Falkirk Council: Conservatives find transfer votes hard to secure

Each of the first three seats to be declared on Friday during Falkirk Council’s elections count saw a Conservative loss – a heart-stopping moment for the party locally.

By Kirsty Paterson, Local Democracy Reporter
Monday, 9th May 2022, 5:48 pm
Updated Tuesday, 10th May 2022, 1:08 pm

They had defied expectations in 2017 to take seven seats on Falkirk Council and had hoped to build on that by persuading people that they were the only party with enough support to challenge the dominance of the SNP.

But as the 2022 results began to trickle in slowly, there was bad news for them as Lynn Munro in Bo’ness and Blackness, Nigel Harris in Denny and then David Grant in Bonnybridge and Larbert all lost their seats in quick succession.

Their problem was, however, not that their vote had collapsed – but that lots of people voted “anyone but the Tories”, which meant they didn’t pick up many second, third or even fourth votes from other parties.

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The five Conservative councillors elected to Falkirk Council.

In the single transferable voting system (STV) people mark their ballot paper in order of preference, but are under no obligation to use them all.

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Firstly, the winning candidate’s second preference votes are transferred, then the votes of those who have been knocked out.

In Bonnybridge and Larbert – where Independent Billy Buchanan topped the poll with no need for transfers – the incumbent Conservative, David Grant, got 1038 First Preference votes, just ahead of Scottish Labour’s Jack Redmond on 993.

The SNP’s Bryan Deakin, on 1212 FPv, picked up enough to be elected at the fourth stage.

By the sixth round of counting, Mr Redmond – a 26-year-old joinery lecturer – picked up enough transfers to move ahead of Mr Grant and reclaim the seat for Labour.

It was a similar story in Denny, where Nigel Harris got 1026 votes – ahead of his nearest Labour rival, Alf Kelly, on 889.

But Mr Kelly was able to pick up enough transfers to make it through on round 5, joining SNP Councillors Paul Garner (elected in the first stage) and Fiona Collie (elected in stage two).

Mr Harris was also ahead of Independent candidate Brian McCabe in first preference votes, but again Mr McCabe overtook him as the transfers were counted to become a councillor in the sixth round.

The three early losses were not the story of the election, however, and there was jubilation when the party won a seat in Falkirk North for the first time.

The SNP’s group leader, Cecil Meiklejohn, topped the ballot with 2260 votes, Labour’s Robert Bissett got 1464, which was also enough to go through without the need for transfers.

James Bundy got 857 votes, slightly ahead of the SNP’s second candidate, Iain Sinclair on 801 – yet Mr Sinclair got enough transfers to be elected in the second round.

Mr Bundy took until the seventh stage to get enough transfer votes to be elected, a first for Falkirk North and a welcome victory for the Conservatives.

Speaking after the vote, Mr Bundy said that he had been “nervous and unsure because of the transfers, but just got over the line in the end”.

He said: “I’ve tried to present a positive vision for Falkirk in my campaign talking about active travel and connecting the Kelpies, the High Street, the Wheel, Callendar House and other tourist attractions.

“I’ve talked about regenerating the High Street and the bins and the roads, so I think just focusing on local issues and being a councillor who will take action on local issues was the basis of my campaign.”

After Mr Bundy’s victory was announced, the tide seemed to turn slightly in favour of the Conservatives.

Although this time they were behind Labour, there were enough transfer votes for the Conservatives to retain Councillor Jim Flynn in Carse, Kinnaird and Tryst.

He was elected in the seventh round after trailing the SNP team of Gary Bouse and Laura Murtagh and Labour’s Margaret Anslow.

In the Lower Braes, it was the SNP who struggled to pick up transfers as James Kerr was elected at the fourth stage and the SNP’s Gordon Forrest at the sixth stage.

In first preference votes, Mr Forrest was ahead of Mr Kerr by just one vote, with 1205 compared to 1204, both behind Labour’s Anne Hannah who was elected at stage one with 1393 votes.

In the Upper Braes fuel poverty campaigner Claire Mackie (1202 FPv) was elected at the eight stage, joining Labour’s Siobhan Paterson (1272 FPv) who hit the magic number required in the fourth stage.

Topping the poll in the Upper Braes was the SNP’s Jim Robertson who was elected at the first stage with 1918 votes.

In Falkirk South, Conservative Sarah Patrick didn’t need transfers to secure a place, as she took over from dad John Patrick, who had been a councillor since 1996.