Previewing the 10 Jun 2021 council by-elections

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

Two by-elections on 10th June 2021:

Grove Green; and
Lea Bridge

Waltham Forest council, London; caused respectively by the death of Chris Robbins and the resignation of Yemi Osho. Both were Labour councillors.

Welcome to the first Andrew's Previews of the 2021-22 municipal year. For those who haven't been here before, this is a theoretically-weekly blog for Britain Elects which covers the most low-profile elections that take place in the UK: by-elections to our local councils. Our remit is to travel up and down the country every week, shining a spotlight on parts of the country which you might know well or not at all, giving a sense of what the area is like and whether you might want to visit. Or not, as the case may be.

At least, that's what's supposed to happen. However, for pandemic-related reasons there have been no standalone local by-elections in England since March 2020, when Gurdev Singh Hayre was elected as a Labour councillor for the Upper Stoke ward of Coventry. Some local by-elections have taken place in Scotland and Wales since, but all English council vacancies which were unfilled on that date, and everything after that date, had their polling days postponed to May 2021 or cancelled altogether.

The cutoff date for by-elections to be called for May 2021 was the end of March. A number of vacancies have arisen since then, and there is also some unfinished business from 6th May which will be taken care of next week. Your columnist has a list of (at the time of writing) 45 vacancies in our local government, of which 33 have polling dates set over the next two months. There are a lot of interesting races still to come.

Two further by-elections also need to be noted. There was due to be a poll next week in the Caerphilly district of south Wales for the Aber Valley division; this is one of the smaller Valleys, with the division's population concentrated in the villages of Abertridwr and Senghenydd north-west of Caerphilly town. These are pit villages, and Senghenydd was the scene of the UK's worst-ever mining disaster: an underground explosion at the Universal Colliery on 14 October 1913 killed 439 miners and a rescuer, a huge loss in a valley whose modern-day population is under 7,000. Subsequent negligence charges led to fines of £24 for the colliery manager and £10 for the colliery company, which was calculated as equivalent to 1s 1¼d per life lost. In more recent times Senghenydd is notable as one of the areas covered by the Caerphilly Heart Disease Study, which since 1979 has tracked the health of adult males in the area who were born in 1918-1938. Aber Valley division has had a full slate of Plaid Cymru councillors since 2008, and Plaid enjoyed a 66-20 lead at the most recent Welsh local elections in May 2017; when nominations for the by-election closed Charlotte Bishop, of Plaid, was the only candidate and she has been declared elected unopposed.

We have also filled the first vacancy among the class of 2021, which arose offshore on the Isles of Scilly. This arises from the retirement of Marion, Lady Berkeley, who had served for many years as a Scilly councillor for the island of Bryher. A few years Marion married Anthony Gueterbock, the 18th Lord Berkeley; as this column has previously noted (Andrew's Previews 2019, page 44) Lord Berkeley is an active Labour member of the House of Lords, and even in these days of remote sittings it's rather difficult to do that from the Isles of Scilly. Lord and Lady Berkeley now divide their time between Cornwall and London. Lady Berkeley didn't seek re-election to the Council of the Isles of Scilly in May's election, and no candidates came forward to replace her so nominations for Bryher had to be reopened with a new election date set for 24th June. Bryher is one of the smallest electoral units in the UK, with a population comfortably under 100, so a contested election was never likely; when nominations closed for the second time there was just one candidate, local fisherman Andrew Frazer, who was accordingly declared elected unopposed. As with all Scilly councillors, he stood as a non-party candidate. This column sends its congratulations to newly-elected Councillors Bishop and Frazer.

Map of Lea Bridge ward

So, for our first standalone local by-elections in England for 15 months we have to go to that London and the borough of Waltham Forest. In order to reach there we travel to one of the UK's newest railway stations. Lea Bridge station, after being closed in 1985, reopened in May 2016 with regular trains south to Stratford and north up the Lea Valley. The Lea Bridge itself was originally built in 1745 over the river Lea or Lee (the spelling, like the river, is a little bit fluid), and the Lea Bridge Road over it is the only road link between Hackney and Walthamstow. Unusually for London, Lea Bridge ward includes a significant amount of wild open space: the Leyton and Walthamstow Marshes, much of which are given over as nature reserves or for sport.

Map of Grove Green ward

If you came to Grove Green ward expecting similar open space, then you'd be disappointed. The name refers to a road running along the eastern end of the ward, which has been almost entirely built-up for more than a century. This is a residential area lying between Leyton to the west and Leytonstone to the east; Leyton Midland Road station, on the Gospel Oak-Barking line of the Overground, lies on the ward's northern boundary.

Like much of East London, the demographic profiles of these wards have been transformed by London's becoming a world city. In the 2011 census, the most census for which these figures are available, Grove Green ward was in the top 20 wards in England and Wales for population born in the countries which joined the EU this century (16.2%) and within the top 75 in England and Wales for White Other population (24.2%). Lea Bridge is even more of a melting-pot, being in the top 100 wards for those born in EU accession countries (10.6%) and for black population (24.0%), although Asian is in fact the largest ethnic group here (30.3%). Both wards have significant Muslim populations, mostly of Pakistani heritage.

Map of Waltham Forest, 2018

Both wards are also very safe for the Labour party these days. Lea Bridge ward has returned a full slate of Labour councillors at every election this century; Grove Green ward split its three seats between Labour and the Lib Dems in 2002, but has been solidly Labour since 2006. At the most recent Waltham Forest council elections in May 2018, Labour beat the Lib Dems 54-24 in Grove Green and enjoyed a 59-17 lead in Lea Bridge over the Green Party. The 2018 elections returned a strong Labour majority in Waltham Forest, with 46 councillors against 14 Conservatives (all of whom represent wards in the Chingford area), and the safe Labour theme is continued at parliamentary level with both of these wards being (for the moment) in safe Labour parliamentary seats. At present Lea Bridge is part of the Walthamstow constituency, with Grove Green in Leyton and Wanstead; the Boundary Commission for England's provisional map for the next redistribution of seats doesn't change that.

In the London Mayor and Assembly elections just five weeks ago, Sadiq Khan beat Shaun Bailey 59-14 in Grove Green and 55-18 in Lea Bridge. The Greens ran second here in the London Members ballot for the Assembly: Grove Green had 54% for Labour against 17% for the Greens and 10% for the Conservatives, while the shares of the vote for those three parties in Lea Bridge were 56%, 16% and 13% respectively. As usual with GLA results quoted by this column, these figures are only for those voting on the day and do not include postal votes, which are tallied at borough level and traditionally skew to the right; however, the May 2021 elections saw a much higher uptake of postal votes than normal, and many boroughs reported unusually little difference between their postal and on-the-day returns.

So we shouldn't expect too much of a surprise in these two by-elections. The Grove Green by-election is to replace the previous mayor of Waltham Forest, Labour councillor Chris Robbins, who died in April at the age of 76. He had sat on the council since 2002, and became leader of the Labour group in 2009 and Leader of the Council in 2010. Robbins served as council leader for seven years, being appointed CBE in 2017 for his public service, and was elected as mayor for 2019-20; his term was extended to two years on account of the pandemic. Lea Bridge ward is also vacated by a former mayor of Waltham Forest: that's Yemi Osho, a long-serving nurse who was first elected to the council in 2014 and was the borough's first citizen in 2017-18.

Defending Lea Bridge for Labour is Jennifer Whilby, a black rights activist and local party officer. The Green candidate for the ward is the unusually-capitalised RoseMary Warrington, who was their parliamentary candidate for Ilford South in December 2019. Also standing are Sazimet Imre for the Conservatives, Naomi McCarthy for the Lib Dems and independent candidate Claire Weiss who has lived in the ward for more than forty years.

In Grove Green the defending Labour candidate is Uzma Rasool, a teacher, researcher and long-standing local resident. The Liberal Democrats have reselected Arran Angus who was runner-up here in 2018; he is currently taking a career break to bring up his children. Completing the Grove Green ballot paper are Mark Dawes for the Green Party, Shahamima Khan for the Conservatives and Kevin Parslow for the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition.

So, there you are. Not the most exciting of Previews this week, but at least we are back to considering local by-elections in England after too long away. And stay tuned for next week's Previews, which will include a Parliamentary Special.

