Council by-election previews: 18 March 2021

“All the right votes, but not necessarily in the right order”

There are seven local by-elections on 18th March 2021. In contrast to last week’s Scottish polls where the SNP went backwards in the seat count, this week the Nationalists are on the front foot with opportunities for gains in Glasgow from Labour and the Conservatives, while the Lib Dems and an independent will defend two seats in Argyll and Bute. But Andrew’s Previews starts this week by returning to Wales for the first time in twelve months, with Labour, Plaid Cymru and independent defences in the former county of Clwyd. Read on…

Corwen

Denbighshire council; caused by the death of Plaid Cymru councillor Huw Jones.

Things are looking up in Wales. The rugby is going well. The daffodils are in bloom. The fields are filling with lambs. Spring is in the air, and the first shoots of democracy are starting to sprout. Welcome to the first Welsh local by-elections in over twelve months.

I’m going to start this week with a seat which has been vacant throughout that twelve-month period. Huw “Chick” Jones died in February 2020 at the age of 62. He was president of and a coach at Corwen FC, and committed to local sport and leisure; earlier this year the Corwen leisure centre was renamed in his honour.

The town of Corwen lies on the old road from London to Holyhead, in the Dee valley under the shadow of the Berwyn mountains. This was an important place in Welsh history: Owain Glyndŵr had a manor in the valley at Glyndyfrdwy, and it was here in September 1400 that he was proclaimed Prince of Wales. A statue of Glyndŵr on horseback was erected in Corwen in 2007.

Glyndyfrdwy is now a stop on the preserved Llangollen Railway, which runs down the valley to Llangollen linking together several villages within the Corwen ward. The preservationists have almost reached Corwen, but the original Corwen station site and buildings are unavailable due to new ownership: it’s now the showroom for Corwen’s largest employer, Ifor Williams Trailers.

Although Corwen was part of Merionethshire back in the day, it was included within the county of Clwyd in the 1970s reorganisation and has been within the county of Denbighshire since 1996. Huw Jones had represented Corwen on Denbighshire council in the Plaid Cymru interest since 2008, when he defeated the previous independent councillor Nigel Roberts by a 55-32 margin; Jones and Roberts had also been the top two at the previous election in 2004, when Roberts won narrowly. Nobody had opposed Huw Jones’ subsequent re-elections in 2012 and 2017, so this will be the first contested local election in Corwen for thirteen years. The Returning Officer for Denbighshire has been so keen to get this vacancy filled that the by-election was originally rescheduled for 18th February this year, before changes to the rules in Wales forced a four-week postponement.

The 2017 election to Denbighshire council returned 16 Conservative councillors, 13 Labour, 9 Plaid Cymru, 8 independents and a Lib Dem (who sits within the Independent group on the council). Every group except Labour is represented in the administration, with the independent group supplying the council leader. Corwen is part of the Clwyd South parliamentary constituency, which was fought in 1997 by a Conservative candidate called Boris Johnson. (Anybody know what happened to him? Answers on a postcard, etc. etc.) Johnson’s successors have had better luck in that Clwyd South was one of the Welsh constituencies which fell to the Conservatives in December 2019; it looks safe enough for Labour in the Senedd based on the 2016 results, but then 2016 was a much better Labour performance. Not that you should try to read too much into national trends from this result of course, particularly as this by-election has no Conservative candidate.

Defending for Plaid Cymru is Alan Hughes, a married father-of-two working in the health and social care sector. He is up against two Corwen town councillors: Lisa Davies for the Liberal Democrats and Gordon Hughes for Labour.

Parliamentary and Assembly constituency: Clwyd South
ONS Travel to Work Area: Rhyl
Postcode district: LL21

Lisa Davies (LD)
Alan Hughes (PC)
Gordon Hughes (Lab)

May 2017 result PC unopposed
May 2012 result PC unopposed
May 2008 result PC 531 Ind 311 C 77 Ind 43
June 2004 result Ind 307 PC 276 C 142 Ind 97 Ind 95

Eirias

Conwy council; caused by the death of independent councillor Dave Cowans in September 2020 at the age of 73.

