Scottish Labour is set to become the main challenger to Nicola Sturgeon’s SNP in future elections after Conservative support plunged to its worst Scottish showing a decade.
Anas Sarwar said he was delighted with his party's performance in coming in second place nationally after all the council results were counted across Scotland.
But the Scottish Labour leader insisted that coming second was not the limit of his ambition.
Sarwar said: “This is the first positive and cheerful day for the Scottish Labour party in a decade and I’m very confident by the end of the day we’ll be in comfortable second place in Scotland. Our eyes are now firmly set on the SNP.”
He told the BBC: “Of course I’m pleased after a decade of being written off, but I want us to build on this.”
“I don’t aspire for Labour to be in second - I aspire for us to be in first place. I had a mammoth task when I took over just over a year ago but we managed to stop Armageddon last year and have demonstrated progress this year, making gains off the SNP and the Tories, winning in parts of Scotland we haven’t won in for a very long time.”
With 31 councils declared Labour had gained 18 seats to come in at 278 councillors, well behind the SNP's 451 and ahead of the Conservatives on 212, down 61 seats.
Labour enjoyed an unexpected win in SNP-controlled West Dunbartonshire, taking overall control of the council, and it won a swathe of seats across Scotland’s 32 councils.
The Scottish Greens also enjoyed a surge of support in city and rural elections.
Scottish Green candidate Holly Bruce beat Glasgow’s SNP leader Susan Aitken into second place in her ward on first preferences but Aitken was returned under a redistribution of second preference votes.
Co-leader Patrick Harvie MSP described the Scottish Green performance as “phenomenal”, up 15 seats to 34 councillors in total.
He credited the party’s gains to a “very active” campaign in targeted wards and the power-sharing agreement with the SNP in Holyrood showing that the party could have real influence.