The Scottish National party is closing in on a historic fourth consecutive victory in the Scottish parliament elections, with the question of whether it secures an overall majority now resting on a handful of seats.
The former Scottish secretary David Mundell told BBC Scotland he was anticipating a SNP majority, suggesting the party would pick up some crucial regional list seats as well as the majority of constituencies.
With 53 of 129 seats now declared, and the SNP on an increased vote share of 47.2%, the party has 44 seats, the Liberal Democrats four, the Conservatives three and Labour two.
A final result after Holyrood’s 56 top-up list seats are counted is not expected until late on Saturday. These are expected to show some gains for the Scottish Greens. But initial results suggested that Alex Salmond’s newly formed Alba party, which was only standing candidates on the list, is unlikely to gain any seats.
It remains in the balance whether the SNP has secured an outright majority of 65 seats in the Scottish parliament or if it can form a pro-independence majority with Scottish Greens MSPs, which will allow Sturgeon to claim a mandate for a second independence referendum.
Tory strategists have detected a much stronger SNP vote for the regional lists than the pre-election polls had suggested in west of Scotland, the south and central regions.
Opinion polls had found that SNP support on the lists was 10 to 12 points lower than in the constituency vote, but on polling day, the SNP’s vote was much closer on the lists to their constituency levels. The Scottish Green vote was around 6% to 8%, lower than the 10% forecast by the polls, said one Tory source, because on polling day, pro-SNP voters stuck with Sturgeon’s party.
The SNP slogan “both votes SNP” seemed to have worked, he added.
He said that if those findings were reflected Scotland-wide, the SNP could win enough list seats to achieve an overall majority. In the Scottish Borders, the chances of the Tories winning a list seat have been dented by unionists giving their votes to George Galloway’s anti-independence All for Unity party.
John Curtice told BBC Scotland: “Whether or not the SNP gets an overall majority now rests on the outcome in just a handful of seats.
“The party needs to win Aberdeenshire West where the Conservatives are defending a small majority, but if it follows the pattern of other marginal seats the Tories may profit from tactical voting. They then need either to win Galloway, another Tory-held marginal, or to win a list seat in the south of Scotland.
“Neither of these currently looks probable. At the same time, the SNP need to pick up a list seat in the Highlands, for which their prospects are somewhat brighter.”