The by-election was held following the death of the constituency's MSP, Helen Eadie, who had been diagnosed with cancer the previous year.
Eadie had represented Cowdenbeath since the first election to the Scottish Parliament in 1999, making her one of the few MSPs to have served in the Scottish Parliament continuously since its inception. Prior to the 2011 election the seat was known as Dunfermline East. In the 2011 election Eadie held the seat with 46.5% of the vote and a majority of 1,247 votes (4.9%) over the second placed Scottish National Party candidate.
In the by-election, the seat was held by Labour candidate Alex Rowley, increasing Labour's vote share to 55.8% and majority to 27.4% over SNP candidate Natalie McGarry, with an 11.25% swing.