New SNP MP Mhairi Black, Britain's youngest member of parliament since 1667, shakes hand of losing Labour candidate Douglas Alexander
Experimental feature

Listen to this article

Experimental feature

Labour’s election chief lost his previously rock-solid seat to a 20 year-old newcomer on Thursday night, one of the most high-profile victims of the Scottish National party landslide victory, swiftly followed by Labour leader in Scotland, Jim Murphy.

Douglas Alexander, a Labour veteran and shadow foreign secretary, lost in Paisley and Renfrewshire South by 23,000 votes to 17,000, to Mhairi Black, a university student. He had held the seat in 2010 with 26,000 votes.

The defeat was emblematic of a seismic shift in Scottish politics, with the pro-independence SNP predicted to win all but one of Scotland’s 59 seats.

Scottish head of the party Mr Murphy lost his East Renfrewshire seat to the SNP’s Kirsten Oswald.

The results illustrated the divergence of Scottish politics from those in England, where the Conservatives appeared to have done well enough to get close to an overall majority. And they also bring closer the prospect of a second independence referendum, just eight months after pro-unionists won the last one.

If repeated across the country, Ms Black’s swing of 21 per cent would see the SNP sweep the board. Having never fought an election before, she will become the youngest MP in the next parliament and the youngest since 1667.

The result ends decades of Labour political domination north of the border, where it won 41 seats in 2010, but could now end up with none. Labour’s Scottish losses looked set to significantly increase the size of the party’s national defeat.

Mr Alexander said: “Scotland has chosen to oppose this Conservative government but not to place its trust in Labour. It will be our responsibility to win back that trust in the months and weeks ahead.”

Speaking to the BBC after the result, Alex Salmond, former SNP leader, said: “There’s a lion roaring in Scotland tonight. A Scottish lion.”

Mr Alexander was one of Ed Miliband’s key lieutenants, having been appointed in 2013 by the Labour leader to take over Labour’s national election campaign. He had previously led both the party’s campaign in 2010 and the failed leadership campaign of Mr Miliband’s brother David.

He was integral to many of Ed Miliband’s most important decisions, including opposing the government’s plans to take military action in Syria and to rule out promising an EU referendum during the next parliament.

But he attracted criticism for some of the strategic campaign decisions he took, including hiring the US political strategist David Axelrod at a cost of £300,000. Mr Axelrod was criticised by some in Labour for spending very little time in the UK during campaign.

Mr Alexander’s defeat brings an ignominious end to a long political career for the former lawyer, who first entered parliament in 1997. He served in a variety of cabinet roles, including as transport secretary, Scottish secretary and development secretary.

But his most lasting legacy might ironically be the key role he played in last year’s successful campaign against Scottish independence.

Get alerts on UK Election: Battle for Scotland when a new story is published

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2019. All rights reserved.

Follow the topics in this article