Labour limps home

LABOUR was today set to return to power at Holyrood by the narrowest of margins after suffering a series of high-profile defeats in the Scottish Parliament elections.

On what was a night of stunning successes for the minor parties, an anti-hospital closure campaigner unseated Labour’s Brian Fitzpatrick in Strath-kelvin and Bearsden, the Greens took a total of six seats and Tommy Sheridan savoured his Scottish Socialist Party winning five seats.

The Nationalists took three seats from Labour, but failed to make their long dreamed-of breakthrough.

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And Tory leader David McLetchie laid the ghost of the Tories’ wilderness years in Scotland by capturing the Edinburgh Pentlands seat from Enterprise Minister Iain Gray. Tories later saw John Scott hold Ayr - and Alex Fergusson snatch the Galloway and Upper Nithsdale seat from the SNP’s Alasdair Morgan by 99 votes.

Labour’s loss of six constituency seats looks set to strengthen the hand of Liberal Democrat leader Jim Wallace, who is expected to enter coalition talks with Jack McConnell almost immediately.

The SNP snatched Dundee East, Aberdeen North and Ochil from Labour, although it failed to capture other key targets such as Glasgow Govan and knife-edge Dundee West.

The losers were left-wing standard-bearer John McAllion in Dundee East and former deputy justice minister Richard Simpson - who resigned after calling striking firefighters "fascist bastards" - in Ochil.

The SNP’s Shona Robison took Dundee East by 70 votes after two recounts, while Brian Adam claimed Aberdeen North for the Nationalists from Labour’s Elaine Thomson.

Hospital campaigner Jean Turner ejected Labour’s Brian Fitzpatrick from Strathkelvin and Bearsden.

Dr Turner said later: "I think people were so fed up that nobody seemed to listen to what they were saying, in particular on the health service."

Dennis Canavan was comfortably returned as Independent MSP for Falkirk West with a 10,000 majority and a 56 per cent share of the vote.

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The breakthroughs by the Greens and the SSP means both parties will now help to shape the parliamentary agenda through winning a place on the parliamentary bureau.

A full recount was under way today in Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale, where Scottish Nationalist Christine Grahame is bidding to oust the Lib Dems.

The move was ordered after it was discovered a bundle of Labour votes had wrongly been allocated to the pile for Lib Dem candidate Jeremy Purvis, who hopes to inherit the seat from retiring MSP Ian Jenkins.

The Tweeddale recount meant the South of Scotland regional result was being delayed, but the signs were the SNP would not win more than three seats, leaving the party’s education spokesman Mike Russell out in the cold.

Both the parliament’s deputy presiding officers - Nationalist George Reid and Tory Murray Tosh - were voted back in despite forecasts they could lose.

Mr Tosh, who originally planned to stand down, was returned from the West of Scotland list and Mr Reid, who had been placed well down the SNP list, won Ochil from Labour.

Both are now likely to stand to replace Sir David Steel as presiding officer.

Mr McConnell struck an almost humble note in his constituency, despite increasing his personal majority in Motherwell and Wishaw to more than 9000.

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He told supporters: "The Scottish Labour Party I lead in Parliament will not forget the lessons of the past four years. We will move on. The things we have done well, Labour will build upon. The things we got wrong we will change.

"I do not under estimate the scale of the task that is ahead of us. Labour does not exist because it wants to win elections. We are here because we passionately believe that we can make Scotland better tomorrow than it is today."

Mr Wallace saw his majority in Orkney slashed to 1755 as the Tories and Socialists both made strong inroads.

But today he defended his party’s campaign and pledged to get as much of their manifesto into any partnership agreement as possible. "I said we would fight a positive campaign and not attack personalities and opponents and that’s what we’ve done," he said.

He added: "Over the past four years, the Liberal Democrats have achieved 80 per cent of what we put into our 1999 manifesto and I now think we can do better than that. "

Scottish Nationalist leader John Swinney stuck defiantly to his election campaign message as he retained control of North Tayside.

He said: "The SNP is determined as it always has been, to release the potential of Scotland and to make sure that the people of Scotland run and create a very successful, prosperous and fair country and a country that we can be proud of."

He claimed the other parties had failed to seriously challenge the political arguments he had been putting to the electorate.

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Mr Swinney said: "I’m immensely proud of everything undertaken by my party during this campaign in setting out how we can fight on the major issues of public services and how we can set out an ambitious message for the future of the economy, and how we can give people in Scotland the ambition and determination to make this country a very successful country."

Mr Swinney’s majority over the Tories increased slightly to 4503, up from 4192 in 1999.

Mr Sheridan’s Scottish Socialist Party was among the night’s big winners.

He told cheering supporters in Glasgow: "What’s happened tonight in Scotland is that a new political force has been formed - and that force believes that the wealth of Scotland belongs to the people of Scotland."

The lowest turnouts were in Glasgow, where just two in five voters went to the polls - just 35 per cent voted in Shettleston.

Scottish Conservative Leader Mr McLetchie said the Tories’ success in winning first past the post seats showed the party was on its way back.

He said: "I am proud to have led this party in the last Parliament, I am proud to have led this party in our campaign and I am looking forward to leading our party in the next Parliament."

The Greens won seats in Glasgow, North-East Scotland, Mid-Scotland and Fife and the Highlands as well as the two seats in Lothians.

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Eleanor Scott, the party’s joint leader, was elected as Highlands & Islands MSP. Dr Scott, currently a community paediatrician in the Highlands, said: "Greens in Scotland are now taking their place alongside Green parties across Europe - driving forward social and environmental justice within parliament."

Shiona Baird, an organic farmer in Tayside, hailed her victory in the North-East as "just unbelievable".

She said: "This result shows that the Green message is relevant throughout all of Scotland. The Greens, as they are in most countries in Europe, are a permanent part of Scotland’s political landscape."

Mark Ruskell, a seasoned organic farming campaigner and newly elected Green MSP in Mid-Scotland and Fife, said: "I am delighted to have joined the growing movement of elected Greens across the world who are working on local solutions to our global crises.

"Democracy doesn’t stop at the ballot box and I will be working to help people make use of the Parliament as citizens not just voters."