Our two other Welsh by-elections today are rather more urban in character. We start on the north coast with the Eirias division, which is the western of the two electoral divisions covering the village of Old Colwyn. This was the original village from which the seaside resort of Colwyn Bay, a couple of miles to the west, grew; the beach does extend to the seafront of Old Colwyn, but you have to cross the busy A55 road and railway line to get there.

The Eirias division extends south along the Llanelian Road to take in Ysgol Bryn Elian, the local secondary school, and the home ground of Colwyn Bay FC. Despite the name, the division does not include the public open space and sports complex of Eirias Park, which is within the Colwyn Bay community boundary.

Colwyn Bay was the home of a district of its own until 1996, when it was incorporated within the Conwy county borough along with Llandudno, Conwy itself and a rural hinterland which is large but sparsely populated. Nearly all of Conwy county borough’s population lives along the coastal strip. Eirias division elects two members of the council.

Colwyn Bay is the major town in the Clwyd West parliamentary constituency, which since 2007 has been Conservative-held at both Westminster and Senedd level. However, the largest proportion of Conwy’s local councillors are independents. The 2017 election returned 21 independents against 16 Conservatives, 10 Plaid Cymru councillors (mostly from the interior), 8 Labour and 4 Lib Dems. The independents are not a united bloc: in fact there are currently four independent groups on the council, which is run by the Conservatives in coalition with some of the independent councillors.

Throughout this century elections in Eirias have been dominated by independent councillor Bob Squire, who has topped the poll in every election from at least 2004 to date with very large shares of the vote. Dave Cowans had sat on Conwy council since 1999, originally being elected as a Labour councillor for the other Old Colwyn division (which is simply but confusingly called Colwyn). After losing that seat in 2008, he transferred here as an independent candidate in 2012 and won with a majority of 22 votes over the Conservatives. In the 2017 Welsh local elections Squire and Cowans were opposed only by a single Conservative candidate, whom Cowans defeated by an increased but still small majority of 58 votes.

There will be rather more choice for the electors in this by-election. One independent candidate has come forward to replace Cowans; she is local resident Gail Jones, who is married with three grown-up children and “has engaged with local community issues, such as scrutinising local planning applications”. The Conservatives have selected Debra Jones, a businesswoman who sits on the Bay of Colwyn town council (which fuses together Old Colwyn, Colwyn Bay and Rhos-on-Sea). Also standing are former social care and housing worker Patrick Cahill for Plaid Cymru, Bay of Colwyn town councillor and former Metropolitan and North Wales police officer Paul Richards for Labour, town planner Adam Turner for the Green Party (who hit the headlines (link) during the campaign after North Wales police briefly stopped his leaflets being distributed) and childminder Lisa Wilkins for the Liberal Democrats.

Parliamentary and Assembly constituency: Clwyd West
ONS Travel to Work Area: Colwyn Bay
Postcode district: LL29

Patrick Cahill (PC)
Debra Jones (C)
Gail Jones (Ind)
Paul Richards (Lab)
Adam Turner (Grn)
Lisa Wilkins (LD)

May 2017 result Ind 707/458 C 400
May 2012 result Ind 687/293 C 271/185 LD 185 PC 161
May 2008 result Ind 820/686 C 355 BNP 102
June 2004 result Ind 807 LD 543 PC 256 Lab 183

Maesydre

Wrexham council; caused by the resignation of Labour councillor Paul Jones in September 2020 for family reasons. He had served since 2017.