Grove Green

Current Parliamentary constituency: Leyton and Wanstead
Proposed Parliamentary constituency (from 2023 or later): Leyton and Wanstead
London Assembly constituency: North East
Postcode districts: E10, E11

May 2018 result Lab 2052/2047/1997 LD 897/725/623 Grn 456/416 C 247/216/200 TUSC 128
May 2014 result Lab 1858/1751/1686 LD 1009/865/856 Grn 507/485 C 345/335/335 TUSC 160/86
May 2010 result Lab 2342/2271/2178 LD 1681/1639/1563 C 608/599/594 Grn 429/383
May 2006 result Lab 1517/1430/1356 LD 1286/1173/1171 Grn 480 C 270/265/235
May 2002 result Lab 1169/1081/949 LD 1103/1052/1048 Grn 265/218/167 C 235/226/191 Socialist Alliance 163

May 2021 GLA results (excludes postal voters)
Mayor: Lab 1776 C 415 Grn 350 LD 111 Omilana 78 London Real 45 Count Binface 44 Women's Equality 34 Rejoin EU 29 Reclaim 27 Let London Live 23 Animal Welfare 16 Farah London 16 Heritage 15 Burning Pink 11 Obunge 8 SDP 6 Renew 5 UKIP 5 Fosh 4
London Members: Lab 1671 Grn 511 C 317 LD 183 Women's Equality 83 Animal Welfare 69 Rejoin EU 60 Reform UK 29 TUSC 28 London Real 24 CPA 19 Comm 19 Let London Live 17 Heritage 13 UKIP 12 SDP 11 Londonpendence 7 Nat Lib 4

Lea Bridge

Current Parliamentary constituency: Walthamstow
Proposed Parliamentary constituency (from 2023 or later): Walthamstow
London Assembly constituency: North East
Postcode districts: E5, E10, E17

Sazimet Imre (C)
Naomi McCarthy (LD)
RoseMary Warrington (Grn)
Claire Weiss (Ind)
Jennifer Whilby (Lab)

May 2018 result Lab 2313/2131/2036 Grn 660 C 408/262/222 LD 252/240/175 TUSC 214 Duma Polska 97
May 2014 result Lab 2259/2020/1871 Grn 619 LD 429/375/233 C 379/370/289 TUSC 276
May 2010 result Lab 2891/2850/2730 LD 1810/1435/618 Grn 711 C 661 Ind 215
May 2006 result Lab 1375/1327/1240 LD 517/509/471 C 451/360/320 Grn 429
May 2002 result Lab 1207/1126/1110 LD 536/427/356 C 463/445/436 Socialist Alliance 120

May 2021 GLA results (excludes postal voters)
Mayor: Lab 1690 C 559 Grn 323 Omilana 93 LD 52 London Real 50 Reclaim 44 Let London Live 44 Count Binface 36 Rejoin EU 35 Women's Equality 30 Farah London 26 UKIP 18 Obinge 17 SDP 14 Animal Welfare 13 Burning Park 11 Heritage 6 Renew 5 Fosh 3
London Members: Lab 1794 Grn 507 C 403 LD 90 Women's Equality 79 Animal Welfare 56 Rejoin EU 52 CPA 50 Let London Live 29 London Real 27 TUSC 26 UKIP 24 Comm 16 Reform UK 12 SDP 11 Heritage 9 Londonpendence 7 Nat Lib 2

Andrew Teale


Previewing the Torfaen by-elections of 08 Apr 2021

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

Before we start, I would like to apologise for a major error in the Local Elections Archive Project which affected last week's preview for the St Kingsmark division of Monmouthshire. Based on the LEAP record, I stated that at the 2017 election the Conservatives had polled 65% of the vote, with an independent candidate and Labour tying for the runner-up slot on 94 votes or 13% each. It has since come to my attention that the 2017 vote for the independent candidate Lia Hind was in fact 407 votes rather than 94, and so the Conservative win in percentage terms was 45-40 over Hind. The LEAP record has now been corrected. In a database with (at the time of writing) 327,598 candidacies I am well aware that there must be errors lurking somewhere, but I take great pride in the quality of the Local Elections Archive Project's data and I am sorry to have let you down last week.

In the last contests before the 6th May local elections, there are three by-elections on 8th April 2021:

Abersychan;
Cwmyniscoy; and
New Inn

Torfaen council, Gwent; caused respectively by the death of independent councillor Raymond Williams and the resignations of Labour councillor Neil Waite and Conservative councillor Raymond Mills.

There are four weeks to go until local elections resume in England on 6th May 2021. Before then, we have three local by-elections to bring you from the Torfaen district of south-east Wales. Torfaen district is based on the New Town of Cwmbran and the older town of Pontypool, in which general area all three of today's by-elections are concentrated.

The village and division of Abersychan can be found north of Pontypool, in the Lwyd valley on the way to the World Heritage Site of Blaenavon. Like Blaenavon, the Abersychan area started out with an ironworking industry, which gave way to coalmining by the twentieth century. By the 1920s one of the major local figures in the mineworkers' unions was Arthur Jenkins, who was elected in 1935 as Labour MP for Pontypool; his son Roy Jenkins, born in Abersychan in 1920, became one of the most significant politicians of the late 20th century.

The modern Abersychan division covers a number of villages in the valley, including Cwmavon and Varteg. Varteg made the headlines around the world a few years back with a proposal from the Welsh Language Commissioner to change the spelling of its name to the Welsh-language Y Farteg, which it's fair to say caused a bit of a stink among the locals. In the 2011 census Abersychan came in the top 100 divisions or wards in England and Wales for population born in the UK.

Immediately to the south of Pontypool can be found the Cwmyniscoy division, which is based on the Cwmfields area along Cwmynyscoy Road. This division includes the local campus of the further education college Coleg Gwent. However, most of the division's acreage is upland, pockmarked with quarries.

Very different in character is New Inn, on the eastern side of the valley. Pontypool is rather unlike other Valleys towns in that it was an important railway centre, and New inn was once at the centre of that: there were extensive marshalling yards here, and a steelworks down the hill at Panteg also offered employment. The only survivor of this industry is the railway station on the Marches Line, now an unstaffed halt called Pontypool and New Inn with irregular trains to Newport, Hereford and beyond.

These three divisions have contrasting political traditions. New Inn division was created by boundary changes in 2004, which merged together the previous New Inn Lower and New Inn Upper divisions. The division was gained by the Conservatives in 2008, and these days it votes as if it was in Monmouthshire over the border: New Inn has become one of two reliable Conservative divisions in Torfaen. (The other is Llanyrafon East and Ponthir, on the eastern edge of Cwmbran). In May 2017 the Conservative lead over Labour here was 55-31, with the division's councillors accounting for three-quarters of the Conservative group on Torfaen council. Raymond Mills had sat for New Inn since 2008.

The other two divisions go back to the founding electoral arrangements of Torfaen council in 1995. Cwmyniscoy is a single-member division which took until 2008 to see a contested election; in that year Neil Waite, who had sat since 1999, lost his seat by 19 votes to People's Voice. This was one of three seats won in Torfaen that year by People's Voice, which was a political party associated with Peter Law, the Labour-turned-independent MP and AM for Blaenau Gwent, and which continued after Law's death until being wound up in 2010. Neil Waite got his seat back in 2012, and was re-elected in 2017 with a 56-44 margin in a straight fight with UKIP.

Recent elections in Abersychan have tended to be a free-for-all between Labour and a large number of independent candidates. The late independent councillor Ray Williams was first elected in 2004, lost his seat in 2012 and got back in 2017 by winning the last of the division's three seats with a 200-vote majority over the second Labour candidate, Wayne Tomlinson. Sadly, Williams died in December 2020 from COVID-19, aged 84.

Former Labour councillor Wayne Tomlinson is one of two independent candidates seeking to succeed Raymond Williams in the Abersychan by-election. Tomlinson has contested every election in this division from 1999 onwards, being elected as an independent candidate in 2008 and as a Labour candidate in 2012. The other independent candidate is Charlotte Hill, who runs a specialist cheese shop in Blaenavon. Labour have selected Lynda Clarkson, who represents part of the division (Garndiffaith and Varteg ward) on Pontypool community council. Also standing in Abersychan are Tristan Griffin for the Conservatives and Kieran Gething, in the first election for a new political party: Gething is standing for Propel, a Welsh nationalist movement led by the former Plaid Cymru MS Neil McEvoy.

