Cowdenbeath by-election and local election results

The Cowdenbeath by-election result is in. From The Courier:

Alex Rowley (Lab) 11,192 (share 55.79%, +9.33%)
Natalie McGarry (SNP) 5,704 (28.43%, -13.17%)
Dave Dempsey (C) 1,893 (9.44%, +2.45%)
Denise Baykal (UKIP) 610 (3.04%)
Jade Holden (LD) 425 (2.12%, -1.77%)
Stuart Graham (Victims) 187 (0.93%)
James Trolland (SDA) 51 (0.25%)

In a result that should surprise nobody, Labour scores a big win in its heartland on a pretty low turnout of 34%. We lost our deposit, which was also, to be honest, eminently predictable. Cowdenbeath is not what you would call the most fertile Liberal Democrat territory at even the best of times. We don’t have a local councillor there at the moment so the odds were against us. Being beaten by UKIP is never pleasant, but not as annoying as if they had saved their deposit.

There are always positives and in this case it’s the fact that a very talented young woman, Jade Holden, has had some national exposure. She’s performed very well in the television and radio debates and has been recognised as one to keep an eye on for the future. She has excelled in everything she’s been asked to do to the extent that the Scottish party Executive went out of its way last week to recognise her fantastic performance. She’s part of a new generation of extremely talented young people who will be running the party in 20 years time, a thought which fills us old timers with great comfort.

As far as the SNP were concerned, well, they couldn’t win this seat in their best election ever, in 2011. It would have been a particularly spectacular victory if they had pulled it off. However, they will be disappointed to have lost so much of their vote. A comparison with where they were in 2007 doesn’t really work because the boundaries have changed so much, but to have lost 13% since 2011 shows that the more they talk about independence, the less people like it.

Elsewhere there were two local by-elections that I have seen results for. The first, in Essex, was a very frustrating near miss in Southend. Christopher Bailey finished just 55 votes behind the Conservative, who held on to the seat. An 8.2% swing from Conservative to Liberal Democrat is good news, though. A UKIP vote, though, of almost 21%, is not.

The result in full:

Conservative 743 37.2% (-12.5%)

Chris Bailey (Liberal Democrat) 688 34.4% (+3.5%)

UKIP 418 20.9% (+14.9% since 2011)

Labour 149 7.5% (-1.7%)

There was no Liberal Democrat candidate in the Motherwell North ward of North Lanarkshire District Council which is not unusual for that part of the world. Labour won by a mile, with a whopping 68.2% of the vote, with a small swing from the SNP. UKIP were nowhere, finishing fourth behind the Conservatives. It goes to show that their message just isn’t resonating in Scotland.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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39 Comments

  • Cowdenbeath may well be a Labour heartland but that doesn’t help explain the big changes to the Lib Dem vote in the last three elections there does it Caron ?

    2007 – 3,739 votes 14.2%
    2011 – 997 votes 3.9%
    2014 – 425 votes 2.1%

  • You are right to say you had no chance in Cowdenbeath, but nevertheless your vote collapsed by ~40%. Coupled with the large decline in your vote in the Dunfermline by election last year I’d start to get very, very worried about what’s going to happen in 2015 in North East Fife now.

  • Paul In Twickenham 24th Jan '14 - 9:51am

    This is my comment from the story in LDV announcing this by-election 2 weeks ago : The saving grace for the Liberal Democrats is that since the previous election happened in 2011 and so post-dates the collapse in LD support, it’s possible to spin < 3% as inevitable for "not natural Lib Dem territory".

    Of course 2.12% is a huge collapse from the 14.2% that the Lib Dems got in the “notional” result for the constituency in 2009. And it’s worth noting that the Conservative vote increased by 2.4% from 2011, and if you add the UKIP and Conservative votes together (assuming most UKIP vote would have otherwise split to the Conservatives) it is pretty close to the Tory 2009 “notional” result.

    Finally, if the Lib Dem candidate was good (and I have no reason to doubt that she was) then what would the result have been with a mediocre candidate?

  • Laurence ScottMacka 24th Jan '14 - 10:19am

    There will not be a Liberal party in Scotland in 2015/16. This is because of Nick Clegg and tuition fees and also the Liberal Dems becoming the attack dogs of the Tories. Who thinks defending the bedroom Tax is a good idea. This is so hated in Scotland as it does not save any money and punishes the poor – not the Scottish way, that even the SNP and Labour are now meeting in Hollyrrod to completely abolish it. The Lib deems have broken my heart that they of all people are on the wrong side of this. Also on tuition fees the SNP have delivered on a fixed budget so it can be done and if Nick had made it a red line it would have happened instead of the stupid AV vote as Dave was desperate to get into power – more weakness on LD’s side. Now I have to watch Alistair Carmichael make up a daily lie about how Scotland is so rubbish that we could not run our own country , yet when I was in the party we used to dream of a Federation of the Isles with Southern Ireland and a Devo Max Scotland in a partnerships of equals. Bring back Charles Kennedy stop the hostility to the Yes side, leave the collation and apologies or die in Scotland.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 24th Jan '14 - 10:23am

    G, you clearly know absolutely nothing about that part of the world. I do, and I’m not unduly worried about NE Fife. The right things are happening there.

