Wards Worth Watching: Clackmannanshire

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.


Clackmannanshire was historically the smallest of Scotland’s counties, leading to the “Wee County” moniker in contrast to the neighbouring “Big County” of Perthshire. Unlike many of Scotland’s other small counties, Clacks has survived successive reorganisations as an independent governing unit. With substantial industrialisation around the main town of Alloa, plus the mills and distilleries of the Hillfoots villages, Clacks was a strong area for Labour throughout the 20th Century.

However, it was also an early core of SNP support, swinging their way in both of the 1974 Elections, before returning to Labour. That’s been the dynamic since, with both parties at some point having held the Westminster seat at least once, and the SNP the Holyrood seat since 2003. There was a brief Conservative stint from 2017 to 2019 in the UK seat too, though it’s likely that was driven largely by the Perthshire component, Clacks being too small to have a seat to itself.

Local elections experienced a similar history, starting with SNP-Labour tie in the first ever District Council election, which then went majority SNP in 1977. Labour then held consistent majorities up to and including the first post-reorganisation election. 1999 saw the SNP as the largest party with exactly half of the seats, before it then reverted to a Labour lead for the final FPTP vote in 2003.

Previous STV Elections


At the first STV election in 2007, the two parties were almost entirely evenly split. Labour’s 8 seats saw them the largest on the council, ahead of the SNP on 7 who had a very narrow lead in votes. The remaining three seats went one each to the Conservatives, Lib Dems, and an Independent.


In 2012 the SNP opened up a much more substantial lead in votes, though that simply equalised them with Labour on 8 seats apiece. The Lib Dems lost their councillor, the Conservatives held theirs, and a single Independent was also elected, though it was a new face as the 2007 term Independent had joined the SNP (and has been successfully re-elected under that banner at both elections since.)


The Conservative revival sweeping Scotland in 2017 showed strongly in the Wee County, as both the SNP and Labour saw significant decreases in their vote share. Nonetheless, the SNP held steady at 8 seats, whilst Labour ended even with the Conservatives on 5 seats. No Independents were elected at this election, with 2012’s Independent also having joined the SNP (and was successfully re-elected, before resigning to trigger a 2018 by-election). Though they didn’t win any seats, the Greens also contested this election for the first time and recorded one of their strongest vote shares in the country.

Wards Worth Watching

General Comments

In common with a number of Central Belt councils, it’s a reasonable assumption that the SNP will remain out in front here, having gained some ground since their 2017 nadir. Until the Conservatives became mired in Westminster scandal recently, there was a good chance they’d be able to pull into second place in the Wee County, against a poorly performing Labour party. That may be much less of a prospect now, and indeed some Conservative seats are at clear risk. By contrast, if the Greens continue to perform strongly Clacks offers a serious chance of a breakthrough – one of their best anywhere in the country.

Update following close of nominations: Of the Holyrood 5 parties, the Lib Dems are again the only party lacking a full slate, standing in 3 of 5 wards here. Alba are contesting 2. More details here.

In a notably odd turn of events, Labour are standing 3 candidates in Clacks Central, a 3-member ward they won 1 seats in 2017, and lost a 2019 by-election. Parties usually do not stand as many candidates as there are seats. In a 3-member ward, that would require 75%+ of the vote to guarantee success. Strange!

Clackmannanshire West (4)

2017 Councillors: SNP x2, Labour, Conservative.

Clackmannanshire follows Inverclyde’s lead in not actually giving their wards proper names. If they did, this would be “Tullibody and Menstrie”. At the last election the SNP’s second candidate ended up 4.5% ahead of Labour’s at the final stage, which could be pretty easily reversed to give Labour a double. However, if the Conservatives do indeed have a poor election, they could be the ones handing their seat over. At the time of writing, I reckon this is the more likely outcome.

Clackmannanshire South (4)

2017 Councillors: SNP x2, Labour, Conservative.

This one could be described as “Alloa”, encompassing as it does most of the Wee County’s main town. It’s here that the Greens have an extremely strong chance at breaking onto the council. Their 15.2% in 2017 was their third strongest share of any ward outside of Edinburgh and Glasgow, and actually in excess of what a number of successfully elected Green councillors achieved. What prevented a Green being elected here last time was that there was simply no room for transfers to squeak them through.

You need 20%+1 vote for a seat in a 4-member ward, and the parties winning seats almost perfectly landed on that value – or double it, in the SNP’s case. That means any one of those three parties only needs to lose a little bit of support for the Greens to pinch their seat. Of those three, the Conservatives are probably the most likely to lose. In addition to having the weakest starting position, their councillor ended up sitting as an Independent for most of the term, so they won’t have been able to build up a personal vote. Throw in any ongoing difficulties related to the Prime Minister and they look decidedly vulnerable.

Clackmannanshire East (3)

2017 Councillors: Conservative, SNP, Labour.

Effectively “Clackmannan, Dollar and Muckhart”, this ward was home to the solitary Conservative councillor before their 2017 surge. They built on that success to become the leading party here, though their councillor would eventually resign due to ill health and prompt a by-election, which looked like this:

By-Election Winner: Conservative

The Conservatives completely steamrollered that election, winning an absolute majority of votes. Labour’s vote completely collapsed, going from having won more than five times as many votes as the Greens to just 2.3% ahead. Whilst they may recover somewhat in the light of a full election, that outcome has set the stage for a possible Conservative double at Labour’s expense.

Update following close of nominations: The Conservatives have indeed nominated two candidates here and are aiming for a double.

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