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.
As with its northern counterpart, this one is a simple renaming of what was an existing 70’s reform District, in this case Kyle and Carrick. In addition to Ayr itself, and the beach almost every wean in the west of Scotland is familiar with, the council includes the neighbouring towns of Prestwick and Troon to the north. The Carrick portion is much larger and much more rural, with the main population centres at Girvan and Maybole. Ayr and its attendant towns have historically been notably more affluent than the rest of the county, though by no means universally so.
The relative affluence of the urban core of this area was reflected in the consistent election of Conservative MPs to Westminster for various iterations of the Ayr constituency until Labour finally won it in 1997. However, the Holyrood equivalent would become the first constituency the Conservatives ever won for that parliament, gaining it at the first ever by-election in 2000. The SNP gained the Carrick-inclusive Holyrood constituency in 2011 and the Westminster seats in 2015. They lost the one covering the bulk of the area to the Conservatives in 2017 then regained it in 2019, and in 2021 picked up Ayr itself in the Scottish Parliament.
Turning to the old District council, it had solid Conservative majorities for the first two elections, then they traded off with Labour each election for the following four. Labour then won the first two for the rebranded South Ayrshire, and the final FPTP vote saw a straight tie between the two. This area was such a Labour-Conservative battleground that, in the absence of PR, only two of the nine elections elected any councillors from outwith those two parties.
Previous STV Elections
Bringing in a partly proportional voting system finally broke the two party duopoly that had persisted in South Ayrshire longer than many other councils. The Conservatives remained the clear leaders with 12 seats, ahead of Labour’s 9. Not far behind and no longer locked out of representation, the SNP tallied up 8 councillors, leaving the final seat to an Independent.
The second election under STV ended up a pretty close run thing. Though the Conservatives again retained their lead, they dropped down to 10 seats. That put them one seat and 2% of the vote ahead of the SNP and their 9 councillors. Labour tied with the SNP for seats, but were at a slightly larger vote disadvantage of 4%. The other lost Conservative seat went to a second Independent councillor.
South Ayrshire was an obvious area for Conservative growth in the midst of their revival, and they duly bumped back up to 12 seats – as the council had lost 2 councillors overall, that was a larger share than when they won that tally in 2007. The SNP and Independents were meanwhile completely static on 9 and 2 seats respectively, leaving Labour to bear all of the net losses, slipping down to 5 seats.
Wards Worth Watching
Given the Conservatives haven’t ever come anything bar first in South Ayrshire since STV was introduced, it’s quite likely they’ll hold onto that position this year. That doesn’t mean leading the council though, as since 2017 it’s been an SNP-Labour-Independent administration. Though the SNP have made inroads recently, they only won the Ayr constituency last year by the skin of their teeth, so they are more likely to narrow than close the vote gap. As with so many other places, given current circumstances the interplay between Conservative and Labour vote shares may make or break either party.
Whether the two smaller Holyrood parties put in much of a showing here will also be worth keeping an eye on. Despite the introduction of PR, both parties have been largely absent from the area. In 2017 the Greens only stood in one ward, and the Lib Dems didn’t appear on any ballot anywhere in the whole of Ayrshire. If they stand they certainly won’t be in line for seats, but it will demonstrate organisational capacity.
Update following close of nominations: No demonstration of organisational capacity from the Greens here, making this one of just two councils they aren’t contesting at all. The Lib Dems meanwhile are standing in 6 of the 8 wards, treble their previous maximum. That leaves the Conservatives, SNP and Labour as the only parties standing in all wards. Alba are contesting 4. More details here.
2017 Councillors: Conservative x2, SNP, Labour.
Back in 2017, the SNP almost translated winning more than twice Labour’s vote to winning two seats. Labour’s candidate ended up placing 2.7% ahead of the SNP’s second at the final stage. This could therefore be another ward where Labour presence disappears entirely.
The Conservatives meanwhile are so strong here it’s hard to see them dropping one of their two seats, even if they lose a fair chunk of votes. That’s the kind of vote shift that could play in Labour’s favour, helping to secure their seat against the SNP.
Update following close of nominations: In fact, the Conservatives are feeling bold here and have stood three candidates. My instinct is they are less likely to win three than the SNP are to win two, but their chances are decent.
Ayr West (4)
2017 Councillors: Conservative x3, SNP.
This has been a consistently been the Conservatives’ best ward in South Ayrshire, with a staggering lead last time that gave them three councillors. Although they were pretty close to three full quotas, the usual leakage through the transfer process put their final candidate only 3.8% ahead of Labour. If Labour are hoping to regain some of their lost ground in South Ayrshire, this is the ward where they’ll be most likely to do so.
Update following close of nominations: The Conservatives are again standing three candidates here, so are in with a solid chance at retaining their trio.
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