The British general election has created massive upheaval for the political system in London, with the Scottish National Party on course for a virtual clean sweep of Westminster seats in Scotland, although the election has produced relatively little change in the north of Ireland.
Pollsters and pundits are currently predicting David Cameron’s Conservative Party will fall short of an overall majority at Westminster, but still appears well placed to form another coalition government.
The British Labour Party failed to make any headway and appear set to lose handfuls of seats, while the Tory’s former coalition partners, the Liberal Democrats, have suffered a disastrous election and face a humiliating reduction to around a dozen seats.
According to television pundits, the Tories are now predicted to get 325 out of 650 seats, with Labour predicted to get just 232 and the Lib Dems just twelve.
However, it’s now clear that the spectacular success of the Scottish National Party will re-shape British politics. Nicola Sturgeon’s party has won the first 50 seats declared in Scotland so far this morning. But that only tells part of the story: the swing towards the nationalists has been as high as an incredible 35 per cent in some constituencies.
The party won six seats in the 2010 election and its best previous result was 11 in 1974, but are looking to win 56 seats in this election. The party’s momentum is huge and unstoppable. Its most eye-grabbing victory came when it unseated Jim Murphy, the leader of Scottish Labour and the party’s figurehead in its efforts to fend off the SNP challenge.
The nationalists have also taken former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s old seat, Kirkcaldy, while in Paisley and Renfrewshire, 20-year-old politics student Mhairi Black comfortably defeated Douglas Alexander, Labour’s national campaign coordinator and shadow foreign secretary. Black will become the youngest MP for centuries.
In her first comments this morning, Sturgeon said the results were “historic” and that she was “immensely proud” of her party’s candidates.
“I think the results we may be about to see unfold in Scotland tonight show that the anti-austerity message that the SNP put at the heart of this campaign has resonated across Scotland,” she said.
Sturgeon said she was holding out the possibility - now extremely remote, based on current trends - of a centre-left alliance between Labour and the SNP to keep David Cameron out of Downing Street.
“If the parliamentary arithmetic allows us to lock out the Tories then as I have said throughout this campaign that’s what we should do and my message to Ed Miliband is that we should work together to do exactly that,” she said.
UUP GAINS FERMANAGH/SOUTH TYRONE
The big story emerging from the north of Ireland is that the Ulster Unionist Party how won the constituency of Fermanagh/South Tyrone from Sinn Fein’s Michelle Gildernew. Gildernew’s majority of just four votes -- technically, only one vote -- was always in grave danger from the combined unionist parties, although the result was neck-and-neck until after 5am this morning, when Elliott pulled ahead.
The Democratic Unionist Party also narrowly won back the seat party leader Peter Robinson sensationally lost to Naomi Long of Alliance in 2010. However, they lost their seat in South Antrim, held by veteran hardliner Willie McCrea, to the more moderate Ulster Unionist challenger Danny Kinahan.
With all of the 18 seats now filled in the North, the DUP has claimed eight, Sinn Fein four and the SDLP three. The Ulster Unionists have won two and Independent Sylvia Hermon won one in north Down.
Sinn Fein’s vote tally increased in a number constituencies, particularly in those areas where turnout was up, but it suffered a decline in vote share in others. The contradiction was most evident in west Belfast where Paul Maskey retained his seat comfortably on an increased vote, although socialist Gerry Carroll of People before Profit captured a surprising 17% of his vote share.
Sinn Fein’s Pat Doherty and Francie Molloy easily retained their seats in West Tyrone and Mid-Ulster respectively, although with smaller margins of victory, and there was a similar story in the final result this morning was in Newry and Armagh, where Mickey Brady held off a challenge from the UUP’s Danny Kennedy.
On the whole, the unionist desire to influence the next British government has been greatly enhanced by the surprise increase in the Conservatives’ strength.
Nigel Dodds, the DUP’s leader in Westminster in the last term who defended his seat in North Belfast, was asked about the potential of a post-election deal between’s hos party’s eight MPs and the Tories as he attended the Belfast count centre.
“We have always said throughout the campaign that the DUP could play a pivotal role in the next parliament of the United Kingdom,” he said. “Clearly whatever the outcome of the election, the DUP is going to be crucial.”
Current seat tallies (428 of 650 declared):
Lib Dem 6