POLLING in the elections for Scottish Borders Council has been higher that expected, according to early reports.
Counting is underway for the 11 superwards that return councillors to the 34-seat council.
Provisional figures show the turnouts as: Tweeddale West 47%; Tweeddale East 46%; Galashiels and District 34%; Selkirkshire 43%; Leaderdale and Melrose 43%; Mid Berwickshire 42%; East Berwickshire 41%; Kelso and District 39%; Jedburgh and District 45%; Hawick and Denholm 43% and Hawick and Hermitage 41%.
Catriona Bhatia (Lib Dem) and Willie Archibald (SNP) relected in Tweeddale West with the third seat going to newcomer Nathanial Buckingham (Scottish Conservative).
Catriona Bhatia said she was delighted to have been the first choice of voters in revealing she had polled 919 first choice votes, the quota being 897.
She said: “A terrific result for my party, but I’m only sad Nancy Norman just failed.
Mr Archibald acknowledged a “good-hearted” contest and predicted the turnout of 47.34% would be the highest in the election.
Mr Buckingham, replacing former depute leader Neil Calvert for the Tories, was not at the count, but his party colleague Sandy Scott, contesting Jedburgh and District; hailed it “stunning result” given Mr Calvert’s personal popularity in the ward.
Graham Garvie ( Lib Dem) and Gavin Logan (Scottish Conservative) re-elected in Tweeddale East with the SNP’s Stuart Bell securing the third seat.
Mr Bell said the election had been about local issues and local democracy. He commented: “The faith which so many voters has put in me is humbling and I intend to repay that trust.
“The SNP wants to create a more democratic system at SBC by empowering all councillors. I have a reputation for causing trouble and I will use that skill on behalf of the people of this ward.”
Vicky Davidson (Lib Dem) re-elected with newcomers Gordon Edgar (Ind) and Michelle Ballantyne)Scottish Conservative).
The first major shock of the election as Kenneth Gunn (SNP) fails to hold his seat, despite the good performances of his party in both Tweeddale West and East.
Back on the council after a break of five years is Independent Gordon Edgar who was not at the count.
Mrs Ballantyne appeared a popular winner, based on the cheers which greeted the announcement. It had been, she said, a fair contest.
A shocked Mr Gunn told The Southern: “It was the second stage of the vote which sealed my fate...at the close of polls last night it appeared everything was going well. I will still be in there fighting for Selkirk as I have for the last five years.”
Galashiels and District is the only seat that returns four councillors. Back in the fold are Sandy Aitchison (Borders Party) and John Mitchell (SNP) who are joined by Bill White (Ind) and Bill Herd (SNP) who was on the old council as a member for Tweeddale East.
The SNP bounced back from the defeat of Kenneth Gunn in Selkirkshire by taking two of the four places in the region’s largest ward. T
The result was a shocker for both the Conservatives and the Lib Dems, with sitting councillor Fiona Lackenby failing to hold on for the former and Rick Kenney unable to emulate outgoing Lib Dem Jim Hume.
Mr Herd put the success of the SNP in the ward down to “sheer hard work”. Fiona Lackenby was in tears at the result.
Council leader David Parker (Ind) and Borders Party chief Nicholas Watson returned for Leaderdale and Melrose to be joined by the SNP’s newcomer Jim Torrance.
The SNP continued on a roll with the election of Jim Torrance, a former chair of Tweedbank Community Council.
And the apparent backlash against the Tories and Lib Dems was evident with the failure of the former Tory party chairman in Scotland Peter Duncan and sitting Lib Dem John Paton-Day.
Mr Paton-Day told us: “I am very sorry to have lost, but this is not in my view about local politics, rather a message being sent about what is happening at Westminster. Sadly, I fear the public will pay a high price for this phenomenon.”
It’s a return to the council chamber for sitting SNP member Donald Moffat and Lib Dem Frances Renton where they will be joined by new man John Greenwell of the Scottish Conservatives in Mid Berwickshire
A mixed result for the Tories here, who put up two candidates, with Mr Greenwell, chairman of the constituency association, succeeding at the expense of sitting councillor and vice-chairman of the planning committee Trevor Jones.
The momentum remains with the SNP,returning councillors in every seat so far declared apart from Selkirkshire.
Mr Moffat said: “Rumours of my demise have obviously been greatly exaggerated and it is a great privilege to again represent the ward in which I was born.”
Michael Cook (Ind) and Jim Fullerton (Scottish Conservatives) re-elected in East Berwickshire and joined by the SNP’s Joan Campbell.
Another reverse for the Lib Dems with Ken Webb failing to follow in the footsteps of outgoing party incumbent David Raw.
Mr Cook said the election and the anonymous and esoteric nature of the voting system had been an “awful experience” for him. Mr Fullarton, too, admitted to “some nerves”.
The surprise package was Mrs Campbell who told her cheering supporters: “Everyone in the SNP, from First Minister Alex Salmond down to every newly elected councillors is committed to working and caring for the Scottish people. I will do that in East Berwickshire.”
Voters in Kelso and District return Alec Nicol (Lib Dem) and Tom Weatherston (Scottish Conservative) and from the same fold as Weatheerston, Simon Mountford.
A good result for the Conservatives in the first ward which has required to go to stage eight of the STV voting system to elect a final councillor.
In the event, Mountford keeps the Tory contingent at two following the retiral of SBC convener Alasdair Hutton.
Weatherston keeps his place, despite being elected as an Independent in 2007 and switching last year.
The return of Nicol was an audible relief for the Lib Dems. It is only the second ward in which the SNP has drawn a blank.
From the declaration platform, the three new councillors all vowed to “work together” for Kelso and District.
Jim Brown of the SNP and the Conservative’s Sandy Scott back home for Jedburgh and District to be joined by the Independent Rory Stewart.
A major shock which may tip the scales away from the Conservatives in the horsetrading to come.
Conservative Len Wyse, ex-provost and executive member for environmental services, fails in his bid for re-election with Independent Rory Stewart filling the third place.
Mr Wyse told us: “Yes, I am disappointed as I thought I would do better. The other candidates did well, but folk in Jed don’t like party politics involved in local issues.”
With two wards to declare, the Tories and SNP each have eight councillors, the Lib Dems have five, the Independents have four and the Borders Party has two.
The SNP’s Jim Torrance tells us he will not serve on any coalition between his party and the Tories.
In Hawick and Denholm, Zandra Elliot (Scottish Conservative) and Stuart Marshall (Independent) are returned again and joined Alastair Cranston for the SNP
The misery for the Lib Dems continues as Watson MaAteer, a former divisional police commander, fails to win following the retiral of Jock Houston.
Alastair Cranston told us: “I had genuinely no idea who would win...it was very close.
“But I was really impressed by all the other candidates who I thought were excellent and what came through was that everyone wanted what was best for Hawick.”
Marshall boosts the Independent contingent to six with a comfortable win and the veteran Elliot keeps the Tories in the hunt...but who will work with them?
The final result is declared and, in the big picture, the waters are muddied. But in Hawick and Hermitage, voters give a vote of confidence to all three sitting councillors – David Paterson (Ind), Ron Smith (Lib Dems) and George Turnbull (Conservatives).
Paterson is a convincing winner and the Independents now how have seven councillors: a potentially powerful brokering position.
The final reckoning is Conservatives 10, SNP 9, Independents 7, Lib Dems 6, Borders Party 2.
How will it all pan out if the SNP won’t countenance an alliance with the Tories? The horsetrading starts now.