Previewing the Perth City council by-elections (26 Nov)

"All the right votes, but not necessarily in the right order"

Two local by-elections on 26th November 2020:

Perth City North; and
Perth City South

Perth and Kinross council; caused respectively by the resignation of Dave Doogan, who is now the MP for Angus, and by the death of Bob Band. Both were Scottish National Party councillors.

Welcome to the Fair City of Perth, the gateway to the Highlands and the northern end of the UK's motorway network. Perth has been a major city since the 12th century when King William the Lion gave it the status of a Royal Burgh; the city benefited from its location at the head of the Tay estuary and its closeness to Scone Abbey, one of the centres of the Scottish monarchy, to become a major port trading with continental Europe. Industry came in the eighteenth century, and in the Victorian era Perth developed into a major railway junction where main lines to Dundee, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Inverness all met. Today there is a diverse economy with a significant financial services presence: the largest employers are the local council and the bus company Stagecoach, which is based here, and the city (formally re-created as such for the Diamond Jubilee in 2012) is a major service centre for the local area.

For electoral purposes the city is divided into three wards: the City Centre ward east of the railway lines, and the City North and City South wards to the west. These wards were originally drawn up for the 2007 elections to Perth and Kinross council and returned four councillors each; slight boundary changes for the 2017 election saw the North ward go down from four seats to three.

The North and South wards are rather different in character. South ward, running along the Glasgow Road to the Broxden roundabout, is based on Burghmuir which is Perth's most desirable residential area. North ward is based on the Hillyland and Tulloch areas along the Crieff Road, which are much more downmarket; although there are some jobs within that ward at the Inveralmond industrial estate. Since 2017 the deprived Letham area has been divided between the two wards.

This social divide is reflected in the wards' election results. In both the 2007 and 2012 elections North ward returned two SNP councillors and two Labour councillors. The boundary changes for the 2017 election shook things up a bit by removing one of the four councillors and some of the some best traditionally-Labour areas in Letham, and this combined with the crash in the Scottish Labour vote after the 2014 indyref to result in major changes. In May 2017 the Scottish National Party carried the ward again with 49% of the vote, and won 2 out of 3 seats; the Conservatives finished second on 26% and picked up a seat here for the first time; Labour crashed to just 16% and were shut out. The SNP's Dave Doogan topped the poll with 35% of the first preferences, to win a second term as councillor.

Perth City South, on the other hand, is dominated politically by long-serving Liberal Democrat councillor Willie Wilson. Wilson has topped the poll here in all three ordinary elections, and he got a running-mate in at the 2007 election where the other two seats split between the Tories and SNP. Labour gained up one of the Liberal Democrat seats in 2012.

In May 2017 Willie Wilson, like Dave Doogan in the neighbouring ward, topped the poll in Perth City South with 35% of the first preferences. Had the Lib Dems stood a second candidate, 35% would have given them a good chance of winning 2 seats out of 4. The SNP polled 26%, the Conservatives 25% and Labour just 6%. Although Labour did pick up most of the unionist transfers, that was too far behind to come back from, and the SNP gained the Labour seat by 42 votes in the final count to win a second seat in South.

The Conservatives had changed candidate for the 2017 election, after their long-serving Perth City South councillor Alexander Stewart was elected to the Scottish Parliament in 2016 (he represents the Mid Scotland and Fife region). In retrospect the Tories made a poor choice of candidate to replace Stewart in the council chamber. New councillor Michael Jamieson was forced to resign within months of his election, after police raided his home on suspicion of possession of indecent images. He subsequently pleaded guilty to that crime before Perth Sheriff Court, being spared prison in the final reckoning.

The resulting Perth City South by-election in November 2017 (which you can read about in Andrew's Previews 2017, page 347) was very close. On first preferences the SNP led with 32%, the Conservatives were second on 31% and the Liberal Democrats were third on 29%. Transfers from Labour and the Greens enabled the Lib Dems to narrow the gap, but they were eliminated 29 votes behind the Conservatives and 150 votes behind the SNP. The Liberal Democrat transfers then broke in favour of new Tory candidate Audrey Coates, who overtook the SNP in the final count to hold the by-election by 52% to 48%, a majority of 154 votes.

So, South ward is very much game on with the November 2017 by-election suggesting that three parties have a genuine chance of winning. This South ward by-election follows the death in March of SNP councillor Bob Band, who had served the ward since 2007; he was 72 years old and had been suffering from cancer. The council intend to keep councillor Band's name alive in the ward by naming part of the new Perth High School building after him.

The 2017 elections to Perth and Kinross council returned 17 Conservatives, 15 Scottish Nationalists, 4 Lib Dems, 3 independents and a Labour councillor (for the unlikely-looking Labour area of Carse of Gowrie). The Tories run the council as a minority, and that is unlikely to change as a result of these by-elections. Both North and South wards are part of the Perth and North Perthshire parliamentary constituency, which was a photofinish in June 2017 when the SNP's Pete Wishart was re-elected just 21 votes ahead of the Conservatives; Wishart won a further term much more comfortably in December 2019. The local Holyrood seat, Perthshire South and Kinross-shire, is represented by the Nationalists' Roseanna Cunningham, who has been the MSP or MP for Perth continuously since winning the Perth and Kinross by-election in May 1995; this makes Cunningham the longest continuously-serving current parliamentarian in Scotland. She will retire from Holyrood next year.

Defending Band's seat for the SNP is Iain Macpherson, who has worked in counselling and social work. The Conservatives, who won the November 2017 by-election, have selected local businessman Andy Chan. The Liberal Democrats, who topped the poll here in May 2017, have reselected Liz Barrett who was their candidate in the November 2017 by-election. Also standing for Perth City South are Tricia Duncan for Labour, former SNP councillor Elspeth MacLachlan for the Greens and Lynda Davis for UKIP. Usual Scottish reminders apply: Votes at 16 and all that jazz, and - after it made all the difference three years ago - the Alternative Vote will again be in use.

The SNP should have an easier time defending Perth City North, where their defending candidate is businessman Ian Massie. The Conservatives have selected Aziz Rehman, won runs two takeaway businesses. The Labour candidate is Nicola Ferry, a trade union youth officer who works in the postal service. Also standing are James Graham for the Lib Dems and Paul Vallot for the Green Party, who will presumably be hoping that the voters fill out the top of their ballot for Vallot.

Perth City North

Parliamentary constituency: Perth and North Perthshire
Scottish Parliament constituency: Perthshire South and Kinross-shire
Postcode district: PH1

Nicola Ferry (Lab)
James Graham (LD)
Ian Massie (SNP)
Aziz Rehman (C)
Paul Vallot (Grn)

May 2017 first preferences SNP 1770 C 933 Lab 577 LD 126 Ind 113 Ind 91 Ind 37

Perth City South

Parliamentary constituency: Perth and North Perthshire
Scottish Parliament constituency: Perthshire South and Kinross-shire
Postcode districts: PH1, PH2

Liz Barrett (LD)
Andy Chan (C)
Lynda Davis (UKIP)
Tricia Duncan (Lab)
Elspeth MacLachlan (Grn)
Iain Macpherson (SNP)

November 2017 by-election SNP 1780 C 1734 LD 1597 Lab 314 Grn 102 Ind 25; final C 2381 SNP 2227
May 2017 first preferences LD 2417 SNP 1793 C 1757 Lab 444 Ind 253 Grn 213 Ind 96

Review of the Year

The same procedure as last year, Miss Sophie?

The Germans and Scandinavians know how to celebrate the New Year. As well as all the drunkenness and festivity you might expect, the television broadcasts a very old comedy sketch called Der 90. Geburtstag or, as the original English title has it, Dinner for One. Every New Year's Eve half of all Germans tune in to watch this piece of quintessentially British nostalgia, in the original English.

https://youtu.be/8loN6LPaHe8

As time goes on a number of people, not least James the butler, have asked whether this sketch has outstayed its welcome? The answer from the public and Miss Sophie is always no. As time goes on a number of people, not least James the butler, have asked whether it is appropriate to keep doing the same thing over and over again? The answer from the public and Miss Sophie is always yes, and deal with the consequences yourself.

This is the last Andrew's Previews of the year, and the tradition of this column is to mark that occasion by summing up the old year, looking forward to the new and expressing the wish that the new year be better than the old. For some years now, in writing these pieces I have wrestled with the question as to whether it is appropriate to keep making that wish over and over again. Can we reasonably expect the coming year to be an improvement on the last?

The previous time I considered that question was in the 2019 annual review, following my article on the undercard to the December general election. Yes, it's still less than a year ago that Boris Johnson won his majority. In that one week I previewed 34 local by-elections, as well as noting three unopposed City of London aldermanic elections the following week.

That's 37 polls in one Preview; more than have occurred in the twelve months since. Perth City North and South are the 35th, 36th and final by-elections of 2020. We all know the reasons for that, and I don't propose to dwell on the old year any further on the principle of "if you have nothing nice to say, don't say anything".

So let's look forward to the New Year, starting from the premise that at some point the insanity has to stop. The important date to note in your diary is the next ordinary local elections scheduled for Thursday 6th May 2021, which look set to be possibly the most complicated set of local elections aver staged in the UK. All of Great Britain will go to the polls, and the vast majority of voters will have multiple ballot papers to juggle and multiple electoral systems to tackle. In London, the Mayor and Assembly will be up for election; in the rest of England, the county councils, the Police and Crime Commissioners (or their Greater Manchester equivalent, the Mayor), and those district councils which elect by thirds will hold elections; in Wales there will be polls for Senedd Cymru together with the Police and Crime Commissioners; and in Scotland voters will elect their new members of the Scottish Parliament. And combined with all of those will be hundreds of local by-elections, as the floodgates which have held local democracy back during the pandemic are finally opened. Your columnist's list of casual vacancies already stretches to over 260 council seats, and there is plenty of time for that list to be added to over the next six months. The prospect of organising all this is no doubt already causing some returning officers to wake up in the middle of the night.

And that all needs organising against the backdrop of the current emergency. The Scottish Government, being cognisant of its responsibilities, has introduced a bill to Holyrood setting out a number of contingency plans for the 2021 Scottish Parliament elections. Options set out in the bill include an all-postal election, extending polling over multiple days, not dissolving the current Parliament until the day before polling day in case a decision needs to be voted on at the last moment, and the nuclear option of postponing the election by up to six months (this option is at the discretion of the Presiding Officer, with the paperwork to be kept in a box marked "in case of emergencies break glass"). The bit about MSPs remaining in office during the election campaign has caused some raising of eyebrows, but local councillors (who normally remain in office until the fourth day after their successors are elected) will be well used to the concept of being subject to an elected representatives' code of conduct while seeking re-election.

The Scottish Government may appear from your columnist's vantage point to be sat in Miss Sophie's chair, looking serene and in control of events; but by contrast the UK government give the impression of going out of their way to trip themselves up. English local government has been distracted from dealing with the emergency by being sent round and round in circles over further proposed bouts of reorganisation, which would inevitably result in the most remote local government in Europe becoming even more remote.

The reason for this, of course, is money. A decade of local government cuts, combined with the pandemic destroying the income streams of many local councils, has left our town halls in dire financial straits. My own council lost millions of pounds from its budget overnight when the holding company for Manchester Airport scrapped its dividend. Last November this column discussed Croydon town centre, which at the time (Andrew's Previews 2019, page 347) was slated for a massive redevelopment that has since fallen through. Croydon council had sunk millions of pounds into buying commercial and office space in the town centre and emptying it in advance of that redevelopment, and are now left with a large property portfolio that is no longer worth what they paid for it and isn't generating any rent. Earlier this month Croydon became the first local authority for two years to issue a section 114 notice, banning all non-essential spending. They are unlikely to be the only council to run out of money in the near future.

Over the border in Wales, Senedd Cymru has recently passed a local government reform bill which would allow Welsh local councils to merge and reorganise fairly easily. The bill also makes changes to Welsh local elections going forward, including extending the franchise to 16- and 17-year-olds, allowing councils to adopt a proportional voting system (the 2027 local elections are the earliest point at which this could be introduced), and officially extending council terms in Wales from four years to five.

One thing you can guarantee from the 2021 local and devolved elections is that the results will be confusing, not least because of the multiple timelines. For some councils (those whose elections got postponed from this year) the comparison is with May 2016, when the two main parties were very close to each other in the results; for others (mainly the county councils and some of the metro mayors) the comparison is with May 2017 whose local elections were generally a big win for Theresa May's Conservatives. If the opinion polling is to be believed, the current political profile is somewhere closer to 2016 than to 2017, which suggests that the Conservatives will need to improve their position somewhat to hold their own in the county councils. There's plenty of time before May for things to change, of course.

