Wick by-election: SNP’s ‘major breakthrough’ in Lib Dem heartlands


As the campaign for the Scottish parliamentary election gets into full swing, the SNP was today given a boost which defied the expectations of even the most optimistic party strategists.  A by-election for the Wick ward on Highland Council saw the SNP’s Gail Ross elected with 1049 votes, 47% of first preference votes, more than twice as many as her nearest rival, Labour’s Neil MacDonald.

The council ward was held by the Lib Dems from 1999 until 2007, when Katrina McNab was elected as an independent.  When the by-election was called after Ms McNab’s recent resignation, the Lib Dems hoped to pick up the seat again.  However the Lib Dem vote share dropped from the 16% they achieved at the 2007 election to 10%.  The party’s candidate Claire Clark was beaten into fourth place by the SNP, Labour and a local independent candidate, Niall Smith.

Although a decline in the Lib Dem vote had been widely predicted, the scale of their loss took observers by surprise.  The greatest gains were made by the SNP who saw their vote rise from 17% in May 2007 to 47%.  All the London based parties suffered swings to the SNP, a swing of 12.2% from Labour, 15% from the Conservatives, and a massive 17.8% from the LibDems.

The vote was also disappointing for the Conservatives.  Although never strong territory for the Conservatives, Tory candidate Michael Carr received a humiliating 33 votes.  Labour strategists will likewise be disappointed that their Holyrood election campaign failed to translate into votes in the Wick by-election.

SNP leader Alex Salmond hailed the result as a “major breakthrough” and added:  “To achieve such big swings against all the London-led parties is hugely encouraging – particularly in what has been a Lib Dem heartland.  We are taking nothing for granted but this result will be a real morale boost not only in the north of Scotland but across the whole country.”

The ward is a part of the Scottish Parliament constituency of Caithness, Sutherland and Ross.  The seat is notionally held by the Lib Dems, although the SNP’s Rob Gibson is in strong contention.  Today’s by-election result will raise fears among the Lib Dem leadership that their party may be faced with unprecedented losses come the May 5th election.

The newly elected Councillor Ross said: “Wick is my home, and I’m looking forward to giving something back to the town that has given me so much.

“I have enjoyed a constructive campaign; however let this be a message from the far north to the rest of Scotland that the politics of fear and scaremongering do not wash with the public.

“It is SNP positivity, vision and optimism that has won through today.”

The full results are as follows:

Candidate Party name on ballot Total Votes Eliminated
Laurel BUSH 75 round 2
Michael CARR Scottish Conservative and Unionist 33 round 1
Claire CLARK Scottish Liberal Democrats 236
Neil MACDONALD Scottish Labour Party Candidate 463
Jim OAG Independent 202
Gail Elizabeth ROSS Scottish National Party (SNP) 1049 Reached quota of 1,047 at end of Stage 3
Niall SMITH Independent 245


Electorate 5,564
Total Number of Votes Cast 2,124
Percentage Poll 38.2%
Total Nº Rejected Ballot Papers 33
Total Nº Valid Votes 2091
Quota (number of votes required to be elected) 1,047