I'm not sure if I've been the only person at the 'Hands Off Our Parliament' event today who spent half the time frantically searching his phone for the word 'Penicuik', but the news was good in the end. The SNP have gained the seat previously held by Labour, and this is the first actual SNP gain in a local by-election since the Westminster general election last June. Before you get too excited, it's one of those anomalies thrown up by the voting system, where Labour were defending the seat in spite of the fact that the SNP won the popular vote in the ward last time around. As you can see below, there was no big change in either the SNP or Labour vote. But it's still a significant blow for Labour, who have been overtaken by the SNP as the largest single party on Midlothian council. (Labour will presumably cling onto power with the help of their ever-faithful Tory allies.)
Penicuik by-election result (first preferences):
SNP 35.0% (-0.2)
Conservatives 30.2% (+4.0)
Labour 27.6% (+2.0)
Greens 7.2% (+1.6)
The SNP had to wait until the Green and Labour votes were redistributed before being formally declared the winners, but from the moment it became clear the Tories were in second place on first preferences, it was pretty obvious what the final result would be. Ironically, I saw a chap on Twitter claim that this result proves that only the Tories can beat the SNP, but if anything the opposite is true - if Labour had been second on first preferences, they probably would have taken a truck-load of transfers from the Tories, and might just have pipped the SNP on the final count. But the Tories are never likely to get enough Labour transfers to come from behind in a straight SNP v Tory run-off.