Wards Worth Watching: North Lanarkshire

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.


North Lanarkshire is in many respects the archetypical Central Belt council, historically heavily industrialised, and particularly renowned for the massive steelworks at Ravenscraig in Motherwell. That heyday has long since passed but still defines the character of the area, a truly modern creation bringing together what were in the previous model the Cumbernauld and Kilsyth (historically parts of Dunbartonshire and Stirlingshire), Motherwell (and thus Wishaw) and Monklands (Coatbridge and Airdrie, basically) districts, plus the Chryston area of Strathkelvin.

As part of the historic and incredibly shaped East Dunbartonshire constituency, Cumbernauld elected a Conservative then an SNP MP in 1974’s double elections, but otherwise what is now North Lanarkshire was solidly Labour for decades. The first breach of that in recent years came with SNP success in constituencies covering Cumbernauld and Airdrie in the 2011 Scottish Parliament election, followed by them sweeping the whole area in both 2015 (UK) and 2016 (Scottish) elections. Labour briefly regained the Coatbridge and Chryston seat in 2017 before losing it again in 2019.

Mirroring SNP success in the constituency in 1974, the Cumbernauld and Kilsyth District Council was the SNP’s only majority controlled council that year, which they held in 1977 before losing to Labour in 1980. The other two districts were, unsurprisingly, dominated by Labour for their entire existence. When North Lanarkshire was formed in the mid-90’s, though Labour remained heavily favoured, the SNP nonetheless showed a clear base of support in Cumbernauld through the FPTP era.

Previous STV Elections


As with Glasgow, Labour’s dominance in North Lanarkshire was so absolute that STV wasn’t enough to strip them of a majority – though, in fairness, they had almost 50% of the votes at this election as well, so if they had earned a majority anywhere, it was here. Their mighty haul of 40 seats was almost twice the SNP’s 23 . Independents formed the next largest bloc with 5 seats, leaving one apiece for the Conservatives and Lib Dems. Though there was a lot of comment about it happening in 2017, it’s worth noting this original North Lanarkshire Conservative also represented the ward covering Ravenscraig.


In line with their general success in 2012, Labour held onto their majority in North Lanarkshire, gaining a seat to take their tally to 41 – and this time they also won a majority of votes. The SNP likewise increased their tally with 26 seats. Independents suffered somewhat as only 2 were elected, and both the Conservatives and Lib Dems lost their solitary seats. The remaining seat was won by a former SNP councillor under the banner of Cumbernauld Independent Candidates Alliance.


As with other parts of the Central Belt, 2017 was when events finally caught up with Labour. Despite the expanded size of the council, they suffered substantial losses, dropping to 32 seats. However, 2017 was a tough year for the SNP overall, and their rise to 33 seats only barely squeaked them ahead. The Conservatives mounted a spectacular return to a council they’d barely existed in previously, winning 10 councillors – one of whom was so surprised to be elected he refused to take up office. The tally for Independents remained at 2, though 2012’s CICA branded councillor was not amongst them.

Wards Worth Watching

General Comments

Although it’s likely that 2017 was only so close between the SNP and Labour because of it being the former’s worst year of the decade, this year could be similarly tight. If as expected it’s the Conservatives’ turn for a bad year, Labour obviously stand to benefit, and there seem to be more easy Con to Lab gains available than Lab or Con to SNP. There are also quite a few Lab to Con gains that could happen if there’s a sudden Conservative turnaround by May.

North Lanarkshire is one of the most difficult councils for the smaller parties. The Greens stood in 9 of 21 wards last time so their share is somewhat deflated, but it clearly wouldn’t have been massive even if they had a full slate. The Lib Dems didn’t even stand in 2017, though they put up a couple of by-election candidates since. Basically, just watch and see how many each party stand this time.

Update following close of nominations: Very slight backwards motion for the Greens here, who are standing in 8 of the 21 wards, whilst the Lib Dems reappear in 4. The SNP, Labour and Conservatives are present in them all. Alba are contesting 6. More details here.

Cumbernauld South (4)

2017 Councillors: SNP x3, Labour.

Wards that went three seats to a single party were relatively rare in 2017, but the SNP scraped through to that result here. They were just 1% ahead of the Conservatives at the final stage, leaving them quite vulnerable this time.

In fact, this was almost certainly a classic Central Belt case of Conservative success boosting the SNP – when Labour’s second candidate dropped out, they were a mere 4 votes (0.07%) behind the Conservatives. I’d bet you had the Conservatives dropped out instead, their more one-sided transfers would have secured two Labour seats.

