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Friday, November 27, 1998 Published at 13:36 GMT

UK Politics

Labour 'humiliated' as SNP holds Euro-seat

The victor: Ian Hudghton, the SNP's newest MEP, at the poll count

The Scottish National Party has won a decisive victory in the North East Scotland European by-election, as Labour's vote collapsed with Tony Blair's party being beaten into third place by the Tories.

BBC's Brian Taylor: The SNP's win intensifies the contest in Scottish politics
The Tories said it amounted to a humiliating result for Labour in the run-up to next May's first elections for the Scottish Parliament. The party was beaten by the Tories by more than 1,500 votes.

The SNP's Ian Hudghton held the seat for his party with 57,445 votes - massively ahead of his rivals in a contest which had been billed and fought as a straight fight between the nationalists and Labour.

[ image: Struan Stevenson: Jubilant at his second place]
Struan Stevenson: Jubilant at his second place
Veteran Conservative campaigner Struan Stevenson polled 23,744 votes, in a seat which was Tory-held in the 1980's.

Labour's Kathleen Walker Shaw polled 22,086 - more than 1,500 votes behind Mr Stevenson.

Liberal Democrat Keith Raffan polled 11,753.

Turnout in the huge seat which covers the cities of Aberdeen and Dundee, as well as a vast swathe of rural Scotland, was low at 20.5% - slightly above the average for European by-elections.

The SNP's margin of victory was bigger than expected. An ICM poll in The Scotsman newspaper taken during the campaign showed the nationalists ahead of Labour by 41% to 37%.

After the count Mr Stevenson, 50, told his jubilant fellow-Tories: "The pundits said it was a two horse race. It was - between the nationalists and the Conservative Party in Scotland."

[ image: Labour loser Kathleen Walker Shaw:
Labour loser Kathleen Walker Shaw: "We have to move on"
"Scottish Tories are on the way back. Labour has been humiliated in North East Scotland. You will be hearing a lot more from us in the days ahead."

Labour's Mrs Walker Shaw put a brave face on her result, saying to jeers from some of her opponents: "Today's result is one that none of us can come out with any benefit from because it was a disappointing turnout.

She added: "We all have to move on. I am sure next May the issues which have not been raised in this campaign despite my efforts will be raised and people can have a proper debate about the future of Scotland.

SNP leader Alex Salmond, also at the count in Aberdeen, described his party's victory as "sensational".

For Labour to come behind the Tories was, he said, "an absolute and utter humiliation" for the party - particularly after recent visits to Scotland by the prime minister, Chancellor of the Exchequer and "puppet master Peter Mandelson".

[ image: SNP leader Alex Salmond congratulates the winner at the count in Aberdeen]
SNP leader Alex Salmond congratulates the winner at the count in Aberdeen
"This is the most convincing evidence that the Labour campaign against the SNP has misfired."

Recriminations begin

The recriminations withing Labour over its third placing in the contest started soon after the result came out. Rebel backbencher Dennis Canavan said: "It is absolutely humiliating to end up in third place behind the Tories."

Speaking on the BBC Radio 4's The World at One programme, he said Labour had concentrated too much on negative campaigning against the SNP, "instead of putting across positive policies".

The Labour MP for Falkirk West accused the party leadership of "using the language of John Major and Michael Forsyth. It turns the people of Scotland off".

Mr Canavan, who is to stand in the Scottish elections as an independent after he was barred from Labour's candidate list, also attacked what he described as the "centralised control freak tendency which has taken over the Labour Party".

Deputy Scottish Secretary Helen Liddell admitted the result was disappointing but added: "The poll is far too low to tell us anything significant."

She insisted the SNP could not be happy with the result: "In their own backyard, in Alex Salmond's constituency, they failed to hit the 50% target they'd set themselves."

The by-election was caused by the sudden death of SNP vice-president Allan Macartney earlier this year.

Full result

Ian Hudghton, SNP 57,445 (48.03%).

Struan Stevenson, Conservative 23,744 (19.85%).

Kathleen Walker Shaw, Labour 22,086 (18.47%).

Keith Raffan, Liberal Democrat 11,753 (9.83%).

Harvey Duke, Scottish Socialist Party 2,510 (2.10%).

Robin Harper, Green Party 2,067 (1.73%).

SNP majority: 33,701 (28.18%).

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