So, three days later than we might have hoped, we finally have the popular vote figures for the Scottish local elections. Both of the predictions I made a few hours ago were slightly off - the Tories were in the mid-20s rather than the low-20s, and the SNP's vote was unchanged since 2012 rather than slightly up. (Although of course the latter point also means that John Rentoul has egg on his face after telling anyone who would listen on Saturday that it was an established fact that the SNP's vote share had fallen.)
Scottish local election results :
SNP 32.3% (n/c)
Conservatives 25.3% (+12.0)
Labour 20.2% (-11.2)
Liberal Democrats 6.8% (+0.2)
Greens 4.1% (+1.8)
It should be noted that the comparison with 2012 isn't totally exact because this time a handful of councillors were elected unopposed. So strictly speaking this wasn't a completely nationwide election, although the difference that makes is only trivial.
Both the SNP and the Tories underperformed in comparison to their recent showing in opinion polls, but the divergence is much greater in the case of the SNP. That could mean the polls have been overstating the SNP all along, but personally I think this result has got 'differential turnout' written all over it. The Tories, and to a lesser extent Labour and the Lib Dems, worked their supporters up to fever-pitch over the issue of an independence referendum, while the SNP remained in a different universe fighting a very traditional, 'worthy' local election campaign that was never likely to excite their core support in the same way. It appears as a result unionist voters were significantly more likely than pro-independence voters to make the trek to the polls - which is a problem that can be successfully addressed over the coming weeks.
That's not to say there's no danger at all of this result recurring in June. The SNP had an in-built disadvantage last week (albeit one that was partly of their own making), but it goes without saying that they also face an in-built disadvantage in any Westminster election because of the skew towards media coverage of the London parties. They are fortunate in the sense that Labour aren't regarded as a credible government-in-waiting, so on this occasion the SNP are less likely than usual to be crowded out by a binary Tory v Labour choice. Nevertheless, the challenges ahead are considerable, and another safety-first campaign may not be a great idea.
One interesting aspect of the result is that both the SNP and Labour ended up with a proportion of seats that slightly exceeded their vote share, while for the Tories the reverse was true. That may have just happened by complete chance because of the way votes were distributed, but it also may be that the Tories remain a toxic party and are significantly less likely than others to pick up lower preferences. I'm sure someone will trawl through the results to shed some light on that question.
The untold story of this contest is Labour's relative resilience - they've done somewhat better than their consistent sub-20 showings in recent opinion polls, and ran the SNP closer than expected in several councils. Aside from differential turnout, I'm wondering if that may simply be because of their historic strength in local government, and the large number of familiar names they were able to put on the ballot paper. Even after everything that's happened over the last few years, the act of voting Labour is still a bit like slipping on an old coat for some people.