There's also plenty of time before May for you to remember happier times with a read of those nice paperback volumes in fetching teal covers. The four Andrew's Previews books are all available now to buy from Amazon, and if you are reading and enjoying this column then any one (or more) of them would make an excellent Christmas present for you. You can order the 2019 edition here. The forthcoming 2020 edition is likely to be slimmer than previous years' compilations, but there will also be some bonus material in it to make it worth your while. As always, the royalties from the books will help to pay for future previews.

And with a bit of luck and a following wind, this column will be ready in good time before 6 May to set the scene for Britain Elects readers, as the electoral cycle restarts and Andrew's Previews does (subject to the demands of the public, the Britain Elects team and Miss Sophie) the same procedure as every year.

The same procedure as last year, Miss Sophie?
The same procedure as every year, James!

Well, I shall do my very best. Before then, the mulligatawny is bubbling on the hob, the haddock is cooking in the oven and the white wine is cooling in the fridge: it's time for yet another of my own personal Dinners for One as Andrew's Previews goes back on furlough for the winter. It is time to close down for the year in the form of words which has become traditional. This column will return in time for the first local by-elections of 2021, currently scheduled for North Lanarkshire on 4th March; until then, on behalf of all at Britain Elects may I wish you a very merry Christmas, and may your 2021 be an improvement on your 2020.

Andrew Teale


Previewing the Clackmannanshire East by-election (19 Nov)

"All the right votes, but not necessarily in the right order"

There were going to be three local by-elections on 19th November 2020; however, two polls scheduled in North Lanarkshire have been postponed at the last moment due to increased restrictions. That leaves one election today, which has appeared in Andrew's Previews before:

Clackmannanshire East

Clackmannanshire council; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Bill Mason.

It's time for what is becoming the annual trip to the Wee County on the north bank of the Firth of Forth. For the third year in a row, Clackmannanshire council is having a by-election.

The returning officer here is used to having to hold by-elections in trying circumstances. A March 2018 by-election in the county's North ward (Andrew's Previews 2018, page 89) took place on the 1st of the month, which may be recognised by the Met Office as the first day of spring but was blighted by exceptionally heavy snowfall. This by-election was originally scheduled for 19th March 2020, and a Preview appeared for it at the time, but the poll was cancelled at the last moment due to the onset of coronavirus.

Eight long months later we now have a second attempt at filling the vacancy in the Clackmannanshire East ward, which is based on the towns of Clackmannan and Dollar. Clackmannan may have given its name to a county but it's a pretty small place, with a population under 3,500. Originally it was a port on the River Black Devon, a tributary of the Forth; but centuries of silting-up mean that the river is now more than a mile away from the town centre. In mediaeval times Clackmannan was associated the Bruce family, who fortified it with the building of Clackmannan Tower. That structure no longer exists today.

Further up in the hills is Dollar, a village whose name may come from a Gaelic word meaning "dark" or "gloomy"; appropriate for the trying times in which we live. By coincidence or otherwise, Dollar is home to Castle Gloom, a 500-year-old building officially called Castle Campbell which was built as a Lowland centre for the Dukes of Argyll. Along with Muckhart, which was transferred into Clacks from Perthshire in 1971, Dollar forms one of the Hillfoots Villages along the A93 road from Stirling towards Fife.

Much of this ward has a coalmining history. In 2003 Labour carried the two wards based on Clackmannan while Dollar and Muckhart was the only part of the Wee County to return a Conservative councillor, Alastair Campbell. The creation of this ward for the 2007 election along with proportional representation enabled the SNP to get a look-in, and the nationalists actually topped the poll in Clackmannanshire East at the 2007 and 2012 elections.

For the May 2017 election the Conservatives took over the lead with 42% of the vote, against 30% for the SNP and 20% for Labour; however, the seat count remained at one councillor for each party. Alastair Campbell stood down and Bill Mason took over as the ward's Conservative councillor. If the Conservatives had stood two candidates they would have had a good chance of winning two seats here; as it was, Labour won the final seat a massive 468 votes ahead of the Liberal Democrats, with an SNP surplus of 204 left undistributed at the end. As usual, Allan Faulds at the Ballot Box Scotland blog has got his slide-rule out to see what would have happened if the May 2017 votes were for a single seat: the answer is a big win for Mason, with a 59-41 lead over the SNP after redistributions.

The Nationalists are the largest party on Clackmannanshire council, winning eight seats in the 2017 election to five each for Labour and the Conservatives. The SNP have successfully defended two by-elections since then, and if they can gain this by-election from the Tories they will hold half of the 18 seats on the council.

The Wee County is part of the Ochil and South Perthshire parliamentary seat, which has unseated its MP at each of the three general elections over the last five years. Labour's Gordon Banks lost in 2015 to the SNP's Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh, who lost in 2017 to the Tories' Luke Graham, who lost in 2019 to the SNP's John Nicolson. Clackmannanshire has a longer SNP pedigree in the Scottish Parliament, the party having represented it since 2003 (currently as part of the Clackmannanshire and Dunblane seat).

Bill Mason has stood down on health grounds halfway through his five-year term, prompting this by-election. Five candidates were originally nominated for the aborted March by-election, and four of them have been renominated this time round. Defending for the Conservatives is Denis Coyne, a business advisor from Dollar. The SNP candidate is Stephen Leitch, a community councillor in Dollar. Labour have selected Carolynne Hunter, a former software engineer and now full-time carer for her disabled daughter. The Lib Dems have changed candidate to Jim Hay, and Marion Robertson (who stood here in May 2017) completes the ballot paper for the Scottish Greens.

Parliamentary constituency: Ochil and South Perthshire
Scottish Parliament constituency: Clackmannanshire and Dunblane

Denis Coyne (C)
Jim Hay (LD)
Carolynne Hunter (Lab)
Stephen Leitch (SNP)
Marion Robertson (Grn)

May 2017 first preferences C 1452 SNP 1055 Lab 706 LD 151 Grn 132

If you liked this preview, there are plenty more like it in the Andrew's Previews books. The 2019 edition is out now and available from Amazon.

Andrew Teale


Previewing the Craigentinny/Duddingston council by-election (12 Nov)

"All the right votes, but not necessarily in the right order"

Before we start, there is an important announcement to make.

Andrew's Previews 2019

I am proud to announce that, after months of work, the fourth annual collection of Andrew's Previews is now available to buy in paperback. A previous collection in this series was described by a kind reviewer as "one of those books, like the Nuffield Foundation volumes on British general elections, that makes you wonder how we managed before they came along", and I hope that the 2019 collection has kept up to that standard.

Within the book you will find an edited version of all the Previews from 2019, including those for the parliamentary by-elections in Newport West, Peterborough, and Brecon and Radnorshire; the Scottish Parliament by-election in the Shetland Islands; the by-election for Northumbria Police and Crime Commissioner; the detailed preview and reaction pieces for the 2019 local elections; and the undercard for the December general election. Also included are a full index and a list of all the winning by-election candidates.

2019 wasn't just about the Brexit debates; there were Meaningful Votes up and down the length of the UK every week in some of our 10,000 or so electoral wards. Every one of those places has a story to tell, and you'll find some of the stories here. Christmas is coming and Andrew's Previews will soon be going into hibernation for what looks like a long and hard winter ahead, so buy this book to remind yourself of the good times past.

I commend Andrew's Previews 2019 to the House. You can buy it here.

If you're not convinced by this introduction, there is one local by-election on 12th November 2020. Andrew's Previews 2019 contains many more pieces like the one below.

Craigentinny/Duddingston

Edinburgh council; caused by the resignation of Scottish National Party councillor Ian Campbell. He had served since 2017.

After a series of Scottish by-elections over the last few weeks in offshore islands and the old Grampian region, we have finally come south to the Central Belt where most of Scotland's people live. There will be four by-elections in this area over the next two weeks: next week the large county of Lanarkshire and the Wee County of Clackmannanshire will share the limelight, but today we are in the capital city of Edinburgh.

If you want an overview of Edinburgh, there are few places better than Arthur's Seat. This craggy, extinct volcano rises 822 feet above the city and dominates millions of photographs. On the clearest of days, mountains 72 miles away can be seen from its highest point. The hill lies entirely within Holyrood Park, a royal park which brings a bit of Highland landscape to the edge of the city centre.

Within Holyrood Park can be found Duddingston Loch. This was the scene in the late eighteenth century for one of Scotland's most iconic works of art, Raeburn's Skating Minister. The Reverend Robert Walker, the minister in the painting, was in good company because Duddingston Loch has been a centre for ice-skating and curling (in season) for centuries. The loch is next to Duddingston, an old village which has been swallowed up by the growth of the city. Duddingston lays claim to the title of Scotland's oldest pub (the Sheep's Heid, est. 1360), and the Young Pretender held a council of war in Duddingston shortly before his victory at Prestonpans during the 1745 rebellion. In that same year Duddingston was bought by the Earl of Abercorn, who commissioned a Palladian mansion called Duddingston House which still stands today (although much of the associated park has been taken over by a golf course and the Holyrood High School).

Much of the area to the north of Duddingston and Arthur's Seat was developed for housing between the wars. Next to Craigentinny lies Northfield, which was annexed by the city in 1920 and promptly filled with council housing at an unusually low density by Edinburgh standards. Craigentinny, in the north-east corner of the ward, is more of the same although the housing here dates from the 1930s. In the north of the ward is Restalrig, which is another old village swallowed up by the city. The London Road into the city centre passes Meadowbank, whose sports stadium (which hosted the Commonwealth Games in 1970 and 1986) was demolished last year and is now being redeveloped. Added to the ward in boundary changes in 2017 are the older tenements of Abbeyhill, behind the royal palace on the eastern edge of the city centre.

This ward was originally drawn up for the 2007 local elections to elect three members of Edinburgh city council. In the 2003 elections Labour had won all of the predecessor wards except for Duddingston, which voted Conservative; and Labour topped the poll here in the 2007 election with 35% of the vote to win one of the three seats. The SNP - who had been shut out of Edinburgh city council in 2003 thanks to the vagaries of the old first-past-the-post system - won one seat with 30%, and the final seat went to the Lib Dems who started on 10% of the vote, stayed ahead of the second Labour candidate and overhauled the Conservatives (who had 15% of the first preferences) in the final count on Green transfers.

The new SNP councillor for Craigentinny/Duddingston was Stefan Tymkewycz, who was simultaneously elected to the Scottish Parliament from fifth place on the SNP list for the Lothians region. Most councillors who are elected to Holyrood (or Westminster) eventually leave the council chamber for the higher salary and prestige of being an MSP or MP, but not Tymkewycz: after four months juggling both responsibilities he decided to put his council constituents first and resigned from the Scottish Parliament. (His replacement was Shirley-Anne Somerville, who lost her seat in 2011 and then lost an SNP seat in the 2013 Dunfermline by-election; however Somerville is now back in the Holyrood debating chamber after winning Dunfermline at the second attempt in 2016.) Tymkewycz retired from Edinburgh city council in 2017.

The Lib Dem councillor Gary Peacock lost his seat in 2012, finishing in sixth place with 8% of the first preferences. A close battle developed between the Scottish National Party, who started with 36.9% of the first preferences, and Labour who started on 36.2%; transfers from the Lib Dems and Conservatives eventually gave the final seat to Labour's second candidate Alex Lunn.

Lunn subsequently defected to the SNP in 2013, and this ended up causing trouble when the selection contest for the 2017 local elections came around. The local party branch twice voted to deselect him and were twice overruled by the national leadership; the other two SNP candidates resigned in protest, and party HQ had to rustle up two replacements (Ian Campbell and Mridul Wadhwa) at the last moment.

Despite this the Nationalists did improve their score in the election, but only from 36.9% to 37.1%. The Conservatives broke through to win a seat here for the first time since 2003, polling 24% and finishing top in the Craigentinny polling district. Labour held their remaining seat with 23%. The addition of Abbeyhill and other boundary changes meant that an extra fourth seat in the ward was now up for grabs: but the SNP's Alex Lunn performed very badly, starting in fifth place with 8% of the vote, and he lost his seat to the Green Party's Alex Staniforth. The Greens had started the count with 12%, and Staniforth got transfers from Labour to win the final seat by 1,785 votes to 1,675.

If we re-run the count for a single vacancy, the SNP win but only just: their councillor Ian Campbell would have beaten Labour's Joan Griffiths by 53% to 47%. Griffiths gets into the final round ahead of the Tories thanks to Green Party transfers; had the final round been SNP v Conservative instead the Nationalists would have won comfortably by 61-39.

Despite this reverse, the SNP did end up as the largest party in the 2017 Edinburgh city council election, winning 19 seats to 18 Conservatives, 12 Labour, 8 Greens and six Lib Dems. A minority SNP-Labour coalition was formed to run the city, although some defections since May 2017 mean that the ruling coalition now controls only 26 seats plus this vacancy.

