Labour have won the Paisley South local by-election - and in one of those anomalies thrown up by the STV voting system, it's technically a "gain" from the SNP, even though Labour were ahead on first preferences last time round. From my rough and ready calculations, these appear to be the percentage figures for the four main parties -
Labour 49% (+18)
SNP 32% (+4)
Conservatives 9% (+2)
Liberal Democrats 3% (-10)
It's of course a mug's game to try to extrapolate national lessons from an election in a single local council ward, but let's do it anyway. The changes in vote share show an uncannily similar picture to the most recent PSO poll for Holyrood, with the SNP actually up on its high watermark of 2007, but Labour's support increasing even more. This poses an intriguing question - how will the psychology of any post-election negotiations be affected if the SNP is the second largest party, but has nevertheless increased its number of seats and vote share? The odds are probably still against that scenario, but on these figures the possibility must at least be seriously entertained. It would certainly counter any simplistic notion that the SNP government had been "defeated", and would perhaps make it easier for smaller parties to contemplate the prospect of supporting or joining a non-Labour-led government.
At a minimum, it's high time the media woke up to the fact that this is indeed a proportional representation election, and that the First Minister will be chosen by a majority in the Scottish Parliament - the office won't be claimed as of right by one party 'finishing first' on May 5th (unless of course they happen to win an outright majority of seats, which seems unlikely).