Coatbridge North (4)

2017 Councillors: SNP x2, Labour x2.

A near-tie in votes led to a tie in seats for the SNP and Labour last time, leaving the Conservatives out in the cold. They weren’t far off though, at 2.2% behind Labour’s second and 2.9% behind the SNP’s, meaning they could poach a seat from either if they had a better result.

Coatbridge South (4)

2017 Councillors: SNP x2, Labour x2. 

A normal for North Lanarkshire SNP:Labour duopoly last time, but the Conservatives were very close to a seat here despite their relatively low first preference share. Just 40 votes (0.9%) separated them from Labour’s second candidate. Sadly, that councillor passed in 2018, leading to a by-election:

By-Election Winner: Labour. 

Labour had a much better result at the by-election – probably due to the absence of the IANL candidates who, remember, had previously been Labour councillors. Replicated at a full election, that’d clearly secure a second seat. However, the Conservative vote did go up, so whilst I’d give them a lower chance than 2017 suggested, it’s not a zero chance.

Airdrie North (4)

2017 Councillors: SNP, Labour, Independent (Beveridge), Conservative.

The only four-member ward in North Lanarkshire where every seat went to a different party, this is one the Conservatives could lose if they’ve contracted locally since 2017. Although the Conservatives had a straight tie with the (formerly SNP) Independent in first preferences, he easily won more transfers to be elected first, and I’d be surprised if he was at as much risk. Labour were roughly 4.1% shy of having their second candidate beat the Conservatives, which is relatively easy to close.

Airdrie Central (4)

2017 Councillors: SNP x2, Labour, Conservative.

The Conservatives actually did pretty well in Airdrie overall, it being the only big town in North Lanarkshire where they won a seat in every ward. This is the one they are most at risk in however, with Labour’s second candidate only 2.8% behind last time. 

Bellshill (4)

2017 Councillors: Labour x2, SNP, Conservative.

Everything so far has been a prospective Labour or Conservative gain – this time around it’s the SNP on the hunt for a second seat. It was a tight contest between them and Labour last time, falling just 46 votes (0.9%) behind at the final stage. At the same point they were 90 votes (1.8%) behind the Conservatives, so if they were to gain, it could come from either party.

Motherwell North (4)

2017 Councillors: SNP x2, Labour x2.

This is another standard 2:2 ward for the big two, but where Labour could shed a seat to the Conservatives, who were 1.6% short of winning one in 2017. Less likely now than then, perhaps, but still possible.

Murdostoun (4)

2017 Councillors: SNP, McKendrick (Independent), Labour x2.

This ward with a very strong Independent only barely gave two Labour councillors – at the final stage, the Conservatives were just 2 votes (0.03%) behind Labour’s second candidate, and 8 (0.12%) behind their first. That was some absolutely spectacular voter management on Labour’s part, perhaps, but in theory it makes this an easy candidate for a Conservative victory. However, McKendrick unfortunately passed away last year, with his son taking up the banner for the by-election…

By-Election Winner: McKendrick Jr (Independent). 

… and absolutely walked it, coming head and shoulders above the SNP in second place. Of course at a full election, most of those votes would be surplus and transfer. Frustratingly, the council didn’t make the preference profile available for this election, so we don’t know where those would have went. I’ve therefore got both the SNP and the Conservatives, despite the latter’s sharper drop in vote share, as capable of gaining from Labour, who also had a much poorer result. 

Fortissat (4)

2017 Councillors: Labour x2, SNP, Conservative.

This is a post close of nominations addition, which is why it isn’t on the map, as one party was quite frankly playing absolute silly buggers here. There’s a lot here that I’ll try to get through as quickly as possible. So, the Conservative councillor was never meant to be elected and never took up his seat. Cue an immediate by-election.

By-Election Winner: Labour.

An unsurprising Labour victory, but a shock result for the British Unionist Party, coming second ahead of the SNP. Truly incredible. This was followed by a SECOND by-election last year.

By-Election Winner: Labour.

Labour won, again. That gave them all four seats in the ward – not fair, not representative, a flaw of doing STV by-elections. Not the main thing though. Note complete absence of British Unionist Party. In early 2021, their central figure had decided his new pointless wheeze was going to be the Abolish the Scottish Parliament Party (0.3% of the vote at Holyrood). Bizarre I thought – how daft to disappear given they had clear strength here that could give a councillor. Oh well, no point including the ward in Wards Worth Watching eh?

Oh, what do you know, there they are on the ballot for the full election. What are you guys playing at? Honestly? Anyway, based on the 2017 by-election, and assuming they haven’t absolutely pissed away their chances by not bothering with last year’s by-election, maybe they could win a seat rather than the Conservatives.

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