The Scottish National Party yesterday appeared likely to fall short of its goal of an absolute majority in the devolved parliament as it pushes for a new independence referendum, a plan condemned as reckless by Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
The UK voted in local and regional elections on "Super Thursday" in its first major polls since Brexit and the pandemic. The count is much slower than usual due to virus safety measures.
Johnson's Conservative Party has performed strongly in England, outdoing Labour in its traditional heartlands and taking control of northeastern Hartlepool in a key parliamentary by-election.
Labour held onto power in the Senedd Cymru devolved parliament and also won several high-profile mayoral races.
But the focus remained on Scotland, where a vote for the devolved parliament in Edinburgh saw the ruling SNP seek a parliamentary majority as a mandate for a fresh referendum on independence, or "indyref2", that could reshape the UK.
The SNP so far has won 60 of the 71 seats declared but lost several target seats, leading the BBC to project it would win a total of 63 seats.
It is heading for a fourth consecutive term in power but would need 65 seats in the 129-member parliament to claim a majority at Holyrood for the first time since 2011.
Scots vote twice, once for a constituency MSP and once for a party, with those votes allocated regionally.
The proportional representation system is designed to prevent a single party like the SNP dominating.
Deputy First Minister John Sweeney earlier told BBC Radio 4 that an overall majority "was always a very, very challenging mountain for us to climb".
But ge predicted an overall majority of MSPs "committed to the holding of an independence referendum", however. The other pro-independence party with Holyrood seats is the Scottish Greens.
Johnson in an interview with The Daily Telegraph indicated that he would not agree to a referendum even if the SNP wins a majority.
"I think a referendum in the current context is irresponsible and reckless," Johnson said.
"There's no case now for such a thing... I don't think it's what the times call for at all."