In Cwmyniscoy the defending Labour candidate is John Killick, the deputy leader of Pontypool community council. Killick has been a Torfaen councillor before: he won a by-election in Pontypool division in 2011 partly thanks to six independent candidates splitting the opposition vote, but lost his seat there in 2012. With no UKIP candidate this time, Killick is opposed in Cwmyniscoy by Propel candidate Ben Evans and independent Bridgette Harris.

Finally, the defending Conservative candidate for New Inn is Keith James, a solicitor. Labour have reselected IT worker Farooq Dastgir, who was on their slate here in 2017. Completing the New Inn ballot paper is independent candidate Ross Attfield.

Abersychan

Westminster and Senedd constituency: Torfaen
ONS Travel to Work Area: Newport
Postcode district: NP4

Lynda Clarkson (Lab)
Kieran Gething (Propel)
Tristan Griffin (C)
Charlotte Hill (Ind)
Wayne Tomlinson (Ind)

May 2017 result Ind 1242/906 Lab 1000/706/504 C 338
May 2012 result Lab 845/679/623 Ind 570/244/238/199/175/137 PC 252 Grn 178
May 2008 result Ind 1148/810/734 Lab 862/725/465 Grn 446
June 2004 result Lab 1062/970/614 Ind 773/661/568/398 Grn 265
May 1999 result Lab 1348/1327/1204 Ind 732/611
May 1995 result Lab 1559/1313/1104 Ind Communist 822 Ind 593 Ind Lab 565 Grn 167

Cwmyniscoy

Westminster and Senedd constituency: Torfaen
ONS Travel to Work Area: Newport
Postcode district: NP4

Ben Evans (Propel)
Bridgette Harris (Ind)
John Killick (Lab)

May 2017 result Lab 192 UKIP 150
May 2012 result Lab 274 Ind 225 PC 10 C 9
May 2008 result People's Voice 232 Lab 213
June 2004 result Lab unopposed
May 1999 result Lab unopposed
May 1995 result Lab unopposed

New Inn

Westminster and Senedd constituency: Torfaen
ONS Travel to Work Area: Newport
Postcode districts: NP4, NP44

Ross Attfield (Ind)
Farooq Dastgir (Lab)
Keith James (C)

May 2017 result C 1171/1067/1013 Lab 655/594/576 Ind 314
May 2012 result C 1086/1061/1050 Lab 739/724/671 PC 219
May 2008 result C 977/913/813 Ind 805 Lab 667/630/570 People's Voice 609
June 2004 result Lab 934/933/916 UKIP 811 C 711 LD 368

Andrew Teale


Previewing the St Kingsmark (Monmouthshire) by-election (01 Apr 2021)

One by-election on 1st April 2021:

St Kingsmark

Monmouthshire council; caused by the death of Conservative councillor David Dovey.

Do not adjust your calendar. Today is April Fool's Day, and it is also Maundy Thursday. It's not so long since Maundy Thursday was a day on which elections were not allowed to be held, and even since this was legalised not that many by-elections have been scheduled for the Thursday before Easter. The proximity of the May local elections - now just five weeks away - and the prospect of paying bank holiday rates to the count staff makes a Maundy Thursday by-election a generally unappealing proposition for everyone involved.

There are now just four local by-elections left before the ordinary May elections, all of which are in south-east Wales. We will have three polls to discuss next week in the Torfaen district, but first we cross the border over the tidal River Wye to come to the town of Chepstow.

Chepstow is an important location in English and Welsh history. It is the lowest point at which the Wye can be crossed, and as such it was fortified immediately after the Norman conquest: Chepstow Castle was founded in 1067 by the Earl of Hereford, William fitz Osbern. As a free port under the jurisdiction of the Marcher Lords, mediaeval Chepstow was the largest port in Wales and the town remained as an important shipping centre into the nineteenth century. The decline in trade was offset by the late 18th-century "Wye Tour", the prototype from which the modern tourist industry grew. After all, as this column has often pointed out, sometimes multiple times in the same sentence, the Welsh Marches are beautiful and the Wye Valley particularly so. We are only a few miles downstream from the picturesque and ruined Tintern Abbey.

Tintern Abbey dates from the twelfth century, but religion has been going on in this corner of Britain a lot longer than that. Six centuries before Tintern's foundation St Dubricius was preaching the good word in the kingdom of Ergyng, based on the Wye Valley. Dubricius' disciples included a rather obscure figure called Cynfarch or Kynemark, who was renowned for his holiness. Under the Anglicised name of Kingsmark, a number of churches in Wales and the West Country are dedicated to him, one of which - founded in the 7th century - was in Chepstow. This was replaced in 1270 by an Augustinian priory, which was dissolved in the sixteenth century along with all the other monasteries and has since disappeared without trace.

Except for this ward name. St Kingsmark is the northern of the five electoral divisions covering Chepstow, and has somewhat unusual demographics for Wales. According to the 2011 census, 51% of the workforce are in managerial or professional occupations, while 47% of adults living here have a degree-level qualification. This is the sort of demographic that in England, on the other side of the river, would scream "middle-class commuter centre", and that is what Chepstow has become. The opening of the Severn Bridge in 1966 (and the removal of its tolls in December 2018) brought the town within easy commuting range of Bristol on the far side of the river, while Newport and Cardiff are easily accessible via the railway and the M4 motorway.

St Kingsmark division turns in the sort of election results you would expect for that demographic. It has voted Conservative at all six local elections since the present Monmouthshire council was established in 1995, and also voted Conservative at all six local elections to the predecessor Monmouth district council. David Dovey had represented the division from 2008 until his death in January 2021, and at his last re-election in May 2017 he polled 65% of the vote; an independent candidate and Labour tied for the runner-up slot on 94 votes or 13% each.

This is quite typical of Monmouthshire, which is the only county or county borough council in Wales with a Conservative majority. The May 2017 elections here returned 25 Conservatives against 10 Labour, 5 independents and 3 Lib Dems. The Monmouth constituency, which covers a very similar area, has been Tory-held at Westminster since 2005 and is the only Welsh constituency which has voted Conservative in every Senedd election to date. However, the outgoing Tory MS Nick Ramsay has been deselected for the 2021 election in favour of the council leader Peter Fox; Ramsay has not taken this well, and is threatening to seek re-election as an independent.

Will these ructions have an effect on the St Kingsmark by-election? We shall see. Defending for the Conservatives is Christopher Edwards, who fought his home division of Trellech United (further up the Wye Valley) in 2017 and narrowly failed to unseat an independent councillor. Labour have selected Tom Kirton, who was Mayor of Chepstow in 2019-20. Completing the ballot paper is the Lib Dem candidate, Jenni Brews.

Westminster and Senedd constituency: Monmouth
ONS Travel to Work Area: Newport
Postcode district: NP16

Jenni Brews (LD)
Christopher Edwards (C)
Tom Kirton (Lab)

May 2017 result C 456 Ind 94 Lab 94 LD 62
May 2012 result C 422 LD 257
May 2008 result C 474 LD 270 Lab 110
June 2004 result C 422 LD 385 Lab 87
May 1999 result C 539 Lab 223 LD 176
May 1995 result C 456 Lab 390
(Earlier results are for Monmouth district council)
May 1991 result C 570 Lab 227 LD 145
May 1987 result C 497 All 220 Lab 149
May 1983 result C 551 Lab 176
May 1979 result C 823 Lab 322
May 1976 result C 423 Lab 191
May 1973 result C 286 Lab 102

Andrew Teale


Council by-election previews: 25 March 2021

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

There are three local by-elections on 25th March 2021 and it's a Nationalist Special with all three seats being defended by Plaid Cymru or the Scottish National Party. With whom we start, as Andrew's Previews considers the last two local by-elections in Scotland before the Holyrood elections on 6th May. Read on...

Midlothian East

Midlothian council; caused by the resignation of Scottish National Party councillor Kenneth Baird, who had served since 2017.

We start south-east of Edinburgh with the county of Midlothian. The Midlothian council area has six electoral wards, of which three cover the district's major towns of Bonnyrigg, Dalkeith and Penicuik and the other three are more rural areas. Such as Midlothian East, which stretches north-west from Soutra Hill (a summit on the A68 road from Edinburgh to Lauderdale), and runs between Bonnyrigg and Dalkeith to the Sheriffhall Roundabout on the Edinburgh city bypass. The six-way roundabout at Sheriffhall is a notorious traffic blackspot and the powers that be have been talking about rebuilding it for years, but the fact that the junction is built on unstable ground over old mineworkings makes grade separation difficult to achieve.

