Today's City Centre ward by-election in Edinburgh resulted in a narrow win by the SNP over the Conservatives - which went down to the wire. In the end, neither candidate achieved the quota of just over 1700 votes after all votes had been transferred. Conservative candidate Iain McGill will feel his opposition to AV was entirely justified after he led all the way until the final stage. It was always unlikely that Labour voters would transfer in sufficient quantities to keep him - although I was surprised at the number that did.
The results in full were as follows:
First Preference Votes
John Carson (anti trams Independent) 394
Karen Doran (Labour) 682
Alastair Hodgson (Lib Dem) 251
Melanie Main (Green) 494
Iain McGill (Conservative) 837
Alastair Rankin (SNP) 797
Stage 2 - Hodgson eliminated
Carson + 8 402
Doran + 34 716
Main +82 576
McGill +67 904
Rankin +28 825
Bearing in mind that we were probably down to our core vote, it's interesting how few of our votes transferred to the SNP, our coalition partners in Edinburgh. Much more transferred to Iain McGill - but he is fairly well known and popular, having stood for the Scottish Parliament, and been beaten into 4th place by Alex Cole-Hamilton in Edinburgh Central in May. I have a lot of time for him having spent a couple of hours on Callum Leslie's university radio show during the campaign.
Stage 3 Carson eliminated
Doran +29 745
Main +59 635
McGill +139 1043
Rankin +68 893
I don't really get the logic of voting for an anti trams candidate and transferring to the pro trams Green, but never mind. Iain McGill was the clear winner of this stage, but the writing was on the wall as even he didn't expect many transfers from the Greens and Labour.
Stage 4 Main eliminated
Doran +223 968
McGill +67 1110
Rankin +188 1081
Labour were the main beneficiary - but the SNP were hot on their heels
Stage 5 Doran eliminated
McGill +154 1264
Rankin +287 1368
More than a third of the Labour vote didn't transfer at all.
So, what does this tell us?
Actually, very little that we can extrapolate for the future. The turnout was tiny, only 23.4%, something which was perhaps inevitable given that the by-election was held in the middle of Edinburgh in the middle of the Festival.
But you would think that Labour would have done better. They ran the city until 4 years ago - although they did leave it in an almighty financial bourach (sound familiar?), as Liberal Democrat Council leader Jenny Dawe wrote on Liberal Democrat Voice last year. The people clearly aren't yet ready to trust them with their Council Tax or the keys to the City Chambers and they remain in the doldrums.
The Tories did well in part due to a campaign to win over postal voters. On a low turnout, that maybe over-inflated their final result.
But I have to really address what's happening with us. How come our coalition partners, who in many ways have been nothing but a pain, particularly over the trams, win and we come bottom? How come they are taking all the credit and none of the responsibility? They've whinged and moaned and been a total nightmare over the beleaguered trams project while our people have done all the hard work to sort it out. Clearly a majority of people voted for administration parties, so there's not widespread disgruntlement with it.
While the SNP have been shooting their mouths off for years, and the opposition have been heaping hyperbole and bile on the administration in much the same way as we've seen from Labour at Westminster, the Liberal Democrat councillors have kept their heads down and worked hard to improve life in the city. From Jenny Dawe's article I linked to earlier:
We tackled the dire budget situation with a “budget grip” exercise to ensure all Directors were properly controlling and monitoring departmental spend, made record efficiency savings and have restored reserves each year.
We have reinvigorated the economic development of the city; made the case to the Scottish Government for a Capital City Supplement grant; have set up an Economic Action Resilience Network to help alleviate the impact of the recession; and are about to start a pilot Tax Increment Finance scheme to kick-start our Waterfront development.
We have transformed care for the elderly and vulnerable with three new care homes and fourth underway but, most importantly, with our Re-ablement Scheme, which maximises the capability, dignity and independence of those who need care at home.
We have improved opportunities for our children, upping levels of attainment in schools, and taken tough decisions to close primary schools to give better schooling to more children.
We have started the first council house building for decades; and the inspection by the Scottish Housing Regulator in March 2010 awarded us “AAB” grading, the best in Scotland to date.
Despite hysterical critics (including our coalition partners), and an extraordinarily difficult relationship with a contractor, we have held our nerve on progressing a tram system for Edinburgh to give us the sustainable, modern public transport we need in future years.
We have encouraged recycling to its highest ever rate, extended garden waste collection, and improved street cleanliness.
We have made Edinburgh safer through excellent partnership working with police and fire services.
Capital investment has delivered a fantastic Skate Park; 3 new parks; refurbished Victorian swimming baths with major work underway on the Royal Commonwealth Pool; completion of Usher Hall (major concert venue) works; and the start to two replacement secondary schools, an extension to the International Conference Centre and a new library and community hub.
Finally, we are delighted that our efforts have helped Edinburgh win a huge range of accolades over the last couple of years, including FDi magazine’s European “Best Small City of the Future” and “Best Small City for economic Potential”; Conde Nast’s Favourite UK city; Top Global Festival & Event City in its size category; UK’s Happiest City; Most Competitive Large City in the UK; UK’s Best Port of Call; and Top Must-See UK city.
So, that'll be more local democracy, better schools, more housing (and since then, as Paul Edie's blog shows), homelessness slashed and housing services much improved, better social care, more facilities, encouraging jobs and the economy and plenty accolades. You wouldn't think any of this by reading the local papers.
Jenny's article only scratches the surface - but how many people in Edinburgh know all of this? This result is the kick up the rear our lot need - they will have to become better at showcasing Council achievements and success stories which we are responsible for. They will also have to start strongly rebutting the nonsense the opposition put about. We've shown our values in what we've done in Edinburgh - more say for local people, better education to help them get up and get on, decent care for the most vulnerable. That's what we're about.
Our Councillors are fantastic people who have done excellent things, but they aren't reaping the electoral rewards because nobody knows about it. They have to step out from their desks and be more proactive about selling themselves. Faint heart never won fair voter - so they need to get out there, knocking on doors, round every fete and gala meeting as many people as possible. They need to be much more aggressive in their campaigning and they need to communicate better with their activists. If they can do all that, they can do really well in the Council elections next May.
|Alastair Hodgson and his campaign manager the effervescent Andrew Tibbs|
We may have come bottom of the poll today, but that's no reflection on our excellent candidate Alastair Hodgson and his hard working campaign team. In fact, as in every other by-election recently, we were picking up loads of second preferences, so people do still like us. Our challenge is to persuade more of them to like us enough to give us first preferences to keep us in the race.
Oh, and one anecdote from the Count - at 10am on Fridays, they test the fire alarm in the City Chambers. So we were expecting it to ring - but it kept on and on and on. Eventually the Returning Officer said we were going to have to evacuate the building. The thing is, she didn't tell us where the fire exits were. Normal visitors' passes to the City Chambers give you that information, but the count passes didn't. Most of the hardcore political activists didn't move after the counters left the room - the ballot papers were left lying on the tables and we were all making sure that nobody interfered with them. They clearly hadn't planned for such an eventuality as a fire during a count. Now, if there had been a real fire, the important thing is to get everyone out and if the election had to be re-run because the ballot had been compromised, so be it. It felt like longer, but it was probably only a few seconds before the bell stopped ringing and normality was restored. If it had been much longer, I think I would have left.
And one final picture - a lovely one of Alastair and his girlfriend Rebecca
So, Liberal Democrat Councillors in Edinburgh - get on with it. You know what you need to do to turn things around and make sure we hold and gain seats in May.