We finish our tour of Wales in the largest town within North Wales. Wrexham has been a market town and a place of industry for centuries: the traditional brewing and leather industries were joined in the Industrial Revolution by ironworking and coalmining. By the late twentieth century all this was gone, leaving behind a town with an attractive town centre, some high-technology manufacturing and a growing sideline in finance. And maybe a bit of Hollywood sparkle as well: last month the North American actors Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney completed their takeover of the local football club, Wrexham FC.

The Maesydre division of Wrexham runs north-east from the town centre, between the Chester Road and the Holt Road. Included within the boundaries are the Waterworld leisure centre, the town’s law courts, a couple of supermarkets and a residential area along Park Avenue.

The first three Welsh local elections this century had elected Liberal Democrat councillors for Maesydre division, quite comfortably. This changed in 2017, when the Lib Dems fell to third place and Labour went from third to top; shares of the vote were 44% for Labour, 24% for the Conservatives and 21% for the Liberal Democrats.

This was a rare bright spot for Labour in Wrexham 2017, which was an election where they made a nett loss of eleven council seats. Following the 2017 election half of the 52 Wrexham councillors were independents, with Labour holding 12 seats, the Conservatives 9, Plaid Cymru 3 and the Lib Dems 2. Wrexham was one of the “red wall” parliamentary constituencies to fall to the Conservatives in 2019; it will undoubtedly be a seat to watch in the Senedd election campaign over the next month and a half.

Defending for Labour is Tom Stanford, who already represents the Maesydre area on the Acton community council (which covers the five north-eastern electoral divisions of Wrexham town). The Conservatives have selected Cathy Brown, a retired NHS nurse and former Clwyd county councillor. The Lib Dem candidate also has previous local government experience: Royal Navy veteran and former schoolteacher Roger Davies has previously sat on Devon county council and Exeter city council. Completing the ballot paper are independent candidate Clive Ray, and Becca Martin for Plaid Cymru. The local website wrexham.com has interviewed all the candidates, and you can find out more here (link).

Parliamentary and Assembly constituency: Wrexham
ONS Travel to Work Area: Wrexham
Postcode districts: LL11, LL12, LL13

Catherine Brown (C)
Roger Davies (LD)
Becca Martin (PC)
Clive Ray (Ind)
Tom Stanford (Lab)

May 2017 result Lab 249 C 137 LD 119 Ind 59
May 2012 result LD 242 Ind 134 Lab 132 C 45
May 2008 result LD 434 Lab 210
June 2004 result LD 337 Forward Wales 161 Lab 114

Baillieston; and
Partick East/Kelvindale

Glasgow council; caused respectively by the disqualifications of Labour councillor Jim Coleman and independent councillor Tony Curtis, who had originally been elected for the Conservatives. Both had failed to attend any meetings of the council in six months.

We travel north to Scotland for the remaining four by-elections this week. All of these are linked together by the River Clyde; we shall come presently to two wards on the shore of the Firth of Clyde, but before that there is Glasgow to consider.

There is also the six-month non-attendance rule to consider. At first sight, this is pretty simple. If you are a member of a local authority and you don’t attend a meeting of the council for six months, then you get disqualified and your council seat is automatically vacated.

However, there are a number of wrinkles in the definition of those troublesome words “attend” and “meeting”. Full council can resolve to give leave of absence to any councillor who may need it (for example, because of long-term illness) and that overrides the non-attendance rule, although leave has to be given before the disqualification kicks in. At the start of the current pandemic, a number of councils gave leave of absence to their entire membership because of concerns over when the next meeting would be.

The Coronavirus Act 2020 answered those concerns, and took a major step towards bringing our local authorities into the twenty-first century, by allowing council meetings to be held remotely using your networking suite of choice. This has kept us entertained by bringing to prominence the critically-acclaimed satirical drama known as Handforth Parish Council Planning and Environment Committee, but the serious point of this change is that remote meetings have allowed our local councils to keep functioning. Any councillor who logs into such a remote meeting of Full Council or one of the committees they sit on counts as having attended a meeting for the purposes of the six-month non-attendance rule.

