LABOUR leader Johann Lamont has hailed her party’s success in the Cowdenbeath by-election as “a very significant result”.
Alex Rowley held the Fife seat for the party with 56 per cent of the vote, beating Scottish National Party (SNP) candidate Natalie McGarry into second place with 28 per cent of the vote.
There was a significant 11.25 per cent swing from the SNP to Labour from the Scottish Parliament general election in 2011.
Speaking in Cowdenbeath, Ms Lamont said the win could not be dismissed by the SNP, with the swing showing “commitment and trust” in her party.
She said: “I think it’s a very important message that the people of the Cowdenbeath constituency have sent.
“Alex Salmond tries to dismiss questions about his use of public funds as ‘frippery’: well, he can’t dismiss this result as frippery.
“It’s a very significant result and I believe people in this area have responded to our positive campaign on jobs, education and support for older people - these are the issues they want politicians to be focusing on, and that’s what Alex Rowley will be doing as an MSP.
“I think it’s really important to recognise people’s commitment to Labour, this is a result that has come from, I think, people believing that they can put their trust in the Labour Party to stand up for their concerns, and that’s very important.
“I think voters are telling Alex Salmond to get on with his day job.”
Mr Rowley said: “The priorities I have are the things that came up on the doorstep time and time again; unemployment, youth unemployment, giving young people the best chance in life, tackling a housing crisis in the top side of this constituency.
“If you can build houses, you can create jobs and opportunities, so these are my priorities in the Scottish Parliament.”
Although Ukip beat the Liberal Democrats, both parties lost their deposits in an election which saw a low turnout of 34.78 per cent.
The seat has been vacant since the death of Labour MSP Helen Eadie in November, just days after it emerged she was being treated for cancer.
Ms McGarry, who came second with 5,704 votes, said: “I am confident that there will be a Yes majority in September.
“I heard on the doorsteps from a lot of traditional Labour voters who said: ‘Listen, Natalie, I’m not going to vote for you, but I am actually thinking about voting Yes in the referendum.’”
Ms Lamont dismissed Ms McGarry’s comments, saying: “I think we’ve got to a stage ahead of September where we don’t believe a word they (SNP) say about anything.
“I think they maybe need to stop talking to each other and listen to what people in the real world are saying about their concerns.”
The SNP’s business convener Derek Mackay MSP insisted the result indicated the party’s underlying strength in Scotland.
‘’The SNP fought a strong campaign with an excellent candidate in Natalie McGarry and we made the issues of the by-election the issues that matter to the people - the council-tax freeze, free school meals and extending childcare,’’ he said.
‘’The share of the vote we achieved was the same as our performance in 2007 - when we won a national election across Scotland for the very first time - and therefore is an extremely creditable performance.”
Fife councillor Dave Dempsey, who came third for the Conservatives with 1,893 votes, said: “We are going in the right direction.
“I want to thank my team. You could not buy the effort, dedication and enthusiasm that I have had at my disposal over the last several weeks. We’re getting there.”
A Conservative spokesman said it was a “good result” as they were the only party to increase their share of the vote.
Denise Baykal came fourth for the UK Independence Party (Ukip) with 610 votes while Jade Holden was in fifth place for the Liberal Democrats with 425 votes.
Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said: “In a crowded two-horse race Jade made her voice heard on Liberal Democrat commitments for lower taxes, higher pensions and more jobs.
“This is the positive message which we are taking to people across Scotland.”