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SNP wins majority rule over Scottish Parliament

Alex Salmond’s SNP has won outright control of Holyrood after a stunning landslide victory which saw Labour crushed in its heartlands and the Liberal Democrats reduced to the role of a fringe party.

Normal 0 false false false MicrosoftInternetExplorer4 /* Style Definitions */ table.MsoNormalTable {mso-style-name:"Table Normal"; mso-tstyle-rowband-size:0; mso-tstyle-colband-size:0; mso-style-noshow:yes; mso-style-parent:""; mso-padding-alt:0cm 5.4pt 0cm 5.4pt; mso-para-margin:0cm; mso-para-margin-bottom:.0001pt; mso-pagination:widow-orphan; font-size:10.0pt; font-family:"Times New Roman"; mso-ansi-language:#0400; mso-fareast-language:#0400; mso-bidi-language:#0400;} After the most dramatic election Scotland has ever seen, SNP candidates swept to victory in areas they could never have imagined winning, taking the scalps of some of Labour’s biggest hitters and ousting LibDems and Conservatives from previously safe seats. Labour leader Iain Gray, who held his own East Lothian seat by only 151 votes,  announced he would quit in the autumn after a disastrous string of declarations, including the loss of nine party colleagues who have been at Holyrood since 1999. At   2.25pm today, the declaration for David Torrance in Kirkcaldy gave Mr Salmond the magic number of 65 seats which will ensure the SNP has an overall majority in the 129-seat Scottish Parliament -- the first time that has been achieved by any party. The SNP finished with 69 seats, giving the nationalists a comfortable margin to deliver its mandate. All three previous administrations have been either coalitions or minority governments, and the scale of the nationalists’ success can be measured by the fact that experts have always believed that Scotland’s PR voting system meant outright rule was unimaginable. A referendum on independence from the rest of the UK is now almost certain to be held within the SNP’s next five-year term.

The SNP's share of the vote is up around 12% on the 2007 election, while the LibDems are down 7.6%, the Conservatives by 2.6% and Labour - despite its massive loss of seats - is down only 0.6%.

Estimated turnout was put at less than 50%, with heavy rain on Thursday blamed in part. The previous lowest turnout at a Holyrood election was 49% in 2003.

David Cameron congratulated Mr  Salmond on the party's emphatic win but added that as Prime Minister he "passionately believed" in the union. "I will do everything, obviously, as British Prime Minister to work with the First Minister of Scotland, as I will always do, and to treat the Scottish people and the Scottish Government with the respect they deserve. But on the issue of the United Kingdom, if they want to hold a referendum, I will campaign to keep our United Kingdom together with every single fibre I have."

Business leaders in Scotland reacted with cautious optimism to the SNP's triumph. CBI Scotland director Iain McMillan said: "The SNP has won a decisive election victory and should rightly be congratulated on their success. CBI Scotland looks forward to working with the new Scottish government, and indeed all MSPs, to help deliver policies which encourage economic growth, trade and investment, and which respond imaginatively to the fiscal challenges ahead."

Andy Willox, Scottish policy convener of the Federation of Small Businesses, said: "The SNP must be congratulated on a decisive victory. It gives them the parliamentary majority and stability to grapple with some of the challenges that Scotland faces. Top of that list will be allowing Scotland's small businesses to get on with the job of creating the employment and economic growth the country so badly needs, while managing reductions in public sector spending."

But the Scottish Trades Union Congress warned of an "extremely fragile" economy awaiting the new government. General secretary Grahame Smith said: "The Scottish Trades Union Congress congratulates Alex Salmond and the SNP on their dramatic and unprecedented victory. The Scottish economy remains extremely fragile and the coalition's spending cuts are only just beginning to bite. "In this situation the Scottish Government must continue to focus on using all available levers to support jobs. The STUC does not want to see the constitutional issue dominate Scottish politics over the course of this Parliament and, therefore, believes that it should be resolved at the earliest opportunity through a referendum."

Cardinal Keith O'Brien, leader of the Catholic Church in Scotland, said: "I offer my congratulations to Alex Salmond on his success in these elections and look forward to working with the new Scottish Government in the years ahead." The Rev Ian Galloway, convener of the church and society council of the Church of Scotland, said: "We wish well all who are preparing to take up the challenges that face our MSPs in the months and years ahead, and thank those who will not return for a new term."

Earlier, in a night and day of political earthquakes,  two of the biggest casualties were in Lanarkshire, where big-hitters Andy Kerr and Tom McCabe were well beaten as voters swung behind the SNP.