With this change having made life significantly easier for many councillors, it’s rather strange that Glasgow city council has had two of its members fall foul of the non-attendance rule in the last couple of months. I’ll come to former councillor Curtis in a moment, but the suggestion in respect of Jim Coleman’s disqualification is that he simply couldn’t make the technology work.

It’s a sad end to a council career that has lasted for decades. Coleman was the longest-serving member of Glasgow city council, having been first elected all the way back in 1988 with continuous service in the council chamber since then. A stalwart of the local Labour party, he had served for a number of years as deputy leader of the city, stepping up to interim leader for a short period in 2015; he had also served in the past as the chair of Strathclyde Regional Transport.

Since 2007 Jim Coleman’s ward was Baillieston, at the eastern end of the Glasgow city council area. Baillieston was a small mining village until the twentieth century, when the Garrowhill housing estate was built between the Edinburgh and Glasgow Roads; this was a private development, and almost a century on Garrowhill is still one of the least-deprived areas of Glasgow. The area was annexed by the city in 1975 and has filled with houses since then, playing on the good railway and motorway links to the city centre. Much of Springhill went up in the 1980s and 1990s, as did this sculpture by Andy Scott next to the M8 motorway, “Heavy Horse”. Modern Glasgow’s largest industrial area, the Queenslie Industrial Estate, lies within the ward boundary. All this development led to Baillieston giving its name to a parliamentary constituency from 1997 to 2005 (for Westminster) and 2011 (for Holyrood).

Development was still going on in the twenty-first century in the Broomhouse area, to the south of the Glasgow-Whifflet railway line. Broomhouse gets its post from Uddingston which has led to some confusion over whether it’s part of Glasgow or not; administratively, it’s definitely within the city boundary. Much of the area around Broomhouse was occupied by the estate of Calderpark House, which in 1939 was bought by the Zoological Society of Glasgow and West of Scotland. The result was Glasgow Zoo, which occupied the site from 1947 until 2003, when financial problems forced its closure. Much of the zoo’s site has now been redeveloped for new housing. One of Broomhouse’s most famous residents is someone you might be seeing a lot of on the television at the moment: the First Minister of Scotland and Scottish National Party leader, Nicola Sturgeon, is an elector here.

Nicola Sturgeon worked her way up to her current position through a number of unsuccessful election campaigns, starting all the way back in April 1992 when she was the SNP candidate for the local Glasgow Shettleston parliamentary seat. At the time, she was a 21-year-old law student at Glasgow University and she was the youngest parliamentary candidate in Scotland that year. Her other failed early attempts to gain elected office include the last Strathclyde Regional Council election in 1994, when Sturgeon was the SNP candidate for the Baillieston/Mount Vernon ward which had a similar area to the present-day Baillieston ward; on that occasion she lost to Labour candidate Douglas Hay by 4,908 votes to 2,140.

In 1997 Nicola Sturgeon narrowly and controversially lost in the Glasgow Govan constituency to Mohammed Sarwar, who became the first Muslim MP for Scotland and the first British MP to swear the Oath of Allegiance on the Koran. Sarwar was subsequently charged with electoral offences, but acquitted at trial. He served in the Commons until 2010, then left the UK to continue his political career in Pakistan where he currently serves as Governor of the Punjab. Anas Sarwar, Mohammed’s son, will lead the Scottish Labour Party against Nicola Sturgeon’s SNP in May’s forthcoming Holyrood election.

Sturgeon did eventually make the SNP breakthrough in Glasgow, winning the Govan constituency at the 2007 Holyrood election after serving for eight years as an SNP regional MSP for the city. On the same day the Baillieston ward of Glasgow held its first election, with Labour leading the SNP 46-33 on first preferences and both parties winning two seats each. Jim Coleman and the aforementioned Douglas Hay were the Labour councillors; John Mason and David McDonald were the SNP winners.