Since then we have had two Westminster general elections in the local seat of Edinburgh East, both of which were comfortably held by the Scottish National Party with Labour in a rather distant second place. The Nationalists have held the Holyrood constituency of Edinburgh Eastern and its predecessor seats since 2007; Ash Denham took over as MSP from the retiring Kenny MacAskill in 2016, getting a swing in her favour against the then Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale. MacAskill has since made a political comeback, gaining East Lothian for the SNP in the 2019 general election.

SNP councillor Ian Campbell stood down in February on health grounds, having been diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome. This column wishes him well for the future. Defending for the SNP is Ethan Young, a wheelchair user who is working to help disabled people get involved in politics. Young is fighting his first election campaign, but Conservative candidate Eleanor Price is on her fourth after standing for Hackney council in 2010 (De Beauvoir ward) and fighting Dundee East in the 2017 general election and Edinburgh East in the 2019 general election. Price works in financial services. Labour have selected Margaret Graham, an early years childcare professional. Standing for the Scottish Greens is Ben Parker, a Yorkshireman in his mid-twenties who has stayed on in Edinburgh after graduating from university last year; Parker was the Green candidate for Edinburgh South West in last year's general election. Completing a ballot paper of seven candidates are Elaine Ford for the Liberal Democrats, Tam Laird of the Libertarian Party and independent candidate Andrew McDonald. The Libertarians gained a councillor earlier this week through a defection in Aberdeenshire; can they double their tally of elected representatives?

As usual in Scottish local by-elections, the Alternative Vote applies together with Votes at 16 - and there is another innovation to report. As a result of the passage of the Scottish Elections (Franchise and Representation) Act 2020, any foreign national who is resident in Scotland and has (or does not require) leave to remain in the UK is now entitled to register to vote in Scotland and to vote in Scottish Parliamentary and local elections. It's too late now to register for this particular by-election, but if this applies to you then don't forget that the next Holyrood elections are now less than six months away.

Parliamentary constituency: Edinburgh East
Scottish Parliament constituency: Edinburgh Eastern
Postcode districts: EH6, EH7, EH8, EH15

Elaine Ford (LD)
Margaret Graham (Lab)
Tam Laird (Libtn)
Andrew McDonald (Ind)
Ben Parker (Grn)
Eleanor Price (C)
Ethan Young (SNP)

May 2017 first preferences SNP 3945 C 2521 Lab 2472 Grn 1244 LD 448

Andrew Teale


Previewing the Kincorth/Nigg/Cove council by-election

"All the right votes, but not necessarily in the right order"

There is one local by-election on 5th November 2020:

Kincorth/Nigg/Cove

Aberdeen council; caused by the resignation of Scottish National Party councillor Stephen Flynn, who is now the Member of Parliament for Aberdeen South. He had served since 2012.

Welcome to what's scheduled to be a relatively busy November in terms of local by-elections, with seven polls pencilled in the diary. All of these are in Scotland, and in five of them the Scottish National Party are the defending party.

As is the case today. We've come to the southern end of the city of Aberdeen, to a ward of suburbs and villages on the southern side of the River Dee. Kincorth lies on the southern side of the Dee valley running down to the Bridge of Dee; this was traditionally one of the main entry points into Aberdeen from points south, although the completion of the Western Peripheral Road has hopefully removed a lot of traffic from this congested crossing. On the far side of the Kincorth and Tullos Hills lies Cove Bay, a rapidly-expanding village whose name was added to the ward in 2013. Large industrial estates at Tullos and Altens provide jobs for the locals; employers located here include Royal Dutch Shell, the former Grampian Television, Royal Mail (whose Aberdeen sorting office is here) and the newly-promoted League One football team Cove Rangers. The whole area was incorporated into Aberdeen in 1975, having previously been part of Kincardineshire.

This ward was created in 2007 under the name of Kincorth/Loirston, and originally returned three members of Aberdeen city council. In the 2007 election these seats split one each between Labour's Neil Cooney, the SNP's Callum McCaig and the Lib Dems' Katharine Dean. Dean had previously been councillor for the single-member Loirston ward, while Cooney and McCaig were new faces; particularly so in the case of McCaig, who at the time was a 22-year-old student reading politics at Edinburgh.

McCaig found himself in a ruling party, because the Liberal Democrats and SNP formed a coalition to run Aberdeen. Two by-elections in 2011 meant that the Nationalists overtook the Lib Dems to become the largest party on the city council; the Lib Dem council leader stood down, and Callum McCaig - who had taken over as SNP group leader just a month previously - found himself as leader of the council. He was 26 years old.

The Lib Dem vote collapsed across Aberdeen in the 2012 elections, and their councillor Kate Dean lost her seat in Kincorth/Loirston. Her transfers gave the final seat to independent candidate Andrew Finlayson, who finished comfortably ahead of the second Labour candidate. McCaig and Cooney were both re-elected. McCaig was, however, shut out of the leadership this time as Labour formed an administration to run Aberdeen with Conservative and independent support.

Then came the independence referendum and the subsequent realignment in Scottish politics. The 2015 general election saw the SNP almost sweep the board in Scotland, and one of the seats to fall was Aberdeen South where the party went from fourth to first. Callum McCaig found himself as the first SNP MP for the constituency, defeating the Labour incumbent Dame Anne Begg on a swing of almost 20%. He promptly resigned his seat on Aberdeen city council, and the resulting by-election in Kincorth/Loirston in July 2015 was a huge win for the SNP whose new candidate Stephen Flynn was elected on the first count with 61% of the vote. Labour finished in a poor second with just 19%.

McCaig must have thought he had a guaranteed five years in Westminster; but as it turned out the indyref was only the start of a hugely volatile period of politics. We can illustrate this by looking at the career of the candidate who finished third in Aberdeen South in 2015, a Conservative twentysomething and Aberdeen city councillor called Ross Thomson. In the May 2016 Holyrood elections Thomson finished second in the local seat of Aberdeen South and North Kincardine, behind Maureen Watt of the SNP, and was elected to the Scottish Parliament from third place on the Conservative list for North East Scotland.

Ross Thomson immediately came to prominence as one of the few members of the Scottish Parliament to support a Leave vote in the EU membership referendum. When Theresa May called her snap general election for June 2017, Thomson was reselected as Conservative candidate for Aberdeen South and he defeated Callum McCaig on a swing of 15%. Aged 32, McCaig was now an ex-council leader and ex-MP seeking new employment. (He subsequently became a special adviser to Nicola Sturgeon.)

Ross Thomson's performance was a good one given that the SNP had clearly won the Aberdeen city council election a month earlier, winning 19 seats against 11 Conservatives, 9 Labour, 4 Lib Dems and two independents. However, that didn't get the Nationalists into the administration, because the Conservatives, Labour and independents formed a coalition to run Aberdeen with Lib Dem support. This coalition agreement did not go down well with the national Labour party leadership, which suspended the party memberships of the entire Aberdeen Labour group. They are yet to be reinstated.

Following a boundary review and strong population growth, Kincorth/Nigg/Cove ward was awarded a fourth councillor for the May 2017 election on unchanged boundaries. Stephen Flynn of the SNP was re-elected at the top of the poll, and the party's 41% share of the vote gave them two seats; the Conservatives finished second with 22% to win a seat here for the first time, and Labour won the final seat with 18% of the vote. Outgoing independent councillor Andy Finlayson polled 11% and lost his seat, finishing as runner-up 85 votes behind the lead Labour candidate Sarah Duncan. If the count had been conducted for one seat, Flynn would have beaten Conservative Philip Sellar by a margin of 61% to 39%.

Unlike Callum McCaig, Ross Thomson couldn't have expected a guaranteed five years in the Commons given the precarious arithmetic in the 2017 parliament. However, as one of the relatively few Hard Brexiteers in the Scottish Conservative caucus, and as the Scottish manager of Boris Johnson's leadership campaign, Thomson must have thought he was doing the right things to get further up the greasy pole. Unfortunately, he had also racked up enemies and controversies; and a series of allegations of sexual misconduct in House of Commons bars prompted his constituency association to pull the plug. Thomson was not reselected for the 2019 general election. Aged 32, he was now an ex-MSP and ex-MP seeking new employment. (The Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards subsequently cleared him of any misconduct.)

Thomson's fall from grace left Aberdeen South as an open seat, and the Scottish National Party subsequently won it back in the December 2019 general election. Stephen Flynn became the seat's third new MP in five years, pulling off a 10% swing to win the constituency with a majority of 3,990 votes. Like McCaig before him, Flynn resigned from Aberdeen city council expecting a few years on the green benches. This by-election to replace Flynn was originally pencilled in for 14th May, but that earlier date fell victim to COVID.

We continue with the youthful theme of this week's column, as the defending SNP candidate is 24-year-old Miranda Radley. A recent Aberdeen University graduate, Radley is a caseworker for the Aberdeen North MP Kirsty Blackman.

The Conservatives have selected Christopher Wyles, a brass bandsman and former police call handler who now works at Robert Gordon University. Labour have selected Shona Simpson, the Lady Provost of Aberdeen (her husband is the Lord Provost, Barney Crockett); Simpson was the Labour candidate in Aberdeen South at the December general election, finishing fourth and last with 8% of the vote.

For some reason this by-election has attracted a large amount of interest and the ballot paper will be a long one. Four independent candidates have been nominated, headed by Andy Finlayson who was a NIMBY councillor for this ward from 2012 to 2017. The other three are (in alphabetical order) Lisette Bellizzi Houston, Sochima Iroh and Simon McLean. The Lib Dem candidate is Moira Henderson, Daniel Verhamme stands for the Scottish Green Party, and Bryce Hope completes the ballot paper as the candidate of the Libertarian Party. The usual reminders: this is a Scottish local election so Votes at 16 and the Alternative Vote apply, and the count will commence at 1pm on Friday afternoon in the Kincorth Sports Centre within the ward.

Parliamentary constituency: Aberdeen South
Scottish Parliament constituency: Aberdeen South and North Kincardine
Postcode districts: AB10, AB11, AB12

Lisette Bellizzi Houston (Ind)
Andy Finlayson (Ind)
Moira Henderson (LD)
Bryce Hope (Libtn)
Sochima Iroh (Ind)
Simon McLean (Ind)
Miranda Radley (SNP)
Shona Simpson (Lab)
Daniel Verhamme (Grn)
Christopher Wyles (C)

May 2017 first preferences SNP 2103 C 1113 Lab 908 Ind 562 LD 270 Ind 220
July 2015 by-election SNP 1939 Lab 606 C 313 LD 207 Grn 114
May 2012 first preferences Lab 1541 SNP 1389 Ind 471 LD 331 C 219 Ind 120
May 2007 first preferences Lab 1910 SNP 1883 LD 1429 C 423 Ind 179 Solidarity 58

Andrew Teale


Previewing the Ellon and District by-election (15 Oct)

"All the right votes, but not necessarily in the right order"

There is one local by-election on 15th October 2020:

Ellon and District

Aberdeenshire council; caused by the resignation of Scottish National Party councillor Richard Thomson, who is now the Member of Parliament for Gordon. He had served since 2012.

Have you missed party politics? Well, frankly it would be a welcome distraction from the disaster we have to put up with at the moment. And if you have missed party political elections then this is your lucky day. The waiting is over. 30 weeks after our last party political election in Coventry, local by-elections are back. Welcome to Aberdeenshire.

For this week's single poll we have come to Ellon, a town of around 10,000 souls located sixteen miles north of Aberdeen on the River Ythan. In case you're fed up of islands after the last two weeks' offshore Previews, there is no relief here because Ellon is named after an island in the Ythan; the name comes from Eilean, the Gaelic word for "island". The island formed a place where the Ythan could be forded at the head of its estuary, and a town sprang up. This is the main town in the agricultural Formartine area, but Ellon itself has become a dormitory town for Aberdeen and many of its jobs are underpinned by the North Sea oil industry. The ward associated with Ellon takes in a large number of villages, of which possibly the largest is Newburgh further down the estuary.

The list of famous people associated with Ellon is an eclectic one. In sport we have Paul Sturrock, an Ellon-born striker who was capped 20 times for Scotland; he spent the whole of a stellar playing career with Dundee United before going into football club management in Scotland and England, with some success. In music we have the percussionist Dame Evelyn Glennie, who attended the local secondary school (now called Ellon Academy). In business we have the noted publicity-seekers Brewdog, a brewery and pub chain which has been based in Ellon since 2012. Their Punk IPA is one of the UK's bestselling craft beers, while the company has also hit the front pages with a number of claims on the "strongest beer ever made" record. Brewdog have noisily done their bit for the current emergency by reworking their production lines to make hand sanitiser for the local hospitals.

