When I recently interviewed Ed Balls and asked how often he spoke to Gordon Brown, he revealed that he'd just received an email from his old boss "about a by-election coming up in the next couple of weeks". That by-election was held last night in the Scottish Parliament constituency of Cowdenbeath, the area represented by Brown at Westminster, and it proved to be a triumph for Labour.
After narrowly defending the seat from the SNP in 2011, the party won a majority of 5,488 with an 11.25 per cent swing away from Alex Salmond's party. While it's wise to always be wary of drawing too many conclusions from by-elections, the result does suggest that there is little enthusiasm for Scottish independence among the electorate and that Labour's relentless focus on living standards is resonating with voters.
It also offers further evidence of the Lib Dems' plight. The party finished fifth behind UKIP (who didn't even field a candidate last time), with just 425 votes (2.1 per cent). It was a better night for the Tories, who finished third and increased their share of the vote by 2.4 per cent. This may have been from a low base of 7 per cent, but at least, as candidate David Dempsey said, the numbers are moving "in the right direction". And it has been a long time since one could say that of the Tories in Scotland.
Here's the result in full.
Alex Rowley (Lab) - 11,192 votes 55.78% (+9.28%)
Natalie McGarry (SNP) - 5,704 votes 28.43% (-13.17%)
Dave Dempsey (Con) - 1,893 votes 9.44% (+2.44%)
Denise Baykal (UKIP) - 610 votes 3.04% (N/A)
Jade Holden (Lib Dem) - 425 votes 2.12% (-1.78%)
Stuart Graham (Victims Final Right) - 187 votes 0.93% (N/A)
James Trolland (Scotthish Democratic Alliance) - 51 votes 0.25% (N/A)
Labour majority: 5,488 (27.36%)
11.25% swing from SNP to Labour
Turnout: 20,062 (34.78%)