Tom Gordon

Scottish Political Editor

TWO of the No campaign's biggest hitters were the top-spending Scottish candidates at the general election, as they tried in vain to hold back the SNP tsunami.

Danny Alexander, the former LibDem Chief Secretary to the Treasury, was the country's top spender, forking out £50,000 in a failed defence of his Highlands seat.

His SNP challenger Drew Hendry thrashed him after spending less half that.

Douglas Alexander, the former Shadow Foreign Secretary and Labour's UK election coordinator, spent around £47,500 in his Paisley & Renfrewshire South seat.

His SNP challenger, 20-year-old student Mairi Black, ousted him with just £11,000.

The figures confirm a pattern seen across Scotland on election night - that money was no defence against a rampant SNP.

In a series of key seats analysed by the Sunday Herald, Labour and the LibDems outspent the SNP many times over, yet suffered a post-referendum backlash regardless.

In the most extreme case, former Scottish Labour deputy Anas Sarwar spent 4.6 times the SNP's Alison Thewliss only to be crushed by a 27 per cent swing against him.

Former leader Jim Murphy and former Shadow Scottish Secretary Margaret Curran spent twice their SNP rivals in East Renfrewshire and Glasgow East respectively.

The three unionist survivors - LibDem Alistair Carmichael in Orkney & Shetland, Tory David Mundell in the Borders, and Labour's Ian Murray in Edinburgh South - were all forced to heavily outspend the SNP to hold on.

Danny Alexander's £49,908 in Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey was the most spent by any candidate in absolute terms, and more than double Hendry's £21,783, despite nine other Scottish seats having bigger electorates.

Despite the cost of his campaign - 80 per cent funded by wealthy individuals - Alexander's 2010 majority of 8,765 was replaced by an SNP win of 10,809 on a 20.4 per cent swing.

Each LibDem vote cost £2.77, each SNP vote just 76p.

Douglas Alexander's was the biggest spend in relative terms, as his £47,422 represented 95 per cent of the legal maximum, compared to Danny Alexander's 93 per cent.

Spending limits vary from seat to seat and are based on voter numbers.

Douglas Alexander's campaign even cost £20,000 more than Murphy's, who spent a relatively £27,366 in neighbouring East Renfrewshire.

Clearly not expecting a tough contest, one of the lowest spending LibDem incumbents was Alistair Carmichael, who spent a mere third of the sum allowable in Orkney and Shetland.

His final bill of £15,050 compared to £8,607 for the SNP's Danus Skene, who nevertheless slashed Carmichael's majority from 9,928 to 817 on a 23.9 per cent swing.

An SNP spokesman said: "No matter how much they spent, people in Scotland were never going to forget or forgive the way Danny Alexander and the Lib Dems abandoned all of their principles in government - or the way senior Labour figures like Douglas Alexander were happy to work hand in glove with the Tories during the referendum campaign."

Craig Harrow, convener of the Scottish LibDems and Alexander's election agent, admitted the SNP's campaign had been far more efficient.

"We knew we had to put in the fight of our lives and raise and spend as much money as possible. But as a party we now have to question some of our techniques. The SNP message was clear, easy to understand, and they got very good value for money. We tend to focus on getting out leaflets. We're analogue campaigners in a digital age."

A Labour spokesman added: "Despite putting a lot of resources into our campaign, including the largest grassroots effort in the party's history, we suffered a devastating defeat at the general election. We need to learn the lessons as we rebuild our movement for the future."