By-Election Preview: Clydebank Central (West Dunbartonshire) 13th of June 2024

Ward Profile

Cause of By-Election

All too often, I find myself reporting on by-elections that have arisen from the death of a sitting councillor. Whilst that is never a happy occurrence, there is a degree to which it is a simple but sad fact of human existence, especially as the demographics of our councillors skews much older than the general population. In the case of this by-election however, we have an entirely deliberate case of criminality that I would much rather have never happened in the first place, and certainly not for the first ever BBS visit to the council area I grew up in.

Craig Edward, who was elected as a Labour councillor for West Dunbartonshire’s Clydebank Central ward in 2022, pled guilty to and was convicted of the possession, distribution and creation of indecent images of children, crimes that he committed over a number of years including during his time in office. The word “vile” can often be used too readily in political discussion, but I have no qualms whatsoever about using it to describe Edward’s sickening behaviour.

Edward had only been elected for the first time in 2022, though as the Clydebank Post note in their detailed summary of the case, he had attempted to be selected as an SNP candidate in 2017. For whatever reason, he wasn’t deemed suitable by that party, and turned his attentions to Labour, duly managing to be selected as their candidate and then be given a spot in the administration when he was elected. When he was charged in September 2022, Labour acted commendably quickly to expel him from the group and party, though with hindsight I’m sure they wish they had followed the SNP’s lead in refusing to approve his candidacy in the first place.

Edward not only decided to continue actively serving as an Independent throughout the court case, to the discomfort of other councillors each time he made a contribution, but chose to flee south and settle in Wiltshire where he took up employment. His new employer seemed to have failed to do their due diligence and it must haven taken them by surprise to find their employee was a criminal, as they were still publishing items featuring him until December 2023 – items swiftly deleted upon being contacted by the Clydebank Post, to whom they refused to give any comment. He finally resigned from the office he should never have held one week before he was sentenced to jail for 28 months, which would have automatically disqualified him from office regardless.

Ward Details

Clydebank Central is one of 6 wards in West Dunbartonshire, and elects 4 councillors at a full election. As the name implies this covers the central portion of the town, bounded by Great Western Road to the north and first the North Clyde railway line then the Forth and Clyde Canal. The resulting envelope encompasses the eastern portion of Mountblow, northern Dalmuir, Parkhall, Radnor Park, Drumry and Linnvale. There was a slight expansion in 2017 to take in the entire town centre, but that will have added very few additional voters as it was overwhelmingly the shopping centre and Singer industrial estate.

For elections to the Scottish Parliament the ward is entirely within the Clydebank and Milngavie constituency which the SNP gained from Labour in 2011. For the UK Parliament it’s within West Dunbartonshire which the SNP first won in their 2015 landslide, and it remains within that only slightly changed seat under the new boundaries.

Electoral History

The first two elections saw the same pattern: two Labour, one SNP, and Independent Denis Agnew, himself previously having served as a Labour councillor. One of the 2007 Labour councillors became an Independent and then sat for “Ban Bankers Bonuses”, but didn’t re-stand in 2012. With a very strong result in 2017 the SNP easily picked up one of the Labour seats, but Agnew’s retirement in 2022 allowed Labour to equalise on two apiece.

Votewise, Labour started out with the lead here, with very few votes for any of the other parties standing bar the SNP – the Conservatives, Greens and SSP all a fair bit below 5%. On his first run as an Independent Agnew didn’t quite hit double figures but was seen over the line by transfers, with an “A Strong Voice for Clydebank” candidate not far behind in first preference terms. As part of their majority in 2012 Labour saw a big bump in the vote here, as did Agnew, whilst the SNP remained static. 

After the referendum shook things up, remembering that West Dunbartonshire was one of just four council areas to vote for Independence, the 2017 election saw a huge surge in support for the SNP, plus a relatively big jump by local standards for the Conservatives who nonetheless remained very weak by national standards. As Agnew held onto most of his vote, this very much came at Labour’s expense as they lost over 20% of their share. With Agnew absent in 2022, the SNP managed to cross the 50% mark whilst Labour had a decent bounce back though still a fair bit shy of their pre-referendum best.

Councillors and Key Stats

4 Councillors, in order elected:
🟡SNP: Diane Docherty
🔴Labour: Craig Edward
🟡SNP: Sophie Traynor
🔴Labour: Clare Steel
Change vs 2017: +1 Labour, -1 Independent (Denis Agnew retired)
Turnout: 41.0%
Electorate: 11820
Valid: 4644 (95.8%)
Spoiled: 204 (4.2%)
Quota: 929

Candidates

🟡SNP: Diane Docherty
🔴Labour: Craig Edward
🔴Labour: Clare Steel
🟡SNP: Sophie Traynor
🔵Conservative: Liam Wilson

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

By-Election

Candidates

A relatively full slate here, though of the big parties notably limited to the four with Westminster representation, no Greens to be seen. Most of the candidates here are new faces, including what I assume to be mother and son pairing Fiona (Labour) and Nathan (CPGB) Hennebry, based on the fact the latter was reported in the media as having been a member of the Young Communist League when arrested at COP26 in Glasgow.

We do however have three returners. The SNP’s Marina Scanlan stood in the Kilpatrick ward, covering the estates to the north of Clydebank, whilst Sovereignty and the Independent Andrew Muir contested Dumbarton, though the latter was under the Family Party banner at that election. Muir is a regular local candidate, having also stood as an Independent for Holyrood’s Dumbarton constituency in 2021 and the Westminster West Dunbartonshire seat in 2019.

🔴Labour: Fiona Hennebry
🟤Communist Party of Great Britain: Nathan Hennebry
🔵Conservative: Ewan McGinnigle
Independent: Andrew Muir
🟠Lib Dem: Kai Pyper
🟡SNP: Marina Scanlan
🟤Sovereignty: Kelly Wilson

Analysis

Both of the core Clydebank wards are a real rarity in Scottish terms, with an absolute majority of the vote for a single party, in this case the SNP. This ward is also a rarity in terms of both how few options voters had, at just the three biggest Holyrood parties, and how many votes the top two got, with the Conservatives not even quite making 8% of the vote never mind double digits. That intense concentration of support between the top two parties means that although the SNP had an absolute majority of votes cast here in 2022, in two-candidate preferred terms they only end up with a 10.7% lead over Labour.

If times were good for the SNP, I’d say that was the kind of lead that translates to a likely SNP victory. If times were a bit less good, I’d say it indicates an SNP lean. If times were poor, I’d cast it as an SNP-Labour tossup. As right now times are very poor for the SNP, it’s Labour I have pegged as the most likely winners. Remember, I’m always going on about “by-election conditions”, and those conditions are that parties with an older support base have an automatic boost at by-elections because more of their voters turn out.

If you look at the polling district data below for example, you’ll see that Labour actually won more postal votes than the SNP – votes that tend to be cast by older voters, who are more likely to turn out. That alone would help to narrow the gap. Throw in the fact there has been at least some movement directly from the SNP to Labour, and potentially some further stay-at-homes for the SNP on top of that, and Labour have a good chance at fully restoring their majority here. However, given that they were the party to select Edward in the first place, not to the extent that I’d confidently put their chances massively firmly ahead of the SNP’s.

Prediction

Lean Labour.

2022 Results (Detailed Data)

Transfers (full election)
Results by Polling District
Second Preferences

If you find this or other Ballot Box Scotland output useful and/or interesting, and you can afford to do so, please consider donating to support my work. I love doing this, but it’s a one-man project and takes a lot of time and effort. All donations, no matter how small, are greatly appreciated and extremely helpful.
(About Donations)