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.
If it wasn’t for my general dislike of how large Scotland’s councils are, I’d say this was the best in the country. However, I long for the day the Vale of Leven is free of Dumbarton’s tyrannical reign. And yes, the town is Dumbarton but county is Dunbarton. I’m afraid the good people of my home shire live to confuse. Being faintly silly about my homeland aside, this is one of many classic Central Belt councils, bringing together a string of formerly industrial towns along the rivers Clyde and Leven. Despite the name, this isn’t actually the westernmost portion of classical Dunbartonshire, as the Helensburgh and Lomond area opted to join Argyll & Bute in the 90’s reorganisation.
That naturally gave the area a strong Labour bent for most of the 20th Century. At the Scottish Parliament that has continued to the present day, with the (Helensburgh inclusive) Dumbarton constituency one of just two that remain in Labour’s hands, whilst the Clydebank end is covered by a seat that went to the SNP in 2011. As with almost everywhere else the SNP also picked up the Westminster constituency in 2015.
Despite lack of parliamentary impact pre-2011, the SNP did have enough of a base here that I have very strong childhood memories of their election placards festooning streets around the Vale in the 90’s and early 00’s. Labour nonetheless were typically the largest party in both districts that became West Dunbartonshire, though in 1977 the SNP took the lead in Clydebank and Labour came third in Dumbarton. Labour would go on to hold clear majorities through the final FPTP years in the new council.
Previous STV Elections
The first outing for STV saw relative parity between those two major parties as Labour ended up with a narrow lead over the SNP of 10 seats to 9. The remaining spots were filled by 2 Independents and an SSP councillor. However, this was very much a personal vote for Jim Bollan rather than the SSP, as he’d previously been elected to the FPTP Renton ward for Labour and as an Independent.
As part of their general resurgence in 2012, Labour managed the remarkable feat of a majority with 12 seats, as one of four councils where they pulled that off that year. The SNP won only half that many, whilst Independent ranks grew to 3 councillors, and Jim Bollan very comfortably held his seat under the SSP label.
Things swung back the SNP’s way again in 2017, finally beating Labour’s seat tally 10 to 8. They were joined for the first time ever by a pair of Conservative councillors, whilst Independent representation dropped to just one seat. Jim Bollan was again easily re-elected, but this time under the West Dunbartonshire Community Party brand he’d established with one of 2012’s Independent councillors.
Wards Worth Watching
Although Labour can probably still deliver a really solid result here, the SNP’s strength in Clydebank in particular is likely to help keep them out in front. In addition, if the poor election currently expected for the Conservatives does materialise, West Dunbartonshire is the place Labour will benefit the least. The Conservatives’ 2017 vote share here was there lowest of any mainland council, so there aren’t too many votes to transfer over. Indeed, though I’ve only got one down as at really obvious risk, there’s a possibility the Conservatives lose both of their seats here on a particularly grim day.
Both the Greens and Lib Dems only put up a single candidate here in 2017 – coincidentally in the same ward. For the Lib Dems that was their first candidacy in the STV era, but the Greens had surprisingly stood many more, and more successful, candidates back in 2007. It’ll be interesting to see what each party does this time, though as you’ll see me say in most of these cases, don’t expect them to win any seats.
Update following close of nominations: Only the SNP, Labour and Conservatives with full slates here. The Greens are contesting the same sole ward again, whilst the Lib Dems are totally absent, as are Alba. In both cases, this is one of just 4 councils they don’t have a single candidate in. More details here.
2017 Councillors: SNP x2, Labour, West Dunbartonshire Community Party.
This right here is my actual homeland, the ward I (mostly) grew up in – though I’ll refrain from pointing to my childhood house on the map, for obvious reasons! Leven is home to that SSP-turned-WDCP councillor mentioned earlier, an electoral fact that tickles me – where I’m from being just that little bit weird really checks out. Fond reminiscing aside, Bollan appears to be re-standing, saving us the musing about where his vote will go. I’ll admit that’s a surprise, as he’d initially announced a retirement ahead of 2017 before setting up the WDCP, so he’s basically added a decade to his career.
Instead, the prospect for change here is that if Labour are having a better election, they could nab a seat at the SNP’s expense. Just 9 votes (0.15%) separated their respective second candidates last time – and the SNP may in hindsight have preferred they didn’t pick up that councillor, given she subsequently joined Alba.
2017 Councillors: Labour, SNP x2, Conservative.
It’s a similar-ish story in Dumbarton itself, where the SNP managed to get a double although Labour had a slight lead in first preferences. The gap here by the crucial stage was much wider than in Leven but still perfectly bridgeable at 2.3%. However Labour were even closer to pipping the Conservatives, who they were 0.66% behind at the same point.
I’m not sure whether George Black, who as an Independent councillor helped form the West Dunbartonshire Community Party will be back, and if not whether they’d be anywhere near as strong – or, indeed, whether he would be after five years out. If he was, he’d also be in with a fair shot.
Update following close of nominations: George Black is absent from the ballot, with no other WDCP candidate here, closing off that possibility.
Clydebank Waterfront (4)
2017 Councillors: SNP x2, Labour x2.
The only ward in West Dunbartonshire to return both an SNP and Labour double was also the Conservatives’ best ward in Clydebank. That said, “best” is relative, and they still only had just over half a quota. Nonetheless, after transfers they were only around 2.5% behind Labour’s second candidate when they dropped out. They’d probably need a very good result, or Labour to have a very bad one, to pick the seat up this year, but never say never.
Another possibility is that given how strong the SNP are in this ward that they could actually win a third seat at Labour’s expense. Their third last time was only 1.3% behind the (tied) Labour and Conservative candidates when they were eliminated. However, in the same way SNP transfers pushed Labour into a clear lead, Labour or Conservative transfers could still push the other over the line ahead of the SNP.
Update following close of nominations: The SNP are going for a treble here, with a slate of three candidates confirmed.
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