Perhaps some of that hand sanitiser might be useful for a recovering COVID patient associated with Ellon and District, who makes Brewdog look like amateurs when it comes to attracting publicity. An American TV personality and businessman called Donald Trump bought a plot of sand dunes partially within the ward boundary in 2006, with the intention of building the world's best golf course. The Trump International Golf Links development was thrown out by Aberdeenshire council's planning committee, but subsequently granted permission following a Scottish government inquiry at which Trump himself testified. The golf course opened in 2012 notwithstanding a tantrum thrown by the Donald over an offshore windfarm development near the site; the resulting legal action ended up in the UK Supreme Court, which after due consideration rejected Trump's case in 2015.

As we all know, Donald Trump subsequently entered a different sphere, becoming yet another controversial politician from the country which once gave us a controversial Congressional candidate described as a "wacky alt-scientist who believes urine holds the secret to human life extension". Here in what is for now the United Kingdom, it's a bit more difficult for outright weirdos like that to get electoral traction; but that doesn't mean we don't have controversial politicians, of course.

Since 1983 Ellon has been part of the Gordon parliamentary constituency, which is still named after a local government district which was abolished in 1996. Gordon was a Liberal Democrat seat until 2015, when it was gained by Alex Salmond who rode the SNP wave into Parliament as the Nationalists won 56 Scottish seats out of a possible 59. Salmond can take some credit for that Nationalist landslide, having served as First Minister from 2007 until 2014 and having led the SNP on and off since 1990. He had represented Gordon (and its successor seat, Aberdeenshire East) in the Scottish Parliament since 2007; in May 2015 Salmond won the Gordon parliamentary seat on a 14-point swing from the Lib Dems, and became the SNP's foreign affairs spokesman in Westminster.

Back in May 2007, on the same day that Alex Salmond became an MSP there was an election to Aberdeenshire council, the first under the proportional representation system used for Scottish local government. In 2003 the SNP had carried the single-member Ellon Town ward but the three wards covering the rural areas around Ellon had all voted Lib Dem, and that was reflected in the candidate list for the new ward of Ellon and District. The Lib Dems had two candidates for the four available seats, with the other major parties nominating one candidate each. This decision backfired badly on the SNP, as their candidate Rob Merson topped the poll with 41% against 32% for the two Lib Dem candidates. A second Nationalist candidate would have stood a very good chance of election; instead the Lib Dems won two seats with the SNP and Conservatives getting one each.

No such mistake was made in 2012, as the SNP polled 50% of the first preferences and easily gained a second seat from the Lib Dems. The additional SNP councillor was Richard Thomson, who two years previously had come second to the long-serving Lib Dem MP Sir Malcolm Bruce in the 2010 Westminster general election for Gordon. In that poll Richard did finish well ahead of his near-namesake Ross Thomson, a young Conservative who subsequently had a controversial time in the Scottish Parliament and later the House of Commons from 2016 to 2019.

The May 2017 election to Aberdeenshire council was the first hint of what was to come in the general election five weeks later. It's one of those occasions where a picture paints a thousand words:

Across Aberdeenshire district, the Conservatives polled 40% of the first preferences against 28% for the SNP and 14% for the Liberal Democrats. It's fair to say that the Aberdeenshire Conservatives either didn't see this result coming or didn't believe it was coming. With favourable transfers, they would have had a chance of an overall majority on the 70-seat council - but the party had only nominated 23 candidates among the 21 wards, and all 23 of them were elected with lots of room to spare. The SNP did not benefit from this undernomination because of the transferable-vote system: the Conservative vote here was strongly Unionist, and in nearly every ward their spare transfers went on to pull Liberal Democrat or independent candidates over the line ahead of the Nationalist slate.

Ellon and District was about the only exception to this pattern. Long-serving Conservative councillor Gillian Owen topped the poll with 41% of the vote and was elected on the first count, the SNP candidates Richard Thomson and Anouk Kahanov-Kloppert had 32% between them, and outgoing Lib Dem councillor Isobel Davidson started just a few votes short of the 20% required for election. The Tory surplus went strongly to Davidson, and the Lib Dem surplus then went strongly to the Labour candidate John Morgan. Labour had started on 7.5% of the vote, which in the end was too far behind to come back from; Morgan can consider himself unlucky to have ended up eight votes behind Kahanov-Kloppert in the final count. The seat count in Ellon and District remained at 2 SNP, 1 Conservative and 1 Lib Dem.

The blue tide in Aberdeenshire may not have affected the second nationalist seat in Ellon; but five weeks later it swept away Alex Salmond, who lost the Gordon parliamentary seat to the Conservative candidate Colin Clark on a similar swing of 20 percentage points. Clark subsequently resigned his seat on Aberdeenshire council and the Conservatives held the resulting by-election in Inverurie. (You can read about that contest in Andrew's Previews 2017, page 283.) When the December 2019 general election rolled around Salmond couldn't try and make one more political comeback because he was awaiting trial on rape and sexual assault charges (of which he was subsequently acquitted); Ellon councillor Richard Thomson returned as SNP candidate for Gordon, and defeated Clark on a 3% swing with a slim majority of 819 votes.

The SNP go into next year's Holyrood elections defending a larger majority in the local Aberdeenshire East constituency. At the last Scottish Parliament elections in 2016 the SNP's Gillian Martin had held Alex Salmond's former seat with a 5,837 majority over Conservative candidate Colin Clark. Also on the ballot in Aberdeenshire East that year was Lib Dem candidate Christine Jardine, who the following year was elected as MP for Edinburgh West.

This by-election will be closely watched as it's only the third party political by-election in Scotland since the 2019 general election, following a Conservative hold in Galloway in January and an independent hold on the Isle of Skye on 12th March. (One thing that stuck out when I did the research for that Skye poll was that four of the six candidates worked or had worked in the accommodation/hospitality industry; goodness knows what experience they've had since.) As it's a Scottish local by-election the Alternative Vote is in effect, and on the basis of the May 2017 result that should favour the Conservatives who in May 2017 would have won Ellon and District 61-39 after transfers in a straight fight with the SNP. We can take that as the par score, so the Nationalists have an uphill struggle in holding their seat.

Defending for the SNP is Louise McAllister, the vice-chair of the Ellon community council; she is a humanist celebrant. Hoping to clean up at the polls is the Conservative challenger John Crawley, who has travelled the world in the Royal Navy and now runs a power washing business in Ellon. The Liberal Democrats have selected Trevor Mason, who has lived in Ellon for 36 years and is chair of the community council. Completing the ballot paper are two candidates from further afield: John Bennett (from Stonehaven) for Labour and Peter Kennedy (from Aberdeen) for the Scottish Green Party.

There will now be a two-week circuit break before we come to the next local by-election, which will take place in Aberdeen on Thursday 5th November. Expect fireworks for that one.

Parliamentary constituency: Gordon (almost all)
Scottish Parliament constituency: Aberdeenshire East
ONS Travel to Work Areas: Aberdeen (most), Peterhead (eastern part)
Postcode districts: AB23, AB41, AB42

John Bennett (Lab)
John Crawley (C)
Peter Kennedy (Grn)
Trevor Mason (LD)
Louise McAllister (SNP)

May 2017 first preferences C 2258 SNP 1755 LD 1087 Lab 415
May 2012 first preferences SNP 2118 C 705 LD 689 Lab 399 Ind 300
May 2007 first preferences SNP 2458 LD 1931 C 872 Lab 456 Ind 352

Andrew Teale


Previewing the Harris & South Lewis by-election (08 Oct)

"All the right votes, but not necessarily in the right order"

At the time of writing, there is one local by-election on 8th October 2020:

Na Hearadh agus Ceann a Deas nan Loch

Comhairle nan Eilean Siar; caused by the resignation of independent councillor Finlay Cunningham who had served since 2017.

After last week's successful local by-election it's time for another one. We are still a long way from the British mainland, but this time the focus shifts from the Orkneys to the west.

Rather far west, it has to be said. We're on a large island here, the third largest of the British Isles by area (after Great Britain and Ireland). As the name might suggest, Lewis with Harris has a bit of a split personality. Lewis is relatively flat; Harris, covering roughly the southern third of the island, is generally mountainous. Lewis includes the main town of the Outer Hebrides, Stornoway; Harris is sparsely populated. The division goes back centuries to when Lewis and Harris were the lands of rival branches of the Clan MacLeod; Lewis ended up in the hands of the Earls of Seaforth and in the county of Ross-shire, while Harris stayed with the MacLeods and became part of the county of Inverness-shire.

One of the less-visited parts of Lewis is Park, a peninsula cut off from Harris by Loch Seaforth and from most of Lewis by Loch Erisort. Park is a hilly area which is very sparsely populated. The main local industry is crofting, and Park was bought by the local residents in 2015 under crofting "right to buy" rules passed by the Scottish Parliament in 2003.

All the villages and communities in the south of Park were cleared in the nineteenth century, and evacuation of remote areas is a theme running through the history of this ward. Consider the island of Taransay, where people have lived since around AD 300 and which supported three villages into the nineteenth century, but has been uninhabited since 1974. With one prominent but temporary exception: Castaway 2000, a BBC television series which marooned 36 men, women and children on the island for a year to build a community from scratch. The show made a star of Ben Fogle, one of the castaways, who later made an unsuccessful attempt to buy Taransay when it was placed on the market in 2011.

Further out from Taransay, but still traditionally part of Harris, is the oldest of Scotland's six UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and the only World Heritage Site in the UK recognised for both its cultural and natural heritage. This is the remote archipelago of St Kilda, which supports several unusual species of sheep and rodents and a large number of seabirds, but has no human residents following an evacuation in 1930.

In many ways the story of St Kilda is a sad one. Visiting ships brought diseases to the island including cholera, smallpox and childhood tetanus, the last leading to an appalling infant mortality rate in the late nineteenth century; at the same time the advent of tourism and the establishment of a Royal Navy signal station during the Great War disturbed the local way of life. After the war most of the islands' young men emigrated; that, followed by a series of crop failures, convinced the 36 remaining islanders to leave. There are still people living on St Kilda, working for the National Trust for Scotland (which owns the archipelago), working for the Ministry of Defence (which uses the surrounding seas as a missile testing range), or studying the local flora, fauna and archaeology; but none of those people are permanent residents.

Mind, St Kilda is a metropolis compared to the most remote of all the British Isles. Rockall, a granite islet 230 miles from the Outer Hebrides, was claimed for the United Kingdom in 1955 by R H Connell, the captain of HMS Vidal, mainly in order to stop people going there to spy on those missile tests. Subsequently, Rockall became a point of international controversy over whether this gave the UK rights to an exclusive economic zone around the island; this was a particular bone of contention for the Irish government, which doesn't recognise the UK's claim on Rockall. The British, Irish, Danish and Icelandic governments have subsequently come to an agreement on their exclusive economic zones in the North Atlantic, with Rockall placed within the British EEZ; however, the boundaries between British and Irish waters were drawn without taking account of Rockall's position.

If anybody wants to put the Western Isles' electoral services team to the test by registering to vote on Rockall, it's your own time you're wasting. Nobody has ever lasted on that rock long enough to establish residence within the meaning of electoral law. But if somebody managed to pass the residence test there, there's a question-mark as to which ward they would end up in. Under the terms of the Island of Rockall Act 1972, Rockall was incorporated into Scotland as part of the District of Harris in the County of Inverness. The 1972 Act was amended the following year to substitute a reference to the Western Isles, following a reorganisation of local government in Scotland. Despite this, Rockall (and indeed St Kilda) were not included on the maps I can find defining the ward boundaries for the Comhairle nan Eilean Siar from the 2007 election. Prior to 2007 St Kilda was part of Harris West ward, which included "St Kilda, Boreray, Pabbay, Shillay, Coppay, Taransay, Glas Sgeir, Cairearn and all other islands along [the ward's] eastern and western coastal extent", so I'll place Rockall in the modern-day ward based on Harris. The Ordnance Survey appear to think St Kilda is now covered by a ward based on North Uist rather than Harris, but I haven't been able to find confirmation of that.

https://youtu.be/pRc9uOZfCF0

As can be seen from all that sea, fishing has been very important to the economy of Harris. Which brings us to a slightly mad scheme from a slightly mad but very successful businessman turned politician. No, not Donald Trump (although stay tuned for next week's Preview, if we get that far...); I'm referring here to William Hesketh Lever, who was born in 1851 in Bolton. Lever went into the family's wholesale grocery business, but made his name and fortune as the brains and driving force behind the soap manufacturing company Lever Brothers (one of the forerunners of the modern multinational Unilever). Having put Sunlight into all our homes, he was elected as Liberal MP for the Wirral in the 1906 landslide, serving one term in the Commons. In these days of cancellation of historic public figures, we should remember that Lever Brothers had signed a treaty with the Belgian government in 1911 to gain access to palm oil from the Belgian Congo, where working practices were, well, not that great; but focusing on that would miss the point that Lever's style towards his employees was paternalistic to a fault.

