12 October 2013

Notes on Govan...

Long-term readers may recall the obsessive twinge which consumed this blog in May 2012.  The spring elections of that year represented only the second time Scotland has gone to the polls to elect its local authorities using the Single Transferable Vote system.

Stuff to conjure with? For many of you, probably not, but for this tragic soul, unpicking how the process worked, how it allocated seats in multi-member council wards, and how voters transferred their support across parties, was marvellous if wonky stuff.  You can still find the fruits of these labours in the sidebar, with a breakdown of how seats were allocated in every Glasgow ward, aiming to show you which races in the city were close and which foregone conclusions.  

One of those wards was Glasgow Govan, which went to the polls in a by-election this week, after the death of Allison Hunter, the long-standing SNP cooncillor in the ward. Labour's John Kane beat the SNP's Helen Walker, winning 2,055 first preferences to Helen's 1,424.  In 2012, Govan was one of the city's most interesting races. The by-election, by contrast, was essentially resolved on first preferences.

In 2012, while Allison and Labour's James Adams comfortably exceeded the threshold on first preferences, the battle for the third seat was a close-fought ruck. The race was complicated by a couple of factors. Firstly, the SNP optimistically fielded three candidates in the ward rather than two, diluting their vote. Labour faced its own difficulties, fending off a "Glasgow First" insurrection composed of deselected former. Labour councillors. In the final allocation, Stephen Dornan ran the second Labour candidate close, eclipsing the SNP's Jonathan Mackie in the twelfth round but falling behind the second Labour candidate, who took the second of the ward's three seats. 

With Allison's untimely demise, a Govan by-election was always going to be a difficult win for the Nats. While the SNP enjoyed a very narrow lead over Labour in total first preferences in 2012, it's important to take a couple of factors into account when considering (understandably cheery) Labour boasts about a whopping great by-election swing their way. If you take Gordon Matheson's word for it, this result represents a stonking, unanticipated win for Labour.  As is often the case, the reality is more prosaic and the People's Party had a couple of important cards in its hands here.

Firstly, in 2012, the leading Labour candidate took the most first preferences of any candidate: 1,727 to Allison's 1,460.  STV elections in multi-member wards are different from an STV election for a single seat, particularly in a ward like Govan, overwhelmingly dominated by two parties, with a tiny knot of alternatives trailing way behind the leading candidates. The number of available transfers are unlikely to disturb the outcome in the first round, unless it is very close, particularly on a low turnout.  Secondly, it's also important to take the impact of 2012's Glasgow First rebellion into account. A full 15% of the Govan electorate supported their former but deselected Labour representatives in 2012, to the official candidates' total of 32%. 

From the looks of this week's result (albeit on a much lower turnout), the Glasgow First folk at least have "come home to Labour".  Let's look at those first preferences again, for this week's poll:

A few other entertaining notes: James Trolland, the Scottish Democratic Alliance candidate, received a single, solitary vote in the Govan by-election. Just the one, which transferred to the Nats. The Liberal Democrats were outpolled by UKIP, a somewhat eccentric secessionist from the separatist cause, Tories, Greens - and the third-placed anti-Bedroom tax campaigner. Having attracted nineteen first preferences, some solitary supporter of the Tartan-BNP in the ward - the schismatic outfit, Britannia - actually thought the Greens next best represented their aspiration for an ethnically monochrome but ecologically sensitive Scotland.  The mind boggles.

And what does the Govan result tell us about the independence referendum, or the approaching Dunfermline by-election? 

Bugger all.


  1. Dear Sir

    I think you seem to have missed out a few facts about me.

    I was subject to a smear campaign while an SNP member.

    This was reported to SNP HQ and they covered it up.

    Therefore your claim of me being "eccentric" is malicious.

    Also, there was a hate campaign run against me during my election campaign which no other candidate endured.

    That is under Police Scotland investigation.

    I would be grateful if you would remove the link to my blog.

    Yours sincerely

    George Laird

    1. Dear Mr Laird,

      Many thanks for your correspondence. The one thing that it does not radiate is eccentricity, of whatever intensity. Seen as you feel strongly about it, I'll update the post.

      Yours sincerely, etc

  2. Commiserations on the above comment, Andrew.

    Now, how about turning your psephological expertise to Tweeddale West, which was on paper the LibDems' for the taking, but where the Conservative actually achieved something of a landslide?

    1. Thanks for the pointer, Rolfe. In point of fact, you're the second person to mention that it might be of interest to take a closer look at the Borders result. If I have time, I'll do so tomorrow.

