To quote the immortal words of Ruth Davidson herself: "Well done, Clacks!" When it was revealed that the turnout in yesterday's Clackmannanshire North by-election had somehow almost reached one-quarter of the registered electorate, many of us feared the worst, because it seemed obvious that a lot of that must have been postal votes - which could quite reasonably be expected to favour unionist parties, and especially the Tories. But we should have had more faith - the news has filtered through that the SNP have won. This is the second outright victory for the SNP in local by-elections in the last three weeks - and the third outright defeat for unionist parties.
UPDATE: Here is the full result on first preferences -
SNP 37.0% (-3.3)
Conservatives 31.7% (+7.7)
Labour 23.7% (-3.0)
Liberal Democrats 4.0% (-1.1)
Greens 3.6% (-0.2)
I gather that quite a few Conservative supporters are extremely keen for us to believe that this is not, as appearances would suggest, a defeat for their party, but rather a stunning triumph - ie. because their vote went up and everybody else's went down. There are even a few wildly optimistic claims that this result is evidence that the opinion polls are wrong to suggest that the tide is going back out on Scottish Tory fortunes. Well, good luck to them in attempting to make that narrative stick. I think most sensible people fully appreciate that this by-election was fought under almost unique circumstances, and ones which favoured the Tories heavily. The SNP have done extremely well to overcome their disadvantages and squeeze out a victory.
There was a poster on the Vote UK forum yesterday who was absolutely incredulous at suggestions that the by-election should have been called off - "what, for snow?" he asked. I'm not sure if people outside the affected areas quite realise just what an extreme weather event this has been. I live about twenty miles from the Clackmannanshire North ward, and when I went out for a short walk yesterday afternoon the scenes were almost medieval. It must have been physically impossible for some people to get to the polling stations, and highly risky for others to attempt it. Grant Thoms suggested yesterday morning that it was irresponsible for political parties to even encourage people to vote, but the other side of the equation is that some people who wanted to vote were denied their democratic rights by the decision not to postpone the by-election - or more accurately by the fact that it was apparently not possible under the rules for it to be postponed simply because of the weather. (In 1974 there was a general election on February 28th - the mind boggles as to what would have happened if the weather had been like this.) It's simply a fact that more affluent people who are more likely to vote Tory are also more likely to succeed in casting a vote in these difficult circumstances.
To the extent we can draw any lessons at all from this result, though, this is how I would look at it. The SNP have had a few very bad results in local by-elections since last June, and they've all followed the same pattern - they've been in traditional SNP-Labour battleground areas, and the swing to Labour has significantly outstripped anything suggested by the opinion polls. The Clackmannanshire result very much bucks that trend. It's a ward that in the past has seen straight SNP-Labour contests, with Labour even managing to just about fend off the Tories for second place last year. And yet on this occasion there has essentially been no swing at all from SNP to Labour, and Labour have been pushed into third place by the Tories. OK, the weather might explain some of that, but there's certainly no sign here of the SNP being swept away by a Corbyn juggernaut in the central belt.