Labour Party Bashed In U.K. Elections

Prime Minister Tony Blair speaks about the various elections, at the Labour Party's headquarters in London Friday May 4, 2007. Blair insistedy that the Labour Party's showing at the polls provided "a perfectly good springboard to go on and win the next General Election". (AP Photo/Stefan Rousseau, pool)
AP Photo/Stefan Rousseau
Voters handed Prime Minister Tony Blair's Labour party a string of embarrassing defeats in municipal elections, seen Friday as a rebuke to the outgoing leader in his final days in office.

Most notably, the pro-independence Scottish National Party won the most seats in elections to the Scottish Parliament, beating the Labour Party in a closely fought race.

In elections marred by technical and other problems, the SNP took 47 of 129 seats, compared to 46 seats for Labour. The Conservative Party finished third, with 17 seats, while the Liberal Democrats won 16 seats.

The close result will mean that no one party will be able to govern alone in the parliament. Labour has governed Scotland in the past together in a coalition with Britain's third main party, the Liberal Democrats.

Scotland has been part of the United Kingdom for 300 years, but has its own legal system, and since 1998, it also has an independent parliament in Edinburgh which handles Scotland-only issues. It also sends representatives to the U.K. central government in London.

SNP leader Alex Salmond, who himself won a tough battle in the constituency of Gordon, in northeast Scotland, could now be Scotland's First Minister, or national leader.

"I think there is a new dawn breaking, not just in the northeast of Scotland but across our country," Salmond said after he won his seat in the Parliament. "I think there is a perspective opening up in Scottish politics which is going to transcend our experience."

Blair said the results were not as bad as predicted.

"Everyone said we were going to get hammered, it was going to be a rout, and it's not turned out like that," he said. "The fact is we have come from 10 points behind in Scotland to neck and neck."

But there were problems in counting votes, ranging from fog in the remote Western Isles — a helicopter due to carry ballot boxes to a counting hall was grounded — to engine failure in a boat ferrying votes from the Scottish isle of Arran.

Officials were investigating technical problems with the computers that counted electronic votes, and there were delays in getting postal votes to people's homes. Newspapers branded the election "a fiasco and a shambles" after it was beset with technical problems as an estimated 100,000 ballot papers — five percent of the turnout — were spoiled.