Just for once, we have an STV by-election in which the party 'defending' the seat actually won the popular vote in the ward last time around. (So no need for any 'confusion' over at Liberal Democrat Voice or Stormfront Lite.) Labour have clung on in Blantyre, but as you'd expect their 23% lead over the SNP from 2012 has been slashed. It's interesting to see that Labour people on Twitter think that this result is "great", "AMAZING", "fantastic", "one hell of a hold", etc, etc - just how low are their expectations these days?
Blantyre by-election result (10th December) :
Labour 47.2% (-7.1)
SNP 39.6% (+9.0)
Conservatives 4.5% (+0.6)
SSP 3.9% (n/a)
Liberal Democrats 2.9% (+2.2)
UKIP 1.9% (n/a)
The SNP of course had a 1% nationwide lead in the 2012 local elections, so an 8% swing in a local by-election is considerably better than an 8% swing at the general election in May would have been. This is the rough equivalent of a 19% or 20% swing at the general election - which admittedly is lower than the SNP actually achieved in most former Labour heartlands, but is still extremely impressive.
Even though Labour weren't far short of 50% on first preferences, the full five counts were required for their candidate Mo Razzaq to reach the quota. That means we can see the whole picture of how the smaller parties' votes transferred, and not for the first time Labour have suffered the embarrassment of proving rather popular with Tories. 53 Conservative votes transferred to Labour on the final count, and just 13 to the SNP (107 were non-transferable). Predictably, SSP votes broke more for the SNP, although not as overwhelmingly as you might think - 55 went to the SNP, 32 to Labour, and an eccentric 1 to the Tories! UKIP transfers were fairly evenly spread, which will surely be something of a disappointment for the Tories, who would have hoped to capture the lion's share.
Doubtless the #LibDemFightback fantasists will be beside themselves with excitement at quadrupling their vote share and reaching the dizzying heights of 2.9%, but in all likelihood that can be explained by the lack of competition from independent candidates this time (there were two in 2012). And there's certainly nothing very special about the Tory performance - we normally assume they benefit from differential turnout in local by-elections, so an increase of less than 1% is par for them, at best.
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Alastair Meeks (the artist formerly known as Antifrank) claimed on SL this morning that most of the divergences that the Scottish Government has made from UK government policy over the years have been 'negative' rather than 'positive', and he offered the decision not to introduce tuition fees as an example. That of course isn't correct - the Labour government at Westminster had already introduced tuition fees on a Britain-wide basis by the time devolution started in July 1999. The Lib-Lab Scottish Executive had to make a 'positive' decision to replace them with the graduate endowment (with the Lib Dems insulting the intelligence of a generation by insisting that the endowment wasn't a back-end tuition fee, because it "didn't pay for tuition"). The SNP government later made another 'positive' decision to scrap payments altogether.