IT has been a week for keynote elections. Three of the four UK nations (with Northern Ireland being the exception) have taken part in forensic polling covering every level of governance except Westminster. In Spain, where politics is also driven by the constitutional question and the rise of right-wing populism, elections in Madrid have provided an upset, destroying much of the political centre. Where do Scotland and the UK stand after Day #1 of the count?

Top of the page: the SNP have clearly won a fourth term. When that ends, the party will have been in power for 19 years. That is a stunning record. Some will note that in her acceptance speech in Govan yesterday, the First Minister did not mention the “independence” word.

You can make of that what you will. However, like her or lump her, it would be churlish not to recognise Nicola Sturgeon’s ability to guide her party to a stunning election victory, in conventional political terms.

Second-top headline: Labour lost Hartlepool with a bone-crushing swing against it of 16% compared to the December 2019 General Election. This despite the Tories’ ham-fisted Brexit negotiations, murderous early response to the pandemic, an avalanche of corruption scandals, and Boris Johnson’s serial antics. If Sir Keir Starmer can’t score a few goals when the Tories are a man down and their keeper has his mind on the living room wallpaper, when can Labour recover? Probably never.

Let’s start by looking beyond those headlines. One thing we know for certain is the rise in voter turnout in Scotland – almost certainly a response to the seriousness of the constitutional debate. High postal returns (due to Covid) might have added to the total. The 2021 electorate was the largest ever for a Holyrood poll, with 4.2 million people registered to vote – up 180,000 on 2016.

But it is the sheer enthusiasm of the electorate that is fascinating. In Edinburgh Central, the turnout was a bumper 72%, up 8% on last time. Voters were interested enough to queue in the rain and in Balerno in Edinburgh, they were still waiting to cast their ballot at 11.30pm on Thursday. This represents a major shift in voter concern – to date the average turnout at Holyrood contests was a miserly 53%. This suggests the fight over the constitution is not going away any time soon.

The main danger to the SNP was being squeezed by tactical voting by pro-Union voters. This danger was successfully resisted, at least on the constituency vote. In constituencies where there was a clear Unionist frontrunner (eg Aberdeen Donside and Clydebank) the squeeze was marked, though nowhere tight enough to give the SNP a headache.

Anas Sarwar was proven justified in standing against the FM by ramping up a 10% increase in the Labour vote – not that Nicola Sturgeon’s return was ever in any doubt. Even where the tactical squeeze was at its maximum – say in pro-Leave Banff and Buchan – the Nats held on.

However, there will come a day when the Unionist parties are prepared to cooperate- in a more effective manner rather than rely on the voters to work it out for themselves. Also, Scottish Labour have definitely found a new generation of strong candidates who are able to go toe-to-toe with the SNP. These are generally on the left of the party. The day of Labour deadwood is gone.

READ MORE: We're still in the dark as to whether SNP can beat system a second time

Meanwhile, we must wait for the Holyrood list seats to be allocated today, to find out if the SNP have won an overall majority or will have to rely on the Greens and Alba for an independence bloc. Early counting of list votes for parties suggests Alba has picked up only 2% in the North East region where Alex Salmond is standing.

Normally we would expect somewhere around 6% to secure a list seat. The complications of the list seat allocation make it impossible to predict very much overnight. However, the obvious question is where do Alba go next if their Holyrood representation is small or non-existent? With more than 5000 members and a clutch of MPs and councillors, I suspect Alba will be around for a while yet.

That said, everything depends on how the constitutional question unravels. And that depends on events at a UK level. Here Labour’s Hartlepool disaster – plus Tory gains in local and mayoral contests – gives Boris Johnson a freer hand than appeared to be the case before Thursday. The significant news on Day #1 of the count was the continued advance of an hegemonic, English nationalist Tory Party. Anyone who thinks the English electorate is going to dump Boris needs to think again.

Labour in England is now in permanent decline and it looks as if the LibDems are headed the same way. That’s sad news for folk in England but it represents big trouble for Scotland’s right to self-determination. Can anyone really believe, in these circumstances, that Johnson will grant a Section 30? And if – in an unlikely scenario – the Supreme Court rules Holyrood can hold a second referendum on its own, the Tories will simply rush through a Canada-style “Clarity Act” reserving control to Westminster.

Some Labour ideologues – such as John McTernan – are already dismissing the Labour losses as a mere episode. In this view, Covid and the lockdown are a unique interlude, and UK politics will return to normal next year. The Labour vote will rise, and the next General Election return to a classic duel between Starmer and Johnson. But the historical truth is that once a major party loses the faith of its core voters – once they cross the political Rubicon and vote for another party – it is impossible to win them back. What Hartlepool shows that Labour could be on its deathbed in England.

The lesson from Europe is that social democratic parties such as Labour are in terminal decline. In Germany, the SPD is down to a life-threatening 14% in the polls, displaced by the Greens who are on 2%.

