Byline: Alan Roden Scottish Political Editor
ALEX SALMOND suffered a major blow at the polls as the SNP's bandwagon slowed to a crawl in Scotland's local council elections.
The First Minister's bid to seize control of all seven Scottish cities failed dramatically, following a shock upturn in Labour's fortunes in Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen.
The Lib Dems suffered a bloodbath across the country as voters punished the party for joining forces with the Tories.
Their results were even worse than expected, with the Lib Dem leader of Edinburgh Council losing her seat. In several local authority areas, not a single candidate from Nick Clegg's party was elected.
David Cameron's Conservatives also suffered, both north and south of the Border. In England, the Prime Minister was warned to rein in 'wind turbine Toryism' after the party took a hammering at the polls.
In Scotland, the Nationalists were humiliated in Glasgow and North Lanarkshire after voters handed Labour unexpected overall majorities. There were also gains elsewhere for Labour - including Edinburgh and Aberdeen.
Thursday's election followed a dismal few days for Mr Salmond, who has been widely criticised for his close links with media tycoon Rupert Murdoch.
Both the SNP and Labour improved on their performance in 2007, with the Nationalists remaining the largest party with 424 councillors, up 61 from 363. Labour now has 394 councillors, up 46 from 348.
The Tories have 115 councillors - down from 143 in 2007 - while the Lib Dems lost more than half their seats, plummeting from 166 to 71. The Greens increased their total from eight to 14 - and 205 others, mainly independents, were elected.
In Glasgow, the SNP had hoped to seize overall control. On Thursday, Nationalist MSP Humza Yousaf predicted his party would beat Labour by two to three seats.
But not only did the SNP fail to emerge as the largest party, Labour remained in overall control after winning 44 of the 79 seats, with the Nationalists on 27.
Glasgow City Council Labour leader Gordon Matheson said: 'This has been a terrible result for the SNP. Their juggernaut is now in the ditch.'
Last night, Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont said: 'This has been a very good day for Scottish Labour. Last year, the Scottish people sent us a clear message that we had to up our game, that their interests had to come before party interests and today we took a major step forward in rebuilding people's faith in us.
'We must now work hard to show people they were right to put their faith in us and continue to rebuild that trust. If last year was a tsunami for the SNP, it appears the tide is now going out on Alex Salmond.'
UK Labour leader Ed Miliband said: 'Many people were forecasting that Labour would do badly in Scotland, but we are beating back the SNP challenge.'
But Mr Salmond said: 'This is a great win for the SNP and for Scotland. Five years backing the SNP for the first time, Scotland continues to move forward with the only national party. That is a substantial achievement.
'This is a tale of two governments. The Lib Dems and Tories have had a disastrous day, feeling the full force of the Scottish people, who have rejected their damaging austerity agenda in favour of the SNP.
'And in Labour's heartlands, it is clear that Fortress Glasgow is no more. Labour's campaign stalled in Glasgow, with not a single extra seat, while the SNP increased our number of councillors and pushed Labour to the wire.
'In a PR system, there's only one way to count up at the end of the night who's won the elections and that's who has the most councillors - that will be the SNP. Indeed, we will have doubled our lead over the Labour Party in terms of the number of councillors elected since 2007. That is a truly remarkable performance.'