Girvan & South Carrick by-election result on first preferences (21st September 2023)
Conservatives 47.5% (+19.7)
SNP 28.1% (+3.3)
Labour 18.0% (+9.2)
Liberal Democrats 3.9% (n/a)
Alba 2.5% (+1.4)
This is technically a Tory gain from the SNP, but as ever in STV by-elections, that's completely meaningless. The popular vote in the ward last time was won by an independent candidate with 31.4% of the vote, and there was another independent who took 5.6%. So to make sense of yesterday's result, you'd need to know which party those voters would have plumped for in the absence of independent candidates. Assuming the answer is "the Tories", the sudden 20-point jump in the Tory vote may be largely artificial.
That said, the Tories are supposed to be struggling at the moment, so this result could be taken as an indication that, in some regions at least, the Scottish Tories can still successfully use anti-SNP sentiment as a get-out-of-jail-free card.
The crumb of comfort here is that the total vote share for pro-independence parties has increased (albeit helped by the absence of the non-partisan candidates), as has the SNP's vote share. Alba can claim to have more than doubled their own vote share, but obviously 2.5% is not going to be any sort of game-changer for the party's credibility and looks very much like their past results throughout the country - which again poses the question of whether it would have been better for Alex Salmond to take the bull by the horns by standing in the Rutherglen parliamentary by-election himself and seeking the type of breakthrough result (10%? 20%?) that might have finally shifted the dial on how people view Alba.