Britain votes: Scotland - Labour set to be largest party

LABOUR WAS on course to be the largest party in the Scottish Parliament as the first results came in, but there were signs it could have lost ground to the Scottish National Party in recent days.

While Labour appeared to be doing well, there were some worried expressions at the count for the Glasgow constituencies. The first constituency to declare was Hamilton South, a safe Labour seat, which Labour's Tom McCabe held on a 54.8 per cent turnout, but with a 10 per cent swing to the Scottish National Party since the 1997 general election.

Party officials were non-committal about their chances, though. Douglas Alexander, Labour's campaign manager and the first to appear in a television studio, refused to speculate on the need for a coalition with the Liberal Democrats. "Psephologists have got it wrong in the past and I think it would be wrong to have discussions at this early stage," he said. "The important thing is that we actually see what the results are."

The low turn-out, said to be down to 45 per cent in some areas, did not bode well for Labour. Throughout the day, campaigners had worked to get the vote out and had been parading through Glasgow in an open-topped bus strangely reminiscent of the one used by Michael Foot during his disastrous 1983 general election campaign. At the Glasgow count, the Govan Labour MP Mohammed Sarwar, recently cleared of electoral fraud, arrived looking chipper to see votes being counted. His constituency had seen a closely fought battle between Labour's Gordon Jackson, a QC, and the Scottish National Party's Nicola Sturgeon. Mr Sarwar said Labour had been fighting at a disadvantage in Govan. "The difference is that Nicola Sturgeon fought the general election against me and was known here, while Gordon Jackson was new to the area. But I think he is a good candidate and he has done well," he said.

While workers from the other parties enjoyed a well-earned drink after weeks of campaigning, Labour's staff remained closeted in their Glasgow headquarters, Delta House. They said they expected to work solidly through the night, fielding calls and ensuring that key political figures were ushered into broadcasting studios at the correct times.

Others may have been hoarse from partying by the end of the night, but Labour's Roseanna Cunningham had to pull out of interviews after losing her voice while pressing the flesh on the streets day after day during the campaign.

At Delta House, officials watched the results come in on television and saw them relayed as the total numbers of seats on a large screen set up for the purpose. In an indication of the importance of the Scottish vote to Labour, the party's English general secretary Margaret McDonagh arrived in Scotland for the night. One campaigner said the only beverage available at Delta House was a few bottles of water. "We have a fine work-in. Everyone is expecting to be here until morning," the party worker said.