SNP rues vote count vagary

2012 Scottish Borders Council Elections
2012 Scottish Borders Council Elections

A SINGULAR quirk in the results produced by the system of proportional representation employed at last week’s council election count may well have denied the SNP the opportunity of forming a ruling administration at Newtown.

By any comparative standards, the party was justified in sending out a press release on Saturday, proclaiming “SNP Victory in the Scottish Borders”.

It had, after all, increased its strength on the council by 50 per cent, from six councillors to nine – just one fewer than the Tories – and made inroads in wards, such as East Berwickshire, which were previously Nat-free zones. How different it might have been if Kenneth Gunn had been re-elected in Selkirkshire.

Despite the vagaries of the single transferrable vote, in all other 10 wards, the candidates who polled the most first preference votes, even if they failed to surpass the required quota at the first stage, were ultimately returned as councillors.

But not so in Selkirkshire where Mr Gunn polled 671 first preference votes, second to the Conservative Michelle Ballantyne with 799 and ahead of Lib Dem Vicky Davidson (649) and Independent Gordon Edgar (597).

But when lowest polling candidate, Gordon Harrison, was excluded and his supplementary votes transferred to the others, the picture changed, with Davidson and Edgar finally clinching their places at the fifth stage in the process.

“It was the second vote that went against me and I went out at the third stage which was a bitter, bitter blow,” said Mr Gunn, who vowed: “I won’t be gone for long.”

His party did not dwell on that crucial reverse in what was otherwise a triumphant day, its supporters cheering the loudest as success after success was announced by acting returning officer Ian Wilkie.

The SNP, courtesy of Bill Herd and new group leader John Mitchell, took two of the four seats in Galashiels and District, and scored notable gains in Tweeddale East (Clovenfords community council secretary Stuart Bell), in Hawick and Denholm (the non-separationist Alastair Cranston) and in Leaderdale and Melrose where community council activist and former trade union official Jim Torrance prevailed at the expense of Lib Dem John Paton-Day.

Mr Mitchell declared: “Our group is 50 per cent larger than it was and that is great news. Our capacity to make a difference is greater than ever before.”

He said discussions would take place with individuals and parties “to ensure the voters’ interests are fully and fairly represented throughout the Borders”.

He gave the following commitment: “Electors have put their trust in us and we will deliver on that trust.”

Paul Wheelhouse, the South of Scotland SNP MSP, who attended the count, told us: “All 12 of our candidates fought a positive campaign focused on restoring greater democracy to the council and on the need to deliver investment in services, jobs and our young people in challenging times.

“The endorsement they have received represents a major advance for the party in the Borders and a disappointment for others.”