THE new Conservative councillor for East Lothian has hailed his election as proof the party is the "real alternative" to the SNP in Scotland.

Former journalist Craig Hoy won a by-election for the Haddington and Lammermuir ward in a vote which saw Labour fall into third place.

More than 44 per cent of voters took part in the by-election in the ward where there are more than 14,000 people registered to vote.

Mr Hoy said that his election was testimony to a strong local campaign and the fact that "people in East Lothian do not want a second [independence] referendum".

He said: "People recognise the Scottish Conservatives are a local party standing up for ordinary Scots.

"The results show it is us and not Labour standing up for Scottish people, we are the alternative to the SNP now."

The by-election was sparked by the resignation of former Conservative councillor Brian Small in February and had placed the balance of power in the local authority, which has a minority Labour administration, in the balance.

The resignation left both the Scottish Conservatives and SNP with six councillors apiece and the Tories battling to retain their position as the recognised official opposition party.

Mr Hoy was front runner after the first preference votes were counted in the Single Transferable Vote (STV) system, with SNP candidate Lorraine Glass close behind.

He was eventually declared the winner at the final stage of the count.

Conservative opposition leader Councillor Jane Henderson said: "I am absolutely delighted with this result, which has come during a very challenging time."

Councillor Willie Innes, East Lothian Council leader, said that he was disappointed the Labour candidate Neal Black had not been able to take the seat, blaming national politics for his lack of support.

Mr Innes said: "We had an excellent candidate with strong local roots embarking on this campaign.

"Unfortunately, national politics had a greater impact that we had previously thought and we have paid for that."

Councillor Stuart Currie, SNP Group leader on East Lothian Council, said: "Of course we're disappointed to have missed out by 290 votes at the final stage, but our campaign team and Lorraine were fantastic throughout and should take much credit from increasing our votes in every part of the ward.

"There is no doubt that the Labour administration are paying the price for decisions on music tuition and coastal car parking charges. Their vote collapsed by more than 12 per cent, sending a clear judgement on their record in East Lothian."

In terms of first preference votes, Mr Hoy (Con) finished first with 2,212 votes, followed by  Lorraine Glass (SNP) (1,866), Neal Black (Lab) (1,359), Stuart Crawford (Lib Dem) (774) and David Sisson (UKIP) (108).