One by-election on 26th January 2017, an SNP defence in Scotland:


East Ayrshire council; caused by the death of Scottish National Party councillor James Buchanan at the age of 63. A printer, Buchanan had a long and varied political career; he had been a Labour member of the now-abolished Kilmarnock and Loudoun district council, founded the Ayrshire branch of the Scottish Socialist Party, and ended up in the SNP where had been an East Ayrshire councillor since 2007 and served in the council’s cabinet with the economy and skills portfolio.

For January’s Scottish by-election we are in the town of Kilmarnock. The birthplace of Johnnie Walker and Biffy Clyro, Kilmarnock is Ayrshire’s second-largest town and came to prominence in the Industrial Revolution with a varied industrial base: Andrew Barclay and Sons (now part of Wabtec) have made railway locomotives here since 1837, while Glenfield Valves can also trace their roots back to the nineteenth century, but defunct industries here include textiles (the RMS Titanic’s carpets came from Kilmarnock) and Johnnie Walker, with whisky production moved out of town in 2012.

The East and Hurlford ward runs east from the town centre (which gets a very poor write-up) along the London Road past the East Ayrshire council offices and the Kilmarnock Academy, the only school in Scotland to educate two Nobel laureates: the penicillin pioneer Alexander Fleming and the nutritionist and first Director-General of the UN FAO, Lord Boyd-Orr. Also within the ward is the Dick Institute, Ayrshire’s most prominent art gallery and the town’s central library. To the north of the ward lies New Farm Loch, a large 1960s housing estate, while across the A77 bypass – which with the completion of the M77 motorway links the ward to Glasgow in just 20 minutes – lie the industrial village of Hurlford and the smaller Crookedholm.

Ten years ago, Kilmarnock symbolised the failure of the SNP to break through in central Scotland: it was the strongest industrial SNP constituency at the time, but the Nationalist vote was so evenly spread they were still a very long way behind Labour in the 2005 general election. The 2007 Scottish elections changed all that, as the SNP gained the Kilmarnock and Loudoun seat at Holyrood and also took over control of East Ayrshire council. The 2007 East Ayrshire council election saw Labour and the SNP tie in terms of seats, and that was reflected in Kilmarnock East and Hurlford ward whose four seats split 2-2; first preferences in 2007 were 45-40 for Labour, but the SNP took the lead in 2012 by 47-46. That 2012 election saw the SNP and Labour slates opposed only by the Conservatives and, unusually, all four councillors were elected on first preferences alone with no need to go to transfers.

With this by-election, the 2012 local elections finally pass into psephological history. There are less than four months to go now to the 2017 local elections in Scotland and Wales, and this will be the last Scottish local by-election before then. It’s also the last time your columnist will have to stress that the major shift in Scottish public opinion since the 2014 independence referendum may mean that the 2012 result may not be that useful a guide. With this in mind, both the major parties will be looking to make a good impression in advance of what is likely to be a hard-fought May poll in East Ayrshire – and a loss here for the SNP might cause some instability going into the ordinary elections given that the council’s ruling SNP-Tory coalition controls only 17 out of 32 seats.

Defending for the SNP is Fiona Campbell, vice-convenor of the party’s Loudoun branch. Labour have selected Dave Meechan, a Royal Navy veteran who fought Kilmarnock and Irvine Valley in last year’s Holyrood election. Completing the ballot paper are Jon Herd for the Conservatives and Stephen McNamara for the Libertarian Party.

Parliamentary constituency: Kilmarnock and Loudoun
Holyrood constituency: Kilmarnock and Irvine Valley

May 2012 first preferences SNP 2070 Lab 2038 C 326
May 2007 first preferences Lab 2925 SNP 2569 C 502 Ind 350 Solidarity 151

Andrew Teale blogs on local by-elections for Election Data and edits the Local Elections Archive Project. He tweets election- and quiz-related things at @andrewteale.