In 1918 Lord Leverhulme (as he had become by that point) bought the Isle of Lewis for £167,000; the following year he bought South Harris for £36,000. He had a plan for developing a modern fishing industry on Lewis with Harris, with distribution across the UK through a network of fishmongers under the brand name of Mac Fisheries. Leverhulme's plans to recruit crofters for the scheme ran into trouble in Lewis and were quickly abandoned there, but the scheme for South Harris developed to the extent that the fishing village of An t-Òb was renamed in his honour, becoming Leverburgh. Following Leverhulme's death in 1925, the Lever Brothers board put a stop to this nonsense, and that was the end of the developments on Harris. Mac Fisheries made it into the 1970s, but has long disappeared from the nation's high streets.

So all this activity left Harris relatively little changed in the end. Today crofting and Harris tweed are important to the local economy, and award-winning gin comes out of the Harris Distillery in Tarbert. From Tarbert there is a ferry connection to Uig on Skye; while another ferry (even on Sundays, sacrilege!) connects Leverburgh to Berneray for North Uist and points south. A majority of the population speak Gaelic, which is reflected in the name of the electoral ward (a rough English translation would be "Harris and South Lochs").

The Comhairle nan Eilean Siar is the largest of the three Scottish islands councils created in 1975 and left untouched by the 1990s reorganisation. It's always had an independent majority, but from the 1990s onwards there has been a minority of councillors elected on party political platforms. We see this at the 2003 election, when the two Harris wards elected independent councillors and Lochs ward narrowly voted SNP.

Proportional representation came in for the 2007 election but didn't change that party balance. Morag Munro, outgoing councillor for Harris West ward, was elected at the top of the poll with 49% of the first preferences; her transfers elected a second independent, Catherine Macdonald, and Philip McLean won the final seat for the Scottish National Party fairly comfortably. Munro retired at the 2012 election, in which Macdonald sought re-election as the only independent candidate and was re-elected with a whopping 62% of the first preference votes, far ahead of the 25% required to win a seat. Philip McLean was also re-elected for the SNP on the first count. With a choice between Labour candidate DJ Macrae and a second SNP candidate, Macdonald's surplus went strongly to Macrae who won the final seat despite polling just 69 first-preference votes, 9% of the total. 69 first preferences is the lowest winning total for any Scottish local councillor in a contested election this century, although Macrae did pick up another 96 votes from Macdonald's transfers to make his final score rather more respectable.

Na Hearadh agus Ceann a Deas nan Loch had a clearout of its representatives at the May 2017 local elections. With a much longer ballot paper of nine candidates (seven independents and two Scottish Nationalists), new candidate Finlay Cunnningham topped the poll with 33% of the vote and was elected on the first count. DJ Macrae polled just 42 first preferences in his re-election attempt and was eliminated in eighth place. A close race developed for the final two seats between independent candidate Paul Finnegan who started on 16.5%, new SNP candidate John Mitchell (15%) and outgoing councillor Catherine Macdonald (14.5%) who were a long way ahead of the rest. Mitchell started the count 6 votes ahead of Macdonald, and once everybody else had been eliminated he won the final seat 18 votes ahead of Macdonald.

Over all nine wards in the Comhairle nan Eilean Siar 2017 election, independent candidates won 23 seats, the SNP 7 and the Conservatives picked up one - their first ever seat on this council. In a blow for equality, the loss of Catherine Macdonald's seat meant that all 31 councillors were male.

Will that change in this by-election? We shall see. Three candidates have come forward, all of whom are independents. Taking them in ballot paper order, first alphabetically is Grant Fulton who is the only Harris resident on the ballot; based in Leverburgh, he is a development officer for Harris Development Ltd and is concerned by the effect of current circumstances on the ward's tourist industry. Annie Macdonald, who works in the care sector, lives outside the ward in Laxay but has represented part of it in the past: she was the SNP councillor for the former Lochs ward from 2003 to 2007, then represented the neighbouring ward of Sgir'Uige agus Ceann a Tuath nan Loch from 2007 to 2012 in the nationalist interest. This time she is an independent candidate. Kris O'Donnell also lives outside the ward, in Arivruaich; he is concerned about the future of crofting and, like the other two candidates, opposes the proposed closure of the Park primary school.

Going forward, this ward is likely to be broken up for the next Scottish local elections in 2022. The current proposals are for Harris to become a ward of its own, going down from three councillors to two, with Park and the rest of the Lochs area united in another two-seat ward. It appears that St Kilda will definitely be included in a ward based on North Uist going forward (as stated above, it might be there already). No word on Rockall.

We do need to mention the elephant in the room. The North Isles by-election in Orkney last week was effectively an all-postal affair; this by-election, by contrast, will be the first opportunity to see how polling stations can work in a time of pandemic. There are four polling stations for this by-election, and various additional hygiene measures area in place; in particular, no more than one elector or family group will be allowed into the polling station at any one time. If you are going to cast your vote, have confidence that you will be doing so safely.

Parliamentary and Scottish Parliament constituency: Na h-Eileanan an Iar
Postcode districts: HS2, HS3, HS4, HS5

Grant Fulton (Ind)
Annie Macdonald (Ind)
Kris O'Donnell (Ind)

Andrew Teale


Previewing the North Isles by-election (01 Oct)

"All the right votes, but not necessarily in the right order"

After over six months of silence, it's time to welcome readers back to the Britain Elects website for a fresh new edition of that supposedly-weekly blog which takes readers all over the country to talk about by-elections to local government. A rather difficult thing to do these days, given that some of these things are now illegal in various parts of the UK. Nevertheless, with a remit to bring you all the right votes, but not necessarily in the right order, this is Andrew's Previews. We have a by-election to bring to you, and it's time to go on a journey which for most readers will be to somewhere longer than the distance to your COVID test centre. We're going north, and we're going offshore...

North Isles

Orkney Islands council; caused by the death of independent councillor Kevin Woodbridge, who had served since 2017. A former GP from the island of North Ronaldsay, Woodbridge was the chairman of the Orkney Ferries board and ran a bird observatory.

And when I say offshore, I mean offshore. Orkney North Isles ward is easy to define: it's all the islands north of the Orkney Mainland. Of which there are rather a lot: there are eleven inhabited islands and a number of smaller islets, linked to Mainland and to each other by a series of ferries and air links.

In population terms, the largest of these islands is Westray with 451 residents on the local government register (this is Scotland, so Votes at 16 apply in local elections). Lake many of the islands here, Westray goes back a long way: there are Neolithic remains on the island from five and half millennia ago, and Westray has proven to be a fruitful area for archaeologists. The goods and structures found by the diggers aren't all Stone Age either: the Vikings and Norsemen (who controlled Orkney until the fifteenth century) left remains behind as well, while if you like big historical buildings there's the unfinished Noltland Castle which is one of the most impressive castles in the archipelago. Fishing and agriculture are the main local industries, with Westray Wife cheese (named after a recently-unearthed Neolithic statuette) being a prominent export. And there is tourism, with draws including the UK's longest golf hole (a 738-yard par 6, created by a recent refurbishment of the island's golf course) and the world's shortest passenger flight. Loganair planes from Westray to the neighbouring island of Papa Westray make the journey in comfortably under 90 seconds of flying time.

https://youtu.be/fwyVWaCAD2A

The smallest and most remote of the North Isles is North Ronaldsay, with 53 electors on the roll. Given that the island's primary school's only pupil graduated in 2017, we can see that this represents almost all of the population. New families with young children are being sought to keep the school open. The sagas record that Hálfdan, son of the Norwegian king Harald Finehair, hid on North Ronaldsay after murdering Rögnvald Eysteinsson, before being discovered there by Rögnvald's son and sacrificed to Odin. North Ronaldsay has also been a graveyard over the years for a number of ships, and because of its hazards to navigation there has been a lighthouse here since the eighteenth century. The shores of the island are patrolled by a unique animal: the North Ronaldsay sheep, which has evolved to exist on a diet primarily of seaweed. With all that salt in its diet, North Ronaldsay lamb and mutton is described as having a tangy taste.

In recent years Orkney has become a major centre for renewable energy, to the extent that the local grid now has an energy surplus. Community-owned wind turbines have sprung up on many islands, while the European Marine Energy Centre have harnessed the power of the waves and currents: every tide drives a series of turbines off Eday for the local energy grid. Opposite the tidal power station is the small island of Egilsay, where the Earl of Orkney Magnus Erlendsson was murdered in the early twelfth century. A pious man, Magnus was subsequently canonised as a martyr, and he is now considered as Orkney's patron saint; a ruined church on Egilsay and the cathedral in Kirkwall are dedicated to him.

Westray, North Ronaldsay, Eday and the eight other main islands form a remote and far-flung electoral ward where transport is difficult and often at the mercy of the weather. Because of these geographical difficulties, the North Isles are significantly over-represented on the Orkney Islands council, forming a ward with three seats even though the number of voters here only strictly justifies two councillors. Orkney is having a boundary review at the moment following the passage of the Islands (Scotland) Act 2018; however the draft proposals from the Local Government Boundary Commission for Scotland leave this ward and its three seats unchanged going forward.

North Isles ward was created in 2007 when Scottish local government went over to proportional representation. In Orkney, PR didn't matter so much for partisan balance - the islands have the population of a large parish council and non-party politics to match - but the reform was nonetheless welcome because it ensured that every ward saw a contest when election time came. In 2003, under first-past-the-post, nine of Orkney's 21 councillors had been elected unopposed, including both councillors for the main predecessor wards to North Isles.

That changed in 2007 when nine independent candidates stood for the three seats in the new North Isles ward. One of them was Stephen Hagan, outgoing councillor for Papa Westray, Westray and Eday, who dominated the election with 41% of the first-preference votes and was elected on the first count. New candidate Stephen Clackson started in second place with 14%, well short of the 25% required to win a seat, and did very poorly on the transfers; he was immediately overtaken by Sam Harcus, who started on 12% and did well out of Hagan's surplus votes. Harcus was elected on the penultimate count, and his surplus votes gave the final seat to Graham Sinclair who had started fourth with 11%; Sinclair beat Stephen Clackson by two votes, 213 to 211. Stephen Hagan subsequently became the convenor of Orkney Islands council.

In the 2012 election Harcus retired and the field narrowed to four candidates. Hagan again topped the poll with 41%; Stephen Clackson picked up Harcus' seat, polling 29% and being elected on the first count; and their transfers again saved Sinclair, who had started in fourth place but finished the count 12 votes ahead of Gillian Skuse.

There was less drama in the 2017 election when Stephen Hagan retired, putting a lot of his votes up for grabs. Eight candidates stood. After scraping in on the final count in the previous two elections, Graham Sinclair was re-elected at the top of the poll with 27% of the first preferences. Hagan's seat went to new candidate Kevin Woodbridge, who polled 24% and won the second seat. Stephen Clackson started the count in third place with 18% and was re-elected comfortably for the final seat ahead of Stuart McIvor, who started on 11%.

One unique feature of the North Isles' elections is the very high postal voting rate. Although Orkney Islands council has divided the ward into eight polling districts, it only organises one polling station for the ward and that's not situated on any of its islands: it's at the St Magnus Centre, next to the cathedral in Kirkwall. Not many of the islands' voters can make the effort to travel to Kirkwall to cast their votes at the polling station. In the 2012 local elections just 18 out of 1,055 votes were cast in person; 16 of those were from Shapinsay, the closest island to Kirkwall, and the other two were from Rousay, the closest island to Mainland. All the rest were absent votes. Over 80% of the North Isles electors are registered for postal votes, and there's no reason to expect a sudden upsurge in in-person voting for this by-election.

So this poll will not tell us much about how polling stations can work in a time of pandemic. The count, which will be held in Kirkwall on Friday, is another matter entirely. The returning officer and his staff legally have to do the count in the presence of the candidates' polling agents at an absolute minimum, but how does that square with Scotland's restrictions on gatherings? I don't know the answer to that and I'll be interested to find out.

This will be third by-election in Orkney since PR was introduced, and the other two also broke new ground. The 2014 by-election in Kirkwall West and Orphir ward was affected by the death of independent candidate Laurence Leonard shortly before polling day; but because the Cormack amendment applies to Scottish local elections, the poll went ahead. Leonard finished fourth and last with 5%, the first and so-far only time that a UK local election has gone ahead with a deceased candidate. The 2015 by-election in West Mainland ward saw an OMG moment as party politics broke out: the OMG here is the Orkney Manifesto Group, a reform movement which won the by-election and went on to win two seats in the 2017 Orkney local elections. The Green Party also broke through into the independent-dominated council chamber three years ago, taking one of the three seats in the ward of East Mainland, South Ronaldsay and Burray.

