Wards Worth Watching takes a look at what could be some of the most interesting contests across Scotland this May, based on past election results. No claim is made that these are the only possible changes that will occur, nor that other wards aren’t interesting. Some possible outcomes will be impacted by party decisions as to number of candidates and whether incumbent councillors choose to re-stand or not.
By Scottish standards Angus is a mid-sized council, larger and more rural than your average Central Belt local authority, but smaller and more urbanised than the true giants like Highland, Aberdeenshire or Dumfries and Galloway. Fisheries and farming have long been important to this area, with Arbroath almost as renowned for its smokies as the much-quoted Declaration of 1320. Other major coastal towns include Carnoustie and Montrose, whilst Forfar and Brechin are the main settlements in the interior. In addition, as compared to the previous Angus district, the modern council reclaimed Monifieth and a bunch of the Sidlaw villages from Dundee.
That mix of small-to-medium towns with particular specialisms and large rural farming tracts naturally lent itself to a long history of Conservative representation. The SNP would briefly upend that in one constituency in the second of 1974’s Westminster elections, before more firmly establishing themselves in 1987. Whilst the Holyrood seats haven’t ever been anything but SNP held, the Conservatives did briefly gain the UK Angus seat in their 2017 surge, but it slipped away in 2019.
Local elections demonstrated a similar trend, as the Conservatives led the local district for the first three elections it existed. The SNP overtook them for the last three starting in 1984, when it was their only majority in the country. That majority persisted through the three FPTP elections after reorganisation, with the Conservatives faring consistently poorly despite Angus re-gaining Dundee’s rural hinterlands.
Previous STV Elections
STV did the job it’s meant to do at its first outing here, reducing the SNP to a minority for the first time in over 20 years. Nonetheless they were still the largest party by miles, winning a total of 13 seats to the Conservatives’ 5, Lib Dems’ 3, and Labour’s 2. The balance was made up by a substantial bloc of 6 Independent councillors.
The SNP reasserted themselves in the second election and won 15 seats allowing them to form, as they did in Dundee, a majority administration – only the second they’ve ever had under STV. Independents also had a very good election, with 8 such councillors elected. Everyone else suffered for those gains, with the Conservatives on 4 councillors and 1 apiece for Labour and the Lib Dems.
Although the SNP were overtaken by the Conservatives in terms of votes for the first time in over 30 years, the quirks of STV still had the SNP as the largest party with 9 councillors, the same total as the Independents. The Conservatives won 8 seats, and the remaining 2 went to the Lib Dems, with Labour losing their last seat. When I say “quirk” what I mean was that the Conservatives didn’t stand enough candidates – there are two wards where they clearly had enough support for two councillors but only stood one.
Wards Worth Watching
Although the Conservatives will be attempting a defence of their title of most popular party, this is likely to be a much more difficult election for them than in 2017. Their lead then was already only 2.7%, and the SNP regaining the Westminster seat and maintaining their strength at Holyrood bodes ill for the Conservatives. There’s a strong chance the SNP return to being undisputed top dogs in this one.
Another little thing to watch out for will be if the Greens stand any candidates. Angus is one of just two mainland councils where they haven’t ever stood a candidate – or at least, certainly not in the STV era. That alone means they won’t be in serious contention to win any seats, but putting up candidates would be a sign of organisational growth and bedding in. At the same time, although I reckon it’d be a stretch and haven’t picked out any strong chances for them, Labour could mount a return to the council if they can get the right transfers in the right ward.
Update following close of nominations: The Conservatives, SNP and Lib Dems are contesting every Angus ward. Labour are contesting 7 of the 8, and the Greens have indeed stood for the first time, in 6 wards. Alba are contesting 3. More details here.
Monifieth and Sidlaw (4)
2017 Councillors: SNP x2, Conservative, Lib Dem.
This Dundee-surrounding ward is one of those mentioned earlier where the Conservatives had enough support to win a second seat in 2017, but failed to stand a candidate to take it. Instead, their preferences easily pulled the Lib Dems over the line, and the remaining two seats went to the SNP. My estimate is that it’d have been that second SNP councillor who would have lost out had the Conservatives correctly estimated their strength, though only barely.
That means this is an obvious area for the Conservatives to try and make gains this time around. Their first preference lead over the SNP isn’t that big in the grand scheme of things though, and if the SNP bounce back a bit in Angus, they could easily find themselves holding both of their seats. The Lib Dems would then be who the Conservatives would be seeking to poach a seat from, and likelihood of success will depend on how well embedded the Lib Dem councillor has become.
Arbroath West, Letham and Friockheim (4)
2017 Councillors: Conservative, Fairweather (Independent), SNP, Lib Dem.
The other missed Conservative doubler was in this ward, where again their huge glut of surplus votes transferred overwhelmingly to the Lib Dems. At just 5.3% of the first preference vote, I believe this is the second-lowest share any sole candidate was able to be elected from in 2017, and the lowest of any sole party candidate. Obviously, had the Conservatives stood another candidate, the Lib Dem would have been nowhere near a seat.
Unlike the Monifieth Lib Dem, don’t expect this one to have been able to build up some local support and profile to try and overcome that. Richard Moore has been sitting as an Independent since 2018 when the Standards Commission found he had acted extremely inappropriately towards female colleagues. The SNP are also much further behind in this ward, so it’s a far easier route to two Conservatives here.
Montrose and District (4)
2017 Councillors: SNP, Conservative, Salmond (Independent), Stewart (Independent)
In an election where they otherwise slipped quite far back, Montrose and District was one of two wards the SNP held a lead compared to 2012, and in fact only experienced a relatively mild decrease in support. Nonetheless, it was enough to lose one of their seats as the Conservatives and a second Independent broke through.
At the final stage the SNP’s second candidate was only 84 votes (1.7%) behind Stewart, so this is by far their best bet for gaining an additional seat in Angus. That doesn’t mean it’s their only possibility, just the one that’s easiest to see coming.
Update following close of nominations: Both Independents are re-standing, confirming that the SNP have to go through one of them to win a second councillor.
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