Scots have been heading to the polls in what is regarded as the country’s most important elections in recent years. During her campaign, Ms Sturgeon vowed she will demand the legal powers for a second referendum on Scottish independence be transferred from Westminster by the end of 2023 if the SNP wins a majority. Boris Johnson has repeatedly turned down those demands, insisting the result to remain part of the UK during the 2014 referendum must stand and that it was a “once in a generation event”.
A dominating SNP victory would pile the pressure on the Prime Minister, but the chances of a majority in the election remains on a knife-edge.
The SNP will likely win a fourth term in office, but several opinion polls this week have also suggested support for the party has been steadily falling, bringing Ms Sturgeon’s hopes of winning a majority into serious doubt.
Former First Minister Alex Salmond, who only launched his Alba Party six weeks ago, is pushing for a “super-majority” of pro-independence MSPs in Holyrood as he looks to revive his failed independence dream from 2014.
He has warned if Alba succeeds in getting MSPs elected to Holyrood, the party will put forward a motion instructing the Scottish Government to start independence negotiations with Boris Johnson.
The Greens, who have been predicted by many polls to make significant gains in the election, have also thrown their support behind Scottish independence.
But the push for a second referendum is facing strong opposition from the likes of the Scottish Conservatives, with leader Douglas Ross often branding the plans from the SNP and Ms Sturgeon “reckless” and “dangerous”.
He is hopeful of denying the election majority the SNP crave – just like they did in 2016 when they more than doubled their seats in Holyrood to 31.
George Galloway, the leader of the All for Unity party, has also appealed for Scots to vote tactically as he looks to put an end to hopes of Scottish independence.
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10.12pm update: Scottish Lib Dem leader vows to put ‘recovery first’ and tackle ‘serious issues’
Willie Rennie said: “As polls close I would like to thank all of the Scottish Liberal Democrat activists who have worked so hard over the past few months to deliver an energetic and positive campaign from the Borders to the Highlands and Islands.
“We have been clear that a vote for the Scottish Liberal Democrats is a vote to put recovery first and spend the next five years tackling serious issues like mental health, education and the climate emergency.
“As we wait on tenterhooks for results to come in, we should take a moment to recognise how special it is to live in a country where parties can compete freely and fairly for the public’s vote.
“There are so many people around the world who wish they had the same opportunities.”
10pm update: ‘Democratic mandate must be respected’ – Sturgeon pushes independence case if majority achieved
As polls closed, First Minister and SNP Leader Ms Sturgeon said: “This has been an election like no other and I want to recognise and pay tribute to the efforts so many people have gone to to ensure that, even in the face of a pandemic, our democratic process took place and took place safely.
“While we wait for the results over the next two days, we should never take for granted how special it is to have both the right and the ability to vote and to choose your own government.
“The queues we saw at polling stations around the country showed people across Scotland cherish that right.
“At this election the SNP has set out a bold, energetic and inspiring agenda to get us through and out of the pandemic, to secure a strong recovery and to take on the longer term challenges the pandemic has shone such a spotlight on.
“If we are fortunate enough to have won the support of the people of Scotland then we will get straight down to work.
“At this election the SNP have also offered the people of Scotland the opportunity to choose their future once the covid crisis has passed. If, when the ballots are counted, there is a parliamentary majority for that choice then when the crisis has passed that democratic mandate must be respected.
“It is now time to wait patiently and to respect the counting process. I am incredibly proud of the campaign that the SNP has run in every corner of the country, and I want to thank everyone who took the time to go to the polls today and play their part in Scotland’s future.”