Thursday, 18 August 2011

By-Election Preview (18th August)

There are two by-elections taking place, and in contrast to last week we are heading up north! Labour are looking to hold one of the safest wards in Knowsley but by far the more interesting contest is taking place in Edinburgh. The SNP are defending what is on paper a five way marginal, although the Liberal Democrats' recent electoral record in Scotland would suggest they aren't likely to gain this. However, the reports on the ground suggest the Independent is popular and so this AV election could be won by any of five candidates! Shame they aren't counting 'til the morning, eh?! I'll leave you with Kristofer Keane…

This week sees a by-election taking place in what must be the most marginal seat in the whole of Scotland, if not the whole UK.  In the 2007 local elections, Edinburgh's City Centre ward saw a vote share difference between 1st and 5th place of just 3.4% on first preferences.  Each of Scotland's four largest parties stood a single candidate, as did the Scottish Greens who took their second highest vote share in any Scottish ward here (after Glasgow Hillhead).  In the end, the SNP, Liberal Democrats and Conservatives each won a seat after the transfer of Labour and Green votes as well as smaller transfers from the SSP, the Liberal Party and an independent.

City of Edinburgh Council itself is run by a Lib Dem-SNP coalition who hold exactly half of the council seats, so there could potentially be an administration change here if neither of them win the seat, which was vacated by the SNP councillor David Beckett who is off to lecture at Harvard University in the USA.  However, it is unclear what an alternative administration would look like as the remaining seats lie with the unlikely allies of Labour, the Conservatives and the Greens.

The City Centre ward covers the Old Town, New Town, Haymarket and Abbeyhill districts of Edinburgh.  These prestigious areas include such sights as the Scottish Parliament, Edinburgh City Chambers and Edinburgh Castle, as well as many of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival venues - something which has proven a contentious point to campaigners in this by-election as traditionally many residents here let their flats out to performers and tourists during the festival while going off to spend the month away from the city's hustle and bustle. Turnout therefore is likely to be very low, especially with the large student contingent still away on holidays as well.

The five major parties from last time are all standing again, but as if to just make this seat even more marginal, a populist independent standing on a scrap-the-trams platform is joining them.  The trams are a highly contentious issue in Edinburgh, and especially in the city centre where much of the traffic disruption has been caused.  The trams were originally supported by Labour, the Lib Dems and the Greens, and were originally envisaged as a city-wide network stretching north, west and south from the city centre.  However, after a rejected congestion charge referendum, government spending cuts, and then a protracted legal dispute with the firm who won the council contract to build the tram infrastructure, the project has been massively scaled back while managing to run substantially over-time and over-budget.  Independent Carson could therefore very well pick up a decent protest vote.

The Lib Dems, although winning the first seat here in 2007 after Green transfers, are likely to fall back considerably due to their Westminster coalition as well as their responsibility in supporting and delivering the trams. Certainly a big fall would follow the pattern seen here in the Holyrood elections in May and across Scotland in recent by-elections.  The SNP, as junior administration partners, may get some flak over the trams although they have largely managed to be seen as opposing the trams from Holyrood while allowing them through at council level and so may have saved themselves on that one.  Based on recent elections, they would expect to increase their vote on 2007.

Labour are the largest opposition group on the council, but they failed to win a seat here in 2007. Their candidate also had an unfortunate fall while campaigning and ended up hospitalised with a broken ankle, impeding her campaigning.  The Conservative candidate is an experienced campaigner and given they hold the only opposition seat in this ward, they may be hoping to capitalise on protest votes as well.  The Greens meanwhile have been pulling in resources and campaigners from across the country to try to gain the seat, and may benefit from a large part of the voters switching from the Liberal Democrats.

One thing for sure is that no party will win this on first preferences, and transfers will probably determine the winner.  In this, the independent single-issue candidate is likely to do poorly, as well as the Conservatives who generally get poor transfer shares.  If the Liberal Democrats are eliminated early on, that should largely benefit the Greens and then the SNP.  At that point, if the Greens are eliminated before Labour, that could help push Labour on to victory while vice versa a Labour elimination would boost the Greens.  All in all, this one is far too close to call. KK

City of Edinburgh Council













City Centre

By-Election Candidate


Alasdair Rankin (SNP)


Iain McGill (Con)


Alistair Hodgson (LD)


Karen Doran (Lab)


Melanie Main (Grn)




N/C (Ind)


N/C (Lib)


John Carson (Ind)


On a scale of marginal wards in the United Kingdom Page Moss, Knowsley would on the complete opposite end to City Centre, Edinburgh. The Labour candidate in May enjoyed a majority of 82.6% over his Liberal Democrat opponent. Although magnitude of victory was exaggerated by the fact anger in Liverpool against the Lib Dems' decision to enter a national coalition with the Conservatives Labour have always enjoyed huge wins here. This vacancy has arisen following the resignation of Tommy Russell, for reasons unknown, and his win in 2008 was achieved with over three quarters of the vote. It's safe to say there won't be recount tonight!

Labour hold all but four seats on Knowsley Council with partial elections due to take place next year. TH

Page Moss (Knowlsey)

By-Election Candidate




Dave Tulley (Lab)




Matt Hughes (LD)




Robert Avery (Con)




Marie Rea (Grn)




Sean Watson (Ind)





As the Edinburgh by-election result is likely to be quite interesting we are looking into the possibility of running a LiveBlog on the Friday Morning. We'll announce further details on tonight's LiveBlog, which is sure to be riveting. Who doesn't want to find out how high Labour's vote share can go?!


Post a Comment