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.
Perth and Kinross is what it says the tin – a merger of the historic counties of Perthshire and Kinross-shire, though Perthshire was shorn of a large chunk of its southeast when this district was created in the 1970’s. Perth, the Fair City, is the urban anchor for what is otherwise a massive rural stretch at the very centre of the country, encompassing both lowland and highland areas. Perthshire was historically such a big chunk of Scotland that it’s known as “the Big County”, contrasting with the neighbouring “Wee County” of Clackmannanshire.
In common with largely rural, farming-heavy counties across Scotland, for much of the 20th century this area was heavily Conservative leaning. Over time they were increasingly challenged by the SNP, who held a seat here for 5 years after the October 1974 election, before they more firmly established themselves via a 1995 by-election. SNP representation has been the norm in both parliaments since, though the southern portion was part of a Labour seat at Westminster from 2005 to 2015, then in Conservative hands briefly from 2017 to 2019. The north came close to flipping in 2017 as well, having been a bawhair thin majority of 21 votes for the SNP.
Throughout the district council era, the Conservatives were the largest party, though without a majority in 1984 and 1988. The SNP won a majority at the first unitary election here, then held a plurality at the following two, when the Conservatives began to bounce back from their nadir.
Previous STV Elections
The SNP maintained their lead here at the first PR election, winning 18 seats to the Conservatives’ 12. With 8 councillors the Lib Dem had a sizeable group too, alongside a smaller clutch of 3 for Labour.
Any area with a fair chunk of Lib Dem councillors was a prospect for big losses at this election, so it’s no surprise they dropped to 5 seats. It was all steady for the SNP with 18 seats again, whilst the Conservatives also fell backwards slightly, to 10 councillors. Labour were up to 4, meaning the remaining 4 seats went to Independents. One of those was associated with the “Perth Independent Candidates Party”.
No surprises at the last election, as a historic Conservative bastion swung back their way in the midst of their revival. They took the lead with 17 seats, but despite winning almost 10% less of the vote, the SNP weren’t too far behind with 15 seats – again, Conservative under-contesting probably cost them at least one councillor. The Lib Dems, with 4, and Independents, with 3, only suffered minor losses, meaning the rest of the change came from Labour being reduced to a sole councillor.
Wards Worth Watching
Don’t let the fact the SNP bounced back at Westminster and held the Holyrood seats here fool you – they are by no means set for a comfortable sweep back into first. If we look at the regional vote last year across the two P&K constituencies, the SNP’s lead over the Conservatives was only around 1.5%. Conservative Westminster woes may help further tip things the SNP’s way in May, but it could still be close.
If we’re thinking about smaller parties, Labour are at risk of dropping off the council entirely, but the Lib Dems should be just fine. Interestingly the Greens were actually the third party in the regional vote last year, with Labour fourth and Lib Dems fifth. If the Greens stand an almost-full slate again (they only missed one ward in 2017) they should see their share grow albeit without translating to seats. Regardless, I’d be very surprised if they repeated their third place at local level, where existing councillors can be well embedded.
Update following close of nominations: The Conservatives, SNP and Lib Dems are all standing full slates here. The Greens went very marginally backwards and are contesting 10 of the 12 wards, whilst Labour will appear in 7 of them. Alba are contesting 2. More details here.
Carse of Gowrie (3)
2017 Councillors: Conservative, SNP, Labour.
This was one of many wards where the Conservatives did very well but only stood one candidate. In pure quota terms, they’d have been starting with a maximum of 18.4% for their second versus Labour’s 14.8%, and could therefore have got a second with favourable transfers. However, given you’d expect SNP transfers to favour Labour over the Conservatives, Labour could still have held on. They may be safer this election if the Conservatives are going backwards, but there is still a risk.
Update following close of nominations: The Conservatives are indeed standing two candidates here this time, meaning Labour’s seat will be at risk.