The following year David Marshall, the Labour MP for the local Glasgow East constituency, resigned due to a stress-related illness. This forced a Westminster by-election. In 2005 Marshall had enjoyed the third-largest Labour majority in Scotland at 13,507 votes; but this was overturned in the by-election by SNP councillor John Mason, who won the by-election by 11,277 votes to 10,912, a majority of 365. Mason promptly resigned from Glasgow council, and the SNP held the resulting September 2008 Baillieston ward by-election with a majority of 198 votes after transfers. Labour councillor Douglas Hay resigned shortly afterwards, and Labour held the resulting November 2008 Baillieston ward by-election with a majority of 190 votes after transfers. John Mason lost his seat in Westminster in 2010, but returned to elected politics a year later as the SNP member of the Scottish Parliament for the local seat of Glasgow Shettleston.

The Local Government Boundary Commission for Scotland made major changes to Glasgow’s ward map for the 2017 election, with an increase in the number of councillors forcing the creation of two new wards. The knock-on effects saw Baillieston ward reduced in size and going down from four councillors to three. This time the SNP topped the poll with 45% of the first preferences, to 29% for Labour and 21% for the Conservatives. The SNP and Labour both had one seat, and Labour transfers ensured that the Conservatives won the final seat with a margin of 170 votes over the second SNP candidate David Turner. Turner had won the September 2008 by-election, but now lost his seat to his running-mate Elaine Ballantyne.

One of the new Glasgow wards created in the 2017 redistribution was Partick East/Kelvindale, which took in territory from the former wards of Hillhead, Maryhill/Kelvin (which was renamed Maryhill) and Partick West (which was renamed as Victoria Park). The northern boundary of the ward is the River Kelvin and the Forth and Clyde canal; the western boundary is the Partick-Anniesland railway line. Features of the ward include much of the Glasgow Botanic Gardens, the Hamilton Crescent cricket ground which back in 1872 hosted the first ever international football match (Scotland 0 England 0, since you asked), and the upmarket Byres Road which forms the ward’s eastern boundary. The Partick and Kelvinhall subway stations link the ward to the city centre as does its main thoroughfare, the Great Western Road. And it would be remiss of me not to namecheck one of the ward’s famous former residents: Hermes, the Hyndland Station cat, retired to the countryside in 2018.

Unfortunately Hermes was never eligible to vote, on account of being a cat; but as in Baillieston we do have a notable elector in this by-election. That’s Allan Faulds, editor of the Scottish polling aggregator Ballot Box Scotland, which this column strongly recommends you include in your social media along with our very own Britain Elects.

If you were asked to draw the least economically deprived ward within the Glasgow city limits, it would be difficult to do better than Partick East/Kelvindale. Much of this area was once within the burgh of Partick (hence the Partick East part of the name), but this is really the western part of Glasgow’s trendy West End. The major boundary changes since the last Scottish census in 2011 make demographic figures difficult to obtain, but in 2011 42% of the adults in the old Partick West ward were in managerial or professional occupations (compared to 25% for the city as a whole), with 17% being full-time students (compared to 14% for Glasgow as a whole).

The West End of Glasgow has not been well served by the Boundary Commissions in recent years. Partick East/Kelvindale is split between two Westminster constituencies and three Holyrood constituencies, and as stated before 2017 there were three Glasgow wards here. The 2017 election was contested by three outgoing Glasgow councillors: on the Nationalist side Kenny McLean (SNP) and Martin Bartos (Green Party) who had both previously represented Partick West, on the Unionist side Martin Rhodes (Lab) who transferred from Maryhill/Kelvin. All of them were re-elected in this politically diverse ward: shares of the vote were 34% for the SNP, 22% for the Conservatives’ Tony Curtis, 18% for Labour and 16% for the Greens, with Bartos picking up transfers from the Lib Dems (who, way back in 2003, dominated this area’s representation) to win the final seat very comfortably ahead of the second SNP candidate.