    2. Looks like swings against the two governing parties towards the opposition. You take it from there Mr Worrier.

    3. Good analysis here: http://ianssmart.blogspot.co.uk/2013/10/an-interesting-by-election.html

    4. I don't think much of the analysis. Unlike Smart, I was actually there.

      The interesting story is why the LibDems did so poorly to the benefit of the Tories. These were the only two parties with any serious chance of winning, and so were the only ones who put serious effort into the campaign. Everybody else put out one leaflet (or none, in some cases).

      The Tories absolutely love-bombed the ward. Half-a-dozen leaflets I think, including some personalised to individual streets. Every little district was promised that its problems would be solved by the dynamic new councillor. He held surgeries all over the ward in the weeks before the election, and toured the place in the company of David Mundell.

      The LibDems also tried their level best, but their candidate was an older lady who had fought a number of elections before (as second candidate) and attracted little support. They also made fewer specific promises - even though they are actually in the controlling group, unlike the Tories.

      The local vibe is that this was won on purely local issues, with people succumbing to promises to fix potholes and so on. National politics don't seem to have been on the radar. Insofar as national politics was a factor, the two points I noted are first that this is quite a Tory area anyway, having the only Tory MP in Scotland, and second that the behaviour of the LibDems in Westminster suggests you might as well vote Tory as LibDem.

      Overall, though, this council by-election isn't the place to look if you want any information relevant to either national politics or the referendum.

    5. So the Tories ran an energetic campaign. That does not negate Iain Smart's basic point which is that, given the uselessness of the Scottish Tories in traditionally Tory areas, they support the SNP as an anti-Labour vote.

      It's pretty obvious: the Nat vote has gone up as, and in Tory areas, the Tory vote has collapsed. And so many Nat policies are stolen from the Conservatives for that reason.

      But as the referendum gets closer they shrink from supporting separation.

    6. Frankly, I doubt if more than a tiny minority even knew which parties were in power in the council when they voted, let alone thought about national policies. Nobody was voting for or against independence last week - though I agree, this is one of the less fertile areas for the independence campaign and always has been.

    7. They may not have been voting for or against "independence", but if there is to be any chance of a Yes vote in the referendum the SNP has to be doing better in polls and by-elections now. Perhaps not leading or winning but at least increasing their share of the vote and showing that at least some voters were being attracted toward their position.

      That the Nats are not leading/winning or increasing their vote is more significant in terms of the possible referendum outcome than any detailed analysis of the nuances or the results in particular wards.

    8. You just go right on telling yourself that.

  3. The by-election was called because the Conservative councillor in the three-seat ward resigned, having discovered he didn't have time to do the job after all. The LibDems, who topped the poll last time and who had in fact fielded two candidates at the 2012 election, thought it was Christmas. They put up their defeated second candidate from the previous run.

    The Tories were absolutely furious with the resigning councillor, thinking this was likely to cause them the loss of a seat which should, proportionally speaking, have been theirs.

    Both lots put out a lot of literature, with the Tory love-bombing the ward with promises to fix potholes and so on. (The Tories are in opposition.) He held "surgeries" in the weeks before the election, and went all over the place glad-handing people in the company of David Mundell. Latterly, leaflets were circulated which were personalised to indicate he really, really cared about the problems in every individual street.

    I was fairly surprised at the sheer size of the Tory majority - 45% of the first-preference votes to 25% for the LibDem. I think some people believed the leaflets, but then the LibDems were putting out a lot of up-beat leaflets too.

    1. Sorry, that was meant to be added to the previous thread!

  4. Anyway, STV is a lousy system. Especially for by-elections. Paradoxically, justice done in Tweeddale West but not in Govan.

  5. Thank you again LPW - an asborbing break down.

    I notice that some of the nationalists are going on about how the 20% turnout means the result tells us sod all; this of course echoes some of the Labour reaction to the SNP win in Hillhead two years ago - when the turnout was 14% (I was one of the voters) - and if you are a nationalist Hillhead was a fine victory of course, so unlike this Labour victory.

    Some thoughts:

    - Ukip just outpolled the Greens - I realise I am boring about this, but the decline of the Scottish Greens is odd. Policy absorption by the bigger parties cant really explain it, as Greens are not becoming extinct elsewhere.

    Solidarity 1% - obviously a couple of grannies in Govan

    - SSP - why absent? Perhaps they all voted for Mr Laird (that's a joke Mr Laird).

    - is the Scottish electorate unusual in Europe in not voting for radical parties of the left and right?

    Thanks for the Tweeddale West pointer Rolfe, very interesting that.