The European Elections: SNP celebrates best-ever results - Nationalists win second seat on record share of vote. John Arlidge reports

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The Independent Online
THE Scottish National Party recorded its best election result, winning one- third of the vote north of the border and capturing its second European seat.

The nationalists overturned a 2,500 Labour majority in north-east Scotland to win by more than 30,000 votes and Winnie Ewing held the Highlands and Islands seat with an increased majority of 55,000. In the central belt, support for the party was up by 5 per cent.

The SNP's overall share of the vote rose to 32.6 per cent - 2 per cent above the nationalists' previous record in the October 1974 general election when it won 11 seats.

The results will boost the SNP's campaign to capture John Smith's Monklands East constituency in the forthcoming by-election. Alex Salmond, the SNP leader, described the results as a 'double whammy' for the Tories and Labour. 'The SNP has overtaken the Tories and we are now in a position to challenge Labour for political domination at the next general election.'

Support for the SNP has grown steadily since last month's regional elections when the nationalists replaced the Tories as the second party in Scotland. Allan Macartney, the party's deputy leader who won the North-east seat, said Labour voters frustrated at the party's failure to reverse Government plans to sell off the Scottish water industry and reform local government had turned to the SNP.

Labour held the other six Euro-constituencies - Glasgow, Lothians, Scotland Mid and Fife, Scotland South, Strathclyde East and Strathclyde West - lifting its share of the vote by 1 per cent to 42.8 per cent. Overall turnout was 38 per cent. Jack McConnell, general secretary of the Scottish Labour Party, dismissed the defeat in the North-east as 'an anti- Tory protest vote for a nationalist bandwagon that failed to roll in the 1970s and will not roll in the 1990s'.

Although Scottish Militant Labour pushed the Conservatives into fourth place in Glasgow, where the Tories won just 6 per cent of the vote, Conservative support across Scotland was unchanged from the regional elections at 14 per cent. Officials were relieved the party had not fallen to a new low.

The Liberal Democrats, who had hoped to oust Mrs Ewing and move into third place overall behind Labour and the SNP, won just 7 per cent of the vote. Jim Wallace, leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats, described the result as 'disappointing', but said it did not reflect the party's true level of support.

SNP constituency members meeting in Airdrie last night chose Kay Ullrich as their candidate for the Monklands by-election this month. Mrs Ullrich contested the Motherwell South constituency in 1992.