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.
Covering the bulk of inland Ayrshire, East Ayrshire is the only one of the modern trio of councils that isn’t simply a renamed version of a 1973 district. Instead, it was formed from an amalgamation of two of them. The more urbanised northern portion was previously the Kilmarnock and Loudon district. Kilmarnock itself is one of the largest towns in the country, and is orbited by Stewarton and the string of villages in the Irvine Valley. A more expansive and rural southern portion comes from the old Cumnock and Doon Valley district. Cumnock is a much smaller town than Kilmarnock, and there are plenty of mid-sized villages through this area with strong mining associations.
At Westminster the constituencies covering these areas were consistently Labour for decades too, until the SNP’s 2015 victory, though this had been Jim Sillars’ heartland when he launched the short lived “Scottish Labour Party” in the 70’s. He failed to hold his seat, but they did win 2 seats in the Cumnock district in 1977. For Holyrood both seats remained with Labour until the SNP won the Kilmarnock seat in 2007, winning both consistently from 2011 onwards.
Both of the predecessor districts were highly Labour favourable through their history, especially in the Cumnock end where the party always had a majority. In Kilmarnock the Conservatives tied with Labour in 1977, whilst the SNP ran a close second in 1992. Following the merger of the two districts into the modern East Ayrshire, Labour continued to be the clear majority party.
Previous STV Elections
The advent of STV did much to break Labour’s dominance here as it did elsewhere, leading to a tie with the SNP on 14 seats each, although Labour retained a relatively narrow lead in votes. Placing a distant third were the Conservatives who elected 3 councillors, leaving the final seat to an Independent, who just squeaked ahead of a Labour candidate in his ward.
Although this election saw almost exactly the same first preference shares as 2007 for the two leading parties, shifts within wards were enough to see the SNP squeak ahead of Labour with 15 seats to 14. The Conservatives lost a seat and thus became a pair rather than a group. The final seat was again taken by an Independent, but that was where the Conservative loss had come from, as 2007’s Independent had sadly passed in 2009. Labour had gained that seat in the by-election and held it at the full, though quite narrowly against a different Independent.
The last election saw a fair bit more in the way of upheaval. Whilst the SNP held relatively steady on 14 seats, they also took a clear lead in votes for the first time, as Labour support crashed and left them with 9 councillors. The Conservatives ended up less than 1% behind Labour in first preferences, though that translated to a smaller group of 6.
Rounding out the council were two Independents, and a councillor for the Rubbish Party, a one woman outfit under Sally Cogley. It didn’t pass unnoticed on social media that Cogley’s success meant that across all local elections taking part across the UK that day, the Rubbish Party had won as many seats as UKIP did, as the latter experienced the first phase of their post-EU Referendum wipeout.
Wards Worth Watching
East Ayrshire is one of a few council areas where the Conservatives made such an advance that they could have conceivably been making to overtake a further weakened Labour party this year, until scandal erupted. If a poor election materialises as expected for the blue team, their red counterparts can breathe a sigh of relief. The SNP meanwhile are likely to sit quite comfortably out in front.
As with the rest of Ayrshire, there wasn’t a Lib Dem to be seen here in 2017. Indeed, they’ve only stood one candidate here in the entire STV era. That contrasts with the other smaller party, the Greens, who put up 4 candidates last time. If you’re reading these in sequence you might be getting tired of seeing me say this, but whilst we can say with certainty neither will win any seats, if they stand at all it’ll be an indication of local organisational strength.
Update following close of nominations: Similar to South Ayrshire, the Lib Dems are the party showing more organisational capacity here, though only barely, contesting 2 of 9 wards, whereas the Greens have reduced to just one. The SNP, Labour and Conservatives are present in every ward. Alba are contesting 3, and the Rubbish Party’s sole councillor is re-standing. More details here.
2017 Councillors: Conservative, SNP, Labour, Freel (Independent).
East Ayrshire’s most Conservative leaning ward gave the party a share that was pushing on the door of a second seat, but since they didn’t stand a second candidate we don’t know how close they’d have been. If they take the chance this time it could pay off, at either Labour or the Independent councillor’s expense. On the other hand, the SNP don’t have too far to grow either, their second candidate placing about 2.5% behind both Labour and Freel last time. It’s distinctly possible the two big parties carve this ward up evenly between themselves.
Update following close of nominations: It’s not possible, as the Conservatives have only stood one candidate. The SNP however remain in the running for two.
Kilmarnock North (3)
2017 Councillors: SNP, Conservative, Labour.
The SNP are very strong in Kilmarnock in general, and came within a whisker of an outright majority of the vote here in 2017. Overall this ward ended up so finely balanced that there was really very little separating the second SNP candidate from either the Conservatives or Labour. This could be a relatively easy gain for the SNP, with notionally even odds of coming from either of the other parties. At the moment however I’d lean towards the Conservatives being most likely to fumble.
Irvine Valley (3)
2017 Councillors: SNP, Rubbish, Labour.
I’m sorry, I’m sure Sally Cogley is a very good local councillor, but it’s amusing to have to write “Rubbish” as a party description in all seriousness. Overall this ward was on an absolute knife edge at the last election, with 2.6 votes (it’s so close I’ve broken out decimals, but that’s 0.05%) between Labour and the unsuccessful Conservative candidate. Rubbish were only 47 votes (1%) ahead at the same point. The Conservatives could therefore chuck either of them out if they have a better day than they had in 2017.
Cumnock and New Cumnock (4)
2017 Councillors: Labour, SNP x2, Conservative.
Although Labour continue to be the leading party in the south of the council area, they couldn’t leverage that into a second councillor in 2017. In fact, they plummeted down from 3. However, this was another absolute bawhair situation, with 6.4 (0.14%) separating now-MSP Carol Mochan from the successful second SNP candidate. They’ll want to rectify that this time, and could benefit from weakened Conservatives boosting Labour’s initial share, whilst probably not weakening enough themselves to lose their seat.
Doon Valley (3)
2017 Councillors: Labour, SNP, Filson (Independent).
Another ward where the Conservatives lost out to a popular local figure, they were only 87 (2.3%) votes away from beating Filson. It may be more challenging to beat him this time, given he’ll have had five years to dig in, and the we’re expecting a poorer result for the Conservatives all in this time. Both Labour the the SNP should be secure here, so I’d be very surprised if there was any other route to a Conservative councillor here.
Update following close of nominations: Filson is confirmed back on the ballot, and there’s just a single candidate for both the SNP and Labour, meaning any surplus votes will come into play early on and potentially help keep him ahead of the Conservatives.
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.