Party politics has broken out in this by-election too with the nomination of Coilla Drake as an official Labour Party candidate. Drake, a former carer who lives on Westray, was the Labour candidate for Orkney and Shetland in the Westminster general election last December; on that occasion she finished fourth, with 7% of the vote. She's the first Labour candidate in an Orkney local election since 1986. Drake is up against three independent candidates whom I shall take in the reverse of the order they appear on the ballot paper. Heather Woodbridge, the 26-year-old daughter of the late councillor Kevin Woodbridge, is seeking to follow in her father's footsteps; if elected, she would become the youngest ever member of Orkney Islands council. Claire Stevens is an engineer and RAF veteran from Eday. Completing the ballot paper is Daniel Adams, who gives an address in Kirkwall; like Stevens and Woodbridge junior, he is fighting his first election campaign. The Alternative Vote applies in this by-election, so first preferences may not be the whole story - we shall find out when the votes come out of the ballot boxes on Friday morning.

Parliamentary constituency: Orkney and Shetland
Scottish Parliament constituency: Orkney Islands
Postcode district: KW17

Daniel Adams (Ind)
Coilla Drake (Lab)
Claire Stevens (Ind)
Heather Woodbridge (Ind)

Catchup

The Orkney North Isles by-election is going ahead at all because Scotland has different rules to England and Wales when it comes to local by-elections. In England and Wales, by-elections don't just happen: they have to be called, and this is done by two electors (ten electors for parish vacancies) writing to the Returning Officer to ask for a by-election. Usually the defending parties organise this within a reasonable timescale. Once the returning officer gets the call, he or she has a legal duty to organise a poll within a fairly tight timetable and has no power to stop it. Readers will recall that when the pandemic started a number of by-elections were cancelled regardless; this was because the returning officers involved were assured that they would be indemnified against any resulting breach of the law, and the Coronavirus Act 2020 delivered on that promise.

Subsequently, Westminster and the Welsh Government have promulgated legislation to postpone all future by-elections into next year. In Wales, no by-elections will happen until February at the earliest; in England, everything has been put back to the next scheduled local elections on 6th May 2021. The result of this is that there are now over 200 council seats vacant in England, some of which have had by-elections pending since November 2019; and that number is only going to rise. I understand that around ten of those vacancies are a direct result of COVID-19.

These vacancies have consequences that go beyond the obvious ones of electors being left unrepresented. Northumberland council is a man down at the moment after one member of the Conservative group was elected to Parliament last year; in September, the Conservative leader of Northumberland was no-confidenced by 33 votes to 32 following a whistleblowing scandal, although the Conservatives are still in minority control there. The multi-party coalition running Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole council recently fell in a confidence motion brought by the opposition Conservatives, after two councillors supporting the coalition died and the administration's majority went with them. In Crawley, the death of a Labour councillor and the defections of two others led to the Conservatives becoming the largest party; but a bizarre situation has developed as the Crawley Conservatives have declined to seek the council leadership for themselves.

In Scotland, things are different in that the returning officer has full control over the by-election process. Once the RO becomes aware of a vacancy, he has to fill it within three months and has the power to set the date himself within that period - there's no sitting around waiting for the local politicians to tell him to start the clock. Because of the public health emergency, the normal three-month deadline has been extended to 6th May 2021. There are currently thirteen council vacancies in Scotland, all of which had by-election dates scheduled in October or November; however, the returning officer for the Scottish Borders has pushed her poll in Leaderdale and Melrose ward (which was originally pencilled in for May this year) back from the end of this month to a date in March 2021. This column is keeping a close eye on the other twelve vacancies to see what happens to them.

I'd like to finish this week on a personal note. For obvious reasons, it has been a while since the last edition of Andrew's Previews. The hiatus, I'm afraid, has not been a pleasant one for your columnist. The simultaneous collapse in March of all my hobbies, activities and friendship networks has left me desperately lonely and profoundly depressed at the state of things. There's been a lot of focus not just on physical but on mental health during this difficult time, and as someone whose state of mind has been generally poor over the last few months I would like to echo that. Don't lose your mind over things you can't control. Talk to somebody.

The good news is I do still retain a full-time job and the virus, to the best of my knowledge, hasn't got me yet. I hope that will remain the case for you as well. All being well, this column returns next week with another offshore trip to a different Scottish island. Stay tuned for that.

Andrew Teale


Previews: 19 Mar 2020

"All the right votes, but not necessarily in the right order"

For the moment, the show is going on. It appears that the government intends to call off local by-elections as a response to the COVID-19 crisis, but as I explained in an extraordinary edition of the Previews last week there is currently no way to stop an election thanks to force majeure. Stopping the democratic processes already in action will require primary legislation, which won't pass in time to prevent today's four contests. In what may be the last ordinary edition of Andrew's Previews for some time, there are four local by-elections on 19th March 2020:

Upper Stoke

Coventry council, West Midlands; caused by the death of Labour councillor Sucha Singh Bains at the age of 83.

Bains was born in the Punjab in 1935; he came to Britain in 1959 and settled in Coventry, studying at Lanchester Polytechnic - the forerunner to Coventry University - and working in the city's automotive industry. Bains entered politics and in 1990 achieved elected office, being elected to Coventry city council for the Upper Stoke ward. Apart from a gap in 2004-06 he had represented the ward ever since, and in 2003-04 Bains served as the first Asian Lord Mayor of Coventry.

Bains' Upper Stoke ward is centred on Stoke Heath, which was developed in the early years of the last century as housing for what was becoming a major industrial city. Initially munitions were the major local employer; there was a war on, and many of the local houses were occupied by refugees from Belgium. Once the war was over the area became dependent on the Morris Motors engine plant, which occupied several acres on Blackberry Lane. Because of the presence of the factory, this area suffered badly in the Coventry Blitz of November 1940. The Morris engine factory closed its doors in the early 1980s and housing now occupies the site. Today many of the ward's residents were, like the late Councillor Bains, born in India; Punjabi and Polish are major languages spoken here.

Upper Stoke ward was unusual in Coventry in the 2000s as it was the only ward of the city where the Liberal Democrats had any sort of presence. The Lib Dems won all three seats in the 2004 election, the first on the current boundaries, shutting Bains out. Bains got his seat back in 2006 with a majority of 30 votes, and Labour gained a second seat the following year by the even narrower margin of three votes, 1620 to 1617. The last Lib Dem councillor held out until 2012, but by then the Coalition had happened and the party's vote had fallen through the floor; Labour gained the seat with a majority of over 38 percentage points, and they have not been seriously challenged here since. In May 2019 Labour polled 50% in Upper Stoke, against 21% for the Conservatives and 16% for UKIP; and the ward will have been strongly in the Labour column at the December 2019 general election in the Coventry North East constituency.

Defending for Labour is local resident Gurdev Singh Hayre. The Conservatives have selected Gurdeep Singh Sohal, a consultant. UKIP - like the Lib Dems - have thrown in the towel, so the two remaining candidates are Chrissie Brown of the Green Party and Jane Nellist - wife of the former Militant MP Dave Nellist, now there's a blast from the past - for the Socialist Alternative.

Parliamentary constituency: Coventry North East

Chrissie Brown (Grn)
Gurdev Singh Hayre (Lab)
Jane Nellist (Soc Alt)
Gurdeep Singh Sohal (C)

May 2019 result Lab 1538 C 632 UKIP 501 Grn 394
May 2018 result Lab 1965 C 775 Grn 268 LD 204
May 2016 result Lab 1873 UKIP 546 LD 424 C 354 Grn 150 TUSC 89
May 2015 result Lab 3368 C 1273 UKIP 1227 LD 629 Grn 260 TUSC 215
May 2014 result Lab 1912 UKIP 809 LD 417 C 389 Grn 134 BNP 94 TUSC 56
May 2012 result Lab 2024 LD 682 C 275 Grn 213 BNP 156 Socialist Alternative 120
May 2011 result Lab 2536 LD 799 C 508 BNP 193 Grn 159 Socialist Alternative 95
May 2010 result Lab 3439 LD 1983C 1127 BNP 480 Socialist Alternative 185
May 2008 result LD 1694 Lab 1506 C 482 Grn 172
May 2007 result Lab 1620 LD 1617 C 521 BNP 291 Ind 183 Ind 25
May 2006 result Lab 1792 LD 1762 C 566
June 2004 result LD 2119/2047/1865 Lab 1776/1504/1480 C 526/480/457 Socialist Alternative 251


Clackmannanshire East

Clackmannanshire council; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Bill Mason.

It's time for what is becoming the annual March trip to the Wee County on the north bank of the Firth of Forth. For the third year in a row, Clackmannanshire council is having a by-election in March. The returning officer here is used to having to hold by-elections in trying circumstances: the March 2018 by-election in the county's North ward took place on the 1st of the month, which may be recognised by the Met Office as the first day of spring but was blighted by exceptionally heavy snowfall.

This time we're in the East ward, which is based on the towns of Clackmannan and Dollar. Clackmannan may have given its name to a county but it's a pretty small place, with a population under 3,500. Originally it was a port on the River Black Devon, a tributary of the Forth, but centuries of silting-up mean that the river is now more than a mile away from the town centre. In mediaeval times Clackmannan was associated the Bruce family, who fortified it with the building of Clackmannan Tower - a structure that no longer exists.

Further up in the hills is Dollar, a village whose name may come from a Gaelic word meaning "dark" or "gloomy"; appropriate for the trying times in which we live. By coincidence or otherwise, Dollar is home to Castle Gloom, a 500-year-old building officially called Castle Campbell which was built as a Lowland centre for the Dukes of Argyll. Along with Muckhart, which was transferred into Clacks from Perthshire in 1971, Dollar forms one of the Hillfoots Villages along the A93 road from Stirling towards Fife.

Much of this ward has a coalmining history. In 2003 Labour carried the two wards based on Clackmannan while Dollar and Muckhart was the only part of the Wee County to return a Conservative councillor, Alastair Campbell. The introduction of this ward for the 2007 election along with proportional representation enabled the SNP to get a look-in, and the nationalists actually topped the poll in Clackmannanshire East at the 2007 and 2012 elections. For the May 2017 election the Conservatives took over the lead with 42% of the vote, against 30% for the SNP and 20% for Labour; the seat count remained at one for each party partly because the Tories only had one candidate. Alastair Campbell stood down and Bill Mason took over as the ward's Conservative councillor. As usual, Allan Faulds at the Ballot Box Scotland blog has got his slide-rule out to see what would have happened if the May 2017 votes were for a single seat: the answer is a big win for Mason, with a 59-41 lead over the SNP after redistributions.

The Wee County is part of the Ochil and South Perthshire parliamentary seat, which has unseated its MP at each of the three general elections over the last five years. Labour's Gordon Banks lost in 2015 to the SNP's Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh, who lost in 2017 to the Tories' Luke Graham, who lost in 2019 to the SNP's John Nicolson. Clackmannanshire has a longer SNP pedigree in the Scottish Parliament, the party having represented it since 2003 (currently as part of the Clackmannanshire and Dunblane seat).

Bill Mason has stood down on health grounds halfway through his five-year term, prompting this by-election. Defending for the Conservatives is Denis Coyne, a business advisor from Dollar who is aged 71, so may have some trouble getting to the count. The SNP candidate is Stephen Leitch, a community councillor in Dollar. Labour have selected Carolynne Hunter, a former software engineer and now full-time carer for her disabled daughter. Also standing are John Biggam for the Lib Dems and Marion Robertson for the Scottish Greens.

Parliamentary constituency: Ochil and South Perthshire
Scottish Parliament constituency: Clackmannanshire and Dunblane

John Biggam (LD)
Denis Coyne (C)
Carolynne Hunter (Lab)
Stephen Leitch (SNP)
Marion Robertson (Grn)

May 2017 first preferences C 1452 SNP 1055 Lab 706 LD 151 Grn 132


Chilworth, Nursling and Rownhams

Test Valley council, Hampshire; caused by the death of long-serving Conservative councillor Nigel Anderdon.

Our two remaining by-elections are in the south-east of England. Chilworth, Nursling and Rownhams are three villages just outside Southampton, which are clearly dependent on the big city but haven't been incorporated into it. Chilworth, the point where Southampton ends on the main road towards Eastleigh and London, is home to a science park run by the University of Southampton and to the earth station from where Sky TV send their broadcasts to the satellites. Rownhams lies on the city's north-western edge, and is probably best known as the location of a service area on the M27 motorway.