In France, the putative Socialist candidate for next year’s presidential election, Anne Hidalgo, is on a pathetic 6%. In Sweden, once the SNP’s poster boy for democratic socialism, the party coasts along at 26%. It might be that Corbynism – far from undermining the party’s popularity – was actually a last gasp of Labour radicalism before the inevitable permanent decline.

In which case Keir Starmer’s attempt to shift to the centre ground (and fly the Union Jack) is a trifle late. The centre ground in England has disappeared and its place is being taken in England by Tory populism, while the youth are heading to the Greens.

Note that Tory victories at a local level in England are not the result simply of voters being repelled by the Labour Party’s ineffectiveness. There is ample evidence that the new breed of Tory populist interventionists (as opposed to mad libertarians) are winning popular support. For instance, in Tees Valley, the Conservative mayor Ben Houchen has been re-elected with 73% of the vote – an increase of 33 points.

THE Tories have also continued to advance in largely Leave areas rather than Remain strongholds. They made inroads in the likes of Sunderland, Tyneside and Durham. Labour has lost overall control of Sheffield, which is a serious blow. Here Labour have suffered from defections to the Greens, who are up by five seats. That brings with it a geographical gap between the English north and south, and between the Remainer big cities and the Leave towns and shires.

This means the EU question is still live. To date, Labour have retreated into ambiguity over the EU. The party remains caught on the horns of the EU dilemma as much as it was under Jeremy Corbyn. True, Starmer has ruled out a second EU referendum but that is hardly a surprise.

Besides, with Labour miles away from government, the idea of a second EU vote is pure fantasy. However, Labour has to decide if it is embracing a non-EU future, which means a new economic strategy. Actually, that is not such a leap as it chimes more with old-fashioned socialist policies directed at boosting domestic demand (say through a massive house building plan). The problem with moving in this direction is it takes Labour further away from the pro-EU southern constituencies and their liberal, anti-Tory, university-educated voters.

Also, a secure Labour revival necessitates recovering lost ground in either Scotland or the northern red wall constituencies. Reconquering Scotland seems an impossible mountain to climb. But a successful assault on the red wall might require embracing a more anti-EU stance, thus sacrificing ground in the English south.

Starmer and his team might just dig in and wait for Boris to make a mistake. We can certainly expect him to reshuffle his front bench and come out fighting. But the extent of the May 6 Tory victory cannot be gainsaid, and Labour MPs will soon start to panic about their seats.

Also, if Starmer is seen to dither, the Greens will start to eat into Labour votes in the English south, especially among Remainers. In London, turnout in this election is well down – a bellwether that the electorate are less than excited by Starmer. In contrast, the Greens have made widespread gains across England. If the European pattern holds, the Greens will gradually eat into Labour support. Could Labour be squeezed between the New Tories and the Greens? Sounds unlikely? Not in Germany.

And what of Wales? Thursday’s election saw Labour – in power in the Senedd for the last 22 years – fend off a Tory challenge and then some. This appears to be down to popular appreciation of the steady hand of Mark Drakeford during the pandemic – plus a healthy Celtic disdain of Boris.

In fact, Wales is the only part of the UK where Labour can take some comfort. Yet this only adds to proof that the UK is fast on its way to breaking up. The Principality has seen a significant surge in support for Welsh independence in the past year. One-third of the electorate are now in favour of quitting the UK.

However, there is still a second day’s counting before all these political questions can start to be answered with any degree of certainty. It remains to be seen if the SNP can snag the magic 65 seats they need to declare a majority of Holyrood seats on their own. If not, then there is indeed a case for a formal coalition with the Greens to present a common, pro-independence bloc to secure a second referendum. That, in turn, could boost Green support south of the Border.

Even with a day’s counting still to go there are intimations that the future of Scottish politics has changed forever. Angus Robertson is back in the game, having nabbed Ruth Davidson’s old seat in Edinburgh Central (commiserations to Bonnie Prince Bob). This immensely strengthens the denuded SNP front bench. Most significant of all: Kate Forbes doubled her majority to nearly 16,000. By popular acclaim, I think we are looking at the next leader of the party.

Finally, my congratulations to Paul McLennan for winning East Lothian for the SNP, with a 4 % lead. It’s my old political stomping ground as an MP and Paul has worked the seat for years. A victory for-old fashioned politics. And commiserations to long-time Conservative MSP John Scott who lost out to the SNP in Ayr. I’m glad the SNP won but John is a gentleman farmer and a warm human being. The SNP victory in these two seats has an obvious negative impact on the number of places the SNP will take on the list in the South of Scotland region. That pass the parcel leaves an SNP majority hanging by a threat tonight.

The smorgasbord of elections on have re-inforced all the centrifugal political tendencies unleashed by the Brexit referendum in 2016. We have a long way to go.