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Friday, September 24, 1999 Published at 16:32 GMT 17:32 UK

UK: Scotland

Dewar: Voters have fired a warning

New Labour Bill Tynan tries to avoid a tumble

Scotland's First Minister Donald Dewar has admitted Labour has been given a warning by the electorate after the party won the Hamilton South by-election by a whisker.

BBC Scotland's Parliamentary Reporter Tim Reid analyses the by-election outcome
Labour candidate Bill Tynan scraped through with just a 556 majority over second place rival Annabelle Ewing of the Scottish National Party.

Mr Dewar said on Friday the majority was thin and he conceded the result represented a warning to the party from the electorate.

He said: "This was an election in which people thought 'there is no harm in giving them a kick'.

[ image: Donald Dewar reflects on the result]
Donald Dewar reflects on the result
"It is a warning shot across the bows of any party which is in government."

Scottish Secretary Dr John Reid was putting a braver face on the drama of Thursday evening's count.

He insisted the result was simply due to a mid-term protest and a low turn-out.

Dr Reid defended Labour's showing and said the electorate might have thought they did not need to go out and vote.

Scottish Secretary John Reid defends his party's poor showing in the Hamilton South by-election
He said: "We won the election last night. We won it in a mid-term, in a very small constituency with a very low turnout.

"There were 12 candidates with people protesting, and I accept that they do in mid-term, but what is quite clear is that the government is not unpopular."

For the SNP it was celebrations on the morning after the night before - even though the party failed to win the seat.

[ image: Bill Tynan got in by a whisker]
Bill Tynan got in by a whisker
The nationalist's deputy leader, John Swinney, described the result as a "stunning performance".

However, it was still a tale of what could have been. An extra 1% swing would have provided Mrs Ewing with the kind of sensational victory which her mother, Winnie Ewing, achieved 32 years ago in a similarly hard-fought Hamilton by-election.

Despite missing out, an upbeat Mr Swinney told BBC Radio Scotland: "We are absolutely delighted with the result. We have taken a Labour majority from 16,000 down to less than 600.

"Annabelle Ewing was an outstanding candidate in the by-election. She engaged marvellously with the electorate and delivered for the SNP a result that is very pleasing.

[ image: John Swinney:
John Swinney: "Fantastic result for SNP"
"It would have been nice to have won - this was the fifth safest Labour seat in Scotland."

At least Labour was comforted by the fact it had won the Westminster seat.

For the Liberal Democrats - coalition partners in the devolved Scottish government - it was a night of humiliation - having been forced into sixth position behind a fringe candidate.

With just 634 votes and the loss of a deposit, the party was beaten by disgruntled supporters of Hamilton Academical Football Club.

The Liberal Democrats' Donald Gorrie, regional MSP for Central Scotland, said: "Obviously this was a disappointing result but if you start at fourth place in an election you are always struggling."

He accepted the Scottish Parliament coalition agreement with Labour might have put some voters off.

The by-election was called following George Robertson's appointment as secretary general of Nato and his subsequent elevation to the House of Lords.

At the 1997 general election, Mr Robertson won the seat with a majority of nearly 16,000.

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