2017 Councillors: Conservative x2, SNP, Lib Dem.
The Conservatives did stand two in this ward last time, and were justly rewarded for doing so. They’ve got a solid lead over the SNP but not one that couldn’t be overturned. If the SNP can take a lead, there may not be many places for the Conservatives to pick up transfers, which would help see a second SNP candidate over the line.
2017 Councillors: Conservative, SNP, McDade (Independent).
And we’re back to a ward where the Conservatives could have got two had they stood two, but they didn’t, so they didn’t. Instead, their transfers helped see an Independent to victory. McDade has opted to re-stand after initially suggesting he wouldn’t, but if the Conservatives play their cards right they could still make up for their 2017 mistake. To complicate things very slightly, there’s been a by-election here:
By-Election Winner: Conservative
Not actually that different to the 2017 result, just with a different Independent and Labour subbing in. This was all the way back in early 2018 however – one of the very first by-elections I covered on BBS! Given changes since then, we could still see the SNP increase their share. After five years in post it’s also possible that McDade will have built a personal vote that’s harder to beat this time, especially if the Conservatives are having a weaker election.
Update following close of nominations: The Conservatives are confirmed attempting a double here.
2017 Councillors: Conservative x2, SNP.
If the SNP’s bounceback holds, this is a good prospect for them to make a gain. It’s one of the Conservative’s narrower leads in pure first preference terms, and even though there are some good transfer sources, they didn’t benefit the Conservatives that much in 2017. By the final stage of the count, the SNP’s second candidate was around 2.1% behind the Conservatives’. That’s not a lot of growth needed.
2017 Councillors: Conservative, SNP, Lib Dem, Barnacle (Independent).
This is the Kinross in Perth and Kinross – a former county, but so small it’s now a single ward. The Conservatives had a strong result here, the kind of share that often leads to two seats if the party with it places first overall. That didn’t happen here, as transfers instead saw Independent Mike Barnacle elected.
Conservative performance in 2017 alone would be reason to say they could be in with a chance at two this time. What may be an extra boost is that Barnacle joined the Conservatives last year. Whether he stands again or not, he obviously won’t be competing against the party. That could make this outcome as close to “in the bag” as any possibility in this piece.
Perth City South (4)
2017 Councillors: Lib Dem, SNP x2, Conservative.
Perth City itself, as is the way of cities, jars massively with its surroundings by not having any Conservative leads. This ward has an extremely popular Lib Dem councillor, who could almost certainly have pulled a party colleague along with him, at the SNP’s expense, had they stood a second. We can be confident a chunk of that vote is personal though as there have been two by-elections here since then where the Lib Dems did not place first. We’ll look at the most recent of these, from 2020:
By-Election Winner: Lib Dem.
Not first, but close, and they did then easily win on transfers. That’s why I think if the SNP do lose their second seat here, it’ll be to the Lib Dems. Clearly, they’ve have been working the area, and crucially they are a much more transfer friendly option than the Conservatives are. The balance of quotas here very much favours the combined total of Lib Dem and Conservative to have 3 seats, and the more transfer friendly party thus would be the one to get two.
Update following close of nominations: The Lib Dems are only standing a single candidate here, increasing the Conservatives’ chances of coming out with a double.
Perth City Centre (4)
2017 Councillors: SNP x2, Conservative, Lib Dem.
No Conservative leads in the city, I said, but they came close here. Though they might have been in contention for a second seat with a second candidate, it was the SNP that won two. At the final stage that SNP candidate was roughly 2.9% ahead of the Labour candidate, who I have pegged as the most likely gain. The reasoning here is that since it’s likely the Conservatives will be going backwards, Labour and the Lib Dems will benefit. As the Lib Dems should be secure here, transfers will then flow to Labour.
Remember though, 2017 was the SNP low point. It’s easy to imagine them in an urban ward increasing their share enough to either win two seats outright, or be so far ahead that only a few transfers are needed to make up the difference.
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