By-Election Preview: Motherwell South East and Ravenscraig (North Lanarkshire) 16th of November 2023

Ward Profile

Cause of By-Election

I hope everyone’s a fan of Lanarkshire, because we’re back in that county for the fourth by-election of the year. We’ve had one apiece at local level for each of North and South Lanarkshire, plus of course the UK Parliament by-election for Rutherglen and Hamilton West which sits in South. Although of far less note and covering a much smaller area, Motherwell South East and Ravenscraig is North Lanarkshire’s opportunity to even up the numbers.

SNP councillor Agnes Macgowan, first elected in 2017, has resigned to trigger this by-election. Macgowan had briefly been Provost, the ceremonial head of the council, last year but left the post due to family circumstances even before her party’s ephemeral administration fully crumbled. Those circumstances appear to remain unchanged, or possibly have become more difficult in recent months, leading to Macgowan opting to stand down.

Ward Details

Motherwell South East and Ravenscraig is one of 21 wards in North Lanarkshire, and elects 4 councillors at a full election. Unchanged since 2007 and including areas such as Flemington and Muirhouse, it covers pretty much everything a non-local would associate with Motherwell. The bulk of the town centre is here, as is Motherwell F.C’s stadium at Fir Park, and the site of the former steelworks at Ravenscraig, long since wiped from existence. Regeneration of the site is ongoing though slow, with the primary development so far being a sports centre and park. Despite the name, a north western portion of adjoining Wishaw around Craigneuk and Wishawhill sits within the ward, even incorporating Wishaw General Hospital.

For elections to both parliaments, the ward is entirely within the respective Motherwell and Wishaw constituencies. The SNP hold both seats, having gained the Westminster seat in their 2015 landslide then the Holyrood equivalent the next year. In the upcoming boundary changes, the UK Parliament seat is due to be redrawn into an expanded Motherwell, Wishaw and Carluke constituency.

Electoral History

At the first outing, the ward elected two Labour councillors and one apiece from the SNP and Conservatives. This was a pretty close run thing, and was down to a few oddities of the time. For one thing, the SNP under-nominated and could probably have got a second seat if they’d stood a second candidate. For another, the resulting glut of SNP transfers weren’t vastly more favourable to Labour than to the Conservatives, a pattern unthinkable today. Finally, it was transfers from the Scottish Socialist Party, albeit 40% of those had started with the SNP, that pushed the Conservative over the third Labour candidate.

Labour were able to snaffle that Conservative seat in 2012 and everyone else from 2007 was re-elected, giving Labour a 3:1 seat lead over the SNP. By 2017 the Conservatives were back with a vengeance and easily won a seat, whilst the SNP bumped up to two, with their incumbent the only sitting councillor re-elected, between one of the sitting Labour councillors being done in by the alphabet effect and another leaving for the short-lived Independent Alliance North Lanarkshire. 2022 preserved the same pattern, though with that veteran SNP councillor replaced by a new colleague.

Looking at vote shares across the years and this ward has been something of a microcosm of the wider Central Belt. Labour start off with a strong lead in 2007, maintaining that into 2012 as the expected SNP breakthrough following their 2011 majority failed to materialise, whilst the Conservatives seemed to continue on their death spiral. Come 2017 and the SNP vaulted to a comfortable but not overwhelming first place, whilst resurgent Conservatives ate into the Labour share, though the latter of course weren’t helped by one of their councillors standing against them. Then last year we see the SNP gaining very marginally, whilst Labour recovered significantly and the Conservatives fell backwards.

Until 2017 neither the Greens nor Lib Dems had stood in this ward, likely reflecting the weak state of both parties in North Lanarkshire overall. The Greens first popped up in 2017 with a very low share, but grew significantly in 2022 – not to a seat-winning level, but a strong result by North Lanarkshire standards.

