Local Elections: SNP revival pushes Tories into fourth

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The Independent Online
THE Scottish National Party replaced the Conservatives as the second party in Scotland as the Tories slumped to fourth place for the first time.

In their strongest showing since the Seventies, the nationalists won 26 per cent of the vote and gained 30 seats. They became the largest party in Tayside and took seats in traditional Labour strongholds, including one in Labour leader John Smith's Monklands constituency.

Alex Salmond, the party leader, welcomed the result as 'a magical political breakthrough'. 'In elections in the past we tended to pile up votes but those votes did not translate into a large number of seats,' he said. 'This time we have won seats as the electorate has punished the Tories for what they have done to Scotland and Labour for what they have not done for Scotland.'

The Conservatives had their worst-ever performance, with just 31 seats. In Edinburgh they lost seven to Labour and the Liberal Democrats, leaving them with just five councillors in Lothian, a region that they controlled less than 10 years ago.

Labour remained the dominant party, taking 41 per cent of the vote and retaining control in Lothian and Strathclyde. In the Western Isles, where it put up candidates for the first time, it won four out of the five seats it contested.

Although the Liberal Democrats won just 12 per cent of the Scottish vote, skilful targeting helped them advance to replace Labour as the largest party in Grampian. In Strathclyde they took over from

the Conservatives as the opposition.

Sir Michael Hirst, chairman of the Scottish Conservatives, conceded that the 'very poor' results were 'a poke in the eye from the electors'. Scottish Tories, frustrated at the party's performance nationally, had stayed at home, he said.

Privately, Conservatives blamed their disastrous showing on the row over proposals to remove the water industry from local authority control.

After the last votes from the islands had been counted, Labour had 225 seats, the SNP 73, Liberal Democrats 63 and Conservatives 31; 117 independents were elected. The elections north of the border were the last for the regional councils which, with 53 district councils, are due to be replaced in 1996 by single-tier authorities. Councillors elected on Thursday will serve for just two years.