By-Election Preview: Jedburgh and District (Scottish Borders) 22nd of February 2024

Ward Profile

Cause of By-Election

Second up for 2024 by-elections, we’re taking a trip down to the Scottish Borders for Jedburgh and District. This follows the resignation of SNP councillor Pam Brown for health reasons. Brown had only won her seat for the first time in 2022, so there’s not a great amount else to add for context here.

Ward Details

Jedburgh and District is one of 11 wards in the Scottish Borders, and elects 3 councillors at a full election. It’s also totally unchanged since it was first created for the 2007 election. I know you’d never guess it from the name, but the primary component of this ward is the town of Jedburgh, home to one of a number of very pretty ruined abbeys that dot the Borders. Assuming you don’t get slightly lost like muggins here once did on his bike, St Boswells is a short distance away (I got, or rather went through, there eventually) and is the only other substantial settlement in the ward.

Amongst the rural hamlets dotting the rest of the area you’ll find Roxburgh, which you could be forgiven for thinking is the old burgh which gave the county of Roxburghshire its name. In fact the burgh itself has long since been lost to time, reduced to some rubble poking through a hill, the modern hamlet being much more recent and sited some distance away. It’s not uncommon for old county towns to have been eclipsed by mightier neighbours – think Hamilton over Lanark, or Paisley over Renfrew – but to disappear entirely is much more dramatic.

For elections to the Scottish Parliament, the ward is wholly within the Ettrick, Roxburgh and Selkirkshire seat which has been Conservative since it was created in 2011. They’d gained the preceding Roxburgh and Berwickshire seat from the Lib Dems in 2007. At the UK Parliament the corresponding seat is Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk which has firmly settled into Conservative hands since they gained it from the SNP in 2017, themselves having only briefly held it after taking it from the Lib Dems in their 2015 landslide. That seat remains unmodified in the boundary changes taking effect at the next General Election.

Electoral History

The fact the Conservatives have held the Holyrood seat for over 15 years now should have clued you in to what you’d be seeing in these next few sections. The Scottish Borders, but especially Berwickshire and Roxburghshire, have become something of a Conservative stronghold. In and around Jedburgh, that’s led to them winning two of the three seats up for grabs at every election thus far except 2012, when Independent Rory Stewart unseated one of the Conservatives.

Of the three councillors, the one constant has been Conservative Sandy Scott. The SNP had also consistently re-elected the same councillor, Jim Brown, until his retirement in 2022 – I’m not sure if he’s any relation to his now-outgoing successor, given Brown isn’t exactly an uncommon surname! 

In terms of vote shares, the Conservatives have been nigh-on unchallengeable over the history of the ward. It’s easy to see how they lost that second seat in 2012, as they fell from nearly half to just over a third of the vote – remembering that you need 25%+1 to guarantee each seat in a three-member ward under STV. The bounced back remarkably come 2017, easily winning a clear majority of the vote, and weathered what was a heavy decrease across the Borders overall in 2022 rather better here, leaving it their strongest ward in the council.

Their competitors have been marked by a mix of consistency and discontinuity. The SNP are the consistent side of that, both consistently in second and also with a relatively consistent performance in vote terms, with not even a full 4% between their best performance (in 2012) and worst (in 2017). The discontinuity part of the equation is that nobody else has managed more than two elections on the trot thus far.

The evaporation of the Lib Dems in what was one of their historic strongholds is evidenced first by the loss of around a third of their vote from 2007 to 2012, then disappearing entirely. Though they performed equally well in both their runs, local outfit the Borders Party had shut up shop by 2017. Labour made a couple of unremarkable runs in the middle years, whilst the Greens were present the past two elections, becoming the only one out of this set to increase their share on their second outing.

Councillors and Key Stats

3 Councillors, in order elected:
🔵Conservative: Scott Hamilton
🟡SNP: Pam Brown
🔵Conservative: Sandy Scott
Change vs 2017: No change
Turnout: 49.4%
Electorate: 7212
Valid: 3507 (98.5%)
Spoiled: 53 (1.5%)
Quota: 877

Candidates

Independent: John Bathgate
🟡SNP: Pam Brown
🔵Conservative: Scott Hamilton
Independent: Jesse Rae
Alba: Yvonne Ridley
🔵Conservative: Sandy Scott
🟢Green: Charles Strang

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

By-Election

Candidates

Whereas the full election had lacked Lib Dem and Labour candidates, it’s a fully Holyrood 5 affair for the by-election, though the fringe party candidate is being offered by the “Scottish Eco-Federalists” rather than Alba this time around.

We’ve got two direct returns from the 2022 ballot, of which Conservative candidate John Bathgate cuts an interesting figure, as in addition to being a pretty strongly performing Independent in 2022, until this by-election he was the last Lib Dem to contest the ward back in 2012. The Greens supply the other candidate who stood here in 2022, and I believe the only one to have stood for Holyrood in 2021, at fifth on the South list for his party. Two other candidates stood elsewhere in the Borders, Labour (Hawick and Denholm) and the Eco-Federalist (Galashiels and District); the latter appear to be a two-man outfit judging by their registration, Clark being the one that gets to stand for election.

🔵Conservative: John Bathgate
🟤Scottish Eco-Federalist: James Clark
🟠Lib Dem: Ray Georgeson
🟡SNP: Phil Dixon
🔴Labour: Kaymarie Hughes
🟢Green: Charles Strang

Analysis

The Conservatives will win this one. You saw that chart of vote share over the years, right? There’s no way the SNP would win this at the best of times, and it’s far from the best of times for them right now. The only possibility in a rural ward might have been an Independent, but given the most successful 2022 Independent is standing under the Conservative banner, they shut down that possibility before nominations even closed. That’ll give the Conservatives every seat in the ward, a democratic deficiency with by-elections under STV that I’ve previously noted when the same has happened with the SNP, Labour and even Lib Dems.

Prediction

Conservative Win.

2022 Results (Detailed Data)

Transfers (full election)
Results by Polling District
Second Preferences

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