    Sandy, in 2007, it was a totally different seat and part of it was represented by a Liberal Democrat MP, Willie Rennie so that would explain an unusually high vote for us.

  • Paul in Twickeham

    Finally, if the Lib Dem candidate was good (and I have no reason to doubt that she was) then what would the result have been with a mediocre candidate?

    All the candidates in that election that have appeared in the media have come off well, including the Lib Dem, and campaigning was civilised from all sides (as much as these things can be) to my perception.

    I’m afraid all the indications are that Scotland is now lost to the Lib Dems for at least the medium term. If North East Fife is lost, and I wouldn’t bet against it, then nobody other than Kennedy & Carmichael is likely to survive.

  • Well done Paul,you predicted not only the result but the spin that wold be put on the result.

    But this sort of thing is unfortunately what the party has got used to since December 2007. It has less to do with the coalition than the failure of leadership. How many parliamentary by elections has the party won under Nick Clegg other than Eastleigh?
    At least Caron did not say that in comparison Glasgow North East in November 2009 was worse, our candidate there came sixth behind Lab, SNP, Con, BNP and Solidarity.
    But I guess it is a “generational thing”, the party now has a generation of people who neither know or care about winning elections. Why should they do all that hard work when they can get a well paid comfortable job as a special advisor instead? We were told at the beginning of the coalition that there would be difficult decisions but that eventually the economy would come right and then voters would flock back to support the party out of gratitude for the wonderful work we had done in government. But today we have the dual headlines of some of our people in government claiming we have “turned the corner” on the economy whilst we reap disaster in elections. Perhaps one of the uber-loyalists in the party might explain why from their point of view everything at the moment is going so splendidly this week ?

  • Paul in Twickenham 24th Jan '14 - 10:40am

    Caron – you comment that in Motherwell UKIP got nowhere showing that their message doesn’t resonate with the Scottish people. It would seem that their vote share was about 4%. What do we extrapolate from a 2% share for the Lib Dems in Cowdenbeath?

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 24th Jan '14 - 10:49am

    My guess, Paul, is to point you in the direction of the expense returns when they come in. I expect they spent more than we did.

    And my comparison was with UKIP south of the border. They are simply nowhere in Scotland.

  • Mark Smulian 24th Jan '14 - 10:50am

    I know nothing about Cowdenbeath, but the Southend result is pretty good.
    This ward is the area where I grew up and it’s usually deep blue, with rare Lib Dem/ Liberal victories in only the very worst years for past Tory governments.
    However, because it was for a long time combined in a larger ward with an adjacent area that is strongly Lib Dem, West Leigh has been consistently worked for decades and this result shows the fruits of that even in difficult times.
    It also shows what the Ukip effect might be in coming third but splitting Tory votes.

  • Caron

    G, you clearly know absolutely nothing about that part of the world. I do, and I’m not unduly worried about NE Fife. The right things are happening there.

    I do. I’d be worried about the student vote and the anti-tory vote in NE Fife. I’d be worried whether the historically high anti-Labour vote will be higher than these. I’d also worry about there being no incumbency effect to fall back on, and no sign of any nationally recognised candidate available to stand there. If you go for a relative unknown with no public profile then you are essentially relying on a core Lib Dem vote. Do you really think NE Fife is a fertile Lib Dem pasture surrounded by a barren Labour hinterland?

  • Paul Westlake 24th Jan '14 - 12:22pm

    Good result in Southend. None of the voters I phoned complained about our record in government or Chris Rennard.

  • This seems a fairer write-up to me: http://www.dailyrecord.co.uk/news/politics/torcuil-crichton-lib-dems-existence-3056434

    Let’s not find positives where there are none; this was a humiliation. And if our candidate was as good as Caron says, how would we have done with a lousy one?

    It does seem that the Englisn and Welsh parties are more successful at campaigning on achievements in Government than the Scottish party, and I hope Caron’s comments about NE Fife are more than just bluster. Given the number of seats we hold, I also hope the Scottish party are lobbying Westminster for what is needed there to get our edge back north of the border.

