In the aftermath of the 2017 general election, there was a string of local by-elections in former Labour heartland areas in which the SNP suffered swings to Labour that were significantly in excess of anything the national opinion polls would have led us to expect. The obvious concern was that there were regional trends going on beneath the radar that could create a nasty shock at the next general election, especially given that there are so many ultra-marginal SNP-Labour marginal seats. Yesterday's Clackmannanshire Central by-election was exactly the sort of contest where you might have expected to see that trend show up again, because it took place in a part of the central belt where Labour had once been completely dominant. But this time the opposite happened - there was a hefty swing against Labour, and the SNP came from second place to win the seat. (Technically it was an SNP hold, but that's just a quirk of the STV voting system - Labour won the popular vote in the ward in 2017.)
Clackmannanshire Central by-election result (28th March 2019):
SNP 40.9% (+2.6)
Labour 31.9% (-8.0)
Conservatives 19.8% (+3.2)
UKIP 3.3% (n/a)
Greens 2.5% (-2.6)
Liberal Democrats 1.7% (n/a)
That's a swing of 5.3% from Labour to SNP, which if extrapolated to the whole country for "just a bit of fun" would see Scottish Labour once again reduced to just one seat at Westminster (Ian Murray in Edinburgh South). Which adds to the building impression that the storm clouds have now passed for the SNP in the former Labour heartlands - perhaps partly because of the impact of the Independent Group split, but mostly because of the sheer clarity of the SNP's message on Brexit, which a hopelessly divided Labour can't hope to compete with at the moment.
As ever, not too much should be read into the increase in the Tory vote, because the Tories are traditionally better than other parties at getting their supporters to the polls in local by-elections.
By the way, I hope you'll appreciate my restraint, because I very, very nearly titled this blogpost 'SNP crack it in Clacks as Leonard's lousy Labour languish limply'.
* * *
It's often said that a No Deal exit "can't happen" because the House of Commons wouldn't ever allow it to. I don't agree with that - for as long as No Deal remains the default outcome in both domestic and EU law, it has to be taken seriously as a real possibility. Nevertheless, the indicative votes on Wednesday night did once again prove that there is a massive natural majority in the Commons against No Deal, which was voted down by 400 votes to 160. But probably equally important, and certainly far more astonishing, is the fact that Tory MPs voted in favour of the catastrophe of a No Deal exit in just two weeks from now by an overwhelming majority of 157 to 94. That helpfully illustrates why no Tory government can deliver a soft Brexit regardless of parliament's wishes - it would split the party apart, probably quite literally. Brexiteer ringleader Steve Baker has already been openly threatening to resign the Tory whip. And maybe we're also seeing cause for scepticism that the Tories would do as well in a snap general election as the polls currently suggest - they've basically turned into UKIP, and there's a reason why UKIP have never won a general election.
In other circumstances we'd be shocked to learn that one Scottish Tory MP voted for No Deal, and that four others abstained on the subject. But compared to their colleagues south of the border, that makes them look like a relatively Remainy bunch - perhaps because they simply have to be for reasons of self-preservation in a very Remain country. And one of the four abstentions wasn't meaningful anyway, because as a Cabinet minister David Mundell was instructed to abstain on every vote. (20 Cabinet abstentions also put the relative closeness of the vote on a second referendum into perspective.)