Scottish leader ponders `setback' setback'

Conservatives lose control of 6 councils where they held overall majority

Scotland Correspondent

Embattled Scottish Tories suffered electoral humiliation at the hands of Labour and the Scottish National Party in Thursday's local elections.

With just 11 per cent of the vote and 82 of the 1,161 councillors elected, the Tories lost control of all six councils where they had an overall majority. They no longer provide any local services in Scotland.

The Conservatives' share of the vote dropped 3 per cent from last year's regional elections and was less than half the 25 per cent they won at the last general election.

Sir Michael Hirst, chairman of the Scottish Conservatives, described the results as "a very severe setback". But he said Scots Tories had "suffered mid-term difficulties before. We have come back to confound the critics in the past and we shall do so again at the next election".

Labour on 47 per cent - their highest share of the vote in Scottish local elections - won an overwhelming political victory, taking control of 20 of the new 29 single-tier authorities. With 614 councillors, the party will provide local services for four out of every five Scots from Ayrshire to Aberdeen.

Following Tony Blair's Clause IV victory over party traditionalists at the Scottish Labour conference in Inverness last month, George Robertson, its Scottish spokesman, said the results was "an overwhelming victory for New Labour in Scotland".

The Scottish National Party, on 26 per cent, down from 33 per cent in last year's European elections, had a disappointing night. With 182 councillors, the nationalists won control of Moray, Angus and Perthshire and Kinross but they lost control of West Lothian and won just one seat in Glasgow.

Although the SNP failed to make inroads into Labour's central-belt heartland, the Perthshire and Kinross result means the party is set to win the forthcoming parliamentary by-election.

Alex Salmond, the party leader, said the victory in Perthshire was "the jewel in the SNP's local election crown".

The Liberal Democrats, on 10 per cent, failed to win a single council. But with 123 councillors spread across Scotland, Jim Wallace, the Scottish party leader, said it had established "firm bridgeheads for further advance".

The tradition of independent councils continued in the Highlands and Islands and the Borders. Some 150 independent councillors formed the majority in Borders, Highland, and Argyll and Bute councils.