Tony Curtis joined Messrs McLean, Rhodes and Bartos as the Conservative councillor for Partick East/Kelvindale. Unfortunately Curtis is one of those people for whom lockdown has been a disaster: he is a gym owner, and as such has unable to earn a living for many months through no fault of his own. He left the Conservative party last year over that issue, and appears to have ceased to perform his council duties after that.

The 2017 election to Glasgow city council returned 39 SNP councillors, 31 Labour, 8 Conservatives and 7 Greens. The SNP topped the poll in all 23 wards of the city, and run the council in coalition with the Green Party. With the opposition defending both these by-elections from a position of weakness, there is a good chance here for the administration to increase its majority.

The usual Scottish disclaimers need to be read out here: Votes at 16 and the Alternative Vote apply, and with the fragmented political scene in Partick East/Kelvindale in particular transfers could be crucial. If we re-run the 2017 votes for one vacancy then the Conservatives get overtaken by Labour thanks to Green transfers, and the two-party preferred vote is 55-45 for the SNP. This will be of some concern to the Conservatives, who are defending the seat. Their candidate is Naveed Asghar, a self-employed political analyst and interfaith champion according to his Twitter. The SNP have also selected an ethnic minority candidate: Abdul Bostani came to Glasgow 20 years ago as an Afghan refugee from the Taliban, and is hoping to become the first former refugee to win an election in Scotland. He now works as an accountant. The Labour candidate is Jill Brown. The Scottish Greens have selected Blair Anderson, a law student at the University of Glasgow (now where have we heard that before?) Completing the ballot paper are Tahir Jameel for the Lib Dems and the leader of UKIP Scotland Donald Mackay, who gives an address quite a long way from Glasgow in the Lanark area.

Labour will also have an uphill struggle to hold their by-election in Baillieston ward, where they trail the SNP 45-29 on first preferences and 56-44 in the two-party preferred count. Their defending candidate is William Docherty, a UNISON activist and chair of the Scottish TUC’s LGBT+ committee. The SNP have reselected David Turner, winner of the September 2008 Baillieston by-election and councillor for this ward from 2008 to 2017. Standing for the Conservatives is John Daly, a former headteacher. Completing the ballot paper are Lorraine McLaren for the Green Party, Daniel Donaldson for the Liberal Democrats and Christopher Ho for UKIP.

Photograph of the Heavy Horse by Chris Upson, CC-BY-SA 2.0

Baillieston

Parliamentary constituency: Glasgow East
Scottish Parliament constituency: Glasgow Shettleston (part south of Glasgow-Airdrie railway line), Glasgow Provan (part north of Glasgow-Airdrie railway line)
ONS Travel to Work Area: Glasgow
Postcode districts: G32, G33, G34, G69, G71

John Daly (C)
William Docherty (Lab)
Daniel Donaldson (LD)
Christopher Ho (UKIP)
Lorraine McLaren (Grn)
David Turner (SNP)

May 2017 first preferences SNP 3090 Lab 1998 C 1454 Grn 159 LD 133 SSP 81 Libertarian 20

Partick East/Kelvindale

Parliamentary constituency: Glasgow North (eastern part), Glasgow North West (western part)
Scottish Parliament constituency: Glasgow Kelvin (Partickhill and Hyndland), Glasgow Maryhill and Springburn (north of Great Western Road), Glasgow Anniesland (Gartnavel Hospital and housing immediately to its north)
ONS Travel to Work Area: Glasgow
Postcode districts: G11, G12, G13

Blair Anderson (Grn)
Naveed Asghar (C)
Abdul Bostani (SNP)
Jill Brown (Lab)
Tahir Jameel (LD)
Donald Mackay (UKIP)

May 2017 first preferences SNP 3607 C 2336 Lab 1848 Grn 1727 LD 889 Ind 109

Helensburgh and Lomond South; and
Isle of Bute

Argyll and Bute council; caused respectively by the deaths of Liberal Democrat councillor Ellen Morton at the age of 76 and independent councillor Len Scoullar at the age of 81. Morton had served since 1999, originally for Helensburgh North ward; she had served as Depute Leader of the council, and her daughter Aileen went one better by serving as Leader of the Council from 2017 until last year. Scoullar also had continuous service since 1999, originally being elected for Bute South ward; since 2013 he had chaired Argyll and Bute’s meetings as the council’s Provost.

