It always looked fairly predictable that the Tories would win yesterday's Elgin North by-election. They had won the popular vote in the ward in May, their tails were up after winning the Moray parliamentary constituency in June, the local SNP were presumably a tad demoralised, and of course we know from long and bitter experience that Tory supporters are more likely to make it to the polling stations in low turnout local by-elections than supporters of other parties. Given all of those disadvantages, it's really quite striking just how close the SNP came to pulling it off...
Elgin City North by-election result (first preference votes) :
Conservatives 40.0% (+7.1)
SNP 38.8% (+6.1)
Labour 15.8% (+3.9)
Independent - Monaghan 5.4% (n/a)
We shouldn't get carried away by the increase in the SNP's vote, because like the other parties they benefited from the much reduced vote share for independent candidates. Nevertheless, the closeness of the result gives us a fair bit of reassurance that things have not worsened for the SNP since the general election in areas where the Tories are their main opponents. (For what it's worth, there's also no sign of any Tory bandwagon effect in the Scottish subsamples of opinion polls.) It remains to be seen what is happening in the SNP-Labour battleground areas.
One of the fascinations of local elections conducted under STV is seeing how Labour voters transfer when faced with a choice between SNP and Tory. The answer in this case was pretty evenly : Conservatives 91, SNP 90. If the SNP suffer significantly from unionist tactical voting in the next general election, it's unlikely to be in Tory-SNP marginals. I have my doubts as to whether it will happen very much even in Labour target seats, because Tory voters will surely feel increasingly conflicted about helping a left-wing Labour leadership into power.