They were followed by more SNP victories in Clydesdale, where Aileen Campbell defeated Karen Gillon; and Airdrie and Shotts, where Alex Neil beat Karen Whitefield by even larger majorities. Jamie Hepburn added to the SNP tally by beating Labour’s Cathie Craigie in Cumbernauld and Kilsyth. Mr Neil said there was a “political tsunami sweeping Scotland” and a “huge change” in the country’s culture.

The Lanarkshire results were followed by a crushing defeat for Stephen Curran in Glasgow Southside, where SNP deputy leader Nicola Sturgeon cruised to a 4349 majority. Ms Sturgeon said the SNP’s wins were a victory for “positivity over negativity”. She added: “I was quietly confident of winning the seat for the SNP. The scale of the majority exceeded all my expectations.”

There was worse to come for Labour in Glasgow Shettleston where former MP John Mason toppled Frank McAveety, while James Dornan, the SNP leader on Glasgow city council, beat former council leader Charlie Gordon in Glasgow Cathcart.  Pauline McNeill also fell in Glasgow Kelvin, where SNP list MSP Sandra White took her seat, and nationalist Bill Kidd triumphed in Glasgow Anniesland, ousting Labour's Bill Butler by only seven votes after a recount.

The SNP also scored notable successes in Renfrewshire. George Adam took the Paisley seat previously held by Wendy Alexander, defeating her replacement Evan Williams, while the SNP's Derek Mackay won Renfrewshire North and West , previously a Labour stronghold for Trish Godman, who stood down following three terms.

There were  triumphs too for the nationalists in the Labour fiefdoms of Clydebank and Milngavie and Strathkelvin and Bearsden: Gil Paterson beat Des McNulty in the former, while Fiona MacLeod overcame David Whitton in the latter.

The SNP also took major strides in the north-east, winning all 10 constituency seats. Maureen Watt won Aberdeen South and Kincardine North from the LibDems, and Kevin Stewart ousted long-standing Labour MSP Lewis Macdonald in Aberdeen Central, although the latter did return on the regional list.

And in the Highlands, nationalists Rob Gibson and Dave Thompson claimed LibDem scalps in Caithness, Sutherland and Ross, and in Skye, Badenoch and Lochaber. Those results, and an SNP triumph in Stirling for Bruce Drawford, mean mainland Scotland's electoral map north of the central belt is now coloured solely yellow.

In Edinburgh, the SNP’s Gordon MacDonald ousted former Conservative leader David McLetchie in his Edinburgh Pentlands seat and colleague Marco Biagi came first in Edinburgh Central, a contest which had previously been seen as a two-way race between Labour's Sarah Boyack and the LibDems. Mr McLetchie and Ms Boyack were later returned on the Lothians list.

The LibDems' two big early losses were in Edinburgh Western, where former education spokeswoman Margaret Smith lost by 3000 votes to  Colin Keir of the SNP, and in Aberdeenshire West, where LibDem chief whip Mike Rumbles was dumped by the SNP's Dennis Robertson.

The only early bright spots were victories for party leader Tavish Scott in Shetland and Liam MacArthur in Orkney, but they were small comfort set against a significant vote collapse across much of the country, and 30 lost deposits from the first 54 declarations.

There was also little good news for the Tories, whose high hopes of taking Eastwood fell flat with Labour’s Ken McIntosh taking a seat where the Tories’ Jackson Carlaw had a notional 3000 majority thanks to boundary changes.

However, Annabel Goldie, who is widely considered to have fought a good campaign in difficult circumstances, will be back at Holyrood after coming through on the West of Scotland list.

In the Glasgow list, Patrick Harvie became the first Green to reclaim his position at Holyrood, but there was no place for Respect's George Galloway, although his Coalition against the Cuts grouping did amass more second votes than the LibDems in the city.

An indication of the boost in SNP support came in Almond Valley, where the party was notionally four votes ahead of Labour going into the election. In the end, the SNP won with a majority of 5,542.

Immediately after his defeat, Tom McCabe admitted he “didn’t see it coming”. Mr McCabe said Labour had to rethink its election strategy and take into account there was now a “different dynamic” between Holyrood and Westminster elections.

As the recriminations began, Labour's Mr Gray defended his early election campaign strategy of attacking the Tories at Westminster rather than the SNP at Holyrood and also blamed the collapse of the LibDems for Labour’s defeat.

Labour’s deputy leader Johann Lamont admitted Labour would have to re-think its policy of not putting constituency candidates on the regional lists. “We recognised that with the last boundary changes we would allow that, but it isn’t in the instincts of the party,” she said. “The view has been that we ought to choose one or other.”

Staring at a heavy beating in Scotland, Labour’s UK deputy leader Harriet Harman said the SNP’s apparent success raised the prospect of a referendum on independence. “I hope that the price won’t be paid of people being pushed into independence in Scotland when clearly that is not actually what they want.”

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