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Outcome of Holyrood election still too close to call as counting continues

© Jane Barlow/PA WireFirst Minister and SNP party leader Nicola Sturgeon celebrates after retaining her seat for Glasgow Southside
First Minister and SNP party leader Nicola Sturgeon celebrates after retaining her seat for Glasgow Southside

The SNP continue to lead the Holyrood elections, but it is still not clear if they will win an overall majority.

Nicola Sturgeon’s party gained three seats during the count on Friday – the only party to take a constituency from another – winning Ayr, Edinburgh Central and East Lothian.

However, uncertainty continued into Saturday, as the wins picked up by the SNP could cause the party to lose regional seats under Holyrood’s system, cancelling out gains made.

The coronavirus pandemic meant traditional overnight counts were abandoned after Thursday’s Scottish Parliament election.

And while new MSPs at Holyrood have still to be declared, Ms Sturgeon said it is “almost certain” the SNP will win its fourth term in power at Holyrood.

She also stressed that “when the time is right”, she should be able to offer Scots “the choice of a better future” in a second independence referendum.

Following her comments, Prime Minister Boris Johnson told The Daily Telegraph that his impression was that Scottish voters had “moved away from the idea of a referendum”.

He said another referendum would be “irresponsible and reckless” in the “current context” as Britain emerges from the coronavirus crisis.

Asked what he would do if Ms Sturgeon attempted to hold one without a Section 30 order from Westminster granting permission, he said there is “no case now for such a thing”.

The SNP have pledged to push forward with legislation at Holyrood for a second Scottish independence referendum which, if passed, could be challenged by the UK Government in court.

Ms Sturgeon, who comfortably defeated Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar to claim Glasgow Southside, 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 was a “long shot”, adding: “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.”

Alba Party leader Alex Salmond has also conceded it is unlikely his party will take seats in this election.

“I’ve obviously looked at the ballot boxes at the count and they’ve given us some very good ones – Aberdeenshire had over 10% in a couple of the ballot boxes,” he said.

“But in some of the big ballot boxes, I think we ended up over 3% in Aberdeenshire East, the same in Banff and Buchan, a bit more actually, which I’m pleased with because these are our best results in Scotland.

“But that doesn’t get you a seat. You need 4.5%, maybe 5%, to get a seat. But nonetheless it’s a credible performance for a party which has just celebrated its sixth birthday – in other words, we are six weeks old.”

The former first minister insisted: “I think Alba’s future is secure.”