This is greenbelt land and homes in this ward are sought-after and expensive. That adds up to a strongly Conservative area; on slightly revised boundaries in May 2019, the ward gave the Conservative slate a 58-30 lead in what was generally a poor set of local elections for the Tories. The Conservatives also hold the local county council seat, Romsey Rural.

This by-election will be a straight fight with Labour having withdrawn. Defending for the Conservatives is Terese Swain, a school business manager who site on Nursling and Rownhams parish council. Challenging for the Lib Dems is Karen Dunleavey, a former Mayor of Romsey.

Parliamentary constituency: Romsey and Southampton North
Hampshire county council division: Romsey Rural

Karen Dunleavey (LD)
Terese Swain (C)

May 2019 result C 1187/1123/1114 LD 612/517/470 Lab 236


Newington

Thanet council, Kent; caused by the resignation of Labour councillor Karen Constantine.

If this is to be the last by-election preview for some months to come, it's appropriate that it links back all the way to the start of the Andrew's Previews book series. This column has been going for almost ten years, and all columns from 2016 to 2018 have been collected in a series of paperbacks which are available from Amazon. Or not, as the case may be: I understand Amazon are not prioritising book deliveries at the moment, so if you order a copy you could be in for a long wait.

Those who are already lucky enough to have a copy of the first Preview book, that for 2016, will be able to turn to page 16 to see a by-election in the Newington ward of Thanet district, which took place on the 21st January and was the fourth of over 240 previews in the book. Newington ward is an inland and rather working-class part of Ramsgate, on the road towards Manston airport. Blessed with one of the widest runways in Europe - a legacy of the Second World War, when damaged RAF planes would regularly limp home here - Manston became a civilian airport from 1960 onwards. Attempts to develop the place into a budget airline hub foundered after the collapse of EUjet in 2005, and several later players couldn't make Manston work either. The last scheduled passenger flight, a KLM departure to Amsterdam, left in April 2014 and the airport closed the following month.

Since 2014 the airport site has been the subject of a tug-of-war. The site had been quickly sold to developers who wanted to build new housing and commercial units; the Government had an eye on its runway for use a lorry park in the event of no-deal Brexit; while several attempts have been made to reopen the site for cargo flights. In late 2014 Thanet council, then run by Labour, turned down a compulsory purchase order which would have allowed a reopening plan to proceed under the auspices of intended new operator RiverOak.

Thanet council was then taken over by UKIP, who won a majority of the district councillors in the 2015 election on the coattails of a widely-publicised but unsuccessful Parliamentary campaign by Nigel Farage. The new UKIP administration was much more sympathetic to the idea of reopening the airport, although there were further twists and turns before the site was eventually sold to RiverOak last year. In October RiverOak applied for a Development Consent Order for the work required to reopen; this went to the Department for Transport, which announced in January that it had delayed a decision until May 2020 to allow for further information to be provided. Given what has happened since, there must be a question-mark over whether RiverOak's business case for resuming cargo flights here still stacks up.

Newington ward had been safe Labour until it turned purple in the UKIP surge of 2015. Both of the new UKIP councillors, Mo Leys and Vince Munday, resigned within twelve of their election. Munday emigrated to Thailand at the end of 2015, and the resulting by-election in January 2016 was gained by Labour candidate Karen Constantine. Leys resigned in 2016, stating that he could no longer serve under the UKIP banner; the resulting by-election in July 2016 was held in the week after the EU membership referendum, and resulted in a UKIP hold for Roy Potts.

But by May 2019 UKIP were a spent force in Thanet politics. Potts didn't seek re-election, and Newington ward reverted to its previous safe Labour status. Shares of the vote were 51% for the Labour candidate, 26% for the Greens who came from nowhere to take second place, and 23% for the Conservative slate.

In the January 2016 by-election I described Karen Constantine as juggling the roles of executive coach, magistrate and mother-of-four while working in London for the Royal College of Midwives. From that by-election you could add to that Thanet district councillor; and a year later Constantine was elected to Kent county council as one of the two members for Ramsgate. She has resigned from the district council, but kept her county seat.

Which gives us this by-election, which could be crucial. Labour are in minority control of the hung Thanet council, but are the second-largest group after the Conservatives. A loss here could lead to even more instability on the council once normal service resumes.

Defending for Labour is Mary King, a former Ramsgate town councillor (who has previously contested elections under the name of Mary Dwyer-King). The Green candidate Katie Gerrard returns after her second-place finish last year. The Conservatives have selected Trevor Shonk, who has served four times as mayor of Ramsgate. Completing the ballot paper, fresh from another Ramsgate by-election earlier this year, is independent candidate Grahame Birchell.

If this is to the last local by-election for the foreseeable future (and at the moment the foreseeable future seems to be about three hours), then this is a truly dark time for psephologists. With any luck it will only be temporary, and normal service will resume before we reach the point where it is not worth normal service resuming. In the meantime, let me try and cheer you up in the closing words of the inimitable pair who brought the original Andrew Preview to our screens all those years ago.

https://youtu.be/kIZPN0szRtY

Goodnight.

Parliamentary constituency: South Thanet
Kent county council division: Ramsgate

Graheme Birchall (Ind)
Katie Gerrrd (Grn)
Mary King (Lab)
Trevor Shonk (C)

May 2019 result Lab 412/365 Grn 209 C 188/181
July 2016 by-election UKIP 295 Lab 281 C 125 LD 33
January 2016 by-election Lab 288 UKIP 229 C 156 Ind 49 Grn 20 LD 12 Ind 10
May 2015 result UKIP 884/845 Lab 728/713 C 390/363
May 2011 result Lab 705/702 C 370/351
May 2007 result Lab 471/438 Ramsgate First 268/196 C 208/197 UKIP 116
May 2003 result Lab 532/498 Ind 235 C 144/140

Andrew Teale


Previews: 12 Mar 2020

"All the right votes, but not necessarily in the right order"

Four by-elections on 12th March 2020:


Park Farm North

Ashford council, Kent; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Jo Gideon, who is now the MP for Stoke-on-Trent Central.

Our four by-elections today are in rural and small-town areas; but, unusually, the Conservative defence is the exception to the rule. We've come to Ashford, one of the boom towns of modern Britain as the first major town along the road from the Channel Ports to London. Ashford has expanded over recent years with new housing estates in nearly every direction, and Park Farm is one of the biggest of then.

Park Farm lies just to the south of Ashford off the main road and railway line towards Romney Marsh, close to and part of the parish of the ancient village of Kingsnorth. The ward's housing mostly dates from the mid-1990s, and was clearly marketed to people with or planning families: at the 2011 census 29% of the ward's residents were under 16, putting Park Farm North in the top 40 wards in England and Wales on that statistic.

The development of Park Farm caused the old Kingsnorth ward of Ashford to become grossly oversized, and in 2003 the Local Government Boundary Commission divided it into three new wards of which this is one. The new ward returned a councillor from the Ashford Independents - a long-established localist party - in the 2003 election, but the independent retired in 2007 leaving an open seat which the Conservatives picked up. The Tories have held Park Farm North ever since. Joanna "Jo" Gideon took over as the ward's councillor in May 2019, defeating Labour 61-20 on slightly revised boundaries.

Like Darren Henry MP, whom we met on Tuesday in connection with a Wiltshire by-election, Jo Gideon already had a parliamentary campaign under her belt. In the 2017 general election she had fought the closely-watched seat of Great Grimsby, finishing around 2,500 votes short of Labour MP Melanie Onn. At the time of her election to Ashford council she was an aide to the local MP, Damian Green, and before that Gideon had been a small businesswoman.

When the December 2019 general election became a thing Gideon was selected as Conservative candidate for Stoke-on-Trent Central. Like Great Grimsby, this was a long-standing Labour constituency with significant UKIP strength, as seen in a by-election in February 2017 (Andrew's Previews 2017, pages 55 to 62). Like Great Grimsby, it fell to the Conservatives in December 2019. Jo Gideon is the first Conservative MP for Stoke Central since Harold Hales, a shipping magnate who had represented the predecessor seat of Hanley in the 1931-35 Parliament.

With Jo Gideon now dividing her time between London and the Potteries, she has left an open seat on Ashford council. Defending this by-election for the Conservatives is Aline Hicks, a former Ashford councillor who represented the rural Weald South ward from 2015 to 2019; Hicks is presently a Kingsnorth parish councillor. The Labour candidate is Garry Harrison, who was a Labour candidate for Ashford council in May last year and a UKIP candidate for Kent county council in 2017. Also standing are Samuel Strolz for the Lib Dems, Trish Cornish for the Ashford Independents and Thom Pizzey for the Green Party.

Parliamentary constituency: Ashford
Kent county council division: Ashford Rural South
ONS Travel to Work Area: Ashford
Postcode district: TN23

Trish Cornish (Ashford Ind)
Garry Harrison (Lab)
Aline Hicks (C)
Thom Pizzey (Grn)
Samuel Strolz (LD)

May 2019 result C 300 Lab 97 LD 91


Parrett

South Somerset council; caused by the resignation of Liberal Democrat councillor Tony Vaughan.

For other by-election in the South of England today we turn to the week's Lib Dem defence, which is on the southern border of Somerset. The Parrett ward, named after the river which forms its western boundary, is a rural division covering five parishes a few miles south-west of Yeovil. The largest of these is the wonderfully-named Haselbury Plucknett, which was an important place in the twelfth century as the home of Wulfric, a holy man and miracle worker who was one of the most influential priests of his time. Both Henry I and King Stephen sought his advice. Wulfric was never formally canonised, and the church where he is buried is dedicated not to him but to St Michael and All Angels.

The South Somerset district has been run by the Liberal Democrats for many years, and the party won a big majority in the 2019 local elections. But big seat majorities can be deceptive: the Tories are often very close behind here. Such is the story of Parrett ward, which has been Lib Dem at every election this century but has had a series of knife-edge results: the Lib Dem majority was just 30 votes in 2007, 88 votes in 2011 and 57 votes on the general election turnout in 2015. The winning candidate on each of those occasions was Ric Pallister, who for a time was leader of the council; he retired in May 2019 and his successor, Tony Vaughan, increased the Lib Dem majority to the much more comfortable level of 65% to 35%. The Conservatives, however, represent the area in Parliament and on Somerset county council.

Vaughan's resignation after less than a year in office has caused this by-election. Defending for the Liberal Democrats is Ollie Patrick, a local resident who sits on West and Middle Chinnock parish council. He's up against a strong Conservative candidate in Mark Keating, from Haselbury Plucknett, who is the ward's county councillor. Also standing are independent candidate Steve Ashton (who fought Eggwood ward May 2019 but lives here) and Robert Wood for the Green Party.

Parliamentary constituency: Yeovil
Somerset county council division: Coker
ONS Travel to Work Area: Yeovil
Postcode districts: BA22, TA14, TA18

Steve Ashton (Ind)
Mark Keating (C)
Ollie Patrick (LD)
Robert Wood (Grn)

May 2019 result LD 575 C 316
May 2015 result LD 785 C 728
May 2011 result LD 623 C 535
May 2007 result LD 519 C 479
May 2003 result LD 633 C 430


Welford-on-Avon

Stratford-on-Avon council, Warwickshire; caused by the death of independent councillor Peter Barnes at the age of 78.

For our final English by-election of the week we travel north to the Midlands. The village of Welford-on-Avon lies about four miles downstream from Stratford-upon-Avon, and claims to have one of England's tallest maypoles. The village anchors a ward of seven parishes to the south-west of the town, including Long Marston which was the site of a former military base that's now used as a dumping ground for unwanted trains. Much of this ward was a detached part of Gloucestershire until 1931, when boundary changes transferred it to Warwickshire.

The late councillor Frederick Peter Barnes was the longest-serving member of Stratford-on-Avon council. He had been the district councillor for Welford-on-Avon continuously since a November 1990 by-election, originally being elected on the Lib Dem ticket. Barnes also served on Warwickshire county council from 2001 to 2013. He left the Lib Dems during the Coalition years and was very narrowly re-elected in 2015 as the only independent member of Stratford-on-Avon council; Barnes polled 975 votes, just eleven more than the Conservative candidate. His final re-election, in 2019, was by the much more comfortable score of 65-21 over the Tories. The 2017 Warwickshire county results, in which the Conservatives had a big lead in Bidford and Welford division, suggest that without Barnes on the ballot the Conservatives would have a good chance here.

There is one independent candidate hoping to succeed Peter Barnes in this by-election: Neal Appleton is a local resident and former school governor. The Conservatives have reselected Richard Cox who stood here last year. Also standing are John Stott for the Green Party, Anthony Kent for Labour and Manuela Perteghella for the Lib Dems.