  • Is it true that Nick Clegg said no to a request to visit the Cowdenbeath byelection ?
    Poor Nick did not hear properly and thought they said please come and help Alan Beith.

  • tpfkar

    It does seem that the Englisn and Welsh parties are more successful at campaigning on achievements in Government than the Scottish party, and I hope Caron’s comments about NE Fife are more than just bluster. Given the number of seats we hold, I also hope the Scottish party are lobbying Westminster for what is needed there to get our edge back north of the border.

    Nothing will help. The day Nick and Dave stood side by side in the Rose garden was the day the Lib Dems in Scotland started to die.

    Remember, the Scottish Lib Dems are a former member of a left wing government. They present themselves as a centre-left, liberal alternative to Labour. Many of their MPs are elected by an anti-tory vote in areas where Labour and the SNP have no chance. Smelling of Tory, as they now do, is a certain vote killer.

    It also hasn’t helped to put Danny Alexander into government. He’s obviously Scottish, and obviously favourable to working with Tories, people are drawing conclusions about the rest of the party.

    What might save at least some Scottish Lib Dem seats is Charles Kennedy leading a coup against Clegg and the Lib Dems withdrawing from, then disowning, the Coalition.

    We all know that isn’t realistically going to happen.

  • paul barker 24th Jan '14 - 3:59pm

    I had a quick look at all the Locals over the last 5 weeks, looking at changes in Vote shares. Ignoring the one obvious outlier where our vote rose by 26% the median fall was 6% & the average 3%. So far so gloomy & what you would expect foe a Government Party in a recession.
    But Labour, the main Opposition saw their vote share fall by 7.5% (median) or 5% (average). They have the reasonable excuse of increased competition from UKIP etc but that applies to all Parties & their vote is still falling more than ours. That seem like a hopeful sign to me.

  • g – like Caron, I know North East Fife (I grew up there) and I’m not unduly worried about it. I also know Cowdenbeath – I was the candidate there in 2011 – and I’m not surprised by the result.

    Looking at the by-election first, when I was elected as the Rosyth councillor in 2007 we had a lot of things going for us – Willie Rennie was a popular, hard-working MP elected in the by-election a few months before and had left a clear mark – the seat then (as Dunfermline East) was very different and contained a large chunk of voters who had recently (and in some cases, consistently) voted Liberal Democrat. Jim Tolson, a Dunfermline councillor, was elected at the same time as the Dunfermline MSP. So the Cowdenbeath vote was shored up by the hard work that Willie, the late Dave Herbert (as councillor for Dalgety Bay) and myself put in at the 2007 election in the two riverside wards. By 2011, I had taken the decision to stand down as a councillor for family reasons, Dave was in very poor health, and resources were low after the 2010 election and attempting to defend the Dunfermline seat. I would have liked to have made it into four figures and saved the deposit in 2011, but the wave of support moving to the SNP was huge (Helen Eadie herself, and a few of her Labour comrades, were certain they had lost the seat based on the early box counts – from what I recall, it was actually an SNP councillor who told her she was going to win.) Historically, the result always has been in the region of 6 or 7 % of the vote, so given the political conditions just now then it’s a result I would expect.

    As for North East Fife, I don’t quite know what “g” means about ‘lost’. OK, so the Scottish seat went to the SNP in 2011 – but that was part of the overall swing to the SNP that they didn’t expect. In terms of manpower, there’s no real sign that they have built on this since then, despite picking up a few councillors – at the expense of the Tories as much as the Lib Dems. Additionally, the people there are well accustomed to campaigning and know what to do to win an election in adversity, so like Caron I’m pretty sure that we’ll hold it (though I’m not saying it won’t be tight.)

  • Keith Legg

    I suppose we’ll have to agree to differ on this and revisit it in 2015. However, i will say if you think NE Fife will be ‘tight’ then you really should be worrying about elsewhere given that Ming got twice as many votes as the nearest challenger!

  • tpfkar – I’d never quote anything from the Daily Record as politically fair – it’s so biased towards Labour that it even told people to vote for Gordon Brown….

    Frankly, the mountain we have to climb in seats like Cowdenbeath is much higher than it would be in similar English seats, mainly because of our association with the Tories, who are still as popular as mud. I’m pretty sure though that, had we been in coalition with Labour, the situation would be reversed.

  • ….and just before anyone says it, the Tories’ candidate in Cowdenbeath was the councillor for Dalgety Bay and Inverkeithing, part of the constituency, who is (in my view) actually well respected in the area despite being a Tory!

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 24th Jan '14 - 5:25pm

    Caractacus, I think you might need to compare campaign budgets in Cowdenbeath and the other seats you mention to find your answer.

