Local by-elections in Scotland are conducted by Single Transferable Vote (which to all intents and purposes functions like the Alternative Vote if only one councillor is being elected), meaning that the SNP's huge 9% lead over Labour in the first count in Clackmannanshire Central did not guarantee them victory. Labour and the Tories had almost 52% of the first preference vote between them, which means that Labour would have won with a bit to spare if every Tory voter had ranked Labour higher than the SNP in their lower preferences. In practice, it would have been obvious as soon as the result of the first count was announced that the SNP were going to hold on for the win. Really big first preference leads are rarely overturned, due to the fact that a lot of voters don't bother using their lower preferences. Nevertheless, it's striking just how few Tory voters took the action necessary to prevent an SNP victory.
When the Tory candidate was excluded, he had 447 votes. More than two-thirds of those votes (68%) were non-transferable, while 25% went to Labour and 7% to the SNP - which means that more than one-fifth of Tory voters who expressed a preference between the SNP and Labour plumped for the SNP. Admittedly these numbers are slightly complicated by the fact that the Tory transfers will have included a small handful of voters who backed UKIP, the Greens or the Lib Dems with their first preferences and then transferred to the Tories. But of the 419 people who gave their first preferences to the Tories, an absolute maximum of 112 ended up in the Labour column on the decisive count. If it's so hard to get Tory voters to give a lower preference to another unionist party even when it causes no harm to their first choice, you have to wonder how many of them would be prepared to tactically switch their one and only vote from Tory to Labour in a first-past-the-post general election if they live in a battleground SNP-Labour marginal seat.
The substantial minority of Tory voters who prefer SNP to Labour shouldn't be such a surprise. In the 70s, it was taken as read that most Tory supporters would prefer to have an SNP MP if the only other alternative was a Labour MP, and that any Tory tactical voting would favour the SNP. Given the leftward drift of Scottish Labour since the 2017 general election, the same logic would apply now if it weren't for the constitutional issue. OK, the constitutional issue isn't going away any time soon, so Labour will remain the net beneficiaries of Tory tactical voting - but the greater ideological gulf between the two main London parties may mean that the benefit to Labour will be smaller in scale in any election this year than it was in 2017.
By the way, it's just as well that David Coburn has left his old party, because he would have been appalled at what UKIP voters did with their lower preferences yesterday. Of those that transferred, 41% went to the SNP (answers on a postcard, please?), 41% went to the Tories and 18% went to Labour.
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So a couple of quick thoughts about the government's defeat on the third meaningful vote this afternoon. There were 34 Tory rebels, but 6 of those were actually hardcore Remainers. Even if every single Brexiteer Tory rebel had switched sides and backed the deal (in the realms of fantasy given that we're talking about the real die-hards), the government would still have been defeated by 2 votes. So if Theresa May has any path at all to an improbable majority, it can only run through the Labour benches. (Unless of course she considers a grand bargain with the SNP and offers Devo Max and/or a Section 30 order, but she's far too stubborn and unimaginative to contemplate that for even a micro-second. All the same, though, today was the first time a meaningful vote could theoretically have gone the other way if the SNP had voted differently.)
Meanwhile, there are all sorts of contradictory rumours swirling around about what Theresa May's strategy is (the most plausible of which is that she doesn't actually know herself). A few people have suggested that the government is plotting a run-off vote between the May deal and whatever emerges from the indicative votes process. If anything does emerge from the indicative votes, it's likely to be a softer Brexit, which would force the Brexiteers to back the May deal in the run-off. I don't see how that sort of jiggery-pokery would work, though, because it would just strengthen the Brexiteers' resolve to subsequently vote against the legislation required to implement the deal. So unless Labour change their attitude to the deal, we'd just end up back where we started after a slight detour.