It's the mineworkings that have traditionally been the mainstay of this area's economy. In fact, they spawned a new village. Mayfield was built in the 1950s to house workers for the collieries at Newtongrange and Easthouses; the collieries are gone, but the village remains.

East ward's other principal population centre is rather different in character. Eskbank is a suburb of Dalkeith and traditionally a well-heeled area; and that will only have increased with the reopening of the Borders railway line, which includes a station at Eskbank. With trains to central Edinburgh twice an hour, Eskbank handled 367,000 passengers in 2018-19 just three years after it had opened.

With a bona fide commuter area, a pit village and a large rural hinterland Midlothian East has something for everyone. The ward was created in 2007, when it elected one councillor each from the SNP, Labour, and the Lib Dems. The Lib Dem councillor then defected to Labour and stood for re-election in 2012 as a Labour candidate, but polled poorly and lost her seat to independent candidate Peter de Vink. The SNP and de Vink formed an administration to run Midlothian council, and East ward's SNP councillor Lisa Beattie briefly served as leader of the council following the 2012 election.

The Labour councillor for Midlothian East resigned in 2014, and the resulting by-election resulted in a narrow Labour hold; the first preferences were 33% for Labour, 32% for the SNP and 20% for independent candidate Robert Hogg, and a 34-vote lead for Labour on first preferences turned into a 69-vote lead over the SNP in the final count. This by-election came two months after the independence referendum while Scottish politics was in the middle of realigning, and was generally seen at the time as an impressive Labour performance. Mind, given that the winning Labour candidate had previously worked for the then party leader Ed Miliband as a press officer, perhaps a positive spin on the result was to be expected.

It was all change here for the May 2017 Midlothian council election, with all three incumbent councillors for East ward standing down and boundary changes removing a small corner of the ward into Bonnyrigg ward. There was a very close four-way result on the first preferences, with the Conservatives coming from nowhere to top the poll on 27%, the SNP polling 26%, Labour 23% and independent Robert Hogg on 19%. The three seats went to the Conservatives, Labour and the SNP with the Tories picking up Peter de Vink's seat. Labour went on to pick up the Midlothian constituency at the Westminster general election a month later, but lost the seat back to the SNP in December 2019. Colin Beattie, husband of former SNP ward councillor Lisa Beattie, has represented the ward in Holyrood since 2011 when it was included within the Midlothian North and Musselburgh constituency.

In last week's four Scottish by-elections we saw two occasions in which the candidate trailing on first preferences came from behind to win in the final count. Transfers can be crucial, and this could well be the case here as well given the fragmented political scene we start with. The usual Scottish disclaimer of Votes at 16 applies, too.

The 2017 Midlothian council election resulted in a three-way split on the council, with seven Labour councillors, six SNP and five Conservatives. The SNP subsequently became the largest party by winning a by-election in Penicuik, gaining the seat from Labour. Despite that, Labour run Midlothian council as a minority with Conservative support.

Defending for the SNP is Stuart McKenzie, from Dalkeith. The Conservatives have selected Alan Symon, who sits on the community council for Eskbank and Newbattle. The Labour candidate is Hazel Flanagan, a senior childcare practitioner who grew up in Mayfield. There is no independent candidate this time, so completing the ballot paper are Joy Godfrey for the Greens and Margaret Davis for the Liberal Democrats. The Midlothian Advertiser has interviewed all the candidates, and you can find out more here (link).

Parliamentary constituency: Midlothian
Holyrood constituency: Midlothian North and Musselburgh (Lothian region)
ONS Travel to Work Area: Edinburgh
Postcode districts: EH17, EH18, EH19, EH22, EH23, EH37

Margaret Davis (LD)
Hazel Flanagan (Lab)
Joy Godfrey (Grn)
Stuart McKenzie (SNP)
Alan Symon (C)

May 2017 first preferences C 1522 SNP 1481 Lab 1284 Ind 1064 Grn 301

Almond and Earn

Perth and Kinross council; caused by the death of Scottish National Party councillor Henry Anderson who had served since 2012.

For other Scottish by-election we return to another ward which has appeared in Andrew's Previews before. The Almond and the Earn are two rivers in Perthshire, the Almond flowing into the Tay immediately north of Perth and the Earn reaching the sea at the head of the Firth of Tay.

The two rivers give their name to an electoral ward which covers the southern and western hinterland of the city of Perth. The largest population centre is Bridge of Earn, a commuter village south of Perth at the lowest crossing-point of the Earn. To the west of Perth on the road to Crianlarich is Methven, a village which was the location of a victory for England in 1306 in the days when England and Scotland faced off on the battlefield instead of the rugby field.

Methven (then part of the Strathalmond ward) voted SNP in the 2003 Scottish local elections, but the Almond and Earn ward took in better Conservative territory in Bridge of Earn and its first election in 2007 was a Conservative win on first preferences, with 46% against 37% for the SNP and 17% for the Liberal Democrats. However, with three seats available 46% was short of two quotas, and the SNP surplus ensured that the final seat went to the Lib Dems rather than the second Conservative candidate.

The winning Conservative here was Alan Jack, who had represented Bridge of Earn since 1999. He fell out with the Tories in the 2007-12 term and stood for re-election in 2012 as an independent. The first preferences split 41% for the Conservatives, 30% for the SNP and just 12% for Jack, but the Conservatives had only stood one candidate and Jack picked up transfers from all over the place to be re-elected. His final margin was 14 votes over the second SNP candidate. This was not without controversy: Alan Jack was subsequently fined £450 for going over the campaign spending limit, but for reasons which this column doesn't fully understand he was allowed to keep his seat.

Alan Jack died in 2016 at the age of 76, and the resulting by-election (Andrew's Previews 2016, page 75) was a gain for the Conservatives who led the SNP 48-39 on the first count and 51-41 after transfers (with a Labour vote of 8% still to distribute). The Conservatives confirmed that by-election gain in the May 2017 local elections; on unchanged boundaries, their first preference lead over the SNP was a whopping 60-30, resulting in two seats for the Conservatives and one for the SNP.

Overall the Conservatives won the 2017 Perth and Kinross elections, with 17 seats against 15 SNP, 4 Lib Dems, 3 independents and 1 Labour councillor (for the unlikely-looking Labour area of Carse of Gowrie). The Conservatives run the council as a minority and have successfully defended two previous by-elections in this council term.

In December 2020 the SNP councillor for Almond and Earn, Harry Anderson, had put a strongly-worded post on his Facebook aimed at anti-vaxxers, subsequently telling the Perthshire Advertiser that he and his family would get the COVID-19 vaccine as their "civic duty" (story here (link) from the Daily Record). He never got the chance. By the end of the month, Harry Anderson was dead from COVID-19.

This is the first council by-election to be a direct result of the current pandemic. It will not be the last. This column maintains a list of local councillors who were taken from us by COVID-19; that list currently has seventeen names on it, including Anderson's. Given that the demographic upon which COVID wreaks the greatest havoc is the same demographic that tends to serve in our council chambers, the list could have been a lot longer.

It will be an uphill struggle for the SNP to hold the 2021 Almond and Earn by-election from a 30-point deficit on first preferences. Their defending candidate is Michelle Frampton. The Tories will have reasonable hopes that they can win here in the first round; they have selected former golf professional Frank Smith. Also standing are Claire McLaren for the Lib Dems and Craig Masson for Labour.

Parliamentary constituency: Ochil and South Perthshire
Holyrood constituency: Perthshire South and Kinross-shire
ONS Travel to Work Area: Perth
Postcode districts: KY14, PH1, PH2, PH3, PH7

Michelle Frampton (SNP)
Craig Masson (Lab)
Claire McLaren (LD)
Frank Smith (C)

May 2017 first preferences C 2441 SNP 1212 LD 230 Grn 214
April 2016 by-election C 1651 SNP 1327 Lab 219 LD 157 UKIP 77
May 2012 first preferences SNP 1520 C 1112 Ind 444 Lab 369 LD 244
May 2007 first preferences C 2255 SNP 1790 LD 849

Llanrug

Gwynedd council, North Wales; caused by the death of Plaid Cymru councillor Charles Wyn Jones.

