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.
Unlike many of Scotland’s council areas, Inverclyde doesn’t preserve or indicate a particular historic unit. The name is a relatively recent coinage for what is in effect West Renfrewshire. Situated on the Firth of Clyde, this area has a long maritime and industrial history, with the formerly separate towns of Port Glasgow, Greenock and Gourock having gradually grown into one another. It also includes smaller, and generally more affluent, villages such as Wemyss Bay, Inverkip and Kilmacolm.
As you’d expect from such an industrial area, the political tendency here was mostly towards Labour, although the Conservatives did win a wider western Renfrewshire seat in 1983 that excluded the urban core. That core remained with Labour in both parliaments right up until 2015 when the SNP picked Inverclyde up in their landslide, which they repeated locally at the 2016 Scottish Parliament election.
Perhaps surprisingly however, Inverclyde was also long a Liberal Democrat (and predecessors) stronghold at local level. They were the primary opposition to Labour in the previous, identical, district except in 1977, when they won a majority. They’d again repeat that feat in the 2003 election, causing Inverclyde to stick out like a sore orange thumb in an otherwise red tinted Central Belt.
Previous STV Elections
That brief Lib Dem supremacy here didn’t survive contact with that party’s preferred form of proportional representation. Labour returned to a clear lead of 9 seats, whilst the SNP were second on 5, leaving the Lib Dems third with 4 councillors. A single Conservative and Independent completed the picture this year.
The Lib Dems similarly emerged as the losers in this vote, as they were left with just a pair of councillors. Their seats went one each to Labour and the SNP who thus ended up with 10 and 6 respectively, and the same Conservative and Independent were re-elected.
2017 was a right old STV mess, it has to be said. Although the SNP won a 6% lead in first preference votes, their 7 seats put them in second place behind Labour’s 8. The Conservatives too felt the sting as they only grew to 2 seats, representation around half of what they proportionally deserved. A fair few independents emerged quite happy from this election however, with a substantial 4 elected. Lib Dem woes continued too, as they found themselves reduced to just one seat.
Wards Worth Watching
Thinking about what could happen in May, the SNP will obviously be aiming to overturn 2017’s odd situation of winning a clear lead in votes but placing second in seats. Part of what helped boost Labour’s result then was that poor translation of votes to seats for the Conservatives, leading to their transfers flowing to Labour. If Conservative support is down this election, which currently seems likely, Labour may pick those votes back up as first preferences.
It’s by no means impossible that Labour actually close the gap with the SNP in votes as a result. Nor however is it guaranteed. Labour’s council success would be followed the next month by placing just 1% behind the SNP in the Westminster seat. Come 2019, and they were 19% behind. The SNP won a similar lead in the Holyrood seat last year, so unless they have yet another local election wobble, their starting position may be stronger.
This is another one with a wee “interesting but not impactful” thing to keep an eye on. If you read the Angus piece, you’ll recall I said there are only two mainland councils where the Greens have never stood candidates. Inverclyde is the second, so let’s see if they put any up this time.
Update following close of nominations: The SNP, Labour and Conservatives are contesting every ward in Inverclyde. Not only are the Greens not present, making this now the only council they’ve never stood in, but the Lib Dems have also evaporated, contesting only 3 of the 7 wards. Alba are contesting 4. More details here.
That Lib Dem evaporation meant that Inverclyde East was uncontested, with three candidates standing for three seats. Christopher Curley (SNP), Stephen McCabe (Labour) and David Wilson (Conservative) are therefore elected without a vote. Note that this is almost certainly the result that would have come about even with a contested election.
Inverclyde East Central (3)
2017 Councillors: SNP, Labour, McKenzie (Independent).
For some reason, Inverclyde don’t actually name their wards, they just have these bland directional descriptions. This is effectively “Port Glasgow West”. In 2017 an Independent managed a pretty creditable climb from about half a quota into winning a seat, with the Conservatives his closest competition.
This would therefore probably be the Conservatives’ best chance of bringing their seat share more in line with their vote share. However, the SNP weren’t a million miles behind, and if they end up having a good year, they could instead win a double here.
Inverclyde North (4)
2017 Councillors: Labour x2, SNP, Conservative.
Giving this a more useful name might be “Greenock North.” Labour had enough of a lead here to take two councillors, and the Conservatives had almost enough to be elected on first preferences alone.
The second Labour candidate only had a lead of around 26 votes (0.5%) over their SNP counterpart, so it’s easy to see the SNP gaining from them. Alternatively, if the Conservatives have taken a knock, it could be their councillor that’s turfed out to give a 2:2 split for the SNP and Labour.
Inverclyde West (3)
2017 Councillors: Ahlfeld (Independent), SNP, Quinn (Independent).
Again, going for a more helpful name here would have been “Gourock”. Note first of all the truly spectacular vote share for Ronald Ahlfeld – if there were two of him, they’d both have gotten elected with that kind of share. As I noted in the West Lothian piece, it’s rare for a Central Belt Independent to be so strongly supported.
Another coincidental tie in with one of this week’s pieces is what then happened with his transfers. They gave an enormous boost to fellow Independent Lynne Quinn, who won a pretty paltry 4.1% of first preferences. She easily takes the crown for lowest share won by a sole candidate that was nonetheless elected, beating that Lib Dem in Angus. That makes her an obvious one to swap out for Labour, who came close to a seat in 2017.
One complicating factor here is that the SNP councillor elected was Christopher McEleny, who is now rather better known for being one of Alba’s foremost public faces. Given their abysmal showing last year, Alba could be facing a zero-seat result. Nonetheless, this ward may be their best shot – I’d be unsurprised if, aware of the electoral reality, the party’s campaign behind the scenes basically boiled down to “get McEleny re-elected.”
Updated following close of nominations: In a shock turn of events, Ronald Ahlfeld is not re-standing. He doesn’t appear to have announced this before the close of nominations. Both the SNP and Labour will now be kicking themselves that they only stood one candidate.
This has heightened the tension in this ward. Whilst the SNP and Labour should be guaranteed to elect their councillors, Quinn as the remaining Independent may be on a shooglier peg. It will depend on how many of the second preferences which in 2017 took her over the line from a very low start become first preferences in Ahlfeld’s absence.
Inverclyde South West (3)
2017 Councillors: SNP, Lib Dem, Labour.
This is a post close of nominations addition, so does not appear on the map. Inverclyde’s vague ward names strike again, so for clarity this is effectively “Wemyss Bay, Inverkip and Braeside”. Lib Dem councillor Luciano Rebecchi has served Inverclyde for a whopping 34 years, but announced in February he was standing down. That’s enough advance notice that if I’d thought to check I could have included it at first pass, but alas!
In any case, it’s almost certain given his party’s local woes he had a personal vote he’d built up over his time in office. That means although this is one of the three Lib Dem contested wards in Inverclyde, the odds are probably against them. On 2017 results it’d probably be the Conservatives most likely to benefit, but if the SNP are having a better day, they are standing two candidates and thus could pull off a double.
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