We finish with two wards on the shores of the Firth of Clyde, which form part of the Argyll and Bute council area. However, it would be rather incorrect to describe either of these as Argyll.

Consider the ward of Helensburgh and Lomond South, which covers a rural and mostly upland area on the north bank of the Firth of Clyde. The main population centre here is Cardross, on the North Clyde railway line to Helensburgh; this was the location where Robert the Bruce died in 1329, but Cardross is perhaps best known these days for St Peter’s Seminary, a Brutalist building which currently lies derelict despite its huge architectural interest.

The railway continues to the Helensburgh suburb of Craigendoran, and the ward boundary wraps around the eastern side of Helensburgh to take in the town’s north-east corner. The Lomond South section of the ward name refers to a few villages on the western side of Loch Lomond, including the road junction at Arden; this part of the ward lies within the Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park.

Cardross is only a few miles from Dumbarton, and until the 1970s this whole area (including Helensburgh) was part of the county of Dunbartonshire rather than Argyll. Indeed this ward is still part of the Dumbarton constituency of the Scottish Parliament. By contrast, Helensburgh to the Argyll and Bute council headquarters in Lochgilphead is a road journey of 65 miles, via the mountain pass at Rest and be Thankful which is often impassable in winter.

Further down the Firth of Clyde we come to the Isle of Bute. Unlike some areas this column has discussed over the years, Bute is a genuine island and the only way here is by ferry. The main ferry link to Bute doesn’t go to Argyll at all: it’s the regular service from Rothesay, Bute’s only town, to Wemyss Bay in Renfrewshire on the far side of the Firth of Clyde. As the crow flies, Rothesay to the Argyll and Bute council headquarters in Lochgilphead is only around 20 miles, but the road journey around Loch Fyne is 75 miles, via the ferry over the Kyles of Bute at Colintraive.

Until the 1970s the Isle of Bute was the centre of a county of its own. Buteshire was based on three inhabited islands in the Firth of Clyde, taking in Arran and Great Cumbrae as well as Bute. However, since the 1990s Arran and the Cumbraes have been included within the North Ayrshire local government district, effectively splitting Buteshire up.

Since 2007 Scottish local councils have been elected using proportional representation, with each ward electing either three or four councillors. The three-councillor minimum caused some problems with respect to offshore islands, as some islands which had previously supported a single councillor found themselves merged into a larger area a ferry ride away. In response to these concerns the Islands (Scotland) Act 2018 was passed by Holyrood, and the Local Government Boundary Commission for Scotland is working away on new maps for those councils which contain populated islands.

With the three-councillor minimum removed in those cases, the draft proposals for the old Buteshire involve restoring Arran as a single-member ward of North Ayrshire; Great Cumbrae, which is too small for a councillor of its own, will continue to be linked with the mainland. There are no boundary changes proposed for the Isle of Bute ward, but in response to its falling population the LGBCS has proposed a cut in its representation from three councillors to two. It’s fair to say this proposal has not found favour on Bute.

In 2003, 2007 and 2012 Bute returned two SNP councillors, Robert MacIntyre and Isobel Strong, and independent councillor Len Scoullar who topped the poll in 2007 and 2012. The 2017 election saw much change. The SNP vote fell from 42% to 33%, and they lost one of their two seats: Isobel Strong retired, and Robert MacIntyre lost his seat to his running-mate Jim Findlay. New independent candidate Jean Moffat polled 19% and was elected in second place; the Conservatives polled 17%; and Len Scoullar, despite losing half of his vote and starting in fifth place with 14%, scraped together enough transfers to beat the Conservatives for the final seat by 537 votes to 504.