Croeso and welcome to the Welsh-speaking capital of the world. We're in Llanrug, a village on the northern slopes of the Snowdon massif about four miles east of Caernarfon, which was listed by the 2011 census as having 87.8% of its population able to speak Welsh - the highest proportion of any electoral division in the principality. Figures from the 2021 census, taken last weekend, will take a couple of years to come through so Llanrug's title is safe for a little while yet.

With a population of just under 2,000, Llanrug is the largest population centre in the Arfon constituency outside Bangor and Caernarfon, and it's big enough to support a secondary school - Ysgol Brynrefail - with over 700 pupils on the roll. Notable people who studied at Ysgol Brynrefail include the rugby player Rhun Williams, who was the star player in the Wales Under-20 grand slam-winning team in 2016 and subsequently made 28 appearances for Cardiff Blues, but was forced to retire from rugby last year aged 22 due to a nerve injury. As we saw at the weekend, rugby can be a cruel game sometimes. Two knights of the realm, the Chief Bard Sir T H Parry-Williams and the cycling coach Sir David Brailsford, also went to school in Llanrug, as did the former Welsh MEP Eurig Wyn.

Wyn served in the European Parliament from 1999 to 2004 as a member of Plaid Cymru, who are the dominant political force in this corner of North Wales. Charles Wyn Jones, who had represented Llanrug since the establishment of the modern Gwynedd council in 1995 and also sat on Arfon council before that, was also a Plaid Cymru member. He had served as chairman of Gwynedd council in 2004-05. Away from local government, Jones had a 30-year career with British Telecom, co-founded the Gwynedd branch of the Alzheimer's Society, and was secretary of the Llanrug Silver Band.

The present Llanrug division was created in 2004 as the northern half of the previous two-seat Llanrug division (the rest becoming Cwm-y-Glo division). On its current boundaries, Charles Wyn Jones only once had to fight a contested election: that was in 2008, when he polled 79% of the vote in a straight fight with independent candidate Dafydd Ifan.

In the 2017 Gwynedd elections Jones was counted among the 41 Plaid Cymru councillors returned, against 26 independents, 6 councillors for the localist group Llais Gwynedd, and one each for Labour and the Lib Dems. The ruling Plaid group is now down to 38 councillors plus this vacancy - if the Llanrug by-election is lost, that will be a majority of one.

This by-election sees a record choice for the local electors with four candidates standing. Defending for Plaid Cymru is Beca Brown, a Llanrug community councillor currently working for the online language teachers SaySomethinginWelsh. To take the other candidates in alphabetical order, independent (as the ballot paper says, "Independent") candidate Martin Bristow gives an address in Y Felinheli on the Menai coast; the Lib Dems' Calum Davies is a local resident and was their parliamentary candidate for Clwyd South in 2019; and independent (as the ballot paper says, "Annibynnol") candidate and Ysgol Brynrefail school governor Richie Green has recently retired as a police superintendent. The Local Democracy Reporting Service have interviewed all the candidates, and you can find out more here (link).

Parliamentary and Assembly constituency: Arfon
ONS Travel to Work Area: Bangor and Holyhead
Postcode district: LL55

Martin Bristow (Ind)
Beca Brown (PC)
Calum Davies (LD)
Richie Green (Ind)

May 2017 result PC unopposed
May 2012 result PC unopposed
May 2008 result PC 477 Ind 128
June 2004 result PC unopposed

Andrew Teale


Council by-election previews: 18 March 2021

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

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

Corwen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eirias

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maesydre

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Baillieston; and
Partick East/Kelvindale

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Baillieston

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

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

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

Partick East/Kelvindale

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

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

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

Helensburgh and Lomond South; and
Isle of Bute

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Helensburgh and Lomond South

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

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

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

Isle of Bute

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

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

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

Andrew Teale


Previewing the Scottish council by-elections of 11th March

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

Three local by-elections in Scotland on 11th March 2021:

Aird and Loch Ness

Highland council; caused by the death of Conservative councillor George Cruickshank who had served since 2017.

Welcome to the heart of the Scottish Highlands. We're in the Great Glen, a massive geological fault which runs in a straight line from Inverness to Fort William and creates a natural travel route through the mountains. The Great Glen is navigable to vessels on the Caledonian Canal, which links together a series of lochs along the route of which the largest is Loch Ness.

It's difficult to overestimate the scale of Loch Ness. This is the second-deepest loch in Scotland and the largest body of water by volume in the UK, containing more water than all the lakes in England and Wales put together. The water is extremely murky thanks to all the peat in the surrounding soil. Over the years a large number of people who should probably have known better have claimed to see something unexplained swimming in the loch's waters, and the so-called Loch Ness Monster has been a boon to Scottish tourism for decades.

The Loch Ness Monster has had political consequences as well. In 1962 the Loch Ness Phenomena Investigation Bureau was founded, with a brief of looking for the monster, by a group of worthies including the WWF conservationist Sir Peter Scott and the naval war hero David James. At the time James was the Conservative MP for Brighton Kemptown, which you might notice is quite a long way from Loch Ness. Legend has is that his neglect of his constituency in favour of searching for a non-existent Scottish animal was one factor in James losing his seat to Labour by seven votes in the 1964 general election.

The area around Loch Ness is sparsely populated compared to the Aird, which lies immediately to the west of Inverness along the south bank of the Beauly Firth. The Beauly Firth terminates at Beauly, which as its French name (beau lieu) suggests is a beautiful place. Beauly is the railhead for the Aird and Loch Ness ward, being the first stop out of Inverness on the Far North Line.

This area was controlled for centuries by the Lords Lovat from their base at Beaufort Castle near Beauly. Unfortunately aristocracy doesn't pay what it used to, and the 15th Lord Lovat, Simon Fraser, sold Beaufort Castle to the Stagecoach millionaire Ann Gloag in 1995 to meet an inheritance tax bill. Lovat's Second World War service was even more high-profile than James'; as an officer in the Commandos, he was involved in the Lofoten, Hardelot and Dieppe raids, and he was piped ashore at Sword Beach on D-Day by his personal piper. Hitler put a price of 100,000 Reichsmarks on his capture, dead or alive.

That prize was never claimed, and once the war was over Lovat served for decades on the Inverness county and district councils. These were swept away in 1996, the year after his death, in favour of the modern Highland Council. Originally this was elected by first-past-the-post, which led to an independent majority and a large number of unopposed returns. The introduction of proportional representation in 2007 led to contested elections throughout and resulted in established parties winning seats.

Aird and Loch Ness ward dates from the introduction of PR in 2007. Its first two elections, in 2007 and 2012, both returned two independent councillors (Margaret Davidson and Helen Carmichael) and one each from the SNP (Drew Hendry) and the Lib Dems (Hamish Wood). SNP councillor Drew Hendry became leader of the Highland council after the 2012 election, and in May 2015 he was elected as MP for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey. He resigned from the Highland council to concentrate on his Westminster duties, and the resulting by-election in October 2015 was won by the Lib Dem candidate Jean Davis.

Going into the 2017 election, fought on slightly revised boundaries, the Lib Dems were defending two seats here and lost them both. Independent councillor Margaret Davidson topped the poll with 28% of the first preferences and was re-elected on the first count; the SNP polled 22% with Emma Knox avenging her defeat in the by-election; the Conservative candidate George Cruickshank polled 20% and was elected here after two previous failed attempts; and independent councillor Helen Carmichael was re-elected to the final seat with 12% of the vote, ahead of the Lib Dems' Jean Davis who polled 10%. On the decisive fifth count, Carmichael was 289 votes ahead of Davis with only an SNP surplus of 258 left to transfer.

The 2017 Highland council election returned a hung council, with 28 independent councillors, 22 for the SNP, 10 each for the Tories and Lib Dems, 3 Labour and a single Green councillor. The current administration is a coalition of the main independent group, the Lib Dems and Labour, and is unlikely to be affected by the outcome of this by-election.