Parliamentary constituency: Stratford-on-Avon
Warwickshire county council division: Bidford and Welford
ONS Travel to Work Area: Leamington Spa
Postcode district: CV37

Neal Appleton (Ind)
Richard Cox (C)
Manuela Perteghella (LD)
Anthony Kent (Lab)
John Stott (Grn)

May 2019 result Ind 897 C 291 Grn 117 Lab 73
May 2015 result Ind 975 C 964 Lab 116


Eilean a' Cheò

Highland council, Scotland; caused by the resignation of independent councillor Ronald MacDonald.

We finish the week with another free-for-all, but it couldn't be more different as we swap the rolling hills of Warwickshire for the scenery of the Cuillins. These are some of most spectacular mountains in the whole of Scotland, and pictures of the Cuillins have graced many a guidebook and calendar over the years. The Cuillins aren't the tallest hills in Scotland - they include twelve Munros but the highest point, Sgùrr Alasdair, is only 992 metres in altitude - but they are technically demanding, and a traverse of the Cuillin ridge is one of the greatest challenges in British mountaineering. Their difficulty is reflected in the fact that Sgùrr Alasdair is named after Alexander Nicolson, who in 1873 was the first person to climb it; several other peaks in the range were named similarly.

Despite their height these mountains are not part of the British mainland. The Cuillins instead anchor the Isle of Skye, the largest of the Inner Hebrides and the third-largest island in Scotland. Skye is an island with a long history, although not much of it was written down until comparatively recent times. It was Norse territory until 1266, when the king of Norway ceded Sodor and Man to Scotland under the terms of the Treaty of Perth. By this time the island was effectively controlled by the clan system, which gave us such structures as Dunvegan Castle, home to this day to the chief of the Clan MacLeod.

Many of the clan leaders ended up on the losing side in the 1745 Jacobite rebellion, which ended with the lad who was born to be king being ignominiously carried over the see to Skye. After that the island was taken over by landed estates, and the Highland Clearances started to bite. To some extent Skye still hasn't recovered from that episode: even with some population growth in recent years, the island's headcount now is half of what it was in 1821.

Today a third of Skye's residents are employed in the public sector with tourism also being important. The island's main exports are fish and Talisker whisky, while Dunvegan Castle and the local folk music scene are major draws. The Skye Bridge links the island to the mainland at Kyle of Lochalsh, while ferries cross the sea to Mallaig on the mainland and to Harris and North Uist in the Outer Hebrides. The main centre of population is Portree, a fishing port on the east coast home to the island's secondary school and around a quarter of its population.

Skye, of course, isn't the only island in the area. The electoral ward covers associated islands including Soay, Staffa and Raasay. Of these, only Raasay has any population worth speaking of. Staffa is uninhabited but nevertheless is world-famous thanks to Fingal's Cave, immortalised in Felix Mendelssohn's overture The Hebrides which has rarely been out of the orchestral repertoire since it was published in the 1830s.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a3MiETaBSnc

In recent decades Skye has been associated with some very prominent politicians on the faraway Westminster scene. The current MP for Skye is Ian Blackford, leader of the Scottish National Party's group in the House of Commons; he won his seat in 2015 by defeating the former Lib Dem leader Charles Kennedy, who had first been elected here on the SDP ticket in 1983.

Local elections here are a bit different. Skye is part of the sprawling Highland council area, and at the first Highland council election of this century it was divided into four-and-a-half wards; the eastern end of the island was in the Kyle and Sleat ward which also included Kyle of Lochalsh over the bridge. All of these voted for independent candidates except Portree ward, which voted Lib Dem; Skye Central ward was uncontested.

That was the last first-past-the-post election to Highland council, which as with all of Scottish local government went over to proportional representation for the 2007 election. Under the new régime Skye and its associated islands formed a single ward of four councillors. In a nod to the fact that nearly half of the islanders have some knowledge of Scottish Gaelic, the Local Government Boundary Commission for Scotland settled on a Gaelic name for the ward. Rather than the island's standard Gaelic name, An t-Eilean Sgitheanach, the poetic Eilean a' Cheò (island of the mist) was chosen as the new ward name. This led to some confusion in the run-up to the 2007 election, as an urban myth arose that the Highland council was «hanging the name of the island as a whole; the Telegraph went so far as to print a story to that effect on its front page, and the council was forced to issue a clarification. The new ward duly came into effect and has had unchanged boundaries ever since. Skye is still Skye.

In the 2007 election to Eilean a' Cheò ward all four councillors for wards wholly on Skye stood for re-election. Three of them made it back, Drew Millar for the Lib Dems and independent candidates Hamish Fraser and John Laing. Iain MacDonald, outgoing councillor for Snizort and Trotternish ward, was eliminated in seventh place and lost his seat; that seat was picked up by Ian Renwick of the SNP, who fairly narrowly defeated independent candidate John Murray in the final count. Shares of the vote were 52% for the four independent candidates, 21% for the Lib Dems and 15% for the SNP, so a 2-1-1 split was an equitable outcome. John Laing retired at the 2012 election and his seat was taken by a new independent, John Gordon, with the other three councillors being re-elected very comfortably.

The 2017 election, by contrast, saw a lot of change. All four councillors sought re-election, but Millar was this time standing as an independent, having left the Lib Dem group when the party attempted to discipline him for sharing Britain First stuff on his social media. Several new independent candidates stood, including John Finlayson who topped the poll with 29% of the vote and was elected on the first count. Three of the twelve candidates on the ballot paper were called MacLeod, but in the final reckoning there could be only one: Calum MacLeod won the second seat for the SNP, defeating his running-mate Ian Renwick. The SNP had started with 19%, ahead of new independent Ronald MacDonald on 14% and outgoing independent councillors John Gordon and Hamish Fraser on 9% and 7% respectively; and that was the order they finished in, with MacDonald winning the third seat and Gordon being the only Eilean a' Cheò councillor to be re-elected. Since May 2017, SNP councillor MacLeod has left the party group following a domestic abuse charge.

As can be seen, in this corner of the world we have a lot of votes for independent candidates; the seven independents on the ballot polled 71% between them in May 2017. Reading across voting patterns from Westminster and Holyrood elections is not that helpful in these circumstances.

This by-election has been caused by the resignation of independent councillor Ronald MacDonald. A former consultant to international institutions such as the World Bank, MacDonald is a professor of macroeconomics and international finance at the University of Glasgow's business school. He had stood for election to Highland council on a single issue of improving health and social care services on the island. This has been the subject of a wide-ranging recent report by Sir Lewis Ritchie, and Professor MacDonald has stood down from the council so that he can work on getting the recommendations made in the Ritchie report implemented.

So we have this by-election for which there are six candidates. Two of them are independents. Màrtainn Mac a' Bhàillidh, who appears to have changed his name to Màrtainn Misneachd for this election (misneachd is the Gaelic for "confidence"), is associated with a Gaelic-language pressure group and his campaign policies go strong on language issues. Although the local newspaper, the West Highland Free Press, describes Misneachd as living and working on Skye, he has given an address in Glasgow on his nomination papers. The other independent candidate is Calum Munro, a former schoolteacher who has also run his own joinery business; among various community works he chairs the parent council/forum for Kilmuir primary school. Munro may therefore be familiar with the SNP candidate Andrew Kiss, whose wife is the headteacher at that primary school; Mr Kiss, who defeated former councillor Drew Millar for the SNP nomination, is a consulting engineer in the automotive industry and has also run a bed and breakfast business. The Scottish Conservatives have looked to the next generation in selecting Ruraidh Stewart, from Balmacara near Kyle of Lochalsh on the mainland; he's currently studying at St Andrews University and has previously represented Skye in the Scottish Youth Parliament. The Lib Dem candidate is Fay Thomson, a former manager for the Federation of Small Businesses who has also run a café in Portree; like outgoing councillor MacDonald, she's involved with the Ritchie report implementation. Completing the ballot paper is Dawn Kroonstuiver Campbell, from the Scottish Green Party, who is calling for the council to impose a tax on tourists visiting Skye.

This is a Scottish local government election, so the standard reminder applies: Votes at 16 and the Alternative Vote are in force. Please mark your ballot paper in order of preference. There are 21 polling stations for this by-election, one of which is on Raasay whose ballot box will have to be transported over the sea in order to reach the count in Portree. Accordingly the returning officer is not going for an overnight count, so don't stay up all night waiting for this result.

Picture of the Cuillin Mountains by Stefan Krause, Germany - Own work, FAL, Link. Picture of the Portree harbourfront by DeFacto - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, Link

Parliamentary constituency: Ross, Skye and Lochaber
Holyrood constituency: Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch
ONS Travel to Work Area: Portree (north of ward), Broadford and Kyle of Lochalsh (south of ward)
Postcode districts: IV40, IV41, IV42, IV43, IV44, IV45, IV46, IV47, IV48, IV49, IV51, IV55, IV56, PH41

Andrew Kiss (SNP)
Dawn Kroonstuiver Campbell (Grn)
Màrtainn Misneachd (Ind)
Calum Munro (Ind)
Ruraidh Stewart (C)
Fay Thomson (LD)

May 2017 first preferences Ind 3551 SNP 936 C 319 Lab 98 LD 97
May 2012 first preferences Ind 1850 SNP 830 LD 641 Lab 157 C 91
May 2007 first preferences Ind 2365 LD 960 SNP 669 Lab 351 C 178

Andrew Teale


Preview: 10 Mar 2020

One by-election on Tuesday 10th March 2020:


Till and Wylye Valley

Wiltshire council; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Darren Henry, who is now the MP for Broxtowe in Nottinghamshire.

Yes, it's a Tuesday by-election. And why not? It's only tradition that says elections are normally held on Thursdays; any working day will do, and sometimes Thursday is not the best time to hold an election for various reasons (a polling station being unavailable, the returning officer going on holiday, and so on).

For this Tuesday by-election we're in Wiltshire, a council which has seen a large number of by-elections in recent months: this is the sixth Wiltshire council by-election in eight months, and a seventh poll is in the pipeline. All of last year's Wiltshire elections were in the west of the county, around Trowbridge and Westbury; this time we move to the south.

Till and Wylye Valley is a sprawling division covering nine parishes on and around Salisbury Plain. It's named after two rivers. The Wylye valley is the major communication link between Salisbury and the towns in the west of the county, with the main road and railway lines passing along it. The Till flows into the Wylye at the village of Stapleford, after rising some miles to the north in the village of Tilshead. As the village name of Winterbourne Stoke on the A303 might suggest, strictly the Till is not a river but a winterbourne in that it only flows following the winter rains.

Halfway up the Till valley is the village of Shrewton which is the ward's major population centre; like the other eight parishes in the division, it's a picture-postcard kind of place full of lovely old buildings. However, the area is rather overshadowed in the tourism stakes by Stonehenge, which lies about a mile east of the division boundary.

Given the division's rural nature and presence in the safe Conservative parliamentary seat of Salisbury, it might surprise to find that for decades this area was strongly Liberal Democrat. Ian West had represented this area for thirty years in the Lib Dem interest, originally sitting on Wiltshire county and Salisbury district councils; when Wiltshire's local government was reorganised in 2009 West was elected to the present division fairly comfortably.

Ian West was, however, defeated at the last Wiltshire elections in May 2017 by new Tory candidate Darren Henry, who won with a 54-44 margin. A former RAF logistics officer, Henry had a parliamentary campaign under his belt having fought Wolverhampton North East in the 2015 general election. It would appear that his enthusiasm for the national stage wasn't undimmed, and Henry's chance at a winnable Parliamentary seat came in 2019 when Anna Soubry, the Conservative MP for Broxtowe, walked off to join Change UK. This left an open seat; Henry got the Tory nomination and was duly elected in December as MP for Broxtowe, increasing the Conservative majority from 863 votes to 5,331. Soubry, standing for re-election under the banner of the Independent Group for Change (as they were called that week) finished third with 8.5%.

With Darren Henry now dividing his time between London and Nottinghamshire, he has left an open seat of his own on Wiltshire council. Defending this by-election for the Conservatives is Kevin Daley, who sits on the parish-level Salisbury city council and runs a business specialising in health and safety, food safety and training for businesses. The Lib Dems have passed on the torch to a new generation by selecting Harry Ashcroft, a gardener and former care home assistant who works within the division. Completing the ballot paper is Labour candidate Timothy Treslove. None of the candidates live in the ward. Some of the electors may be interested to know that their polling station is a pub: a shoutout is due to the Bell Inn at Winterbourne Stoke, which is doing its bit for democracy today.

Parliamentary constituency: Salisbury
ONS Travel to Work Area: Salisbury
Postcode districts: BA12, SP2, SP3, SP4

May 2017 result C 1134 LD 923 Lab 34
May 2013 result LD 895 C 645 Lab 84
June 2009 result LD 1064 C 693 BNP 141