By-Election Preview: Dyce, Bucksburn and Danestone (Aberdeen) 23rd of February 2023

Ward Profile

Cause of By-Election

Our first by-election of 2023 arises from, as is unfortunately all too common, the sad circumstances of a sitting councillor’s death. In this case, Conservative Councillor Avril MacKenzie passed away late last year. She’d represented the ward since 2017.

Ward Details

Dyce, Bucksburn and Danestone is one of 13 wards in Aberdeen, and elects 4 councillors at a full election. It’s pretty neatly named, as it primarily covers those three areas in the northwest of Aberdeen, though it also includes the Bankhead and Stoneywood. Historically none of these were part of the city but all of them bar Dyce, which remains considered a distinct locality, form part of the urban core of Aberdeen itself now and were added to the city council in the 70’s reform. Boundary changes in 2017 were really only cosmetic in voter terms at the time, removing a stretch of hills and fields, but new housing is being built in the removed area which could be more consequential.

For elections to the Scottish Parliament, the ward is entirely within the Aberdeen Donside constituency. The SNP have held the seat for the duration of its existence, having gained the preceding Aberdeen North seat from Labour in 2003. At the UK Parliament it’s mostly within the Gordon constituency, which the SNP won back from the Conservatives in 2019, having originally gained it from the Lib Dems in 2015. A small portion, around the south and east of Bucksburn, is instead within Aberdeen North, which was Labour until the SNP picked it up in their 2015 landslide, and is currently their safest seat in the country.

Electoral History

The first election under STV was a classic example of a party not anticipating its strength and under-nominating, as the SNP stood a sole candidate. Since Labour (correctly) also only stood one, it was the Lib Dems chancing it with two candidates that saw them with a double. Their second candidate started with 5% of the vote and went on to narrowly beat the Conservative by 0.7% at the final stage. The Lib Dem collapse saw them ejected from the ward entirely in 2012, allowing it to split 2:2 between the SNP and Labour. Avril MacKenzie then stripped Labour of one of those seats for the Conservatives in 2017, and the same pattern held into 2022.

The vote share history illustrates why the SNP were daft not to have stood a second candidate in 2007; they were less than 4% shy of two quotas worth of votes, whereas the Lib Dems were about 14% off that figure. Relative Lib Dem success couldn’t last however, and the sad passing of one of their two councillors prompted a February 2011 by-election that, in a taste of what would follow at Holyrood in the May, saw their vote collapse and the SNP surge to victory on first preferences alone.

That however narrowed in 2012, when it looked more like the Lib Dem collapse benefitted Labour, leading to the narrowest gap between first and second placed parties the ward has yet seen. Even at this point the Conservatives were barely registering, and no one could have foreseen that in 2017 they’d shoot up into second place. Although their position weakened last year, they still held a lead over Labour whose vote went against national trend by ticking slightly downwards. The Lib Dems have continued to languish since their collapse, and the best Green figure thus far still represents only a very modest share.

Councillors and Key Stats

4 Councillors, in order elected:
🟑SNP: Gill Al-Samarai
πŸ”΅Conservative: Avril Mackenzie
🟑SNP: Neil MacGregor
πŸ”΄Labour: Barney Crockett
Change vs 2017: No change
Electorate: 16446
Turnout: 41.2%
Valid: 6598 (97.5%)
Spoiled: 168 (2.5%)
Quota: 1320

Candidates

🟑SNP: Gill Al-Samarai
🟒Green: William Ball
πŸ”΄Labour: Barney Crockett
🟠Lib Dem: Peter Heald
🟑SNP: Neil MacGregor
πŸ”΅Conservative: Avril Mackenzie
πŸ”΅Conservative: Braiden Smith
🟣Family Party: Amy-Marie Stratton

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

By-Election

Candidates

A relatively busy ballot this one, as is so often the case for city by-elections, with all of the Holyrood 5, plus Alba and the Family Party, plus an Independent. The Family Party candidate stood in the ward last year, whilst Alba (Kincorth, Nigg and Cove), Lib Dem, Green (both Bridge of Don) and Labour (Northfield and Mastrick North) candidates all stood in other wards.

Independent Simon McLean is by now a fixture for Aberdeen elections – he contested Torry and Ferryhill last year, but he’d contested Bridge of Don in 2017, then all three by-elections (Bridge of Don, Torry and Ferryhill, Kincorth, Nigg and Cove) that took place in the city last term. Presumably he just likes the thrill of getting his name on the ballot paper? That leaves the SNP and Conservative candidates as newcomers.Β 

⚫Alba: Charlie Abel
🟑SNP: Tomasz Brzezinski
🟠Lib Dem: Mevrick Fernandes
🟒Green: Sylvia Hardie
πŸ”΅Conservative: Akila Kanthaswamy
πŸ”΄Labour: Graeme Lawrence
βšͺIndependent: Simon McLean
🟣Family: Amy-Marie Stratton

Analysis

At first glance, this looks like the SNP’s contest to lose, given the distant third placing of Labour and then a comfortable 13.4% lead over the Conservatives in Two-Candidate Preferred terms. However, what’s throwing a bit of a spanner in the predictive works are recent polling and by-election trends.

In general, the SNP are experiencing what is for them a pretty common but relatively mild mid-term slump, whilst Labour have made significant gains at the Conservatives’ expense. Scotland being Scotland however, at local level voter behaviour can be driven more by who is seen as having the better chance of beating the SNP. If voters in this ward see that as being the Conservatives, then that’d ironically probably make things easier for the SNP, given they’ll pick up a fair few Labour preferences.

On the other hand, Labour’s past performance shows they can do very well in this ward. If they end up placing second, that’ll weaken the SNP’s chances, as Conservative transfers are much more heavily Labour. At the three candidate point in the recalculation, Labour had 22.9% versus the Conservatives’ 28.3%, a gap that they’d be more than capable of closing given current trends. Last May, that SNP-Labour matchup would give an 11.5% gap, so a couple of points closer than SNP-Conservative was.

Throw in the usual by-election dynamics which are typically unfavourable to the SNP due to their lower turnout voter base, and it’s not impossible Labour end up with a win here. I still think the most probable outcome is the SNP emerging victorious, but I’m hedging my bets enough that I’m opting for lean rather than likely.

Prediction

Lean SNP.

2022 Results (Detailed Data)

Transfers (full election)
Results by Polling District
Second Preferences

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