The usual Scottish disclaimers apply here: Votes at 16 and the Alternative Vote are in use, and with a political scene as fragmented as that transfers could turn out to be very important. Defending for the Conservatives is Gavin Berkenheger, a geologist who runs a company looking for gold in Scotland. Berkenheger failed to strike gold with his previous attempt to win election to the Highland council, finishing as runner-up in the 2018 Wester Ross, Strathpeffer and Lochalsh by-election (Andrew's Previews 2018, page 428). Maybe this area will prove to be a better prospect? With 40% of the first preferences going to independent candidates you cannot rule out a challenge from the single independent this time: David Fraser gives an address in Drumnadrochit on Loch Ness, where he is chair of the Glen Urquhart community council. The SNP have selected Gordon Shanks, who came to the Highlands over 20 years ago to study forestry and never left. The Lib Dem candidate is Martin Robertson, and completing an all-male ballot paper are Ryan Mackintosh for the Scottish Greens and the ward's first Labour candidate since 2012, Bill Moore.

Picture of Loch Ness by Sam Fentress, CC-BY-SA 2.0

Parliamentary constituency: Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey (part: former Kirkhill, Loch Ness East and Loch Ness West wards); Ross, Skye and Lochaber (part: former Beauly and Strathglass ward)
Holyrood constituency: Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch
ONS Travel to Work Area: Inverness (most), Fort William (south-west corner)
Postcode districts: IV2, IV3, IV4, IV5, IV6, IV63, PH32

Gavin Berkenheger (C)
David Fraser (Ind)
Ryan Mackintosh (Grn)
Bill Moore (Lab)
Martin Robertson (LD)
Gordon Shanks (SNP)

May 2017 first preferences Ind 1405 SNP 1128 C 998 Ind 625 LD 515 Grn 388

Leaderdale and Melrose

Scottish Borders council; caused by the death of Scottish National Party councillor Kevin Drum at the age of 60. He had served since 2017.

From the Highlands we come south to the border region, an upland area dividing Scotland from Northumberland. Part of the border between England and Scotland is formed by the River Tweed, whose valley forms an easy route into the interior. This may not have the grandeur of the Highlands, but the Borders have a charm all their own as this view demonstrates.

This is Scott's View, a favourite place of the author Sir Walter Scott whose baronial pile at Abbotsford is somewhere beyond the Eildon Hills in the middle distance. To the right of those hills is the town of Melrose, which grew up in the twelfth century around a Cistercian abbey founded by King David I. The abbey thrived up to the wars of religion in the 17th century, and a number of Scottish kings are buried there including the heart of Robert of Bruce; the casket containing his heart was twice excavated in the twentieth century before being reinterred.

In recent years Melrose has been opened up to tourists without access to road transport. The Borders Railway opened in September 2015, terminating at Tweedbank station a couple of miles away from the town and within the boundary of this ward.

To the right of Scott's viewpoint is the valley of the Leader Water, called Leaderdale in this ward name and Lauderdale in nearly every other context. With its north-south orientation Lauderdale was a natural route for Dere Street, the main Roman road from Hadrian's Wall to the Antonine Wall; Dere Street and its modern replacement, the A68 Edinburgh-Jedburgh-Carter Bar road, have formed a major transport link through the borders for centuries. The major population centre in the valley is Lauder, which is just about within commuting distance of Edinburgh and as such has a fast-growing population.

Lauderdale had been covered by a number of Conservative wards in the 2003 elections to Scottish Borders council, but Melrose and Tweedbank had voted for independent candidates that year. In 2003 independent councillor David Parker thrashed the Conservative candidate in Lower Langlee and Tweedbank ward by 1,113 votes to 69, and Parker has continued in that vein by topping the poll in all three ordinary elections to the expanded ward since 2007. In 2007 he polled 30% of the first preferences, far ahead of a packed field for the other two seats: the Conservatives started in second place in 16%, the Lib Dems and the Borders Party, a localist group opposed to the planned rail link to Edinburgh, polled 15% each and the SNP 14%. In the final count the SNP were eliminated, and their transfers gave the final two seats to the Lib Dem candidate John Paton-Day and the Borders Party candidate Nicholas Watson. The Conservatives missed out. Paton-Day lost his seat to the SNP in 2012 by the narrow margin of 21 votes.

In 2013 the Borders Party councillor Nicholas Watson resigned, prompting a by-election. Without David Parker on the ballot, this time the Conservatives' Rachael Hamilton polled the most first preferences: 28%, to 23% for the new Borders Party candidate Iain Gillespie, 21% for the Lib Dems and 18% for the SNP. The SNP and Lib Dem transfers went to Gillespie, who overtook the Conservatives to hold the by-election for the Borders Party by a 53-47 margin over Hamilton. Rachael Hamilton has bounced back from that disappointment: she is now the MSP for the Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire constituency, the safest Conservative seat in Scotland (although might not be saying much these days).

The most recent election for this ward was in May 2017 and saw the Conservatives finally break through here: they had 32% of the first preferences against 25% for David Parker, 18% for the new SNP candidate Kevin Drum, and 11% for the outgoing Borders Party councillor Iain Gillespie who sought re-election as an independent candidate and nearly got it when the Unionist transfers lined up behind him. Drum eventually won the final seat by a margin of 44 votes.

Again, this is a ward with a large independent vote. Had the May 2017 votes been for one seat then David Parker would have won it with a 406-vote margin over the lead Conservative Tom Miers; if we exclude Parker from the reckoning, then Iain Gillespie would have beaten Miers by 100 votes. In neither case are the SNP particularly close to winning, which will concern the Nationalists as they are the ones defending this by-election. A Nationalist loss here would likely be a boost to the Conservative-Independent coalition running Scottish Borders council; the 2017 election here returned 15 Conservatives, 9 for the SNP, 8 independents and two Lib Dems.

The defending SNP candidate is John Paton Day, who has contested every previous election in this ward as the Liberal Democrat candidate and was a Lib Dem councillor here from 2007 to 2012. The Conservatives have selected Jenny Linehan, a lawyer from Melrose. There are two independent candidates: Mary Douglas gives an address in Galashiels, while Karen Wilks works for the Citizens' Advice Bureau in Musselburgh. Also standing are Jonny Adamson for the Liberal Democrats, Michael Needham for the Greens and Scott Redpath for Labour.

Picture of Scott's View by "Kharasho2", CC-BY-SA 3.0

Parliamentary constituency: Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk
Scottish Parliament constituency: Midlothian South, Tweeddale and Lauderdale
ONS Travel to Work Area: Galashiels and Peebles
Postcode districts: TD1, TD2, TD3, TD4, TD5, TD6

Jonny Adamson (LD)
Mary Douglas (Ind)
Jenny Linehan (C)
Michael Needham (Grn)
John Paton Day (SNP)
Scott Redpath (Lab)
Karen Wilks (Ind)

May 2017 first preferences C 1457 Ind 1149 SNP 811 Ind 510 LD 426 Ind 202
May 2013 by-election C 956 Borders Party 814 LD 744 SNP 613 Lab 235 UKIP 105; final Borders Party 1444 C 1283
May 2012 first preferences Ind 1304 Borders 621 SNP 558 C 441 LD 439 Lab 225
May 2007 first preferences Ind 1362 C 713 LD 703 Borders Party 692 SNP 640 Ind 394 Ind 78

Livingston South

West Lothian council; caused by the resignation of Scottish National Party councillor Peter Johnston, who retired last year after a 35-year career in local government. He was first elected in 1985 to the former West Lothian district council, had led the West Lothian SNP group since 1992, and twice served as Leader of the Council.

And now for something completely different. We return to the Central Belt of Scotland for a trip to the southern of three wards covering the town of Livingston. This is a New Town, built in the 1960s on land whose main previous use had been for mining shale oil. In the days before the discovery of liquid oil reserves West Lothian was the centre of the world's first oil boom, and by 1870 shale was being mined here at the rate of 3 million tons a year.

Shale mining finally ended in 1962 with the designation of Livingston as a new town. After six decades of development, Livingston is now the eighth-largest settlement in Scotland and has a diverse economic base, with electronics, distribution, a Sky TV call centre being major employers. Much recent attention has focused on the Valneva biotech factory, which is busily making a proposed new COVID-19 vaccine that's currently at the clinical trials stage.

Valneva's factory is within the boundary of this ward, next to the Edinburgh-Shotts-Glasgow railway line. On this line is the Livingston South railway station, which has recently been rebuilt as part of an electrification scheme. The railway station is some distance from the town centre, which lies within this ward on the south bank of the River Almond. Transport geeks will also note that along the ward's eastern boundary is the Cousland Interchange, Scotland's only surviving cloverleaf road junction and one of only two in the UK.

