JOHANN Lamont has claimed that Labour’s Dunfermline by-election victory was a sign that the party is fighting back after its crushing defeat by the SNP in 2011.
The Scottish Labour leader hailed Cara Hilton’s triumph over the SNP by a 2,873 majority as an “emphatic result”.
Ms Hilton’s defeat of the former SNP MSP Shirley Anne Somerville means that Dunfermline is now the second safest Labour seat at Holyrood behind Elaine Murray’s 3,156 majority in Dumfriesshire.
To win the seat vacated by the disgraced former SNP MSP Bill Walker, who was convicted of assaulting three ex-wives and a step-daughter, Ms Hilton overcame a 590 SNP majority.
Ms Lamont said she was encouraged that her party was moving in the right direction and was now able to take the fight to the Nationalists.
She added: “It is a very substantial result, an emphatic result. Given where we were in 2011, it is a very important stage in the process that the Labour Party are committed to changing organisationally and politically being in place where we were even able to compete.
“I think that’s where we have got back to and are in the process of being able to complete.
“Particularly, I think that sense that people thought we took people for granted or weren’t relevant to them.
“I will go and campaign anywhere for Labour and the Labour message is relevant right across Scotland.”
Ms Lamont added: “Because the defeat in 2011 was so significant, we know the scale of the challenge. What this does, however, is confirm that both politically and organisationally we are able to compete and we will build on this.”
Ms Hilton said the result indicated that the people of Dunfermline had dismissed the SNP’s drive for independence.
Ms Hilton said: “They have fought a campaign in which they haven’t even mentioned the word independence, never mind separation.
“For Shirley Anne Somerville separation is her ambition in life and if she got elected that would have been her main ambition in the Scottish Parliament.
“Last night’s result was a rejection of that. The people we have spoken to on the doorsteps have no appetite to break up the UK. They do believe we are better together.”
The SNP faced a stiff challenge defending its slender majority amid the publicity surrounding Walker’s conviction and controversy over the fact that he was selected to fight the seat, even though the Nationalists had been tipped off about his violent past.
Ms Somerville was recognised as a strong candidate, who was more convincing than her Labour counterpart when it came to public appearances.
“We’ve run a positive campaign trying to support local parents in their schools and I hope we can come together, all of us in the party, to make sure those three schools in the Dunfermline constituency stay open,” Ms Somerville said.
Yesterday the SNP attempted to put a positive gloss on the result pointing out that John Curtice, professor of Politics at Strathclyde University, calculated that if the 7 per cent swing to Labour in Dunfermline were replicated across the country in a Scottish election, the SNP would still end up in government.
The SNP’s business manager Derek Mackay said: “Professor Curtice’s analysis puts the Dunfermline result into context. We know from experience that by-election results are never replicated nationwide, but even if that did happen the SNP would still be ahead in the Scottish Parliament – which indicates the underlying strength of the SNP vote six and a half years into government and Labour’s continued weakness.”
Taking third place with 2,852 was Susan Leslie of the Lib Dems.
Ms Leslie was followed by James Reekie of the Conservatives who polled 2,009 votes. Peter Adams of Ukip received 908 votes, beating Zara Kitson of the Greens (593 votes).
In last position was John Black of the Scottish Jacobite Party with 161 votes.