NICOLA Sturgeon has declared a second independence referendum is the “will of the country”, after the SNP won a record fourth consecutive term in power in a pro-independence majority parliament.

The SNP and Scottish Greens won a total of 72 seats in Holyrood on a record turnout for the Scottish Parliament elections of 63% - 10% higher than on average for a Scottish Parliament election.

Both supported a second independence referendum in the next Parliamentary term including the commitment in their manifestos.

In her victory speech at the Emirates Arena in Glasgow, the First Minister said later yesterday:

"Let’s be clear about what Scotland voted for on Thursday.

"The people of Scotland have voted to give pro-independence parties a majority in the Scottish Parliament - the final tally is not yet know, but it looks likely that the pro independence majority will be larger in this parliament than in the last one.

"And both of us said that the timing of a referendum should be decided by a simple majority of MSPs in the Scottish Parliament.

"So in no way is a referendum just demand of me or the SNP.

"It is a commitment made to the people by a majority of the MSPs who will take their seats in our national parliament next week. It is the will of the country."

She added: "Given the outcome of this election, there is simply no democratic justification whatsoever for Boris Johnson or anyone else seeking to block the right of the people of Scotland to choose our future.

"If there is such an attempt it will demonstrate conclusively that the UK is not a partnership of equals and that – astonishingly – Westminster no longer sees the UK as a voluntary union of nations.

"That in itself would be a very powerful argument for independence."  

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Sturgeon also appealed to independence supporters, telling them they must “patiently persuade our fellow citizens” of the case for an independent Scotland.

The win by the SNP saw more votes cast for them in local constituencies than in any other election since the establishment of the Scottish Parliament.

The SNP won a total of 64 seats in the Scottish Parliament – one more than in 2016, but one short of the total needed for a majority.

But with the Scottish Greens having their best ever Holyrood performance, returning eight MSPs, the Parliament now has 72 pro-independence MSPs - the highest number to date and one more than when the SNP won a majority in 2011, when the party returned 69 MSPs and the Greens two.

The Tories’s netted 31 seats – the same as in 2016 – while Labour took 22, down from 24. The LibDems took 4, down one from 2016. Alex Salmond’s Alba did not manage to make a breakthrough, with the former First Minister’s party’s failing to win any seats.

The National:

In the last parliamentary term, the Greens and SNP formed a pro-independence majority, with the former supporting the minority government on key votes including the budget.

There is now the possibility that they may form a coalition government in this parliament, which could increase the pressure on the UK Government to agree to a second referendum.

Both parties want a new vote during the 2021 to 2026 parliament, with the First Minister saying she would aim to hold it by the end of 2023 on the condition the pandemic is over.

During her speech the First Minister also hailed the “historic achievement” for her party.

“We have won 62 constituency seats – a record number and an incredible 85% of the total,” she said.

“We haven’t just held on to every constituency we won in 2016 – we’ve also gained seats from both Labour and the Tories.

“And while the constituency vote shares of Labour, the Tories and the LibDems are all down, the SNP has recorded our best ever share of the constituency vote.

“Indeed, we have won more votes and a higher share of the votes in the constituency ballot than any party in the history of devolution.

“This election result is – by any standard – an extraordinary and historic achievement.”

The SNP gained three target constituency seats from opponents, taking Edinburgh Central and Ayr from the Conservatives and East Lothian from Labour. Former party deputy leader Angus Robertson took the seat in the capital in a development which sees his return to frontline politics.

It also managed to see off a Tory challenge in Perthshire South and Kinross, where farmer Jim Fairlie was elected to succeed SNP veteran Roseanna Cunningham, in the party’s most marginal seat.

Cunningham is standing down from Holyrood and Fairlie was elected with a bigger majority.

Sturgeon’s party also held off a strong Tory showing in Banffshire and Buchan Coast, with candidate Karen Adam to secure a majority of 772 despite a more than 10-point swing to the Tories.

But there was some disappointment for the SNP, which failed in bids to take a number of other target seats including gaining the Aberdeenshire West constituency from the Scottish Conservatives.

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Winning the seat was seen as key for the SNP to gain an overall majority in the Scottish Parliament. Conservative Alexander Burnett held on to the seat with 19,709 votes, increasing his majority and defeating Fergus Mutch, who polled 16,319 for the SNP.

The SNP also missed out on their bid to win their target seat of Galloway and West Dumfries.

Tory Finlay Carson retook the constituency, seeing off a challenge by Emma Harper from the SNP. The result meant an increased majority of 2635 over the SNP, up from his lead of 1514 in 2016. Harper was re-elected via the SNP’s South of Scotland regional list.

As with Dumbarton, Edinburgh Western and Southern, where the results were declared on Friday, pro-Union supporters voted tactically to see off the SNP challengers in Galloway where the Labour vote slumped by 7%.

Another disappointment for the SNP was the loss of Scottish Government minister Paul Wheelhouse, who failed to reclaim a seat in the Scottish Parliament.

He lost his bid to take Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire from Tory incumbent Rachael Hamilton by 18,564 to 11,701 votes and did not get elected on the regional list.

The SNP's Joan McAlpine, who chaired Holyrood's Europe committee, failed too in her bid to get re-elected.

The former journalist, who first was won a Holyrood seat in 2011, was defeated in Dumfriesshire by Oliver Mundell by 19,487 to 15,421 votes. Like Wheelhouse she too missed out on a seat via the party's south of Scotland regional list.

Making history, Kaukab Stewart became the first woman of colour to be elected as MSP after winning the Glasgow Kelvin seat, receving cross party congratulations.

Responding to the elecion results the Scottish Conservatives leader Douglas Ross said the party had won enough seats to stop an SNP majority and another independence referendum.

 “Against the odds and against most of the polls, the Scottish Conservatives have won 31 seats, more votes than ever before and our highest ever vote share," he said.

“While other pro-UK parties lost seats, the Scottish Conservatives fought the SNP hard all over Scotland and took them on. We have cemented our position as Scotland’s biggest opposition party.

“Predictably, Nicola Sturgeon is already stoking division. Within hours, she has broken her word to voters and is already demanding another referendum.

“The Scottish Conservatives will keep our promise. Our promise was that a vote for the Scottish Conservatives would be a vote to stop an SNP majority - and in so doing stop indyref2 and get the focus back 100% on the recovery from Covid.

“We did it. The SNP have failed to win a majority and it is votes for the Scottish Conservatives that have stopped them."He said: “Now the SNP must listen to the clear message delivered by the people of Scotland that they want Scotland’s parties to come together now in the national interest and completely focus on our recovery." 

He added that his party could beat the SNP in the next Holyrood election.

“We also ran the SNP close and increased our vote share in numerous constituencies. We may have fallen just short but next time around, we are in pole position to oust the SNP," he said.