WHO won the Brecon and Radnorshire by-election, and who lost it? The answer isn’t quite as straightforward as it might appear. Some commentators have been keen to portray Boris Johnson as having seized an unwanted record by losing a by-election earlier in his reign than any previous Prime Minister.

But, in fact, it’s precisely because Johnson had been Tory leader for barely a week that the defeat shouldn’t really be seen as his. The postal ballots went out when Theresa May was still in Downing Street, and when the Tory government she led was a very different beast in its attitude towards Brexit.

A poll in the constituency conducted in mid-July suggested that the Conservatives were on 28% of the vote and the Brexit Party were on 20%. The actual result on Thursday saw the Conservatives take a healthier 39% of the vote (just 4% behind the winning Liberal Democrat candidate) while the Brexit Party took only 10%.

Most of that discrepancy was probably due to the “Boris Bounce” first picked up by national opinion polls in the last few days of July, with the Tories making up significant ground at the expense of Nigel Farage’s outfit.

If that swing had occurred before postal voting started, it’s conceivable the Tories might have scraped a win. In other words, Brecon and Radnorshire should perhaps be seen as Theresa May’s last defeat as leader, rather than Boris Johnson’s first. There’s also a debate to be had over whether the result should be seen as a Remain win or a Leave win. A Remain party took the spoils, and yet just over 50% of the vote was secured by pro-Brexit parties.

The outcome was, therefore, a perfect advert for the shortcomings of the first-past-the-post voting system: the electorate got the opposite of what it voted for, and that happened simply because the Remain vote managed to coalesce behind a single candidate and the Leave vote did not.

In particular, Plaid Cymru’s decision to stand aside in the LibDems’ favour may have been decisive. The 4% gap between the LibDems and the Tories was in the same ballpark as the share of the vote Plaid have received there in the past. Was Plaid’s sacrifice worth it? Much depends on whether the LibDems return the favour at the General Election in seats where Plaid are the strongest Remain party.

The big prize is the Plaid-LibDem marginal constituency of Ceredigion, where the absence of a LibDem candidate would essentially guarantee a Plaid hold. And there is, of course, a similar seat in Scotland in the shape of North East Fife, where the SNP fended off the LibDems by just two votes in 2017.

The National:

Nicola Sturgeon, above, has poured cold water on hopes for a Remain alliance in Scotland. But a fair pact, in which only the strongest Remain party in each constituency puts up a candidate, would work heavily in the SNP’s favour. The LibDems would be obliged to stand aside in 55 Scottish constituencies (including North East Fife), and the SNP only in four. A clear run in Tory-held seats could be of particular assistance to Sturgeon if it turns out that Boris Johnson’s openness to No Deal has won back votes from the Brexit Party in Scotland, just like everywhere else.

Seats such Moray, and Banff and Buchan, might well have just become a tougher proposition for the SNP – unless, that is, pro-Brexit voters are left feeling betrayed by Johnson at the end of October.

James Kelly runs pro-independence blog SCOT goes POP!