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Britain's Labour Party Suffers Heavy Losses in Local Elections

In Britain, results from local elections Thursday show that Prime Minister Tony Blair's Labour Party has suffered big losses, especially in Scotland. Tom Rivers reports from London that with Mr. Blair likely to leave office soon, the election is grim news for the Labour Party and the person who will take over after Mr. Blair.

Next week, Prime Minister Tony Blair says he will announce his departure date from 10 Downing Street. From the results of local elections, the person who succeeds Mr. Blair will be leading a greatly reduced Labour Party.

In England, Wales and Scotland, Labour has lost 500 local seats. Labour's losses in Scotland were particularly devastating.

For the first time in more than 50 years, Labour party dominance has gone. The big winner is the pro-independence Scottish National Party.

The SNP claimed 47 seats in the Scottish parliament to Labour's 46.

Informal discussions between the SNP and the Liberal Democrats are already under way to form a coalition government in the Scottish parliament.

But as SNP leader Alex Salmond told his colleagues, that will not be easy.

"Most of us have grasped the fact that you have to build a coalition in the Scots parliament and that is going to take some time, some effort," he said.

The Scottish parliament has full control of some areas, like education policy, but not all. Defense policy, for instance, is still determined by the British parliament in London.

The SNP, however, has been pushing for a referendum on complete independence that it hopes to put before the country in three years.

But that is something their potential coalition partners, the Scottish Liberal Democrats, do not agree with. Nichol Stephens is their leader.

"The Liberal Democrat position is absolutely clear on this issue," he noted. "We do not support independence. We want to see more powers for the Scottish parliament, but not independence and not a referendum on independence."

Viewed more broadly, the results throughout England, Wales and Scotland signal a tough time for Labour, and Tony Blair's apparent successor, Finance Minister Gordon Brown.