How Britain voted: The rebels - Canavan's victory shock for Labour

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The Independent Online
NO MAN, said Labour loyalists, was bigger than the party. But the Labour renegade Dennis Canavan, standing as an independent, has proved them wrong, with a stunning victory over the party's official candidate in Falkirk West.

No one, not even Mr Canavan, would have predicted such a breathtaking and unequivocal win in what a most commentators expected to be close contest. At the 1997 general election he won Falkirk West with a 14,000 majority. He achieved an only slightly reduced 12,000 majority on Thursday, without any backing from the mighty Labour machine.

Mr Canavan, who has served his constituency for 24 years but was rejected by Labour as a candidate for Holyrood, has been a thorn in the hierarchy's side for years.

The outspoken left winger's trouncing of the official candidate Ross Martin is a humiliation for his old party. The victory also gives Mr Canavan a new political platform from which to continue irritating New Labour, the party he denounces as being run by control freaks who have betrayed the party's old values.

The first Scottish Parliament in 300 years will boast fewer mavericks and independents than many would have wished for. It may make for a duller chamber. But Mr Canavan at least has the company of one other colourful "troublemaker". Tommy Sheridan, the young leader of the small Scottish Socialist Party, has slipped into PR-elected Holyrood on the strength of second votes.

Mr Sheridan, a working class hero from Pollok, in Glasgow,who served time in prison for non-payment of the poll tax, is as scathing of New Labour as Mr Canavan is. His answering machine once used to inform callers that he was out fighting Thatcher and the Tories. It now says he is out fighting "Blair and his new Tories".

Yesterday Mr Sheridan, with the optimism of so many independent Scottish socialists before him, was basking in the SSP's greatest election success. "Scotland's fifth party has now been born," he said grandly. "And the Scottish Socialist Party is here to stay."

Mr Sheridan was expelled in 1989 in the purges which heralded Labour's long march back to electability. But Mr Canavan is still emotional about his estrangement from the party.

"The brilliance of my victory is tinged a wee bit with sorrow - sorrow in that I am not standing before you as a member of a party in which I was virtually born and brought up," said Mr Canavan. He said he hoped "some reconciliation" with Labour might be possible. But he stressed that he would not betray his principles.

His sorrow was shared by many who canvassed for him, who also defied a party they supported all their lives.