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Friday, 8 June, 2001, 08:17 GMT 09:17 UK

Historic night in Scotland

By BBC News Online Scotland's Brian Ponsonby

As the story of Labour's landslide unfolded during the early hours of Friday morning, it became apparent that the opposition parties had failed to storm the citadel in Scotland.

With each passing declaration in the key battlegrounds, hopes of SNP, Conservative and Liberal Democrats gains slowly evaporated.

Labour's vote held firm, despite the lowest turnout in a general election since 1918.

But for the Conservatives it was a night of cold comfort as they captured Galloway and Upper Nithsdale by a few votes only to fail elsewhere.

Labour won the first seat declared in Scotland - Hamilton South - with a slightly increased majority just before midnight.

The cabinet "big guns" - Gordon Brown, Robin Cook, John Reid and Helen Liddell - then scored easy wins as the political equivalent of "Groundhog Day" unfolded.

Any expectations that the Scottish vote might hold any great surprises were then extinguished as the key marginals, with one exception, remained unchanged.

Dumfries and Galloway, the constituency which had suffered most with foot-and-mouth, was held by Labour with a small increase.

One of the Tories most coveted seats, Eastwood in Renfrewshire, also stayed in the hands of the government, with a substantially increased majority.

For Scottish Conservative chairman, Raymond Robertson, the result was a crushing blow and meant that he had failed to recapture a seat which was once his party's safest in Scotland.

The SNP then tasted defeat in their number one target seat of Govan.

In a stunning upset, the nationalist vote collapsed by 11% and handed Mohammed Sarwar a comfortable return to the Commons.

Their second Scottish target in Inverness East, Nairn and Lochaber also stayed with Labour, who clocked up a majority of more than 4,000.

Even a visit by Sean Connery during the last few days of campaigning was not enough to prise the seat away from David Stewart.

As the count edged past 0300 BST, the Tories experienced their most bittersweet moments.

Hopes of a major revival soared when Peter Duncan captured Galloway and Upper Nithsdale from the SNP.

The unknown Tory, who could now be set for the position of Shadow Scottish Secretary, put the party back on the political map by the slenderest of wins.

But the joy was short lived when Labour saw off a strong surge of support from Malcolm Rifkind in Edinburgh Pentlands.

Lynda Clark stood firm against a 3% swing to the Conservatives, to deny the former cabinet minister a dream return to the Commons after four years in the political wilderness.

For the Scottish Liberal Democrats, it was a night of consolidation rather than spectacular gain.

They failed to capture any of their target seats but secured eight of their 10 constituencies.

However, Charles Kennedy's party must remain in limbo for most of Friday until their other two - Argyll and Bute and Orkney and Shetland - are declared on Friday.

When the dust finally settles on this election, the Scottish political landscape may be remembered for the arrival of a new party.

During the night, the Scottish Socialists looked to be on course to poll 70,000 votes.

The party's enigmatic leader, Tommy Sheridan, hailed the result as the arrival of Scotland's fifth political force.

Even the Scottish Greens found some solace among the wreckage of another Labour landslide.

They trebled their vote in the constituencies where they stood, leading MSP Robin Harper to predict bright times ahead.

He said if that trend was repeated, the Greens would return at least half-a-dozen MSPs to the Scottish parliament in 2003.

But the night belonged, once again, to Labour.

Scottish Secretary, Helen Liddell, called it an "historic moment" and she was not wrong.

For the first time in the party's history, Labour has secured a second consecutive term in office.


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