Councillors and Key Stats

4 Councillors, in order elected:
🟡SNP: Agnes Macgowan
🔴Labour: Kenneth Duffy
🟡SNP: David Robb
🔵Conservative: Nathan Wilson
Change vs 2017: No change
Turnout: 40.2%
Electorate: 15549
Valid: 6063 (97.0%)
Spoiled: 190 (3.0%)
Quota: 1213


🔴Labour: Kenneth Duffy
🟡SNP: Agnes Macgowan
🟣Family: James Mitchell
🟡SNP: David Robb
🔴Labour: Michael Ross
🟢Green: Derek Watson
🔵Conservative: Nathan Wilson
🟤UKIP: Neil Wilson

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



In addition to the full Holyrood 5, voters here will also be able to preference candidates from the British Unionist Party, who have a councillor in nearby Fortissat ward, Alba and UKIP. Of the candidates, the Greens and UKIP are the same as stood in this ward last May, UKIP’s Neil Wilson also having contested the Holyrood constituency and Central regional list in 2021. Most of the other non-competitive party candidates stood in a variety of North wards; Conservatives in Motherwell North, Lib Dems in Airdrie North, and Alba in Coatbridge North. That leaves the BUP plus the candidates from the two actually competitive parties, the SNP and Labour, as fresh faces this time around.

At least, fresh-ish. I’d had it in my head that Rosa Zambonini had been a councillor previously, but I’d only gone as far back as 2017 to check, didn’t see her there, and assumed I was mistaken. In fact, as I was reminded on Twitter, Zambonini was indeed elected as a councillor for the neighbouring Wishaw ward in August 2015, easily winning a majority of the overall vote, in the by-election arising from Marion Fellows having made the move to the Westminster seat. Zambonini opted not to re-stand in 2017, citing harassment as her reasoning. 

🟤British Unionist Party: Billy Acheson
🔵Conservative: Oyebola Ajala
🔴Labour: Kaye Harmon
🟠Lib Dem: Robert McGeorge
Alba: Mark Shields
🟤UKIP: Neil Wilson
🟢Green: Derek Watson
🟡SNP: Rosa Zambonini


This by-election is going to be really interesting in that it’s the first genuine SNP vs Labour “defence” at council level since the SNP’s change of leadership. Although by-elections in nearby Bellshill and across the Lanarkshire border in East Kilbride West were caused by 2022 SNP councillors resigning, both would have been won by Labour at that election if they had been for a single seat rather than a full slate. As such, Labour victories were to be expected there given circumstances and that they were the notionally “defending” party, although the scale of their victory in each was impressive.

The fact that the vacating councillor should not be seen as the “defending” party is a nuance of STV that was a large contributor to why I set up Ballot Box Scotland in the first place, feeling it wasn’t being captured by the (much busier) UK-level polling and election folk. Although it should be an uncontroversial point given the proportional-ish nature of STV – not every councillor elected can be the one who’d have been overall winner! – it’s also a nuance that a lot of hardened partisans are apparently allergic to. My experience of nearly six years running this project is people just don’t like being told anything that goes against what they want to believe.

Fortunately for fans of nuance and entrenched partisanship alike, the vacating and notionally defending party are indeed one and the same here. The SNP would have come out on top, with Macgowan winning an 8.3% margin over Labour’s Kenneth Duffy in 2022 if the ward had been fought for a single seat. That means that if the SNP lose here they aren’t just losing a councillor, they are losing a genuine and meaningful lead, and that’s what makes this a much more serious test for them, albeit always with the caveat that individual local by-elections should never be read too deeply into, given there’s 355 wards in the country.

Nonetheless, let’s review the current context: by-elections have lower turnout for the SNP’s support base; knife-edge polling at both UK and Scottish level; the recent Rutherglen result; and the SNP are down a whopping 12 councillors in North Lanarkshire versus their 2022 result including 8 who have formed “Progressive Change North Lanarkshire”. Given all of that, I simply don’t see how Labour could fail to get the roughly 4.2% swing they’d need here to flip the ward in two-candidate terms. I’ve therefore bumped this up from my initial Twitter statement of “Lean” to “Likely” Labour, though given the SNP’s lead here last year I wouldn’t at this point go so far as to say Labour’s win is guaranteed the way I felt for the other Lanarkshire by-elections.


Likely 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)