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Friday, 8 June, 2001, 05:15 GMT 06:15 UK

Salmond hails poll standing

The Scottish National Party's former leader said nationalists can build on their general election performance and consolidate their position as the second party in Scotland.

The SNP saw its share of the vote north of the Border fall by 2% to 20.17% and it lost Galloway and Upper Nithsdale to the Tories.

The party also failed in a determined assault on one of its main targets, Labour-held Inverness East, Nairn and Lochaber, which Labour held with a majority of 4,716.

But Mr Salmond said the SNP could build on the progress it has made since devolution and make a real impact at the Scottish parliamentary elections in 2003.

"I think consolidating as the second party in Scotland is no mean achievement in the SNP's history," he said.

"The SNP's MPs will be going to Westminster as Scotland's bulwark to defend Scotland's share of public spending against New Labour's cuts."

Speaking after his win in Banff and Buchan, Mr Salmond said it was important to mobilise younger voters and involve them in the political process in time for the Scottish parliamentary elections in 2003.

Elsewhere, one of Britain's most formidable political clans boosted its parliamentary numbers as the SNP held Perth after a tense recount.

Annabelle Ewing retained the seat with a majority of just 48 over the Tories.

She succeeds SNP deputy leader Roseanna Cunningham, who stood down from the Westminster seat to concentrate on the Scottish Parliament.

Carrying the torch

The Perth victory takes to four the number of Ewings to be found in parliamentary seats in Edinburgh and London.

However, the nationalists' success in Perth was tempered as Alasdair Ewing lost the Galloway and Upper Nithsdale seat to the Conservatives' Peter Duncan.

Mr Duncan may be the only Scottish Tory voice at Westminster after securing a slight majority of 74.

Winnie Ewing, 71, is a regional SNP MSP for the Highlands and Islands in the Scottish Parliament, where her son and daughter-in-law are also MSPs.

Son Fergus, 43, is SNP MSP for Inverness East, Nairn and Lochaber, having won that seat in the inaugural Scottish Parliament elections of 1999.

Winnie Ewing became the SNP's first woman MP with a spectacular by-election victory in Hamilton in 1967, giving the party its first big political triumph of the post-war era, and was a Euro MP from 1975 to 1999.

Mrs Ewing lost that seat three years later - but daughter Annabelle, 40, very nearly won it back for the SNP in the 1999 Hamilton South by-election, shredding to less than 600 a previous Labour of majority of nearly 16,000.

Tory warning

Miss Ewing said the family's reputation had helped in her campaigning.

"The Ewing surname is a help when campaigning in Scotland for the cause of Scotland," she said.

"My mother particularly, and my sister-in-law and brother, are well-known for fighting Scotland's corner.

"They are well-respected and admired in their constituencies and throughout Scotland, and I am very proud of my family's commitment to Scotland.

"It is a commitment that is well-recognised the length and breadth of the country, and therefore it can only be a help in campaigning."

" Remember what Tories were like, what life under William Hague would be like. That, I think, was the clincher "
SNP's Peter Wishart

The five seats held by the SNP included Tayside North, which was won by Runrig musician Peter Wishart.

He said the SNP had enthused the electorate in the Tayside North constituency and throughout Scotland, by issuing a stark choice.

He added that the party had asked the electorate to consider what life could be like under a Tory government.

"Remember what Tories were like, what life under William Hague would be like. That, I think, was the clincher," he said.

Mr Wishart added that SNP Leader John Swinney had transformed the party as it seeks to become the second party in Scotland.

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