15 May 2012

Recounting Langside...

What a palaver.  Twelve days after the election, and eleven after the results were formally declared, today the voters of Langside ward in Glasgow will finally find out who their third councillor ought to be. The initial allocation saw one councillor apiece elected for the SNP, Labour and the Greens, but that calculation was based on a blunder, which left the contents of box 139, from Battlefield Primary School, uncounted.  The whole calculation will be rerun around 4.00 o'clock this afternoon.  But will it make any difference? According to the Returning Officer:
"The exact number of ballot papers in the box is not known at this time, however 385 papers were recorded as having been issued by the Presiding Officer at the Polling Station."

For argument's sake, take that 385 figure. What difference can it make? None to the first and second councillors allocated seats. Even without the contents of the overlooked ballot-box, both Susan Aitken (SNP) and Archie Graham (Labour) comfortably overshot the ward quota.  While the Langside quota will increase slightly with the addition of new votes (being calculated by the total number of votes cast ÷ the number of seats available in the ward + 1) and adding 1, this wouldn't be nearly enough to deprive either candidate of their first preference wins. Assuming that 385 ballots are added to the ward count, the quota will only increase from 1621 to 1717, well short of both Aitken and Graham's current level of support, even without the extra ballots in their favour we can expect to find in ballot box 139.  

By contrast, the Greens' Liam Hainey looks to be on a far shooglier peg.  As we saw in my earlier coverage, the race for Langside's third and final council seat was an exceedingly close run thing, with Hainey only edging out the SNP's Alex Hewetson in the seventh round of the allocation, and only just.  The margin of Hainey's victory was 1179.66035 votes to Hewetson's 1058.58476, the result of stronger Liberal Democrat transfers to the Greens on their elimination. With only an additional 385 votes in the mix, Greenies might be feeling very quietly confident about this 121 vote margin over the Nationalists. It may well be squeezed, but they need only be a single vote ahead of Hewetson in the last round of the calculation to keep their Langside win.  

What's more, unless Aitken's (SNP) support keeps pace with the increased quota, this will have a deleterious impact on the surplus she has to cascade across to her running mate, and so weaken his level of support in the vital six to eighth rounds of the allocation. It may well be, for example, that the Greens are able, Aitken's surplus cut, to outpoll Hewetson by the fifth or sixth count, rather than sneaking ahead in the seventh, confirming their leading position. But for this intra-party support from Aitken to Hewetson, the SNP weren't exactly raking in the transfers from eliminated Glasgow First, Anti-Cuts and Tory candidates in Langside in the early rounds. Alternatively, if Battlefield polling station proves an uncharacteristic hive of Nationalism, Aitken may enjoy an even greater surplus to transfer, so grinding down and imperilling that not-quite comfortable Green lead.

But since we're running counterfactuals, count six looks to be potentially important too.  Remember, in a round where nobody has attained the requisite quota for election, the lowest performing candidate is eliminated, whatever winning share of transfers they might have attracted had they subsequently remained in the race.  Now cast an eye back over the sixth round.  The Greens, Liberals and SNP are still in contention for the third seat.  Without the 385 additional ballots, the second SNP candidate leads the Green by 35 votes, and the Green the Liberal Democrat, Paul Coleshill, by 87 votes.  

Overcoming this lead may be a tall order for Coleshill, who was a sitting councillor in Langside going into this election, but if the Battlefield ballotbox contains an atypically robust Liberal Democrat vote, or even an increased Tory vote, more likely to transfer on to the Liberals than the Greens, it is just conceivable that the Liberals could close that gap, and the Greens could face elimination in the sixth round, rather than election in the eighth. The strong Liberal transfers which secured them the initial appearance of a win would all be as nought. 

It is all rank speculation, of course, but firmer answers - and hopefully a new charting for the ward - should emerge at some point this afternoon.  My tentative prophecy: the Green win confirmed.


  1. Interesting indeed - but bear in mind that of the 385 votes - many will fall out of the process before they can cause any damage. Assuming the labour candidate got broadly the same proportion (36%) that would take account of 138 of the uncounted votes with only 41 of his surplus transfering (and a third of these having no second preference). The Greens got twice as many Labour transfers as the SNP.

    Susan Aitken's share would account for a further 108 and unless there is a major increase in her share the transfers of her votes will amount to only around 12 more votes (most will go to Hewetson).

    I can't see these figures making much of an impact unless there was a majot landslide for the SNP AND the majority of SNP 1st preference votes in this station went to Hewetson.

    Now - hope that's clear...

  2. An issue I didn't touch on, but right you are.

    It'd be interesting to know too what sort of catchment the Battlefield polling station encompasses, and local knowledge about the electoral tastes of that part of town. Being at one remove from Glasgow, however, I'm exceedingly ill equipped to furnish that sort of information.

  3. I'm not sure of the exact boundaries but it would likely comprise mainly popular tenements & small terraced hooses in the historic heart of Langside - probably accommodating some of the young professional and well-heeled denizens of this esteemed ward. Presumably it won't stretch to the high flats near Mount Florida station which may be happier hunting grounds for labour (they would vote at Mo Flo school).

    Don't think there are any notable demographic anomalies in this area that would suggest major changes. I stick with my view that young Cllr Hainey will be tidying up his beard again come full-time. Or it might come down to a penalty shoot-out at nearby Hampden.

  4. I tend to agree. While the intellectual fun is mostly to be had in sketching curiosities of the electoral system, its allocations and perilous points for the Greens, all factors combined it seems most likely that Hainey will retain the Langside seat won a couple of weeks ago. Close though it may be, I'll be surprised if the Nationalists are able to snatch this one.

  5. I note we are proven correct! The GCC announcement states no further action will be taken. But presumably updated figures will be released for our ongoing cogitation - and so that the votes of the Battlefield 385 will not go unrecorded for posterity!

  6. Sage seers, we!

    No additional data on the Council website, I see. Will pop an email to the elections officer and see if I can get my paws on it.

  7. Good stuff; I'd like to see what the finished graph looks like. That graph is so clear I think all STV election results should be published in conjunction with a similar graph.

  8. Michael,

    It'd be an exceedingly good idea, actually and wouldn't even be terrifically difficult, if you got some cunning computer-savvy character to get a programme to do much of the work.