City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

Less Than A Quarter of Electorate Vote in Edinburgh By-election

By edg - Posted on 19 August 2011

Less than a quarter of the electorate turned out for yesterday's City Centre ward by-election. The seat was narrowly held by the SNP party candidate Alasdair Rankin.

A vote for any party other than the SNP or Liberal Democrats would have upset the balance of power at city council. Call it the Edinburgh Festival effect or that people are just plain fed up with politics, but the turn-out was disappointing low: only 3,466 of the 14,810 eligible voters cast a vote.

The voter turnout represents 23% of the vote, compared to a 50.8% turnout in the 2007 election. If the electorate is angry with Edinburgh city council, few are showing it at the ballot box.

The by-election, held following the resignation of the SNP's Councillor David Beckett, went to Rankin at the fifth and final stage of the Alternative Vote system. Rankin won 1368 votes compared to McGill's 1264 votes.

The Liberal Democrat's Alistair Hodgson was the first candidate to fall out of the running, beaten by independent newcomer John Carson who fought a campaign on a platform to stop the Edinburgh Trams project.

John Carson was knocked out in the second round, followed by the Green's Melanie Main, then Labour's Karen Doran, and finally Tory candidate Iain McGill.

First Preference votes

  • John Carson, Independent: 394 votes (11.4%)
  • Karen Doran, Scottish Labour Party: 682 votes (19.7%)
  • Alistair Hodgson, Scottish Liberal Democrats: 251 votes (7.3%)
  • Melanie Main, Scottish Green Party: 494 votes (14.3%)
  • Iain McGill, Scottish Conservative & Unionist: 837 votes (24.2%)
  • Alasdair Rankin, Scottish National Party (SNP): 797 votes (23.1%)

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The SNP emerged as the winners of the City Centre by-election having had a tight match with the Conservatives in the final round. But what has over-shadowed this election is the way that the City Council managed to leak the story that they had secured the support of contractors who had put in place the Dublin trams, Turner & Townsend, to take over from tie (Transport Initiatives Edinburgh) as the company to run and deliver the project. In addition there was the implication that funding had been found for this work.

To have had this story released on the morning of polling day must put a very serious question mark over the handling of this election by Sue Bruce as Returning Officer.   It has been reported that some candidates - particularly the Independent, John Carson - was told by rivals, "oh that seems as though your campaign was a waste of time".   But in the context of delivering a fair and  free vote, the release of this information was absolutely wrong and she made no attempt whatsoever to deny the reports or to stop the reports being circulated widely.   For many who are against this trams project this was a classic "dirty tricks" piece of deliberate misleading information which was released at a time which was  selected to damage any campaign that was anti-tram.   The reaction of the Electoral Commission will be interesting.

The ignominious exit of their candidate at the first count in the City Centre by-election must have been expected by the LibDems and their leader, Jenny Dawe.   However, what may not have been expected was the extraordinarily poor showing of their candidate, Alistair Hodgson, in picking up only 251 votes - a mere 7.3% of the first choice votes.   This will have sent warning bells ringing for all other LibDem Councillors and candidates who are contemplating the Local Authority elections in May next year.   With this showing it is time Jenny Dawe stood down; it is understood she is looking for a "safe" LibDem seat for when she does decide to stand down - I've news for you Jenny - there aren't any!

Why?   By then the LibDems will possibly have plunged the city into debt by some £231 million to pay for the hugely unpopular trams project, taking the overall cost, when interest repayments are included, to in excess of £1 billion.   The total repayments will amount to £459 million of which £228 million is interest - and all this is being done while attempts are being made to privatise and cut the cost of Council services.

Also this is not the final bill as there is no guarantee that the work to St Andrew Square can actually be completed for the sum borrowed.   The state of the fibre optic cables in Shandwick Place, for instance, is unknown and it is recognised that this is a major engineering challenge.   At the same time there is complete denial from the Council on pollution with the potential related medical and health court cases which do not seem to interest the Council one jot.   Talk of fiddling while Rome burned - this administration seems more than happy to fiddle the figures to get its pet project running.

The report does say that the £459 million cost of the 30 year loan is based on a higher than current borrowing rate of 5.1%. With commentators suggesting interest rates are more likely to go down than up and stay low for a long time, the estimate might turn out to be on the high side rather than the low side.