The boundaries of this ward have been unchanged since 2007. In its first two elections Labour and the SNP were very close to each other and both above 40% of the vote, which gave both parties two seats: Lawrence Fitzpatrick (the current council leader, who has topped the poll here in every election to date) and Danny Logue for Labour, Peter Johnston and John Muir for the SNP. In 2017 the Labour vote fell below 40% and Danny Logue lost the second Labour seat to the Conservative candidate Peter Heggie; on the SNP side John Muir retired and was replaced by Moira Shemilt. Shares of the vote were 41% for the SNP, 36% for Labour and 19% for the Conservatives. Had the votes been counted for one seat, Labour's Fitzpatrick would have benefited from Conservative transfers to beat the SNP's Johnston by 54-46.

The SNP are in opposition on West Lothian council, which is run by a Labour administration with Conservative support. Going into this by-election the Nationalists and Labour are on 12 seats each with 7 Conservatives and an independent holding the balance of power, so a Labour gain will result in them overtaking the SNP to become the largest party on the council.

Defending for the SNP is Maria MacAulay. Labour have selected Gordon Connolly, a former bandsman in the Royal Scots who manages the village hall in Murieston. The Conservatives had to re-run their selection after their original candidate Eddie Millar was dropped for dubious social media posts; the replacement Tory candidate is Douglas Smith. Also standing are Cameron Glasgow for the Scottish Green Party, Caron Lindsay for the Liberal Democrats, the aforementioned Eddie Millar as an independent candidate, and John Mumford for UKIP.

Parliamentary constituency: Livingston
Scottish Parliament constituency: Almond Valley
ONS Travel to Work Area: Livingston
Postcode districts: EH53, EH54, EH55

Gordon Connolly (Lab)
Cameron Glasgow (Grn)
Caron Lindsay (LD)
Maria MacAulay (SNP)
Eddie Millar (Ind)
John Mumford (UKIP)
Douglas Smith (C)

May 2017 first preferences SNP 3359 Lab 2919 C 1594 Grn 200 LD 144
May 2012 first preferences Lab 3288 SNP 2890 C 374 Action to Save St John's Hospital 312
May 2007 first preferences Lab 3665 SNP 3422 C 527 LD 420 Ind 341 SSP 115

Andrew Teale


Council by-election previews: 04 March 2021

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

Spring is in the air. The days are drawing longer. The skies have dried up and the sun occasionally shines. The daffodils are sprouting from the ground. Nature is reasserting itself.

Democracy is also returning to our attention. Welcome out of hibernation (or, as it's called these days, furlough) to a new year of Andrew's Previews, that weekly column for Britain Elects whose aims are amply summed in the above misquote from Eric Morecambe to the original Andrew Preview. As well as the UK set pieces of general elections, devolved parliament elections and the local government elections which take place every May, the meat and drink of this column is by-elections. These don't just happen for vacancies in Parliament, and indeed tomorrow we will break the record for the streak of time between parliamentary by-elections: the last one was Brecon and Radnorshire in August 2019, and despite everything that has happened since every one of the 650 MPs elected in the December 2019 general election are still with us and still in post.

We are also in a record-breaking streak of time between local by-elections in England. The last poll to take place in England or Wales was a by-election to Coventry city council on 19th March 2020, at the start of the first lockdown. Since then we have only had occasional Scottish local by-elections to entertain us while the vacancy list in England and Wales has grown like topsy. After a year of electoral inactivity, your columnist's latest count of vacancies in British local councils stands at over 390, of which at least 15 are a direct result of COVID-19. Some councils stand more than 10% short of their full membership. Once the notices for the 6th May elections are published at the end of this month, my estimate is that the final vacancy count will be somewhere between 450 and 500.

Even those May elections will not fully resolve this democratic deficit. Last week it was announced that the county and district council elections due this year in Cumbria, North Yorkshire and Somerset would be postponed by a year while a consultation takes place on local government reorganisation in those counties. The Cabinet minister responsible, Robert Jenrick, has defended this decision on the grounds that it would prevent councillors being elected for short terms, which is not a statement that stands up to scrutiny particularly well. Consider: at one end of the scale, every winner in this year's Reading council elections will only serve a one-year term, because the whole of Reading council will come up for re-election in May 2022 on revised ward boundaries. At the other end of the scale, the eleven members of Craven district council in North Yorkshire who were elected in 2016 and were due for re-election in 2020 have already seen their terms extended by one year due to COVID, and are now to see their terms extended by a further year due to this consultation, and probably by a further year on top of that if reorganisation actually happens. That's a four-year term extended to six years, potentially seven years, which is unfair on the councillors concerned and a denial of democracy to their constituents. All this when there's not even an indication in any of these areas that there is a settled plan for what form reorganisation should take. Maybe the better option would have been to allow the local elections in Cumbria, North Yorkshire and Somerset to proceed and sort out the consequences afterwards.

In support of that opinion, your columnist would point out that there's not even a financial saving to be made from postponing this year's local elections in Cumbria, North Yorkshire and Somerset. The electoral services teams within those counties still have elections to organise in May regardless: those for the police and crime commissioners. These form just one part of the polls on the 6th May 2021 which will be the most complicated set of local elections ever staged. All the remaining county councils and the elections to the Senedd and the Scottish Parliament will be combined with everything held over from last year: the police and crime commissioners, most of the combined authority mayors, those English unitary and second-tier districts which hold elections by thirds or halves, and the Mayor and Assembly in Greater London. Once by-elections, parish councils and a few local referendums are added into that mix, we can see that most voters will have a large number of ballot papers to juggle and most counters will have a large number of ballot papers to separate before they can even start on the vote counting.

All of this, of course, has to be done under the terms of the current emergency which has occasioned some changes to the normal rules. If you are required to isolate at the time of the poll due to a COVID-related reason then you will qualify for an emergency proxy vote; your polling card will tell you how to organise that. The signature requirement for candidate nomination papers in England and Wales has been drastically reduced. The polling stations will be run in a safe manner; but if for whatever reason you don't want to attend the polling station then you can apply for a postal vote, and I would recommend that you do that now and beat the rush.

Given the number of simultaneous elections involved, it will probably take a few days to finish the count. The Electoral Management Board for Scotland have already decided that they will not attempt an overnight count for the Scottish Parliament this year, and this column would expect many returning officers outwith Scotland to come to the same decision in organising their counts.

So this May's counts will probably be a slow process, but accuracy is more important than speed and we can have confidence in the abilities and accuracy of our counting teams. A recent case in the Election Court has borne this out. Back in January 2020 a by-election took place for two seats in the Barnhill ward of the London Borough of Brent, which the Labour slate of Mansoor Akram and Gaynor Lloyd held with unusually small majorities of 112 and 70 votes over the lead Conservative candidate Kanta Mistry. Mistry and her running-mate Stefan Voloseniuc launched a legal case to request a recount, which was duly held in July and found no significant error in the original result. They could and probably should have applied to withdraw the case at that point, but that would have involved paying the legal costs of the Labour slate and the returning officer; so it appears that Voloseniuc and Mistry did nothing more to resolve the case until the returning officer escalated the matter to the High Court in London. Voloseniuc and Mistry comprehensively lost in the High Court last month, and their legal bill has doubled to an estimated £60,000.

Let the experience of Voloseniuc and Mistry stand as an expensive lesson to those who believe the Wild Twitter Rumours which habitually fly around from counting centres and elsewhere early on election night. As we saw over the pond in November, partial counts can be very unrepresentative of the final result. The Britain Elects team are of course here to cut through all that nonsense and bring you cold, hard facts as they emerge from the declarations, and your columnist encourages you to follow us on the nights and days after 10pm on 6th May while we make sense of it all. We have some exciting things lined up.

Before then, we have some by-elections to bring you. There are nineteen polls in Scotland and Wales scheduled over the next five weeks to ease us back into the democratic routine, and here are the first two of these. Not necessarily in the right order...

Fortissat; and
Thorniewood

North Lanarkshire council, Scotland; caused respectively by the resignations of Tommy Cochrane and Steven Bonnar. Both were originally elected for the Scottish National Party, but Cochrane had left the party in 2018 and was sitting as an independent councillor. Cochrane resigned in March 2020 due to pressure of work, having represented the ward since 2012. Bonnar, who is now the MP for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill, had served since winning a by-election in 2015.

