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Aberdeen by-election battles heat up

Callum McCaig and Kirsty Blackman
Callum McCaig and Kirsty Blackman

Candidates battling it out to become Aberdeen’s newest city councillors have begun their final week of campaigning.

Voters will go to the polls in two wards – Kincorth-Nigg-Cove and Hilton-Woodside-Stockethill – on Thursday next week.

The contests have been triggered by the election in May of former SNP councillors Kirsty Blackman and Callum McCaig as the new MPs for Aberdeen North and South.

The names of the two wards have changed since the last council elections in 2012, but the boundaries remain the same.

Both seats were effectively a straight shoot-out between Labour and the SNP three years ago.

In the formerly-named Hilton and Stockethill seat, Labour’s George Adam topped the first preference votes, followed by SNP candidates in second and third.

The previously-titled Kincorth and Loirston ward was won by Nationalist Mr McCaig, with Labour’s Neil Cooney not far behind, and independent Andy Finlayson in third.

With the SNP continuing to ride high in the national polls, the party is considered the clear front-runner to retain both seats next week.

The expectation has been heightened by Labour’s woes at Westminster and Holyrood, and public anger at local controversies at the Labour-led city council, such as the Marischal Square development.

“I expect we will be weighing the SNP votes next week,” said one non-Nationalist councillor last night.

However, while Aberdeen’s SNP group leader Jackie Dunbar said the party was getting a positive response on the doorstep, she added that it “will not be taking any votes for granted”.

Labour’s Willie Young, meanwhile, said his party was “in it to win it”.

Two further by-elections are expected to be held over coming months, with SNP George Street and Harbour councillor Andy May planning to retire, and “non-aligned” Midstocket and Rosemount member Fraser Forsyth due to quit, having relocated his family to York.

The contests will inject fresh blood into the local authority, and while they are unlikely to threaten the ruling Labour-Independent-Conservative administration, which currently holds power with 22 seats, the results could put the alliance under greater pressure.

The main SNP opposition group goes into the by-elections having held three of the seats, so even if it won all four races it would only increase its total at the Town House from 15 to 16.

However, the Nationalists would be just one behind Labour’s 17-strong group, and could combine with the five opposition Liberal Democrat councillors to wield 21 votes.

Such a scenario would leave the Labour-led alliance in the precarious position of having a majority of one – potentially losing key votes or even control of the authority through absences or any further by-elections.

The parties also see by-elections as a key platform to build momentum for next year’s Holyrood election and the council elections in 2017.

The votes in the two contests next week will be counted at the Beach Ballroom on Friday morning.

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