As the process of counting Scottish parliamentary votes began, experts predicted that the First Minister’s chances of wielding enough power to demand a second independence referendum hang in the balance.
She is looking for an overall SNP majority of 65 seats or more to boost her argument that a fresh vote should be held, despite the overwhelming No vote in 2014.
Although she will be able to govern in a coalition with the pro-independence Greens if the SNP get fewer than 65 seats, it would dramatically weaken her argument that there is huge support for her plan.
Voters across the country had to brave cold winds, driving rain and blizzards to get to polling stations.
However, opposition party leaders were confident that they had managed to mobilise the pro-Union vote to stave off the threat of separation from the rest of the UK.
Professor Sir John Curtice, Scotland’s leading pollster, said the prospect of an SNP majority in the Scottish parliament remains at ’50/50′, with polls predicting it could miss out by just one seat.
He said the Tories are in a strong position to take second place at Holyrood despite Labour’s Anas Sarwar ‘breathing down’ their necks.
As the process of counting Scottish parliamentary votes began, experts predicted that the First Minister’s chances of wielding enough power to demand a second independence referendum hung in the balance.
Opposition party leaders (Conservative Douglas Ross pictured) were confident that they had managed to mobilise the pro-Union vote to stave off the threat of separation from the rest of the UK
Sturgeon blasts ‘racist and fascist’ Britain First leader at polling station
Nicola Sturgeon branded the former deputy leader of Britain First a ‘racist and fascist’ after an extraordinary confrontation outside a polling station on election day.
Ms Fransen, who is from London and has convictions for religiously aggravated harassment, told Ms Sturgeon: ‘What are you sorry for? Mass immigration, Marxism? I’m not a fascist. I’ve been on the ground speaking to locals who say you are an absolute disgrace.’
After a back and forth, Ms Sturgeon said: ‘You are a fascist, you are a racist and the southside of Glasgow will reject you.’
The First Minister also added: ‘We’ll see what the locals’ view is later on.’
In Glasgow Southside, Ms Sturgeon is expected to win comfortably, despite going up against Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar.
Ex-Britain First deputy Ms Fransen is not expected to challenge.
Sir John said: ‘Support for independence is now back at the level that it was before the pandemic. Indeed, polling by both YouGov and Lord Ashcroft suggest the mood last summer that an independent Scotland might have handled the health crisis more effectively has disappeared.’
Despite the pandemic and treacherous weather in some areas, turnout for ‘the most important election since devolution’ was said to be strong.
Last night, pro-Union parties said their vote was holding up in key areas, with the hope they could thwart Miss Sturgeon’s bid to get a parliamentary majority.
Counts in more than half of Scotland’s parliamentary constituencies are to begin later, as the country awaits the outcome of its strangest election since devolution.
Votes in some 46 of the 73 constituency seats will be counted from about 9am on Friday, with the first results expected from noon.
It is anticipated all 46 should be declared by Friday evening.
Then, from about 9am on Saturday, the remaining 27 constituency seats will be counted, after which the regional seats will be allocated.
Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, there is a staggered tallying up of ballots for the 2021 Holyrood election, with all results expected to be declared by Saturday evening.
Normally, counting begins immediately after the polls close at 10pm and continues overnight, with results confirmed in the early hours.
But the need for social distancing among count staff has meant votes will be tallied from Friday.
This year’s election, while conducted under the constraints of coronavirus rules, is also considered to be one of the most important since the Scottish Parliament opened in 1999.
With the SNP set for another five years in government, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon will no doubt ramp up the pressure on Westminster to grant the powers for another vote on Scottish independence.
Her opponents in the Tory, Labour and Liberal Democrat parties have stressed the importance of focusing on Scotland’s recovery from coronavirus instead
But the SNP leader and her party have said no referendum will be held until after the immediate health crisis is over, and they insist powers gained through independence would actually improve the recovery in Scotland.
Ms Sturgeon has said another pro-independence majority in the Scottish Parliament, including the Greens and Alba Party seats, should be enough to let Scots vote again on whether they want to leave the UK.
On Thursday, two voters in Glasgow North West said they were temporarily turned away from a polling station because a ballot box was ‘too full’.
Nadeem Basharat, 37, said he and his partner Joanne Basharat, 34, went to Jordanhill Parish Church polling station at around 8.30pm and were told they could not cast their vote at the time.
He said he was told ballot box 52 was too full and he was told to ‘come back by 10pm’, by a steward who was ‘quite vague’.
He told the PA news agency: ‘We went home and waited and got there for about 9.30pm and managed to get in, ballot box 52 was still pretty full, like it had just been pushed down and not a new box.
‘It looked like there were people there who didn’t manage to vote first time around.’
A spokesman for Glasgow’s returning officer said: ‘The sheer size of the regional paper meant some ballot boxes became full. We were able to deliver replacement boxes, but in this case some voters were asked to wait outside before voting.
‘The presiding officer is confident that all voters who were asked to wait were ultimately able to vote.’
How the election count works
The constituencies counting on Friday are: Aberdeen Central; Aberdeen Donside; Aberdeenshire East; Airdrie & Shotts; Angus North & Mearns; Argyll & Bute; Ayr; Banffshire & Buchan Coast; Caithness, Sutherland & Ross; Clydebank & Milngavie; Coatbridge & Chryston; Cowdenbeath; Cunninghame North; Cunninghame South; Dumbarton; Dundee City West; East Lothian; Eastwood; Edinburgh Central; Edinburgh Southern; Edinburgh Western; Ettrick, Roxburgh & Berwickshire; Falkirk East; Glasgow Anniesland; Glasgow Maryhill & Springburn; Glasgow Pollok; Glasgow Southside; Greenock & Inverclyde; Hamilton, Larkhall & Stonehouse; Inverness & Nairn; Kilmarnock & Irvine Valley; Kirkcaldy; Linlithgow; Midlothian North & Musselburgh; Moray; Motherwell & Wishaw; Na h-Eileanan an Iar; North East Fife; Orkney Islands; Paisley; Perthshire North; Renfrewshire North & West; Rutherglen; Shetland Islands; Stirling; and Strathkelvin & Bearsden.
The remaining 27 which will begin counting from roughly 9am on Saturday are: Aberdeen South & North Kincardine; Aberdeenshire West; Almond Valley; Angus South; Carrick, Cumnock & Doon Valley; Clackmannanshire & Dunblane; Clydesdale; Cumbernauld & Kilsyth; Dumfriesshire; Dundee City East; Dunfermline; East Kilbride; Edinburgh Eastern; Edinburgh Northern & Leith; Edinburgh Pentlands; Falkirk West; Galloway & West Dumfries; Glasgow Cathcart; Glasgow Kelvin; Glasgow Provan; Glasgow Shettleston; Mid Fife & Glenrothes; Midlothian South, Tweeddale & Lauderdale; Perthshire South & Kinrossshire; Renfrewshire South; Skye, Lochaber & Badenoch; and Uddingston & Bellshill.