  • g
    It also hasn’t helped to put Danny Alexander into government. He’s obviously Scottish, and obviously favourable to working with Tories, people are drawing conclusions about the rest of the party.

    You have to feel sorry for Danny Alexnder . He got the job as Clegg’s bag carrier in opposition perhaps because there were not too many volunteers amongst the MPs at te time. Poor Danny was thus sent to the talks on the Coalition Agreement to be Clegg’s eyes and ears (or so we were told at the time). He was then ‘rewarded’ with the job of SofS for Scotland, which as LibDems in Scotland said before 2010 is a Non-job since there is a Scottish Parliament nd a First Minister. Danny could have done a non-job but because of Laws’ little indiscretion Danny was pitched into The Treasury to be the oily rag to Gideon Osborn’s engineer.
    Let’s be honest, if anyone had asked any Lib Dem MP before May 2010 what would be the best job for Danny Alexander in a coalition Government, who would have said The Treasury ? Not even Danny himself. But there he is the most prominent Scot in the Government. Take that with the party’s decision to line up behind the Unionist parties in the referendum and why would any voter north of the border want to vote for us?

  • The fact that I, a party member, didn’t know this by election was on I think gives an indication of how much it has impinged on the national consciousness.

    Labour drone weighs vote in Scottish constituency. Move along, nothing to see …

  • Tabman, are you calling me a labour drone? I’ll have you know I’ve voted Lib Dem not a million miles away from Cowdenbeath before… more than once too.

  • Caracatus has hit the nail on the head. If the party that says it is Liberal has nothing to say in Cowdenbeath then it deserves a tiny vote.

  • “I don’t mind fighting for Liberalism and losing, what I find difficult is not fighting for Liberalism.”

    And still losing.

  • Caracatus 24th Jan ’14 – 7:03pm
    I don’t mind fighting for Liberalism and losing, what I find difficult is not fighting for Liberalism.

    Well put! The party’s message this week — vote Liberal Democrat and the party leader will suspend people from the party and apologise profusely from the fleshpots of Davos, where his parents own a mansion. I don’t know much about Cowdenbeath but I am guessing that is not a winner up there.

  • Time to face reality.
    It was a dreadful result for the LibDems.
    As for UKIP, other than a single leaflet they did little and the chat amongst their ‘team’ at the count was “I don’t know what I’m doing, it’s a complete shambles”
    Votes have been disappearing in Scotlamd since 2003. Numbers of Cllrs and MSP’s have collapsed.
    The result was not helped by a non existent LD campaign.
    The party had 2 Cllrs in the area up to 2012.
    The Labour/Hard Left vote in 2012 in the 5 Wards comprising the constituency was 60% and the SNP 29%. So it was a case of no change.
    As for NEF, the Tories have targeted it. 3/4 Cllrs in St Andrews, only 1 now and Labour got a foothold with a Cllr there.
    The SNP hold the equivalent Holyrood seat.
    Be afraid, be very afraid.

  • No, g, I think Tabman was saying that the Labour candidate was the drone, and that the Labour vote is weighed there anyway, not counted, so it was not expected to deliver anything for the Lib Dems. He’s trying to tell us all not to fuss about the result!

  • Tim 13 – exactamundo!

  • Just a quick line to thank Keith Legg for his reply and local insight, much appreciated!

  • Liberal Neil 25th Jan '14 - 8:52am

    Well done Jade and well done team Southend.

  • Mack (Not a Lib Dem) 25th Jan '14 - 1:38pm

    So, Labour’s share of the vote increased by 9.33%. Slightly above the Labour poll averages. If such a comparable swing pertains in 2015 the Liberal Democrats can say farewell to the possibility of another hung parliament on which to piggy back into power. Good.

  • I hope that someone might encourage Jade by passing on the details of Sir Graham Watson’s first by-election campaign, at a very young age, in a part of Glasgow where I think the Scottish Liberal Party had decided not to stand and the Scottish Young Liberals overruled them (!). It was a record low vote at the time I believe… But look what he’s done since

  • Simon Banks 27th Jan '14 - 8:09pm

    The Cowdenbeath result is awful – the Southend one pretty good. I’m no expert on NE Fife, but in the past we have dropped a lot of votes often when a well-established MP stood down – instance Brecon & Radnor and Cheltenham: in both cases when at the next alection the new MP had a record of achievement, our vote shot up again. So there is a danger point at the first election with a new name.

    As for the future in Scotland, a party does not die as long as it has activists determined to fight. The entire party has been written off in the past because commentators didn’t understand this. Moreover, while I suspect we will take more of a hit in Scotland next time than in England or Wales, polls never adequately reflect the pulling power of a popular local MP, so others like Michael Moore and John Thurso may well outperform enough to win.

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