By-Election Preview: Girvan and South Carrick (South Ayrshire) 21st of September 2023

Ward Profile

Cause of By-Election

Returning after a summer you could have been forgiven for thinking never happened, we pick up what will be a small run of by-elections with South Ayrshire’s Girvan and South Carrick. SNP councillor Peter Henderson, first elected in 2017 and serving at the time his party’s group leader, announced in June that he would be standing down for health reasons.

Notably, this is the first time I’m writing about a South Ayrshire by-election. In the 2017-22 term, South Ayrshire was a remarkably stable council. Not only did none of its councillors resign or, more thankfully, pass away, but none of them changed or were expelled from their parties mid-term either – only at the very end of the term did the Conservatives make the mistake of not re-selecting a sitting councillor who then won easily as an Independent.

Ward Details

Girvan and South Carrick is one of 8 wards in South Ayrshire, and elects 3 councillors at a full election. Girvan is obviously the main component of what is otherwise an extensive rural ward, the largest geographically in Ayrshire, which also includes the likes of Turnberry, Kirkoswald, Dailly, Barrhill and Ballantrae. The ward was marginally expanded northwards in the 2017 boundary changes, which is what added Turnberry, Kirkoswald and Maidens.

For elections to the Scottish Parliament, the ward is within the Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley constituency, which has been in SNP hands since they gained it from Labour in 2011. For the UK Parliament, it’s within the Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock constituency, which the SNP regained from the Conservatives in 2019, having first won it from Labour in their 2015 landslide. Although the UK Parliament boundaries are about to change, none of the Ayrshire seats are affected.

Electoral History

The first election split those three seats evenly between the Conservatives, SNP and Labour. When Alec Clark stood for the first time in 2012, he pilfered the Conservative seat, but the original Conservative councillor made a triumphant return in 2017, alongside Peter Henderson taking over from an SNP colleague. Last year, the same partisan spread held, but the Conservative councillor became Gavin Scott, who had stood unsuccessfully with only 1.9% of the vote in 2017 as an Independent.

In vote terms, the very first election for the ward in 2007 was a relatively even split between the Conservatives, SNP and Labour, with less than 8% separating first from third. Alec Clark’s emergence in 2012 however took a huge chunk out of all three parties, seeing as he won nearly half the vote, which sent the Conservatives in particular plummeting to fourth place. Clark remained out in front but losing a big chunk of his vote to some other Independents and resurgent Conservatives in 2017, with the loss of Labour’s seat at that point explained by their cratering share. 2022 then saw the least change in shares of any election in the ward thus far, with only the SNP shifting by more than 5%, if only just.

Councillors and Key Stats

3 Councillors, in order elected:
Independent: Alec Clark
🟡SNP: Peter Henderson
🔵Conservative: Gavin Scott
Change vs 2017: No change
Turnout: 46.7%
Electorate: 8849
Valid: 4056 (98.2%)
Spoiled: 75 (1.8%)
Quota: 1015


Independent: Alec Clark
🔴Labour: Aaron Gilpin
🟡SNP: Peter Henderson
🔵Conservative: Linda Kane
Independent: Todor Radic
🔵Conservative: Gavin Scott
Alba: Eileen Spence

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



It’s a relatively quiet ballot for this one, as we’ve got the four Westminster parties plus Alba, and nobody else. The Greens are the only missing Holyrood 5 party, likely reflecting their very limited presence in this part of the country; they didn’t stand any candidates in South Ayrshire in 2022, and in 2017 they’d only stood one.

Only the SNP have stood a new candidate this time around, as everyone else made a run at another ward in South Ayrshire at the full election last year. That was Ayr East for the Conservative, Ayr West for the Lib Dem, Ayr North for Alba, and the only one not from Ayr was Labour in neighbouring Maybole, North Carrick and Coylton.

🔵Conservative: Alan Lamont
🟡SNP: Joseph McLaughlin
🟠Lib Dem: Jamie Ross
🔴Labour: Nicola Saxton
⚫Alba: Denise Sommerville


As you’d expect with a rural Independent, Alec Clark would easily have won a single-seat election in 2022, by 52.8% to 30.0% for the Conservatives. Obviously as a sitting councillor he’s not on the ballot, nor is the other Independent re-standing, so that’s not useful for our purposes. If we instead eliminated the two of them from the 2022 race and redistribute their votes, the SNP squeak a tiny lead of 39.8% versus 38.9% over the Conservatives.

Neither of those parties are doing well at the moment, but I don’t see this as being a seat where Labour are likely to grow enough to win either, so it’s going to be an SNP-Conservative contest. If we keep both Conservatives in rather than eliminate one, their total is 43.3% to the SNP’s 39.4%, so that’s in their favour. Then there’s the fact that the Conservatives benefit from the usual by-election dynamic of lower turnout – it’s not their voters who give by-elections a pass.

As such, I’m inclined to say this is a likely Conservative victory, but I wouldn’t go so far as to say that’s guaranteed. They are the clear favourites, but the SNP shouldn’t be completely written off.


Likely Conservative.

2022 Results (Detailed Data)

Transfers (full election)
Results by Polling District
Second Preferences
Two-Candidate Preferred

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