Helensburgh and Lomond South ward has a very different political dynamic, being much more right-wing. Since its creation in 2007 two of its three councillors have been the late Ellen Morton for the Liberal Democrats and David Kinniburgh for the Conservatives; the third seat originally went to independent candidate Ronald Kinloch, but he died within weeks of his election in 2007 and the resulting by-election returned Lib Dem candidate Andrew Nisbet. Nisbet lost his seat in 2012 to the SNP’s Richard Trail, who was re-elected in 2017. The shares of the vote here in May 2017 were 39% for the Conservatives, 22% for the Lib Dems and 18% for the SNP; had the Tories run two candidates they might have knocked the SNP out here.

That 17-point deficit will concern the Helensburgh Lib Dems as they try to hold this by-election. They have selected Henry Boswell, who has spent 25 years working on product innovation for Proctor and Gamble. The Conservative candidate is Gemma Penfold, who runs a local dance studio. Standing for the Scottish National Party is Math Campbell-Sturgess, who has local government experience as a former councillor for Inverclyde North ward on the far side of the water. Mike Crowe, who was runner-up here in 2017 as an independent candidate, now has the Green nomination; Labour have selected Jane Kelly; and Paul Burrows is the first election candidate for the Workers Party of Britain, a left-wing group founded in 2019 by George Galloway.

The by-election on the Isle of Bute to replace Len Scoullar has two defending independent candidates. Fraser Gillies has stood here twice before, polling 13% and finishing sixth out of seven candidates in May 2017; Liz McCabe is a local cafe-owner. The SNP have selected Kim Findlay, a solicitor who is doing her bit for the current emergency with some contact tracing work for NHS Scotland. Also standing are Peter Wallace for the Conservatives and Dawn Macdonald for Labour.

The SNP are the largest party on Argyll and Bute council, but have been shut out of the administration by a coalition of independent councillors, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats. The 2017 election returned 11 SNP councillors, 10 independents, 9 Conservatives and 6 Lib Dems. As in Glasgow, it doesn’t seem likely that these by-elections will disturb the ruling administration; but stranger things have happened.

Helensburgh and Lomond South

Parliamentary constituency: Argyll and Bute
Scottish Parliament constituency: Dumbarton
ONS Travel to Work Area: Dumbarton and Helensburgh
Postcode districts: G82, G83, G84

Henry Boswell (LD)
Paul Burrows (Workers Party)
Mike Crowe (Grn)
Math Campbell-Sturgess (SNP)
Jane Kelly (Lab)
Gemma Penfold (C)

May 2017 first preferences C 1149 LD 651 SNP 525 Lab 250 Ind 248 Ind 94 UKIP 32
May 2012 first preferences LD 1195 SNP 584 C 558
October 2007 by-election LD 642 C 627 Ind 493 SNP 356; final LD 1014 C 839
May 2007 first preferences LD 1009 C 835 Ind 713 SNP 572

Isle of Bute

Parliamentary constituency: Argyll and Bute
Scottish Parliament constituency: Argyll and Bute
ONS Travel to Work Area: Dunoon and Rothesay
Postcode district: PA20

Kim Findlay (SNP)
Fraser Gillies (Ind)
Dawn Macdonald (Lab)
Liz McCabe (Ind)
Peter Wallace (C)

May 2017 first preferences SNP 828 Ind 472 C 427 Ind 340 Ind 325 Ind 85
May 2012 first preferences SNP 968 Ind 707 Lab 351 C 216 Christian Party 45
May 2007 first preferences SNP 1390 Ind 868 Ind 238 Lab 225 LD 218 C 143

Andrew Teale