Blow to Blair as Labour comes third in Scots poll

TONY BLAIR'S attempts to launch a Labour fightback in Scotland suffered a severe setback yesterday when the party came a humiliating third behind the Tories in a by-election.

Despite an autumn cabinet offensive north of the border, the Scottish National Party (SNP) scored a decisive victory in a contest to fill a vacant European Parliament seat representing North East Scotland.

Labour's disastrous result shattered the party's cautious optimism that it could burst the SNP bubble before next May's first elections to the Scottish Parliament. Although the SNP's resurgence had threatened to stop Labour becoming the largest party in the new assembly, recent opinion polls showed Labour had recaptured the lead in Scotland.

In the event, the SNP's Ian Hudghton held the seat for his party with 57,445 votes. Struan Stevenson, a veteran Tory campaigner, came a surprise second with 23,744. Kathleen Walker Shaw trailed for Labour in third place with 22,086 votes.

The by-election was caused by the death of Allan Macartney, the SNP deputy leader, earlier this year. Alex Salmond, the SNP leader, described it as "sensational" for his party and a "complete and utter humiliation" for Labour.

Ministers blamed the low turnout, of just 20 per cent. The Tories, meanwhile, claimed they had turned the corner in Scotland, after losing all their seats there in last year's general election.

Politics, page 8

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