By-Election Preview: Tain and Easter Ross (Highland) 13th of June 2024

Ward Profile

Cause of By-Election

I’m very sorry to say we have a much quicker return to both Highland Council by-elections, and specifically to by-elections for Tain and Easter Ross, than anyone would have liked. Independent councillor for the ward, Alasdair Rhind, sadly passed away in the middle of the run up to the Inverness South by-election. Whilst it’s not uncommon to have to report on the sad passing of older councillors, Rhind was only 65, which is no age at all to go these days. A funeral director by trade himself, his funeral was in fact held on the day of the count for that by-election, an oddly fitting parallel for a man who had served so long on the council.

Rhind had been a councillor for near enough 25 years, first having been elected to the Tain West ward under the old First Past the Post system in 1999. In a sign of things to come, he took over from Lib Dem Jamie Stone, who had defeated Rhind for the Tain ward in the 1995 election but was prioritising his (successful) run to be the first MSP for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross on the inaugural Holyrood election held the same day.

Rhind would have remained a councillor for the whole intervening period were it not for a brief spell out of office after the 2017 election, when he was displaced by a different Independent. His absence then was very short lived, as the month following that election, none other than Lib Dem councillor Jamie Stone was elected to the Westminster for that parliament’s Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross seat. He duly vacated his freshly-won council seat, and Rhind made a triumphant return at the following by-election.

As this is a effectively repeat, the following Ward Details and Electoral History sections are largely lifted and laid from the preview and results analysis from the previous by-election. Nae need to re-do it all from scratch, eh? Note that as that by-election is more recent, comparisons will primarily be made with reference to that vote rather than the full election.

Ward Details

Tain and Easter Ross is one of 21 wards in the Highland council area, and elects 3 councillors at a full election. Although to my non-local eye this appears to encompass a single peninsula, it doesn’t appear to be particularly or especially named anything bar possibly the “Easter Ross Peninsula” locally. As the name would suggest, the core of the population here is found in Tain, with other settlements of note at Balintore, Portmahomack, Inver, Hill of Fearn, Barbaraville, and the twin villages of Milton and Kildary.

For elections to the Scottish Parliament, the ward is within the Caithness, Sutherland and Ross constituency, which the SNP have held (with a different MSP at every election) since gaining it from the Lib Dems in 2011. The UK Parliament equivalent is Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross, which has been Lib Dem consistently except for the SNP’s landslide 2015 win. Notably, this is a very rare Westminster constituency larger than a Holyrood counterpart due to rules governing the 2005 boundaries. Those were largely removed in the most recent review, and so whilst the redrawn constituency will retain the name, it’s massively expanded.

Electoral History

For the first two elections, the ward returned the same pattern of councillors: a pair of Independents, plus a Lib Dem. However only one of those Independents, Alasdair Rhind, was the same across elections. Later on in 2007 the Lib Dem councillor Richard Durham shifted to sit as an Independent whilst the other elected Independent, Alan Torrance, joined the SNP. Torrance sadly passed in 2011, prompting a by-election that brought Independent Fiona Robertson into the ward for the first time. In 2012, Rhind and Robertson were both re-elected, and former MSP Jamie Stone took up the Lib Dem seat, defeating his former party colleague running as an Independent.

Despite their national strength it took until the 2017 election for the SNP to get a look-in with a seat in the ward, which they did by knocking Rhind out. His absence was very short lived however as Jamie Stone was elected to the UK Parliament the following month, triggering a by-election that Rhind easily won. Although 2022 replicated the partisan pattern of 2017, this time it was Robertson who was the loser between the two local Independents. When Lib Dem councillor Sarah Rawlings stood down due to ill health, that vacancy was filled by Independent Maureen Ross.

This particular chart of vote shares across time can be rather difficult to follow given the fact the 2007, 2017 and now 2022 term councils had by-elections in the ward, which obviously take any sitting Independents out of play. Rhind was easily the most popular candidate in the first election, far ahead of the Lib Dems and especially the SNP. He’s not broken out individually given the circumstances, but note Torrance’s 11.2% placed him fourth, but he was able to leverage Rhind’s surplus and the votes of eliminated other Independents to claim a seat. When Torrance passed, the SNP shot up into first place with their best result yet, but only narrowly ahead of Robertson and easily overcome by transfers.

2017 is remarkable for the general turn from Independents to party-affiliated councillors, marking the first time party candidates collectively won more votes than Independents. Both the SNP and Lib Dems registered strong growth, but it was the Conservatives surging from a piddling 1.4% to 16%, nearly beating Rhind, that really stands out. He re-asserted himself by completely crushing all competition in the by-election later that year, but the full vote in 2022 continued the trend of decline as both Rhind and Robertson lost votes to further SNP and Lib Dem growth, the latter with their best share yet in the ward.

At last year’s by-election, both the Conservatives and especially the SNP took a hit in the face of growth for the Lib Dems, the presence (albeit weak) of the Greens and Labour, and the strength of new Independent Maureen Ross.

Councillors and Key Stats

1 Councillor elected:
⚪Independent: Maureen Ross
Change vs 2022 (notional): Independent Gain from Lib Dem
Change vs vacating: Independent Gain from Lib Dem
Turnout: 34.4% (-13.6)
Electorate: 7226
Valid: 2463(99.0%)
Spoiled: 25 (1.0%)
Quota: 1232
2 Continuing Councillors:
🟡SNP: Derek Louden
⚪Independent: Alasdair Rhind


🟡SNP: Gordon Allison
🟢Green: Andrew Barnett
🟤Libertarian: Harry Christian
🔵Conservative: Veronica Morrison
🔴Labour: Michael Perera
Independent: Maureen Ross
🟠Lib Dem: Charles Stephen

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



As many candidates on the ballot this time as at last year’s by-election, but whereas we had the full Holyrood 5 then, Labour are absent this time around, their spot on the paper taken by a second Independent. The three candidates taking up the alphabetically top spots on the ballot – the SNP, Green and Libertarian – are all the exact same candidates their parties stood last year. Everyone else is an entirely fresh face.

🟡SNP: Gordon Allison
🟢Green: Andrew Barnett
🟤Libertarian: Harry Christian
🟠Lib Dem: Barbara Cohen
Independent: Laura Dundas
Independent: John Shearer
🔵Conservative: Eva Short


Look, in Highland you always have to be prepared for an Independent win. I was burned in Inverness South by thinking an Independent who’d stood in a different ward, and the fact Inverness is less Independent-minded, wouldn’t win, and I got bloody well shown up, didn’t I? I’d have been more likely to suggest Independents were in the running here given an Independent won the last by-election, because even though the thing about Independents is that they are meant to be, well, Independent, in Highland they by and large do actually operate almost as a clear partisan bloc and choice.

Could I tell you which of the Independents is most likely to win? Alas, no. As I often point out, whilst I like to think I do a good job at keeping up with by-elections across the country, it simply is not possible for me to be au fait with really specific local issues and personalities across the whole of Scotland. Suffice it to say I think it’ll be one of the two, and that the only party I think has any chance whatsoever of winning otherwise would be the Lib Dems.


Lean Independent.

2023 By-Election Results (Detailed Data)

Results by Polling District
Second Preferences

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