The Scottish National Party won the 2021 Scottish Parliament election by a landslide, even if it didn't win an absolute majority of seats. The question now is what does Nicola Sturgeon do with this victory? The one thing we do know is that it won't mean an independence referendum, at least not immediately.

She said repeatedly during the campaign that her “priority” is the pandemic and ensuring a speedy recovery. She wouldn't even think of a referendum until “the crisis is over”. But when will that be, and how will we know? The First Minister's biggest problem, after her historic fourth victory, may be how to ramp down expectations amongst her own troops that Indyref2 is now done and dusted.

There was palpable relief in Number Ten, who think that the SNP's failure to gain an overall majority means that Boris Johnson can safely ignore the result. Yet the idea that the SNP needed to win 90% of the constituency seats to secure `'a majority” is clearly democratic nonsense.

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Perhaps the SNP should have made more efforts to explain that, under the Additional Member System, it is almost impossible to win an absolute majority.

It can happen, of course, and did in 2011 under Alex Salmond, but that was a fluke. This time, the SNP won a higher percentage of votes than 2011 or 2016 and the highest number of constituency votes ever, but still did not win an overall majority. What cannot be ignored is that this was a resounding victory for the independence parties, and delivers the largest parliamentary majority for a repeat referendum.

The overall result may resemble 2016, but its weight is greater, not least because the turnout was so large – the highest in any Scottish parliament election by far. Scottish voters were clearly engaged with the issues. This election was not overshadowed by Brexit, as was the case in 2016, when it took place on the very eve of the referendum on EU membership.

Mind you, Ms Sturgeon rather undermined her indyref case early in the 2021 campaign by insisting that she would not have accepted or recognised the list votes of Alex Salmond's party, Alba. If that was “gaming the system” then surely relying on list votes from the Green Party is similarly cheating?

Alex Salmond's attempt to get SNP voters to split their ticket on the list may actually have worked. Unfortunately for him, they didn't back Alba. The Scottish Green Party benefited most from SNP tactical voting on the list. It may have seemed like a no brainer for Alex Salmond to create a new version of the SNP to harvest “lost” list votes. In North East Scotland, 137,000 SNP votes in 2016 failed to deliver a single SNP list seat. Salmond needed only 6 or 7% - around 18,000 votes. But his personality was his worst enemy. Nicola Sturgeon will not have her former mentor holding her to account at question time.

Nor will she face Anas Sarwar leading for the opposition. Labour's new leader had a good campaign but failed to displace the Tories, who returned the same number of seats as in 2016. As with Keir Starmer in England, voters were unclear about what exactly where Labour stood in this election. The Tory leader Douglas Ross, deployed the clear message “Stop The Referendum” in much the same way as Boris Johnson used “Get Brexit Done” in 2019. It worked.

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The Scottish Green Party were the only ones to make a significant advance over 2016, as the Scottish Liberal Democrats fell further back. Patrick Harvie may now press the case for a formal coalition with the SNP. A coalition would perhaps make the Indyref2 mandate appear more solid. On the other hand it would mean Nicola Sturgeon accepting measures like higher taxes or closing down the North Sea Oil industry with which she would be distinctly uncomfortable.

Her immediate problem lies with her own party, not the Greens. SNP supporters will want action not more words. They have been champing at the bit for at least the last five years. Just how many mandates does Nicola need? Yet it looks as if they will have to dig deep for reserves of further patience.

Had it not been for Alex Salmond syphoning off many of the most ardent independence supporters, Nicola Sturgeon might have been in trouble from a grass roots revolt. But they are now in the wilderness. She remains the queen of caution and will not be bounced into a referendum until she's absolutely clear that there is a solid majority for Yes. What an irony it would be if it is Alex Salmond who has given the Union a stay of execution.