At lunchtime yesterday a very British revolution took place. Saltires, Union flags, and Welsh Dragons fluttered as a cheering crowd welcomed a new Prime Minister, Sir Keir Starmer, to Downing Street.

The well-wishers were Labour party supporters, and the flags were given out by staffers with an eye for a feelgood picture. After a ruthlessly choreographed campaign, no one was going to take a chance with spontaneity now. Has anyone seen that blessed Ming vase by the way?

The scenes called to mind Tony Blair’s arrival at Number 10 after he brought a long spell of Conservative government to an end with a landslide majority. There were more echoes of the past as Sir Keir spoke of stability, service, trust, and returning politics to public service. Close your eyes and it could have been Clement Attlee introducing Pathe newsreel viewers to his “party of idealists”.

But this is not 1945 or 1997. Sir Keir may have led his party to a three-figure majority but he does not arrive in office on a wave of optimism, as Blair did or, like Attlee, with the mass of the public on his side. Labour won this election on the second lowest turnout since 1885. As polling expert Sir John Curtice said: “In many ways this looks like an election the Conservatives have lost, rather than one Labour has won.”

It is a crucial point, one that Scottish Labour should bear in mind when looking to the Scottish Parliament elections in 2026. What voters giveth at one election they can take away at another.

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This is not to diminish the enormity of Labour’s achievement in bringing the party back from a calamitous defeat in 2019 and, just five years later, into government. It is, however, to remind Sir Keir that the picture is more complicated than it may appear and that governing, even with such a large majority, will not be straightforward.

He seemed to acknowledge as much when he spoke in Downing Street of rebuilding the country “brick by brick”. At the same time as he appeals for patience and a return to stability, he campaigned on the promise of change. Which is it to be, full steam ahead or steady as she goes?

If the general election shows anything it is how angry the voters are with the status quo. They set out to punish the incumbents at Westminster and in Holyrood, with tactical voting their weapon of choice, and they succeeded to a degree that has shifted the tectonic plates in Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Nowhere was this more evident than in Scotland, where the SNP lost 38 MPs. No one appeared more surprised than the leadership, which tells its own story about the growing disconnect between the party and its supporters. SNP leader and Scotland’s First Minister John Swinney has promised a period of “soul searching”. With all the party has been through in recent years, can there be any more unexplored corners in its psyche?

Nor does the Humpty Dumpty that is the SNP have much time to get itself together again before the Scottish Parliament elections.

Also embarking on another round of soul-searching are the Conservatives, who will be choosing another leader in as many years. There is no doubt the party was harmed by the return of Nigel Farage to the scene.

It is not just the Conservatives, however, who have reason to be concerned at the spread of Reform’s influence. The anti-immigration party attracted voters far outside what had been thought of as Reform’s natural territory, including Scotland. Although they did not do as well as the exit poll first suggested, there is not a millimetre’s room for complacency. Mr Farage, elected as an MP at the eighth attempt, will not be slow in exploiting every media opportunity that comes his way.

Nigel Farage's Reform UK did better than many expected in ScotlandNigel Farage's Reform UK did better than many expected in Scotland (Image: free)

The SNP’s losses were Liberal Democrat gains, with Ed Davey’s party becoming the third largest in the Commons, replacing the SNP. The SNP will miss the advantages the position brings, including a guaranteed question at Prime Minister’s Questions, a platform used to considerable effect by the party’s Westminster leader, Stephen Flynn.

Mr Davey has bungee-jumped and paddle-boarded his way into the public consciousness. His party has been given another chance to repair the damage done in the coalition years, when the Liberal Democrats broke their promises and rightly paid the price. Alas for Mr Davey, the time for fun and games is over.

He should follow the example set by the new Prime Minister. Having delivered his speech in Downing Street, Sir Keir lost no time in getting to work. The parade of hopefuls being called in to collect their ministerial boxes looked much like others in recent years, but we shall see. They will be tested soon enough.

It was telling that the first task of the new Chancellor, Rachel Reeves, the first woman in the job, was to lower expectations about the amount of money she has to spend. That, together with similar warnings throughout the campaign, will raise fears about the pace of change coming the public’s way.

As historian Dominic Sandbrook has written: “No matter how soaring a victorious party’s rhetoric, it will always be the prisoner of circumstances.” No one would ever describe Sir Keir’s oratorical style as soaring. Nevertheless, he has promised change and the public expects him to deliver. Honeymoons do not last forever.

So a new era in UK politics begins. It will take time to fully understand the various messages being sent by the electorate in this, the first post-Covid general election. A sleeping giant has been awakened, one newly appreciative of its own strength and not yet certain what it wants. It knows exactly what it does not want, and that is more of the same.

After the rancour and upheaval that has characterised UK politics for the past decade, it was difficult yesterday not to admire the smooth operation of democracy at work. Election night was brutal at times. Jobs were won and lost, sometimes deservedly but not in every case. Were you up to see the glee of former Labour leader Neil Kinnock when he heard George Galloway had lost his recently acquired Rochdale seat?

Election night was an exhilarating end to what had been a long campaign. This was a battle played out on TikTok as well as on the pages, and in the page views, of The Herald, the world’s longest-running national newspaper, as well as TV screens, radio, and podcasts.

The end, when it came, arrived in a rush, with big names falling left and right, mostly right. It was not all rough and tumble. Before Rishi Sunak departed Downing Street yesterday he paid tribute to his successor as “a decent, public-spirited man who I respect”.

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He added: “One of the most remarkable things about Britain is just how unremarkable it is that two generations after my grandparents came here with little, I could become Prime Minister. And that I could watch my two young daughters light Diwali candles on the steps in Downing Street.

“We must hold true to that idea of who we are. That vision of kindness, decency and tolerance that has always been the British way.”

Sir Keir, in turn, thanked the outgoing Prime Minister, saying: “His achievement as the first British-Asian prime minister of our country, the extra effort that will have required, should not be underestimated by anyone.”

As the Conservatives and the SNP retreat to do some rebuilding of their own, Sir Keir gets ready for his first Nato summit next week. Time and global politics wait for no leader. In a year when much of world has been holding elections, free and otherwise, UK voters can rest easy, knowing they have done their bit, for now.