Dunfermline, the last byelection

DunfermlineYou may think it’s a bit premature to dub Dunfermline “the last byelection” when there’s 11 months to go to the independence referendum and 73 MSPs on the wall. (Yes, there are 129 MSPs, but when a Regional MSP falls off the wall, he, she, or it is replaced by the next-senior name on the party list.)

Every time there is a Scottish byelection between now and next September, there will be the same drama. Only more so. And every time, the byelection will be dubbed “the last“, and deep significance found in the results.

The results were:

  1. Cara Hilton (Scottish Labour) – 10,275.
  2. Shirley-Anne Somerville (SNP) – 7,402.
  3. Susan Leslie (Scottish Liberal Democrats) – 2,852.
  4. James Reekie (Scottish Conservatives) – 2,009.
  5. Peter Adams (UKIP) – 908.
  6. Zara Kitson (Scottish Green) – 593.
  7. John Black (Independent) – 161.

Cara HiltonSo there are now 38 Scottish Labour MSPs in the Parliament instead of 37, and there are 46 women out of 129. 24,200 registered voters in Dunfermline went to the ballot box and picked a candidate. Those are the only significant changes between 23rd and 25th October 2013, and strive though the pundits may, I see no significance – deep or otherwise – for the independence referendum in these facts.

Dunfermline went SNP in 2007 and 2011, but by a very narrow margin of victory, and Labour came a close second.

[Nope: Labour came a close second in 2007 and in 2011, but in 2007 the winning MSP was the Liberal Democrat, Jim Tolson: Dunfermline, which I ought to have remembered, was among the constituencies whose voters did a perfect swing from voting Liberal Democrat to voting SNP – 13.5% loss of the LD vote, 13.5% gain of the SNP vote, and that boosted SNP just ahead of Labour.]

The SNP were unlikely to win this byelection for several reasons:

  • They’re in government. Byelections generally go against the government.
  • Bill Walker was a horrifying mess of an MSP, and he was the SNP choice in 2011. In 2008, documentation was handed into Nicola Sturgeon’s parliamentary office, showing Bill Walker, then a newly-elected SNP councillor, was guilty of domestic abuse. Nicola Sturgeon claims she was never made aware of this. My guess would be that whoever read the documentation decided that the matter was never likely come up in court and was not important enough for the SNP to intervene at a local level. For this reason if for no other, the SNP deserved to lose Dunfermline.
  • Shirley-Anne Somerville [Deleted, and apologies to Shirley-Anne: I’d associated her with Edinburgh since well before 2007, and didn’t know she lived in Fife.]

It’s disappointing that Zara Kitson for the Scottish Greens got only 593 votes. It’s despicable that as many as 908 people wanted to vote UKIP. It’s predictable, really, that out of 24,000+ voters, a couple of thousand apiece would vote Tory or vote LibDem. It’s to be hoped that the next time there’s a byelection these results are not used to justify – as before Dunfermline – sidelining and ignoring the Scottish Green candidate.

Another interesting aspect of this election is dynastic politics: Cara Hilton is the daughter of Cathy Peattie, the former Labour MSP for Falkirk East from 1999 to 2011.

Although the terms of the referendum agreement say that it’ll be based on a count of those who voted, avoiding the rubbish tricks of 1979 where majority-vote was interpreted to mean majority of the electorate – still, if the turnout is as low as 42% in the referendum, and if Yes scrapes a bare win on that 42%, that will amount to 21% of the population deciding Scotland should be independent. Granted that those who don’t show up to the ballot box don’t get their views counted, still: it would be a bad way to begin.

Apathy wordcloudOver 32,000 voters in Dunfermline were not interested enough to vote. The real winner by a huge majority was apathy. And if that’s what wins in the referendum, it will matter.

Fiona Menzies - who won in Dunfermline

  1. None of them – 32,540.
  2. Cara Hilton (Scottish Labour) – 10,275.
  3. Shirley-Anne Somerville (SNP) – 7,402.
  4. Susan Leslie (Scottish Liberal Democrats) – 2,852.
  5. James Reekie (Scottish Conservatives) – 2,009.
  6. Peter Adams (UKIP) – 908.
  7. Zara Kitson (Scottish Green) – 593.
  8. John Black (Independent) – 161.


Filed under Elections, Scottish Politics

3 responses to “Dunfermline, the last byelection

  1. Correction – Dunfermline was won by the Liberal Democrats in 2007.

  2. Apathy and non-voting seems to have been the big problem across the UK, and increasing since the early 70s. Successively lower proportions of electors have been turning out to vote for the “winners” of every election since 1974, even supposed landslides. What sort of legitimacy can there be for a government that’s got less support than the sofa and the TV remote?

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