more certain of their support for Labour. 

We can also see from this chart why Mack was elected ahead of the Conservatives, despite placing slightly behind them on first preferences. With the exception of the Lib Dems, who had few voters, everyone else was more likely to next preference Mack than the Conservative candidate.

Candidates

We’ve got a full presence from the Holyrood 5 for this one, plus a Libertarian. These are all completely new candidates, at least to Renfrewshire, with none of them having stood in the 2017 election, nor the 2019 UK General Election, nor this May’s Holyrood election.

John Craft (Liberal Democrat)
Duncan Grant (Libertarian)
Bruce MacFarlane (SNP)
Alec Leishman (Conservative)
Jamie McGuire (Labour)
Kyle Mitchell (Green)

2017 Re-Calculation and Prediction

As ever, to get the best comparison between the original vote and a single seat by-election, we need to dig a bit deeper and re-calculate a result for electing a single councillor. Remember that in a single seat election under STV, a candidate needs 50%+1 of the valid votes cast (a quota) to win. For this re-calculation, that was 2299 votes.

Unsurprisingly given the size of their lead, the SNP would have come out on top in this scenario. Labour do narrow the gap somewhat, from 9.8% on first preferences to 8.3% after transfers. That is a fairly chunky pile of exhausted ballots, and Mack’s contribution to that in particular we’d expect to actually go somewhere useful at a by-election, and that could make a small difference.

However, 2017 as a whole was the SNP’s recent low point whilst for Labour it was their best post-referendum year. Since then things have shifted again somewhat, with the SNP even gaining votes in the Paisley regional vote this May against a backdrop of a national decline in that vote. I’m therefore inclined to say the SNP are the clear favourites here – not to the extent that Labour have no chance, just it would be a surprise to see them take it.

Call: Likely SNP.

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