By-Election Preview: Dunblane and Bridge of Allan (Stirling) 16th of March 2023

Note that BBS is still on a Twitter hiatus (spiel here, if you are unaware of why), so it’s only really the auto-tweets when things publish and some scheduled “hey, there’s a by-election!” reminders on there for the time being.

Ward Profile

Cause of By-Election

As is unfortunately so common, this by-election for Stirling’s Dunblane and Bridge of Allan ward is another arising from sad circumstances. SNP councillor Graham Houston passed away in December, having served as one of the ward’s councillors since 2007.

Ward Details

Dunblane and Bridge of Allan is one of 7 wards in Stirling, and elects 4 councillors at a full election. The name really is pretty self-explanatory, as the ward covers the towns of, well, Dunblane and Bridge of Allan. Although Dunblane is a clearly separate settlement, Bridge of Allan is almost a suburb of Stirling these days, aided by the fact it’s right next to the Stirling University campus. The ward also includes the villages of Ashfield and Kinbuck, but they are a pretty tiny component.

For elections to the Scottish Parliament, the ward is within the Clackmannanshire and Dunblane constituency, which the SNP have held since it was created in 2011. On the original Holyrood boundaries, it had been split between the Stirling (Dunblane) and Ochil (Bridge of Allan) seats which the SNP gained from Labour in 2007 and 2003 respectively. In the UK Parliament the ward is within the Stirling constituency, which has flip-flopped from Labour to SNP in 2015, then Conservative in 2017, then back to the SNP in 2019.

Electoral History

For the first STV election in 2007, Dunblane and Bridge of Allan had just the right demographic makeup to be a mega-diverse ward, with seats splitting one apiece for each of the Conservatives, SNP, Labour and Lib Dems. When the latter collapsed in 2012 the Greens easily picked up their seat. They relatively narrowly held that gain in 2017, meaning it was Labour who lost out when surging Conservatives won a double. Finally, with the Conservatives on the back foot last year, Labour were able to scrape their way into re-establishing the 2012 pattern.

However, this may have been somewhat unexpected for the party. Their councillor, Ewan Dillon, wordlessly became an Independent a few months later. With his only public comment since then being to express his condolences following the passing of his ward colleague, there’s an air of mystery here. My own sources suggested Dillon may have been on track to leave the council – whether jumping or pushed, I don’t know. There was a possibility then for a double by-election, but that hasn’t happened. If Dillon does resign (or is disqualified? Again, mystery!) anytime soon, expect some serious frustration at having to hold a second ballot.

If we turn to vote shares, we can see the general trend for the Conservatives to be the most successful party here. Only 2012 was an exception, as the Conservatives were at their nadir that year, allowing the SNP to open up a lead and Labour to get within touching distance. The Conservatives then nearly doubled their vote in 2017, against a collapse in both the Labour and Green vote, with the latter placing behind Labour but overtaking on transfers. In May last year, the Conservatives maintained their lead despite a big dip in vote share, with the Greens showing the biggest growth. Note too the general upward trend of the Lib Dems since their defeat.

The fact the Greens bounced back significantly last year but Labour didn’t suggests to me a degree of personal vote. Mark Ruskell, elected as the Green councillor in 2012, became an MSP (again) in 2016 and so it was a new candidate, Alasdair Tollemache, who contested the ward in 2017, when that massive Green vote loss was very much against national trend. Having bedded in over the five years since, and with another rising national tide, Tollemache was much more comfortably re-elected in 2022. If there is a big personal vote at play, that may have implications I’ll touch on later.

Councillors and Key Stats

4 Councillors, in order elected:
🔵Conservative: Douglas Dodds
🟡SNP: Graham Houston
🟢Green: Alasdair Tollemache
🔴Labour: Ewan Dillon
Change vs 2017: +1 Labour, -1 Conservative
Turnout: 60.4%
Electorate: 11911
Valid: 7097 (98.6%)
Spoiled: 102 (1.4%)
Quota: 1420


Alba: Bill Cowan
🔴Labour: Ewan Dillon
🔵Conservative: Douglas Dodds
🟡SNP: Graham Houston
🟡SNP: Ahsan Khan
Independent: Alastair Majury
🟠Lib Dem: Fayzan Rehman
🔵Conservative: Willy Stirling
🟢Green: Alasdair Tollemache
🟣Family: Nickie Willis

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



A quieter ballot here than in the other by-elections coming up – it’s just the Holyrood 5 plus the Scottish Family Party. Both the SNP and Family candidates are directly returning from last May, whilst the Lib Dem stood in the Stirling West ward. The other half of the paper is made up of completely fresh faces.

🟢Green: Clare Andrews
🟡SNP: Ahsan Khan
🔵Conservative: Robin Kleinman
🟠Lib Dem: Dick Moerman
🟣Family: Nickie Willis
🔴Labour: David Wilson


Of the three by-elections on the cards when we entered 2023, this is the one that’s by far the most marginal. In two-candidate terms last year, the SNP would have managed to overcome the Conservatives’ first preference advantage to eke out a win by not even 1%. Both parties aren’t polling brilliantly in relative terms at the moment, but at Holyrood the SNP are still just a smidge above where they were last May, whereas the Conservatives are down. The national environment might therefore help the SNP counterbalance what is otherwise a Conservative edge given by lower by-election turnout, leaving this too close to call.

There is an outside possibility though, which is the Greens end up pulling off a win. If you look at the chart above, when the Greens drop out, they aren’t far behind the SNP – it’s 28.1% to 25.5%. If the SNP did drop out instead, the Greens trump the Conservatives 41.8% to 36.7%, a more comfortable win than the SNP would have had. Although far less likely, the Greens also win a head-to-head with the SNP very narrowly at 30.4% to 29.6%, though with a huge pile of exhausted ballots. It’s not totally impossible a good campaign and day for the Greens could deliver a shock win.

“Not totally impossible” though isn’t exactly a sentence that suggests there’s a significant likelihood. As noted earlier, there’s a distinct possibility that the Green councillor has a bit of a personal vote to his name which wouldn’t carry over to a different candidate. Throw in the fact the Greens are even more likely to have their voters not turn out at by-election time than the SNP are, and I’m highlighting the possibility more as a curiosity than a serious expectation.


SNP-Conservative Tossup, outside chance of a Green if something absolutely wild happens.

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)