The results of a by-election in the Almond & Earn ward of Perth & Kinross Council are showing some seriously interesting political movements since the 2012 Scottish Local Authority Elections.
Perth & Kinross is a strongly conservative [small ‘c’ and big ‘C’] county, with the Scottish Conservatives and the SNP’s weighty conservative wing traditionally fighting it out for seats; and with the other parties scrabbling for the left overs.
The 2012 election results
The Almond & Earn ward – which in full elections has 3 seats to allocate, saw the Conservatives come first in 2012, with 30.14% of the vote, elected in Count 1 with 1,112 first preference votes.
SNP candidates came second and third, with the best [second] placed candidate, who had 24.18% of the vote and 892 first preference votes, taking the second seat in Count 3 with a total of 923 votes.
The third seat went to an incumbent independent who took 12.04% of the vote with 444 first preference votes elected in Count 6 with a total of 987 votes.
Scottish Labour finished fifth with 10% of the vote and 369 first preference votes.
The Liberal Democrats finished one behind Labour, with 6.61% of the vote and 244 first preference votes.
Major league performance from the Scottish Conservatives
In this latest by-election – fought for a single seat, Kathleen Baird for the Scottish Conservatives held the seat for the party, taking 40.1% of the total vote, a very substantial 18.4% uplift on this figure from the party’s 2012 win.
She took 1,651 first preference votes, a whopping 48.5% improvement on the party’s 2012 performance of 1,112 first preferences – and on a modestly lower overall valid vote – 3431 as opposed to 3689.
SNP on the slide
In 2012, the SNP stood two candidates in this ward, hoping to take two seats but splitting the vote and taking only one. Their elected member took 24.18% and their second candidate – who came third in first preference votes with 17.02% of the vote, could not attract sufficient lower preference votes to be elected.
Between its two candidates, the party took 41.2% of the overall vote in 2012.
In this latest by-election, the SNP came second with 38.4% of the overall vote and 1,327 first preference votes. This is a 2.8% drop in overall share of the vote from 2012; 193 fewer first preference votes for the party; and with an overall valid vote 7% and 258 votes lower than in 2012.
One would expect the SNP, previously a stronger contender in this ward, to show a drop in support today, given the way a markedly conservative constituency could be expected to react to the SNP’s record in government and to its electoral policies:
- with the Scottish economy in substantial deficit of £14.9 Billion;
- with the Scottish economy’s most recent growth figures showing a performance lagging a long way behind that of the UK as a whole – registering growth of 0.1% between July and September 2015 – 1.7% higher than the same quarter last year – but poor by comparison with UK growth at 0.4% and 2.1%, respectively;
- with the SNP not matching the UK government’s easing of the 40% income tax threshold for middle rank earners;
- with the SNP promising raised income tax and raised council taxes on the middle earners;
- with the First Minister saying that she is not hostile to raising the top level of tax on the highest earners.
The collective impact of this position would of course register powerfully at the ballot box in a conservative constituency – but many other wards and parliamentary seats have a substantial conservative cohort which can be expected to strengthen with the clearly continuing decline of the Liberal Democrats.
This outcome will certainly dissuade the SNP from standing two candidates in this ward in the 2017 Scottish Local Authority Elections.
Scottish Labour on the slide
Scottish Labour came fifth in 2012, taking 10% of the vote, with 369 first preference votes and were unelected.
This time out, on 7th April 2016, a month from the Scottish Election, the Labour candidate got 6.4% of the vote and 219 first preference votes.
This is a significant 3.6% fall in share of the overall vote, itself down by 7% from 2012 – and a mighty 40.6% fall in the party vote from 2012.
Liberal Democrats in helpless further decline
In 2012, the Liberal Democrats came sixth behind Labour – and last, with 6.6% of the vote and 244 first preference votes.
On 7th April 2016, they lost 2% of the overall vote, falling to a 4.57% share, with 157 first preference votes, a cliff fall of 35.6% on the party vote from the 2012 result.
The 2011 Scottish election result eviscerated the Liberal Democrats to a level that then looked irrecoverable – and which appears to be just that.
If there were a Liberal Democrat recovery – and with Labour in deep disarray, continuing to lose support – we would have expected to see some evidence of that recovery in this conservative ward of a conservative constituency.
Results underline two way nature of May 2016 Scottish election
These results are a bit of a bell weather in underlining the fact that there is only one effective vote on 5th May for an opposition to hold the all-powerful SNP to account at Holyrood.
Giving Regional List votes to either of Labour or the Liberal Democrats is a pointless exercise since both parties are certain to lose vote share in the coming Scottish Election.
Only the Conservatives have the chance of gaining and making sense of the position of delivering the coherent and focused opposition to the uber-dominant party of government that democracy itself requires.
For Argyll has suggested that – with all pro-independence voters rightly giving both votes to the SNP, pro-Union voters should give their Constituency vote to the representative of whichever is their personal party preference; and, regardless of that party preference, give their Regional List vote to the Conservatives.
Shelling regional list votes like confetti around the contenders can only see a hugely powerful SNP with no single strong opposition to rein in its excesses.
No voter seeing themselves on the side of democracy can consider helping such a scenario to come about.
The outcome of the Regional List vote in this coming election will be the litmus test to determine if democracy in Scotland is alive or has been terminally abandoned – and if the Scottish electorate understands the issue and is mature enough to act upon that understanding.
Scottish Conservative Leader’s reaction to by-election outcome
Ruth Davidson, who has proved to be a leader with sound judgment and no little verve says of the Almond % Earn ward by election:: ‘This is a great result and all credit to our team on the ground who worked hard to deliver our message.
‘This is just the latest in a string of by-elections where our vote has increased significantly.
‘People across Scotland recognise that we need a strong opposition and the Scottish Conservatives are best placed to provide it.
‘Voters know that we will hold the SNP to account, look after family finances and always stand up for Scotland’s place in the UK.
‘We are heading for our best ever Holyrood result in May and this victory over the SNP in Almond and Earn shows just how special an election this could be.’