So, we kick Andrew's Previews off for 2021 in North Lanarkshire to see whether the Scottish National Party can overcome a recent bout of infighting. There are two by-elections in North Lanarkshire district today, both of which were originally scheduled for November but were postponed at the last moment due to increased COVID restrictions in the Central Belt. Both of these are wards which have appeared in this column before but whose names may not be immediately helpful to the outsider.

Such as the Thorniewood ward, which lies just outside the eastern edge of Glasgow between the M8 and M74 motorways. This is an area where the population boomed after the Second World War due to new industry coming in, such as a coalmine and a large Caterpillar factory. To house the people needed to run these industries, the town of Viewpark was born.

Viewpark combines with the neighbouring areas of Tannochside and Birkenshaw to form the Thorniewood ward. In case you have never heard of these places and are wondering why that is, none of these areas are recognised as towns by the Royal Mail, which classifies almost every address within the ward as "Uddingston, Glasgow". To confuse matters further, Uddingston proper is in South Lanarkshire, beyond the district boundary and the M74 motorway. The postal boundaries of Uddingston have caused some confusion for outsiders, as this column will discuss in more detail in a couple of weeks' time. The ward name "Thorniewood" is shared by Thorniewood United, a local junior football team. Your columnist has been confused by this concept before, so let me explain: in Scottish football "junior" refers not to the age of the players but to the level of football, roughly equivalent to non-league in the English system.

Further to the east the M8 motorway passes through Fortissat ward. Despite the name (which refers to an old estate that covered most of the area), this ward is based on the town and hinterland of Shotts, located on high ground roughly halfway between Glasgow and Edinburgh. Shotts was traditionally an ironworking and mining town, but with the end of industry its population has declined; one of the major local employers now is HMP Shotts, a high-security prison. The town lies on a recently-electrified railway line between Edinburgh and Glasgow.

These wards in the heart of the Central Belt were created in 2007 when Scottish local elections moved to using proportional representation. Until the Indyref Thorniewood was one of the strongest Labour wards in Scotland, with the party polling over 68% of the first preferences and winning two out of three seats in the 2007 and 2012 elections. The remaining seat was held by the SNP, who successfully defended it in a by-election in 2015 at the height of the party's powers: that by-election saw the Nationalists' candidate Steven Bonnar lead Labour candidate Hugh Gaffney 47-43 in the first round and win by 52-48 after transfers.

Gaffney eventually get elected to North Lanarkshire council two years later. On revised boundaries in May 2017 Labour polled 50% in Thorniewood ward and the SNP 39%, the seat count remaining at 2-1 to Labour. A month later Gaffney was elected to the Westminster Parliament, defeating single-term SNP MP Phil Boswell by 1,586 votes on a swing of over 13% in the local seat of Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill. The SNP hold the local Scottish Parliament constituency of Uddingston and Bellshill, having gained it from Labour in 2016.

The Fortissat ward also originally elected three councillors, and in 2007 it returned one Labour councillor, one SNP member and independent Charlie Cefferty. The 2012 election here is notable for Labour candidate Francis Fallan topping the poll but not getting elected. On first preferences he was one vote ahead of his running-mate Jim Robertson and two votes ahead of Cefferty, but there was an SNP quota, Cefferty was elected on Conservative transfers and Robertson (who was seeking re-election) picked up more transfers from the Tories and SNP than Fallan did.

The 2017 boundary review for North Lanarkshire expanded Fortissat ward from three councillors to four, with the addition of the village of Morningside from Murdostoun ward. In May 2017 the expanded ward gave 36% to Labour, 29% to the SNP, 13% to the Conservatives, 11% to a "No Referendum Maintain Union Pro-Brexit" candidate (that is a registered description of the British Union and Sovereignty Party, now the British Unionist Party) and 10% to Cefferty. Labour won two seats, the SNP one and the Conservatives one; during the count Cefferty overtook the pro-Brexit candidate on SNP transfers and the pro-Brexit transfers went strongly to the Conservatives. Labour and the Tories followed up that good performance in June's general election in the local seat, Airdrie and Shotts, which the SNP held over Labour by just 195 votes.

Since June 2017 both Fortissat and Thorniewood wards have had by-elections. Fortissat was first out of the blocks, because the newly-elected Conservative councillor Sandy Thornton appears to have decided that he didn't actually want to be a councillor after all. He didn't sign his declaration of acceptance of office, and once the deadline for doing so had expired his seat was declared vacant.

The resulting Fortissat by-election in September 2017 ((Andrew's Previews 2017, page 242) saw the Labour vote increase from 36% to 38%, the British Union and Sovereignty Party move into second place with 23% and the SNP fall to 21%. The Conservatives, who were defending the seat, finished fourth with just 11%. Labour picked up most of the SNP transfers to comfortably defeat the BUSP 62-38 in the final count and gain the seat.

The Thorniewood by-election came two years later in September 2019 (Andrew's Previews 2019, page 292) after Labour councillor Hugh Gaffney MP decided to concentrate on his parliamentary duties. Labour held the resulting by-election with a clear swing to the SNP since May 2017: the Labour lead was 44-39 on first preferences and 55-45 after transfers. In retrospect, that was a bad move for Gaffney: when a general election came around three months later he saw his majority of 1,586 over the SNP turn into a 5,624-vote majority for his former ward colleague Steven Bonnar. Bonnar has now resigned from North Lanarkshire council in his turn, and given the changed parliamentary arithmetic he can reasonably expect a longer term on the green benches than Gaffney enjoyed.

The Nationalists may be riding high in the polls but they will be doing well if they hold either of these by-elections - and they will need to win both to become the largest party on North Lanarkshire council, which currently stands at 30 Labour councillors (who form a minority administration), 29 for the SNP, eight Conservatives, eight independents and these two vacancies.

For the Thorniewood by-election the Scottish National Party have reselected Eve Cunnington, who was the runner-up in the previous by-election. The Labour candidate is Helen Loughran, a Tannochside community councillor. Also standing in Thorniewood are Oyebola Ajala for the Conservatives, Rosemary McGowan for the Greens, independent candidate Joseph Budd and UKIP's Daryl Gardner.

The defending SNP candidate for Fortissat is Sarah Quinn, a third-year university student who until recently represented the local constituency of Airdrie and Shotts in the Scottish Youth Parliament. Labour, who won the previous by-election, have selected Peter Kelly who is described as a local community activist. Despite their second-place finish last time there is no British Unionist Party candidate now, so it will be interesting to see what happens to their vote. Perhaps it could end up predominantly with one of the other candidates: the Conservatives' Ben Callaghan, the Greens' Kyle Davidson or UKIP's Neil Wilson.

All of these candidates were originally selected for the aborted by-elections in November and have been renominated for these polls. If they had gone ahead the November by-elections would also have had Lib Dem candidates, but that party appears to have decided not to bother this time round.

Fortissat

Parliamentary constituency: Airdrie and Shotts
Holyrood constituency: Airdrie and Shotts (almost all)
ONS Travel to Work Area: Motherwell and Airdrie
Postcode districts: EH47, ML1, ML2, ML7

Ben Callaghan (C)
Kyle Davidson (Grn)
Peter Kelly (Lab)
Sarah Quinn (SNP)
Neil Wilson (UKIP)

Sept 2017 by-election Lab 1420 British Union and Sovereignty Party 858 SNP 761 C 424 Ind 184 Grn 24 UKIP 18
May 2017 first preferences Lab 1840 SNP 1465 C 670 No Referendum Maintain Union Pro-Brexit 559 Ind 509

Thorniewood

Parliamentary constituency: Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill
Scottish Parliament constituency: Uddingston and Bellshill
ONS Travel to Work Area: Motherwell and Airdrie
Postcode districts: G69, G71

Oyebola Ajala (C)
Joseph Budd (Ind)
Eve Cunnington (SNP)
Daryl Gardner (UKIP)
Helen Loughran (Lab)
Rosemary McGowan (Grn)

Sept 2019 by-election Lab 1362 SNP 1202 C 296 LD 168 Grn 46
May 2017 first preferences Lab 2354 SNP 1811 C 519

Andrew Teale


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