Five years ago, the SNP won 39 seats to secure a historic win that ensured Labour lost control of the council for the first time since 1977. But in the face of rampant criticism of its handling of Glasgow’s waste crisis, it lost two councillors this time around, with its share of the first preference votes slashed in all but one of the city’s 23 wards.
That was enough to beat Scottish Labour, who secured 36 seats – an increase of five – but it six short of the number needed for an outright majority. When the SNP’s candidates and campaigners huddled together at the Emirates Arena to greet First Minister Nicola Sturgeon on the stroke of 5pm, there were smiles, yet it felt like the marking of a pyrrhic victory of sorts.
Several days of discussions and deal-making will determine if the SNP is returned to power at Glasgow City Chambers in a minority administration. The Greens, having upped their complement of councillors by three to a record ten, will be the kingmakers once again, and there is a chance that a deal with Labour could be struck.
In Ms Sturgeon’s view, however, all that mattered was the raw results from the ballot boxes. “If you’d told me, when I was a much younger woman in politics being beaten by Labour in election after election, that we would be the largest party in Glasgow, and then re-elected as the largest party, I would have struggled to believe it,” she said.
“The extent of the SNP’s success in this city is quite something. Labour chucked the kitchen sink at Glasgow and benefited enormously from the collapse in the Tory vote, yet still haven‘t managed to beat us.”
Come what may, the SNP and the Greens will not be the only ones happy this weekend. After nearly a decade of being battered from pillar to post at the polls, the results in its former heartland offered Scottish Labour tentative hope of recovery.
The party’s leader, Anas Sarwar, arrived at the count with a spring in his step, and promptly declared Labour as being “back on the pitch”.
“Labour is winning seats again, it’s making gains again, we’re winning in parts of the country we haven’t won in for a very, very long time,” he said. “But I want us to move forward. I don’t aspire for second, I aspire for first.”
Throughout the day, there were raucous cheers from Labour candidates and staffers as the results poured in. It is a sound that has been conspicuous by its absence in recent years as the SNP daubed the city’s Holyrood and Westminster electoral maps yellow.
In truth, the jubilation betrayed how far the party had fallen. At times, the whooping and fist-pumping resembled the response of a EuroMillions jackpot winner, when in reality, they were clutching a ticket with two matching numbers.
The day’s first result, announced a few minutes after 11am, saw the SNP lose a seat in Shettleston to Labour, who had earmarked the ward among its main goals.
The city’s Conserative group leader, Thomas Kerr – a surprise winner five years ago – also retained his seat, but that result proved to be an outlier, with the Tories losing six councillors across the city to slump to just two.
Half an hour later, eyebrows were raised as the results for Langside in the city’s southside came in. Susan Aitken, the high-profile SNP council leader in the last term, was among those re-elected, but she was beaten to first place in her ward by the Greens, who increased their first preference vote share by 16.1 per cent.
The victor, Holly Bruce, did not even try to hide her shock at the result. “I’m delighted, I wasn’t expecting to get in first, I was expecting maybe to get in third,” the 28 year-old admitted.
Ms Aitken tried to focus on the positives. She pointed out she had been re-elected for a third term, and expressed pride in her party’s “relentlessly positive” campaign.
She later received the backing of Ms Sturgeon, who said the SNP deliberately fielded two candidates in her ward to split first preference votes and secure two councillors. “That’s how you work the single transferable vote system,” she reasoned.
By lunchtime, with results coming in thick and fast, the SNP picked up a seat from the Conservatives in Pollokshields – for years the only Tory seat in the city – but suffered a shock defeat when Mhairi Hunter, a senior SNP figure and close ally of the First Minister, was ousted.
There was an emotional moment when Labour held on to its two seats in the Canal ward. It is less than three months since the party was mourning the sudden death of Gary Gray at the age of 49. Amid the celebrations, there were tears for a much-missed friend and colleague.
By early evening, the SNP and Labour were neck and neck, and it came down to the last declaration in Maryhill.
A cheer broke out after it emerged Abdul Bostani, one of two newly-elected SNP councillors who came to Scotland as refugees, had helped his party over the line.
On an evening when those from across Glasgow’s political divides were hard at work pushing their own victory narratives, it was one of few successes beyond dispute.