Scotland’s future on a ‘knife edge’: Nicola Sturgeon admits SNP hopes of majority will go down to wire as Boris Johnson blasts her plan for new independence referendum as ‘irresponsible and reckless’



Nicola Sturgeon was today aiming to push ahead with plans for a second Scottish independence referendum as Boris Johnson set himself on course for a dramatic constitutional clash with her in his defence of the Union as the tight election count resumed in Scotland today. 

The tense parliamentary contest looked on track for a record turnout, despite fears that the pandemic and poor weather would dent voter numbers – with the Scottish National Party leader admitting her hopes of a majority were on a ‘knife edge’, but it is ‘almost certain’ the SNP will win its fourth term in power at Holyrood.

Ms Sturgeon said ‘when the time is right’ she will offer Scots ‘the choice of a better future’ in a second referendum on independence – but Mr Johnson hit back, insisting he would not back the ‘irresponsible’ move, and senior minister George Eustice warned it was the wrong time to be considering another plebiscite.

Achieving the 65 seats needed for an outright victory in Scotland could make it harder for the PM to refuse, but if the SNP falls short of that target it could still achieve a majority for a referendum with the help of the Greens.

With 49 of the 73 constituency results declared in Scotland by noon today, the SNP had 40 seats, Liberal Democrats four, Conservatives three and Labour two. 

The SNP made it to 40 seats this morning as they held Aberdeenshire East in the only result declared so far on Saturday. Gillian Martin retained her seat with 18,307 votes, with Conservative candidate Stewart Whyte taking second place on 16,418 votes. The Liberal Democrats won 3,396 votes and Labour 2,900.

Some constituencies are still to be counted today, when the crucial regional list results of 56 regional MSPs will also be declared. Traditional overnight counts were abandoned after Thursday’s election due to Covid-19. 

Ms Sturgeon, who comfortably defeated Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar to claim Glasgow Southside yesterday, said afterwards: ‘My focus, if we are re-elected as the government, is to get back to work to steer the country through the crisis and into recovery.

‘That remains the case. But once the crisis is over, and if there is a majority in the parliament for an independence referendum, people should have the right to choose our future. Scotland’s future should always be in Scotland’s hands.’

Speaking about the prospect of winning an overall majority, the SNP leader said: ‘It’s certainly not impossible, but nor is it guaranteed.

‘That was always going to be on a knife edge, it comes down to a small number of votes in a small number of seats, so at this midway point it is certainly still there as a possibility, but I have never taken that for granted.

‘It is a long shot, to say the least, in a PR (proportional representation) system, to win a majority – you effectively have to break the system. I would like to do it, but I have never been complacent about that.’

It comes as Labour this morning blamed the pandemic for ‘restricting’ the opportunities’ for its politicians to campaign across Britain after the Conservatives racked up a string of stunning poll victories in the local elections.

Labour will hope for better results today after a bruising Friday. With results in from 84 of 143 English councils, the Tories had a net gain of seven authorities and 173 seats, while Labour had a net loss of four councils and 164 seats.

In London’s mayoral contest, Labour’s Sadiq Khan goes into today with a lead of 24,267 first preference votes over Tory rival Shaun Bailey after the first seven constituencies declared, a closer contest than many had predicted.

Labour was thrashed in the Hartlepool by-election, with Jill Mortimer securing a majority of almost 7,000, while Tory Ben Houchen won a second term as mayor of Tees Valley with a whopping 73 per cent share of the vote.

And the Tories gained control of a series of councils, including Northumberland, Nottinghamshire, Dudley, Harlow and Nuneaton and Bedworth – reversing the mid-term slump often suffered by governing parties.

With the Conservatives also winning seats across the West Midlands, senior figures were confident that the region’s mayor Andy Street will secure a second term in office when returns there are announced today. 

Meanwhile counting began of the 714,745 votes cast in the Greater Manchester Combined Authority Mayoral elections this morning, with incumbent Andy Burnham widely expected to win the poll. Burnham won 63.4 per cent of the votes cast in 2017 and turnout is up around 5 per cent on the last election, to 34.7 per cent.

The outcome of the first round of voting is expected around 3pm, although with Mr Burnham running for a second term and nine candidates in all, the election could go to a second round, with second preference votes also then counted to decide the winner.

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