The Scottish National party has won an unprecedented landslide victory in Scotland, crushing once-dominant Labour in its northern heartlands and raising far-reaching questions for the UK's political and constitutional status quo.
In the greatest electoral revolution in Scotland’s history, the SNP took 53 of the first 56 constituencies to declare, all with dramatic swings in support.
“It’s a tsunami,” said Ruth Davidson, leader of the Scottish Conservative party, which managed to hold on to its only Westminster seat in Scotland.
The result means a nationalist party aimed at independence has a major bloc of seats in Westminster for the first time since Irish independence in 1922 and sets up potential confrontation between an SNP rampant in Scotland and a Conservative-led UK government.
“The Scottish lion has roared this morning across the country,” declared Alex Salmond, former SNP leader and Scottish first minister, after being elected MP for Gordon.
However, the SNP triumph, exacerbated by the first-past-the-post voting system, will provoke deep concern among pro-union Scots, some of whom had called for tactical voting to stem the nationalist tide.
The election was a humiliation for Labour, which took 41 of Scotland’s 59 seats in 2010. Large Labour majorities in Glasgow's safest seats were not only overturned but wide new margins put in their place. In Glasgow North East a 50-point Labour majority was replaced by a 24-point SNP margin.
Jim Murphy, Scottish Labour leader, lost his seat in East Renfrewshire, prompting immediate questions about who should take on the task of rebuilding the party in Scotland.
The results led to speculation that the Conservative party, which looked set to win a decisive victory south of the Scottish border, would offer radical further devolution in an effort to keep the United Kingdom together.
Paul Cairney, professor of politics at the University of Stirling, said a Tory government could "not ignore" the Scottish result and much more fundamental rethinking of the constitution would be required than the new powers already promised.
Nicola Sturgeon, SNP leader, said her first demand would not be for further devolution of spending powers, but for curbs on the Tories’ planned spending cuts.
But the Scottish first minister made clear that she expected to have a voice in UK politics.
“Any government that is in Westminster tomorrow would have to pay heed to what has happened in Scotland today.”
The results represent a crisis for Labour, which has considered Scotland one of its most important heartlands since the 1990s. The SNP took all seven seats in Glasgow, once known as “Red Clydeside” for the regularity with which it returned Labour MPs.
Lord Mandelson, the Labour peer, said: “Something akin to an earthquake has taken place in Scotland . . . Politics won’t be the same.”
Neil Gray, the SNP candidate in Airdrie and Shotts, said: “Something profound is happening.”
The SNP will have an unprecedented presence in Westminster. The party has in the past argued that winning a majority of Scotland’s Westminster seats could be a mandate for independence, but Ms Sturgeon has said that even a clean sweep would now not be considered even grounds for a second independence referendum.
SNP candidate George Kerevan, who overcame a 25-point Labour margin to win in East Lothian, said something “amazing” was happening at the electoral grassroots, but it was not driven by demand for another referendum following last September’s vote.
“What has happened tonight is not about independence, because even a place like East Lothian that voted resoundingly for No in the referendum has come into the SNP camp,” Mr Kerevan said.
The result could widen political divisions between Scotland and the rest of the UK, particularly if the Conservatives remain in government.
Ms Davidson said the prospect could challenge UK unity, but that a Labour government dependent on the SNP would be worse.
“This would clearly put stresses and strains on the United Kingdom unlike the stresses and strains that we have previously seen, however, the union has been put under strain before and has endured,” Ms Davidson said.
The pro-independence party had been predicted to make major gains since last September’s referendum, despite having lost that vote by 55 per cent to 45 per cent.
The SNP picked up momentum over the campaign, helped by Ms Sturgeon’s prominent role in two live televised leaders’ debates while a series of Labour counter-offensives including the ruling out of any post-election deals had no impact or further alienated former supporters.
The SNP benefited from the media attention created by weeks of attacks from the Conservative party, which warned its MPs would go to Westminster to try and break up the UK. Ms Sturgeon has not ruled out promising one before next year’s Holyrood election.
Labour drew some comfort from the re-election in Edinburgh of Ian Murray, but there was deep bitterness in the party. Defeated former MP Michael Connarty blamed Ms Sturgeon’s surging popularity. “It looks like people have been taken in by the cult of personality,” he said.